Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Adrienne Keene

It's Halloween. I haven't had much energy or interest in the holiday this year. I started grad school in September and since then school work combined with work work has left me pretty much out of the dress up and celebrate loop. If I had time, I'd obviously dress Chop up as Lambchop and I'd be Shari Lewis...

Lane would look so cute in this wouldn't he?
Even though I've been busy, I haven't been totally in the dark about the seasonal discussions of overly sexualized female costumes, instances of black face, and how the entire month of October is now a pumpkin spiced smorgasbord. Unfortunately, what never seems to get enough attention is the undying favorite of dressing up like an "Indian". Ireland Baldwin wins this year's award of just-not-getting-it after she dressed up as the "Chief" from Disney's "totally not racist in anyway shape or form" children's classic, "Peter Pan".
Ireland as "Chief" 

Her responses to anyone voicing upset over her costume choice ranged from the basic non-apologies, "I respect all cultures and would never mock one. I am Cherokee Indian and I am also well aware of what many tribes encountered in the past."  To the more inventive, "Deleted the picture because it was insulting all the poor little white girls who need a racial cause to be apart of for attention." 
Good questions, Pocahontas!

Am I included in the latter? I guess. Ireland is only 18 years old, is famous for having famous parents, one of whom notoriously called her a "pig" when she was a child, and is probably responding harshly out of embarrassment. Whether or not she is actually Cherokee Indian as she said is hard to say because who really knows? None of it is an excuse. But how many of us think this is so bad? Or have even considered what dressing up as a caricature of another culture really means?  

Adrienne Keene, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, has explained it to me through her blog "Native Appropriations". She is a student of Harvard's Graduate School of Education and researches education access for Native students. Native including those of American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Native Hawaiian decent. In 2010, she was compelled to start her blog because of a trip to Urban Outfitters and her disgust from all of the "Tribal" products they were selling. Since then, she has educated me as well as other white girls who need attention and thousands of others about what native appropriation is, why it's harmful, and how we can become a more historically aware and culturally progressive nation.

I think most people, like Ireland, would say that they "know" about the atrocities committed against native people when the first settlers came to America from Europe. This past Columbus Day there was a popular post circulating the internet about how terrible Columbus was towards the native people he encountered when he "discovered" America. Many have a grasp on the history of their mistreatment but seem to believe the suffering of Native people at the hands of the Americans is over. The truth however is that this is not a part of our past but an ever present issue today. 

"Indians" exist to us mostly in their stereotypical form. They are mascots, alcoholics, a cross-legged seated position, noble naturalists, brutal scalpers, casino operators, tax-free cigarette and gas purveyors, hipster paraphernalia, and of course, a costume. Whatever "good or bad" perceptions of Native people you may have, they are damaging because they are not real. They are constructions. Manipulations for a twisted fairy tale that we have handed down generation after generation. We have decided that peace pipes, tee-pees, tomahawks, dream catchers and Geronimo are one in the same, "Indian". We know little about the differences in tribal culture, the significance of the headdresses and patterns. Non-Native people are satisfied with the incomplete and inaccurate picture. 

Keene's work directly confronts the belief that "Indian" is an all encompassing term. Her work is not about political correctness. She is offering you truth about her ancestors, family, and own present day experiences. In her installment of the excellent series WELL RED, she recounts the story of her family's farm. After the Trail of Tears, her great-great grandparents were given land in Oklahoma under the Dawes Act. You can read more about it on Wikipedia, but the Dawes Act basically took tribal land and chopped it up into plots for single ownership by American Indians. This land kept their family prosperous and alive throughout the Great Depression. Her great grandmother was given her own farm where she raised her 8 children. Life was good. Then, the county decided to create a man made lake. They flooded out the Indian land. Her great-grandmother was given $870 total for both of the family farms. She had to move her children into town and took a job as a cook in a restaurant where she worked for the rest of her life. My great-grandmother was still alive when I was born, which means this incident of injustice was not as far removed as we would like to imagine our crimes against American Indians to be. As Keene says, 
"So much shit's happened to Indian people."
With all these statistics, this appropriation by Victoria's Secret
is even more upsetting.
And it's still happening today. Since reading "Native Appropriations", I've become more aware of news pertaining to Native people. What I've learned is extremely upsetting. According to the Department of Justice, one in three American Indian women will experience rape or attempted sexual assault. These are just the reported cases as many women are encouraged not to report their rapes. Rape in many tribal villages in Alaska and on reservations throughout the country is as high as 12 times the national average. Rape has become an expected part of a woman's life. The rape culture in America exacerbates these already horrific statistics.* 

