Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Reminder

"Do not lose heart, even if you should discover that you lack qualities necessary for the work to which you are called. He who called you will not desert you, but the moment you are in need he will stretch out his saving hand."
-Saint Angela Merici

There are days, not unlike today, that I need to hear this. I am knee-deep in the kind of moment that makes you want to throw in the towel, and I have been stuck in this moment for weeks. What makes my voice so important amongst the many new feminist groups that are blooming and thriving? I am but one drop in the bucket: one woman that had her fill one day of being told she was not good enough. As this project moves on, sometimes I feel like merely an echo in this movement that is calling for feminism to return to its roots. I tell myself I am lacking the qualities necessary for what I feel compelled to do. “Someone else can do or say it better. Someone else has the time and a stronger voice. Someone else has the talent.” I say these things as a way of releasing myself from my obligation. To paraphrase Stewart Smalley, if someone else is good enough, smart enough, and doggone it, people like them, then I am not obligated to speak out, or answer the call.

This, my readers, is a flaming bag of cop-out. There will always be a reason to quit. There will always be a hardship or a cross to carry. There will always be someone that says it better or louder. There will always be a comfort zone from which to escape.

So here I sit, on my amazingly comfortable sofa with my incredible family on a Sunday night as we gear up for a storm, and I choose to speak up and be counted amongst the other new feminists: the New WaveFeminists, the New Feminism, the Feminists For Life, The Edith Stein Foundation and The Guiding Star Project. I strongly believe that Women Speak forThemselves.

I am a woman. I speak for myself. My voice is important. I have something to say and deserve to be heard. I am good enough, strong enough, and doggone it, people like me. (Well, so what if they don’t?!)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Note for Friends and Family of Domestic and Sexual Violence Survivors

Sometimes it feels as though to truly comprehend the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence in our nation you have to spend some time as an advocate. Once you are in the trenches so to speak, not only do you have people you know disclose to you about themselves and their loved ones, but every news story, magazine article, biography of a celebrity/politician/athlete containing a hint of abuse catches your eye or is sent to you by someone with the tag line: “I saw this and thought of you.” It surrounds us, yet we seem to be unaware of it until it touches our lives or the lives of someone we love.

Here are some numbers for you. 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence in her lifetime. 30-60% of perpetrators of IPV also abuse the children in the home. 1 in 6 women will experience an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. 15% of sexual assault or rape victims are under the age of 12. ( and

The most common question I am asked to this day (over two years since I stepped away from my role as a paid DV/SA advocate) is surprisingly not “Why does she stay?”. Believe me, this is a question that my four years of experience and training prepared me to answer. I could write you a novel on why she stays! The most common question goes something like this: “My friend/sister/mother is in a bad relationship/was assaulted and I am unsure of what I can do to help. Any suggestions?”

When you think about it, it is a little refreshing that I am asked to help someone help someone on such a regular basis. Even if it is one of the few minor silver linings in a terrible situation, this question restores my faith in humanity because it means people care about others. So, without further adieu, here is my response.

For Friends and Family of Domestic Violence Survivors

The most important things that you can do for a loved one that experiences violence in their intimate relationship are to listen and provide nonjudgmental support. Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive behavior. It is thorough. It often involves more than merely physical violence, including (but not limited to) psychological abuse, sexual abuse, isolation,continuous threats and financial control. This is not a complete list by any means, but you can see how far and wide that control can reach. To make matters worse, your loved one has at least at some point loved the individual doing them harm. This can be an incredibly difficult bond to break, and if there are children included… to say the least, domestic violence consumes. If someone you love is reaching out to you, listen. Be a support system for them. They have become an expert in navigating the chaos, so supporting them sometimes means they stay. Don’t despair or feel as though you failed to help. Choosing to leave the relationship is a dangerous time for a survivor because the batterer is facing losing control. A loss of control can cause an escalation of behavior that can mean an increase in lethality for the survivor. When the time comes and they are ready to leave the relationship behind for good (we know survivors sometimes leave multiple times before cutting ties permanently), your loved one needs to know that they have your support. Ultimately, the survivor of DV must make the decision to leave for themselves and their children if children are involved. Perpetrators of domestic violence seek control over the other person,and this is achieved by chipping away at the self worth of the victim as well as any outside support system that exists.

