Thursday, June 29, 2017

Gal Gadot and Patty Jenkins are My New Lady Crushes

The seats reclined. Be jealous.

I am a mother who last had time away from her loud lovely children three years ago. As excited as I was about heading to South Bend (See previous post) for nearly four days, I was on a mission to do a few other things:

- have a beer
- eat my meal at a restaurant while it was still hot
- find a Target and walk around by myself
- catch Wonder Woman on the big screen

Check, check, check, and let me grab a drink or five while I spend an entire night telling you all about  it.

I grew up around comics, DC and Marvel alike. I grew up with scantily clad women superheroes drawn in poses that are laughable. I loved these characters, but this film has simply outgrown that vision.

I want to talk about the wonderful world we get to see on screen when you have a female director for a female superhero film.

An island of women. There is no wrong or right way to be: they are women. They love. They fear. They fight. They care and nurture. They long and feel arousal. They mourn. They seek purpose and run towards it.

On this island, women are warriors. They lead and they train. They create clothing that honors the movement of their bodies, allowing for limbs to move and bend with purpose. The clothing is beautiful with purpose, not sexualization.

A man appears and a woman saves him. There's no hesitation or competition, it's just the right thing to do.

We are transported to this island, and to a place where a confident, self-aware, has never had a reason to doubt herself woman first comes in contact with a man and what happens?


Diana did not have to grow up distrusting. We see a man hit on her and she merely puts her hand out to refuse and we hear a firm "No" without fear or repercussion.

A particularly moving scene for me was seeing Diana experience attraction. She was capable of expressing her interest and in this world, she could wordlessly offer consent, be aroused, and act on those feelings. We see a woman uninhibited by the restraints our broken world has placed on women and it is damn beautiful.

We see men respect her and show their loyalty to her because of her fierce drive to do good and carry out her purpose. We see Steve willing to be an equal partner.

This film is not a simple comic book spin on superheroes and myths. It truly explores the "what if" of feminism in a beautiful way. In this instance, we have a female director that doesn't thrust men down to empower women, but instead they are equals. We see the growth of genuine love, not gratuitous sex. We have costume design that makes sense, not sex, showing the strength and power of a woman's body.

We are given a female hero that is feminine and a warrior. Diana says 'no' to power and 'yes' to good (*ahem* Mary). She's comfortable in her own skin. She has opinions and plans. She's a leader with purpose. She fights injustice. She feels. She protects and loves the innocent (and guilty?). She mourns and shows fear. She is a sexual being. She persevered. We were given a female hero that shows us a well-rounded example of feminine genius.

While the film is in no way meant to be theological, we see social justice themes. Sacrificial love abounds.

I want to be Diana. Or Gal Gadot... I'll get back to you on that one.

Early in the film, young Diana wears a determined smile. It's a smile I want to see on the face of my daughters. Maybe me as well.

Pretend this is a photo from the film, used with permission.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Trying to Say 'God' Post Mortem

Ladies and gentlemen, I am struggling. These are lean times for the faithful like me. There's much in this world that reminds me to cling to belief in God and the beautiful Catholic community here on earth. Unfortunately, there is much that makes me want to throw in the towel. If you are feeling like this, hold on to your butts, and let's chat. You are not the only one.

I have a difficult time with those that hate Catholics, but I have a difficult time with Catholics that are prime examples of why people hate Catholics.

I know better. I know we are better than this.

I know there are many wonderful priests. I know there are many wonderful Catholics that want nothing more than to be the faithful that can help lead more to Christ so he can do the heavy lifting. But this last year has left me with some fairly terrible examples of the worst in Catholics and it sucks.

This weekend I attended the Trying to Say 'God' conference that was wonderfully put together by Sick Pilgrim. I was absolutely blown away. I'll try to put it into words for you, but I know you can listen to some of the panels yourself on Soundcloud and I really suggest you do just that. I'm not a podcast or an audio file person, but I will most likely go back through and listen to all of them again. There are some really special things happening in my spiritually blocked heart right now because of this conference (and Wonder Woman, but that's another horse entirely).