And what is our government doing to help? Nothing. If you remember back to a year ago, the House failed to reauthorize the Senate's version of the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. This would have given tribal courts jurisdiction to prosecute non-Indian sex offenders for crimes committed on their land and against their people. The House and some Senate GOP members felt this gave the tribal courts too much authority so when the reauthorization was finally passed, it was without this provision leaving American Indian women vulnerable and unprotected. *

I have watched documentaries about the rampant sexual assault of native children by Catholic missionaries in Alaska, a woman's struggle to cope with life on her reservation, corporations dumping toxic waste on American Indian lands causing deadly cancers and illnesses to decimate their populations, and the efforts to regain their Native languages and identities after centuries of abuse. All of these documentaries were set in the present day. This injustice is not a part of our past. And we have to acknowledge that. How do we do that?

To start, let's not dress up or misrepresent Native people anymore on Halloween or in our daily clothes. In the episode, "Don't Trend on my Culture", from The Stream (below), in response to the question is dressing up as an American Indian really as bad as wearing black face, Keene says yes and asks, "Who has the right represent whom?" The history of representation of Native people has historically been done by white actors. How many famous American Indians can you name? I can't name any. Because of this, Native Americans have been kept out of telling their story in popular culture which is why we find ourselves today manipulating their history. Keene says the misuse of their culture has trivialized it and in order for Natives to have a voice, they must play into the stereotypes. She wants more options. 

This is what separates the Native experience from other ethnicities. People like to argue that the Cleveland Indians and Washington Redskins are no different than the Fighting Irish or the Patriots. The crucial difference lies within who is in control of representing these cultural mascots. American Indians do not have ownership over the teams who use racist depictions but non-Native groups represent themselves. This is the significant difference. 

So what can non-Natives do to positively contribute to the cultural repair Keene is working towards? 

1) I'd say we need to listen and hear what she and others are saying. We need to stop defending our shameful history. And read read read Adrienne's blog! If you don't understand what makes a dream catcher so bad, don't be afraid to do your research. Then tell your friends! 

2) If you like American Indian aesthetics, support actual American Indian artisans. Beyond Buckskin, a website founded by Dr. Jessica Metcalf, profiles American Indian designers and craftsmen so you can be sure your purchases are culturally accurate. Jessica and Adrienne recently spoke out against Paul Frank's native appropriation in a collection last year and were heard by the company! Paul Frank collaborated with four designers from different tribes to produce a first of its kind collection. This was a rare success from a conversation that often proves frustrating and fruitless for both bloggers. 

From the National Congress of American Indians
3) You can educate yourself on the history of American Indians in your community. Since we all "know" non-Natives were not the first ones to live on the land we "discovered", you can be sure there is a rich American Indian history right in your own hometown. Learn about the specific tribal culture of your area. Find out what happened to the people and where they are now. This is probably the only actual way to go about ending the injustice our country commits against American Indians today. And maybe it will change your mind about keeping those harmful mascots that are so prevalent not only among professional teams but throughout public schools. I know I'm going to write a letter to the school board in Jamestown about changing the high school "Red Raiders" mascot. November is Native American heritage month so go and find out what events are happening around you. 