While every survivor and DV relationship is different, gentle and constant reminders of your love and support for him/her can go such a long way. Plant the seed that when the time comes that she/he is ready to leave the relationship that they are loved and do have support outside the relationship. Truly listen to what they need from you. Show them love is unconditional and love does not seek to control or harm. Validate their feelings, thoughts and emotions. I encourage you to contact the local domestic violence shelter if you need further information on helping to keep your loved one safe. has a national hotline that can connect you to your local shelter, listings for international and state coalitions (that then link you to locations in your state) as well as many other tips for survivors, DV statistics and information about the cycle of violence.

For Friends and Family of Sexual Assault Survivors

Many of the concepts above can be applied for both friends and family of domestic and sexual violence survivors, but it is important to note that sexual violence is perpetrated within relationships as well as outside of relationships.

Sexual assault has many faces, and survivors handle the experience in a variety of ways, but your support is still vital. SA survivors again need you to listen and validate. They need nonjudgmental support and encouragement. can help provide additional information specific to the situation your loved one has experienced. There is a hotline number to call, additional information for friends and family of survivors, and links to your local sexual assault center.

Some Personal Reflections

My experience as a paid advocate as well as friend and family to survivors, has been that there are times they need you to listen, and there are times they will push you away. Sometimes they hate you and press your buttons, sometimes they need your comfort and support and other times they go silent and it appears they have cut you out (and every scenario in between!). Remind yourself not to take it personally. They are used to navigating the chaos that has consumed their lives, but you are not. This doesn’t mean that they are purposely trying to hurt you. Support systems need to take care of themselves. To be a stable force in your survivor’s life, you must take care of yourself so that when they are ready to lean on you, you are there. It is not so much what you say to them or feel for them, more than what you give them space to say or feel that matters.

I have dozens of links and resources in my own arsenal, so if you are interested in more information, please, send me a message!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Statue Grows in an Arboretum

This week, I have had several conversations revolving around parenting. I probably always do, but this week’s topics were more interesting.

The thing that never ceases to amaze me about being a parent is how exciting it is. Oh sure the kids give me a workout and I am never bored with them, but it is also such an amazing opportunity to put into action the kind of person you want to be. I have previously described the tugs and inner conflict I have when it comes to being Catholic and a feminist. In my head, there is a constant script running. That script reminds me of all the wonderful things I want to be and to teach to my children and how I incorporate the values I hold important to me in how I raise my children to be upstanding citizens and virtuous people.

When I had my son, I was thrilled to be pregnant. We did not find out he was a boy until he was born. I was elated at the sight of him, and so grateful and honored. It is impossible to put into words. We had been waiting for him to arrive and he is every bit as fantastic as I thought he would be and more. My daughter was sneakier about her arrival. I was Knock-Me-Over-With-A-Feather surprised when my doctor told me I was 6 weeks pregnant when I went in to tell him that we were ready to try to have another baby (God knew when we needed her!) I was excited and I knew immediately that I was having a girl. That is when the weight and the worry set in. I have a daughter. She will be every bit as stubborn as I am (oh, and she is, even at eight months). She will have a more challenging road ahead. I never questioned my ability to raise and be a mother to my son, but I was all sorts of worried about being a capable mother to my daughter. Can I prepare her for her life? Can I answer her questions? Am I strong enough to be the kind of woman she so desperately needs as a role model? I spent the rest of my pregnancy equal parts excited and terrified. When I went in to deliver her, there was a delay and I spent most of that time crying and more nervous than I have ever been as I thought about the type of woman, parent, sister, daughter and friend I am and want to be.