This weekend I met my people. As was described by Jessica Mesman Griffith, the conference was mostly filled with faithful, devoted Catholics that live "on the edge" of the faith bubble. I love God. I love Jesus. I struggle with how to do this in the gray areas because my life is filled with people that are not Catholic or maybe not practicing their faith, and I love them. I love these people and I believe God loves them also, and they are hurting (often due to the words and actions of others claiming the title of Catholic). So I am sitting on the edge. I'm fully immersed in my faith and duty as a Catholic, yet I cannot be in a Catholic bubble that keeps me from people that are not or cannot be where I am.

Not all there were Catholic. Not all there were straight. Not all there had children, or were married, or had natural hair color, or were the picture of mental health. There were high school teachers, scholars, moms, dads, a few kiddos, a bishop, writers, artists, musicians, journalists, and more. I was taken aback at first by the sheer number of people that strolled up to me and asked me "What are you working on?" and not "How many kids do you have?" or "You sure have your hands full, are you done having kids yet?" Maybe that was because I don't get out much solo. Maybe it was because I forgot that I am a person outside of motherhood. I prefer to think that everyone there was just as excited as I was to talk about being Catholic and what that means for the arts.

I won't give you the moment by moment play by play (though I totally could and wish you all could have just attended because it was truly something special) but I hope you'll be okay with a few highlights? My blog, so I do what I want. Apologies.

I had never heard of Heather King before this weekend. She dominated her keynote speech Friday night (there were several amazing speakers) and I bought her latest book because I don't want to forget to read more from her. I had the chance to speak with her later as we were getting things set up to have an open mic night (Amazing right?!) and she's just lovely. Lovely. Go read anything that has her name on it because she's wonderful.

In a moment of some much needed introvert alone time, I wandered the bookstore on campus because OH YEAH: I was on the Notre Dame campus. As I sipped my iced coffee and listened to MLBTV,  (let's go Royals, let's go) I found a unique copy of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. 

I used to be a fiction reader. I mean, I love Poe, so of course I love fiction. Somewhere, I just stopped. Over the weekend, I attended a session about the profane and the spiritual. It was a really interesting look into creativity and our faith. The other half of Sick Pilgrim (Jonathan Ryan) convinced me to go to the next session about Weird Fiction. So I ended up on a fiction high because I got to talk Poe. I went looking for Shelley next and I'm glad I did because look at that cover!

I met many incredibly talented and sweet people. Weird Catholics. People that swear and dye their hair weird colors and love Jesus. Smokers, drinkers, and people that don't get it all right the first time (12th time?) but are still trying because the Eucharist holds them here. People that are "Catholic curious" and people that maybe just aren't. Cradle Catholics and converts. People like me that have had a really rough time with other Catholics and feeling "Catholic" enough just because we are figuring out the gray areas a little differently and questioning how we can best be faithful while showing others love.

The last panel I attended was one that had six or seven women discussing, well, women. The women on the panel were journalists, bloggers, authors with different voices and perspectives and the panel was the brainchild of Colleen Mitchell. When I went to thank her and congratulate her on a job well done, she pulled out a copy of one of her books, signed it, and handed it over. Such generosity.

In sum, incredible. It was such a privilege to meet so many Catholics that are where I am or have been where I am that understand it. It was not meant as a retreat (I don't think) but it felt like one. All my favorite things were in one place: the Catholic faith,  music, art, and literature. To cap it all off, my roomie for the weekend and I went rogue and went to see Wonder Woman. It's all I've thought about since, so it was obviously the best idea I've ever had. Be prepared to hear me gush in the near future, if nap times allow.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

A Tale of Two Shirts

One lavender top that worked well with my maxi skirt but not so well with a particular pair of jeans that I spent the entire first night of my dream job adjusting and regretting, and I was The Girl With Modesty Problems for the rest of the summer.

Let me back up. I was 19. I was working for a summer catechetical program that I still adore. I was Shut the Front Door level excited to have been chosen not only for a camp team, but then to write the modesty talk. This was me:

So young. Such annoying camera cheese.

Then the first night of our first parish assignment, I changed out of my Sunday best skirt to wear jeans for our first high school night, but I grabbed the wrong pair of jeans so there was a bit of skin when I sat. I was really self-conscious about it and could not focus on my teammate's talk for the night. I even sat in the back row. Which is how the older, former teacher saw it and instructed my team leader to talk to me. A week later, my camp boss let me know he was considering switching me over to the Marian talk. 