4) Lastly, think not only on Halloween but everyday about the images you are creating about another person or group of people. If you are not a racist and want to be sensitive to the experience of others, don't defend your right to harmfully contribute to injustice. I have to give a shout out to my friends who host an annual Halloween party called Spooky Boobs. It's always tons of fun but they make it clear to all who are invited, NO APPROPRIATION OR CULTURALLY DISRESPECTFUL COSTUMES. They create a safe, fun, creative, awesome party every year! Hopefully I'll be able attend again sometime soon.

For the happiest Halloween, remember these words from Adrienne

*Facts in these paragraphs can be found in The New York Times

Monday, July 22, 2013

Major General Valentina Tereshkova

Hey. It's me. Julia. And this is my blog, Calista Jones. If it feels as though we've become strangers, it's because we have. It's not you, it's me. I moved to New York City. It's great, but the move itself took up all of my mental energy; job applications and such. But I'm back now. And after seeing Grace Coddington shopping for groceries at Gristedes in Chelsea, and excitedly explaining to my bf who she is, I remembered that I don't want to quit reminding you that women have always been leaders, warriors, geniuses, truth-tellers, explorers, philosophers, and revolutionaries, no matter what the liberal media* would have you believe. So let's keep chatting, shall we?

In the sixth grade, I decided I wanted to be the first woman on the moon. I made this decision because at the time, I felt like that was a job a person in my position could achieve. Kids always imagine incredible things for their futures and the only quality that made me an exception was that I had the understanding that as a female I could set myself apart as the first of something. So I chose the only job that came to mind: going to the moon. I drew my lunar landing on the cover of a mock Time Magazine for a class project. I created a board game called "Pigs in Space" for another project. And when adults would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd proudly announce, "I am going to be the first woman on the moon." They'd chuckle and say, "That's great!"

We've discussed my shortcomings in math. This was also true in science, and as much as I loved explaining how I would convince NASA to reopen the lunar program so I could take the first giant leap for womankind, I knew I would never see the dark side of the moon. It just wouldn't be possible for a girl in my position. I resigned myself to not really thinking too hard about my future after that. 

Puffy sleeves for storing xtra O
and stilettos for
lookin xtra fierce!
It's not that I blame adults for not being more encouraging of this goal or that I think if they had I'd be blogging from space. It's just that, I wish I hadn't known this was just a fantasy; no more real than Astronaut Barbie. I mean, who actually owned one of those, right? It was simply a cute imaginary goal I expressed in my extraordinarily nasally voice, to get attention; always my number one priority. 

Everyone got a kick out of it and I wasn't the only girl who capitalized on the novelty of being female. It was sort of a 90's "thing". Even when we'd repeat after Ginger Spice and shout "Girl Power", we knew it was mostly about being sparkly, loud, and jumpy. (Which were actually radical departures from typical accepted girliness: pastel, quiet, and stationary.) Feminism had become a new outfit, a new token of the cute female tween, a simple trend. Engineering, exploration, and education weren't necessarily required.

There wasn't a seat for me on top of a rocket because why should there be? I can't point to the exact moment I was taught this, but I have a distinct memory of learning about Christa McAuliffe, the teacher selected for a shuttle flight, and being made to feel that if she had just stayed in the classroom, she wouldn't have blown up in the Challenger disaster. Obviously, that was an oversimplification but it was what I deduced from the adults who were teaching me. She was denied her bravery and sacrifice by retroactively being told to stay in her place. I had never heard of Sally Ride, couldn't name another female astronaut, and most certainly not of Valentina Tereshkova. Space was not a woman's place.

Let's chat about Hillary for a second. You know who I'm talking about. The next President of the United States, Hillary Clinton (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)  Let's not get too excited because there are other matters to discuss, but, Hil wanted to go into space too when she was young. She even wrote a letter to NASA to inquire about how one would go about becoming an astronaut. You know what NASA told Hillary, the next POTUS? They told her that girls can't go into space. Or they sent a list of requirements for space travel which would have precluded women. No one is really sure but I don't think there is much distinction between the two letters. Her critics say she obviously didn't want it enough but it seems like an impressionable teenage girl, even one with as much tenacity and determination as she, would feel discouraged by their response. So even without written, documented, proof, take me and Hil at our word, OK? WE WERE NOT ENCOURAGED. And it was because we were girls.