My children are under the age of three and everyday they are being molded. I no longer worry more about how I am parenting my daughter versus my son. My worries and doubts came from a very real place, but the reality is that both our sons and daughters have trials ahead of them. Maybe I thought about it more with my daughter because I am blatantly aware of the kinds of struggles she could face and it seems to permeate a girls’ childhood from day one: bombarded with pink and frills, clothing that fits weird and has elastic bands in weird places, princess culture and the message that beauty is most important from day one.  Overly sexualized clothing (skimpy bathing suits, tops, and in some cases even thong underwear for little girls) is the norm. Advertisers push and market specific types of inactive play to girls, and every doll, TV show or movie showcases unrealistic beauty expectations. We also do this on a seemingly milder scale with our boys: toy guns, violent toys and games, and a general consensus that boys shouldn’t play with ‘girl’ things or like ‘girl’ colors. How then, are we surprised when girls and boys alike view girls as sexual objects? How are we surprised that our girls experience sexual assault at a higher rate than they smoke? Then we continue to put the blame on the victims by saying there must have been something they did or didn’t do to ask for it.

All this being said, if I cannot live my life in one extreme, why live it in another? I do not believe my choices are to either give in to the sexual culture that pits our children against each other or hide them from the world. I choose balance. I will dress my kids in clothes that allow them room to play, and let them like whatever colors they want to like. I will raise my son and daughter to think critically and to experience a variety of what this world has to offer. This might include seeing some things that I might rather they didn’t see.  I know that as they get older the questions they have will be harder, but I am up for the challenge. I see a stark difference between advocating for a childhood that is free from bullying and forced gender roles and advocating for censorship. I cannot control what my children are seeing and doing 24/7. My oldest is 2 ½ and I can’t keep him in his own bed all night! That kind of control is exhausting and sucks the life out of you. I set boundaries of course, but I am my child’s primary educator. I take solace in the fact that I will be the educator and role model that they come to when they have questions, for instance, about a weird statue in the park or something they overhear, or see at a friend’s house. How are they supposed to relax and enjoy childhood if I am so tightly wound up from all the protesting and boycotting I am supposed to be doing?

UPDATE 08/15/2012
Now it is for the courts to decide...

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My 8th Grade Sex Education Class

We should all be well aware there are things happening in our nation that bring the Catholic teachings on birth control and abortion front and center. We hear things in the news about the “The GOP (or Catholic or Republican) War on Women”. We are not short on politicians or feminist organizations or Planned Parenthood supporters to tell us the Catholic Churchis seeking to impose its will on America, and that its traditions and values are straight from the Dark Ages. Nearly every report from a mainstream source I have read likes to point out that many Catholics use birth control, so essentially the Catholic Church is trying to manhandle the government into enforcing the policies it has failed to enforce among Catholics. Cardinal Timothy Dolan (Archbishop of New York and President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) has done a wonderful job of responding publically and correcting the assumption that opposition to the HHS Mandate is about birth control and women, when it is about religious freedom.

Don’t worry. I am not writing about whether or not this is about religious freedom. That is not the purpose of this CathoFeminism project. There are misconceptions about Catholic beliefs and how they relate to birth control and abortion that I would venture to guess that even most Catholics fall for. I would like to shed some light on this. This is an important subject when the question of Catholicism and Feminism is brought up because many mainstream brands of Feminism criticize the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control and abortion. Most importantly, I would like to start sifting through some of the details.

My excellent 8th grade sex education class was more that your standard abstinence only class. While that was the purpose of the class, it also gave me important information about the various forms of contraception. As that class was over 15 years ago, some new things have been added to the list, but the most important thing that class taught me was the importance of realistically assessing birth control: effectiveness, potential side effects, how it works, what it contains, and exactly why the Catholic Church is against its use.