I spent the next three weeks perfecting my "Thoughts, Words, Actions" modesty talk and figured out I was terrible at a capsule wardrobe. #thingsyoudonotknowatnineteen

I wanted my talk to be different, because things like this were happening in parishes:

Teens were burned out on the clothing talks. They showed up to swim parties and hang out nights covered from fingertip to toes to joke with us. I get it. I've been over it and frustrated with the dress code modesty rules each and every one of the dozens of times I have heard it as a teen and as an adult. 

Telling women to cover and hide parts of their body does not protect men or women. It sets the ground work for assault and victim blaming. 

Look. I'm not here to demand women have the right to walk around nude. I'm not vein-popping shouting that men should look away. I'm suggesting clothing is not the problem, and if we continue to play like it is, we are hurting our sons and daughters. 

I'd love a cultural shift that turns the fashion industry into something that works for women. Women come in all shapes and sizes. I would love to see silhouettes and lines in clothing reflect that in a more diverse way. That's not really where we go with the modesty debate though, is it? Instead, we filter people into the Always Nude Naysayers, and the Flowy Floor-Length Turtleneckers. We decide to focus on clothes, and ask women to take on the pressure of modesty while our men get it together. Then, we ask what sexual assault victims were wearing when a crime is committed against them. 

During the second half of my summer teaching, I was in a better rhythm. I went shopping over the break with my teammate  new-found BFF and found a shirt combo I loved. It was orange! It was long enough to cover my torso! It was in that ridiculous style that I had envied all through high school where you wear a white tank underneath to avoid cleavage! I felt pretty! All things good, right?

We wear our favorite shirt on our birthday.

Then came the week of the high school boys camp. My BFF and I had a modesty debate with a priest. It was heated but probably the most fascinating conversation I had been a part of to date. I was learning. I was experiencing new things. I was enjoying the heck out of my summer, and didn't want it to end. I was on my way to the chapel one night when my team leader again approached me and asked me to change my shirt. He said one of the high schoolers had asked him to ask me to change. My team leader (seminarian) could not have felt more awkward asking, and I was mortified. It was the worst moment of my life to date. I changed and remembered my team leader's words "At least he was listening to the talks?"

I am no less mortified by the moment all these years later, though for different reasons. I wish I had been better at dressing my body. I wish one of my male coworkers had stood up for me. I wish that I'd had a better understanding of modesty and the concept of being brothers and sisters in Christ. I wish that my Catholic education had better addressed the concept of femininity so that I didn't feel so lost. 

I'd always been a jeans and t-shirt kind of gal. I didn't know how to wear the tops and outfits that my peers wore. I didn't know how to dress my body type: I was tall, long-legged, with a long torso and large-chested. (Hence the t-shirt and jeans uniform. ) I was beginning to figure all that out in college. As a grown woman, I see the ways the modesty message I received was flawed. I see the ways I can resolve those issues for my kids. I don't want them to be so stuck on hemlines and custody of the eyes that they don't learn character or the inherent beauty of men and women. 

I was reprimanded twice that summer for wearing inappropriate shirts: One that showed the slightest bit on my back and one that supposedly was meant to draw attention to my chest. Nothing was said about the concert shirt I wore repeatedly. The band has a multitude of songs that are misogynistic, including one called "Date Rape." Looking through the photos, that is the one I regret the most.

I don't want to be *that* woman. The woman that jumps to the most extreme example every time. I don't read the word "modesty" and counter with "RAPE!" I believe it is a good thing to raise our children to care about others. I think it is a good thing to teach our children how to dress their body types, and to dress appropriately for whatever activity is on the agenda. It is good and healthy to help them find things that allow for movement and comfort. I just don't want them to think that a piece of clothing means my daughter is partially to blame for a crime committed against her or that my son would somehow be absolved from said crime because of what she was (or wasn't) wearing. This line of thinking works in more "trivial" situations also: magazines on the rack, sporting events, dances, the mere act of being at school. Women experience various act of harassment often from the very moment puberty hits. It does not matter how modest the clothing. The lack of respect does not come from immodest dress: the push for modesty is meant to address the lack or respect, and it is lacking.