Too bad we didn't grow up in the Soviet Union. 

Yes, you read that right. And even though it is not totally sarcastic with regards to this post, it is obviously not too bad that we did not live in the USSR. And still don't. See, Pussy Riot.
BUT, Russia did do one thing right during the height of the space race. They sent Valentina Tereshkova into orbit. In 1963. 1963. As well versed as I am in feminist history, I had never heard of her until the 50th anniversary of her 3 day mission. I know it's important to know that women weren't allowed to do anything throughout history, however, I feel like it's also important to know that there's never been a time when women were doing nothing. How had I never heard of her until my 28th year of life, two years older than she was during her historic flight? 

Valentina was one in 5 women selected out of about 400 who applied for the female cosmonaut program. This means that not only were there 4 other women cosmonauts, but hundreds of others were brave enough to try out for a chance! That's amazing because even though those women didn't go into space, they put their names down to do something that few at the time had ever done. Men or women. To me this is a tangible example of progress in the world. Tereshkova had dreamed of parachuting and flying as a child. I'm not sure she could have imagined going into outer space but she was given an opportunity to exceed her childish fantasies despite her gender and social status. We should all know about her. 

Tereshkova was given the flight name "Chaika" which in English means "Seagull". She had a tumultuous three days in space. She was nauseous and uncomfortable the entire time which sounds a lot like my daily commute on the subway. (Motion sickness: another practical reason I am not an astronaut. I can't even sit on a porch swing.) Despite the hardship, she completed the entire mission which meant that afterwards she had spent more time in space than all of the American men combined. At 26, she was also the youngest person ever to fly in space. The data and photographs she collected were used to make new discoveries about our atmosphere, thus furthering all space exploration. She played an integral role in our understanding of the final frontier.

In 1969, around the time the space race was coming to a close, the female cosmonaut program was disbanded and it was over another decade before a second Russian woman would venture into zero gravity. Though she was denied a second space flight, Maj. General Tereshkova went onto become a cosmonaut engineer and politician. Out of about 560 people who have gone into space, she is the 10th person to do so. The first woman out of 40 total throughout the history of space exploration. Her accomplishment is monumental. 

It can be said Russia only used women in their space program to acquire another "first" in the race with the US. They certainly didn't make sweeping changes to their treatment of women overall. However, that does not take away from the fact that several women trained for and one completed an actual space mission. We cannot discredit their achievement. We should also remember that during this time space exploration captivated the entire world and while astronauts wives were gossiped about in our country much like the reality show wives are today, Valentina was awarded medals for her scientific exploration. I wish I knew about her when I was in sixth grade. 

Sage advice from Sally Ride.
Cold War tactic or not, the Soviets saw an opportunity to outdo America because of our gender inequality. Should that not be a lesson for us going forward? A societal weakness that could one day cost us valuable resources, intelligence data, or even worse, lives? Sexism has real, damaging costs. Our journeys into space will have effects further reacting than our Earthly borders. Shouldn't we want as many strong, capable, intelligent leaders as possible in order to make the greatest gains?

Elsa with her astronaut gear.
Before I left Chicago, I went to the Adler Planetarium with my best friend Jenny and her family. It was as educational for me as it was for her 5 year old son and 2 year old daughter. It became apparent that going into space will become a lot more realistic for their generation than it is for mine. We watched a documentary called "Space Junk" and spoiler alert people of Earth: we've already managed to pollute the orbit Valentina traveled. I didn't realize how many satellites are already required for powering our day to day systems and it seems that once we pick up our intergalactic litter, us normals will be circling the globe before we know it! I may not go to the moon, but I might take a commercial space flight some day if they develop a motion sickness pill strong enough for me. Maybe Captain Elsa will be piloting my flight! 