Here is the most important question: Why does the Catholic Church oppose contraception?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states:  (1643) "Conjugal love involves a totality, in which all the elements of the person enter -appeal of the body and instinct, power of feeling and affectivity, aspiration of the spirit and of will. It aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that ,beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul; it demands indissolubility and faithfulness in definitive mutual giving; and it is open to fertility. In a word it is a question of the normal characteristics of all natural conjugal love, but with a new significance which not only purifies and strengthens them, but raises them to the extent of making them the expression of specifically Christian values."

In other words,  Catholics are to see sex as reserved for marriage to bond or unite husband and wife and open to procreation always (unless there is a serious reason not to have a child).  Sex must always be unitive, and open to life. Sex should not be about saying to your husband or wife “I love you, but not all of you.” It is about loving and respecting each other fully (including our fertility),because we are equals.

(You can get much of this information and more from a site like WebMD.) As I recall, we began our class talking about barrier methods of contraception. The most common forms of barrier methods are condoms and diaphragms, though there are others as well. Barrier methods block sperm from entering the uterus. Don’t worry; I won’t give you the entire analysis! I want only to give an overview at this time.  If you were to put them on a line and told to rank the various forms of contraception from least to most problematic, barrier methods are on the lesser end of the spectrum, but they still prevent intercourse from being open to life.

Intrauterine devices (IUDs) can be made of copper or hormonal (like Mirena). IUDs fit with barrier and hormonal contraception because they utilize chemicals or hormones to block sperm. Copper is toxic to sperm (it is also not good for the human body in general, but I digress), but there are now hormonal forms of IUDs that focus on keeping the uterine lining thin, and thickening the cervical mucus so that sperm cannot get through. These also prevent intercourse from being open to life. (Ok, all birth control has been created to avoid pregnancy obviously!)

Hormonal contraception (pills, shots) has the potential to be an entirely different ballgame; an abortafacient. Hormonal contraception utilizes progesterone or estrogen to control the uterine environment: thickening mucus, thinning the uterine lining, etc. This means it is extremely likely that if conception has occurred, the uterine environment will tell awoman’s body it is not pregnant, and menstruation will flush all that is inside the uterus, including the human life (AKA: abortion: hence the term abortafacient). Emergency contraception has also been in the news lately for various reasons, but its claim to fame is that it can be taken after sex and can “prevent” pregnancy. The reality is that it is a beefed up dose of birth control and it tricks a woman’s body into think it is not pregnant and everything is flushed during menstruation (if it works). This kind of birth control is further along on the spectrum I mentioned earlier because it not only eliminates the procreative element for sex, but it takes a human life.

There are other, more permanent, solutions to prevent pregnancy: sterilization (tubal ligation, vasectomy) or abortion. I don’t think I need to elaborate on these.

Thankfully, there are better options for women (Catholic or not) that do not include pumping hormones into our bodies, killing our offspring or inserting torturous-looking devices into our nether regions. These options are the various natural planning methods (NFP): Billings, Creighton, Sympto Thermal Method (STM) and Marquette to name a few. Hormonal contraception manipulates the uterine environment to avoid pregnancy. This fact alone proves that there is science behind what makesa woman fertile or not. The various NFP methods involve tracking certain fertility measures (mucus consistency, cervix location, waking body temperature for example). Look at that. This is not the Rhythm Method! No moon or hocus pocus mentioned. Scientific evidence exists to help a woman not only know her body better, but to avoid pregnancy or conceive successfully. The best part about this option, is that once you have the instruction, the costs are minimal. Depending on which method works best for you, you are talking about a thermometer and some charts, or some charts and a monitor. I will not go into success vs. failure rates of any of these methods. That information is important, but it is not the point that I am trying to make here. (Can you imagine sitting through all of that for weeks as a 13 year old in mixed company?!)

So, I should get to it already, right? My point it this: I oppose abortion and abortafacients (including hormonal contraception) because they take a life. I believe life begins at conception because I am a woman (not because I am Catholic) and none of the other options make sense. It is either a life from the first moment or it would stand to reason that you could take a life at any random moment from beginning to end and it wouldn’t matter. There is never a moment where it could be a cow or a chicken or anything else: when sperm fertilizes an egg, a human life has begun. While Catholicism certainly supports this, I am not pro-life because I am Catholic. I am a prolife feminist because I believe women should not have to choose between being a woman and their children. That is where mainstream Feminism gets it wrong.

As for my opposition to other forms of contraception, that is deeply rooted in my Catholic faith. You will note that at no point did I state others could not hold different opinions, or that the government should be enforcing Catholic beliefs. You see, the beauty of being a human is that we have free will and intellect. Decide for yourself what you believe. You have the right to practice or not practice your faith or lack thereof, as do I. I vote we should all be responsible for paying for our own birth control or family planning methods or lack thereof. Not our employer, not our church, and certainly not our tax payers or government.

So what about you? What informs and guides your beliefs? I am also interested how you remember your sex education classes... informative? Glossed over?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Mission Statement of Sorts

I live in a world that tells me I cannot be a Feminist and Catholic.

When I am in discussion with Feminists, I am small minded and sexist. I am hateful for opposing abortion. I am treated as though my very core is anti-woman and perspective is part of a patriarchal point of view that has a singular purpose: destroying women. I am ridiculed for staying home with my children instead of exercising my right to work outside the home. The hounds are released and they do not stop until they draw blood. I am not treated with respect for my point of view or my beliefs. I am ignored, passed over and seen as some sort of joke. Though I have spent 24 years and counting studying the complexities of Catholic doctrine and faith and spent 6 of those years pursuing a liberal arts undergraduate degree as well as a masters degree in business administration, I am told I am uneducated and dense for believing in God and that both men and women have beautiful purpose and equality. When I say that men and women are different and equal and that those differences can be embraced, I am told that separate and equal doesn’t work. I am a religious zealot that does not belong this conversation.

When I am in discussion with conservative Catholic women, I am also a joke. I have been indoctrinated with liberal brain-washing that tells me women are better than men. I obviously do not know my place. I am absurd for believing women have a place outside the home if they so choose. I am rejecting church teaching by believing my strongest witness to my faith is in how I treat others instead of how I judge others. I am a hypocrite for not ensuring that every penny I spend does not indirectly end up supporting immoral actions. I am too secular for this discussion.

In both circles, I am a fool for expecting to be heard. I am guilty of bigotry before I open my mouth to speak. I am not an expert. I need to be “fixed” to join the unceasing debate.

Yet here I am. I was born and raised Catholic. My faith is as much who I am as my womanhood, motherhood and sisterhood. I believe that every human deserves a chance at life regardless of who their parents are or ability. I believe that every individual has hardships that help form who they are in life, and that those contributions are important. There is death, destruction, hate, and evil in this world and it is all ugly. It can’t be ignored but I choose to focus on how I can make it better. I believe I have a duty to focus on the good I can bring into this world. I believe that my Catholic identity is complex and beautiful. I believe there is room for feminism.

I was also born and raised a feminist. My parents taught me that women matter. I was allowed room to disagree, discuss and form my own conclusions for issues both simple and complex. I was taught to think for myself, to respect myself and to trust in my abilities, strengths, and even things that appear to be weaknesses. My interests were encouraged. I was raised to stand up for what I believed in and to love others.  I pursued a liberal arts degree and a master’s degree. Before (and after) becoming a mother, I pursued a career helping survivors of physical, mental and sexual violence. I believe there is room for Catholicism.

I will continue to live my life believing that my Feminist and Catholic identities are not mutually exclusive. I will continue to speak up even though others feel I need to be “fixed” or “educated” or “put in my place”. Use whatever vulgar language you need to in order to make yourself feel better. When you are ready for civil and respectful discussion, let me know. I believe that kind of discussion can lead to some pretty amazing things, and I look forward to a day where everyone really does have a seat at the table. I look forward to a day where we start recognizing and addressing the real problems instead of focusing on the resulting solutions that steal focus and divide.