Can someone send me a Lego figurine of all the women I've written about so far? 

*Read the first line of the NYT linked article. Read this rebuttal. Accept that I love appropriating Sarah Palin phrases.

Monday, May 13, 2013

American Catholic Nuns

Raise your hand if you're tired of hearing about the pope!!! 


I mean, is the pope Catholic, right? Am I? Nope. Are 1.8 billion people on this planet? Sure. But the rest of us 5.2 billion aren't and seeing as Benedict simply Palin-ed out of his leadership responsibilities because the rest of the world doesn't believe condoms are made from the devil's skin, we can give it a rest as far as the 24/7 news coverage is concerned.

I'm sure the next pope will be like the last pope who was like the last pope who was like the last pope, times infinity, forever and ever, amen. For all this incessant talk about the possibility of great revision within the Catholic church during the next papacy, one might be tricked into forgetting change is not the forte of the church. Francis can wash as many ladies' feet as he wants, but I'm not buying this hopey, changey stuff. (2 Palin refs, 1 post!) 

How do I already know nothing will change under new pope Francis? Umm, well, again with the lady feet washing. Many viewed this act to be ominous and foreboding. Ominous and foreboding? But how? If the pope could and would dare to wash a woman's feet, what else would he then possibly bestow upon the lesser sex!? Female ordination!? L'horreur! The Vatican is the OG Bro-dom; so I really don't know why anyone would freak out about the potential possibility of women priests being allowed to exist anytime soon just because of a little, albeit radical, foot wash. But they did. Which makes me wonder, can you imagine if women were so adamantly opposed to men in leadership positions? 

What if we flipped shit every time a man was elected or ordained or chosen!? We don't and we wouldn't of course because just like everyone else we're conditioned to believe men are the rightful, natural leaders. But are they? Not all of them, certainly. The women's movement was vilified for pointing this out which is how the man-hating, hairy, god-denouncing, feminist stereotype was born. As Jimmy Carter affirms in the following quote, men in religious leadership positions have actively worked against women by interpreting Biblical text to their benefit:
Religions are only successful when a group of like-minded individuals come together to decide on an interpretation. Like our governments, modern day religions have developed under male leadership. To retain power, the best way to subjugate other groups is to claim they are less- than under the laws of god. Godly authority seems to be the most difficult for us mortals to question. The Catholic church is one such religion that has excelled at packaging gender roles and distributing them to followers as god-given fact. Thus, no lady priests, bishops, cardinals, or popes. 

As I predicted, the newest "Supreme Pontiff" has doubled down on the godly tradition of woman-hating by affirming the last "Supreme Pontiff"s persecution of American nuns. Less than 2 months and this new guy's change campaign is already over and done. 
"And Eve took that apple from the tree of knowledge, and she ate that shit, cuz Eve was a baller." - The Bible - Babe Parker
Luckily, women are awesome and unafraid of rejecting any false interpretation of our position. Always have been, always will be. Sorry to disappoint "Papa", but there are plenty of amazing nuns out there who actually don't really care what "His Holiness" has to say about their leadership abilities. 

After being accused of "radical feminism", undermining the church, not promoting male-only priesthood, not opposing same-sex marriage, etc., The Leadership Council of Women Religious (which represents about 80% of American nuns) has continued it's mission of serving the poor, educating generations of children, and speaking out against the patriarchal values that relegate women to a second class status. 

When asked by 60 Minutes what her reaction was when she learned her group was being accused of radical feminism, Sister Pat Farrell (former president of LCWR) said:
"I don't know, but it feels to me like fear. What would happen if women really were given a place of equality in the church?"
LCWR March
FEAR!!! The church is afraid of the same thing all male dominated institutions are afraid of: loss of power. I'm reading Sheryl Sandberg's "Lean In" right now and I can't recommend it enough. Even though she's speaking through a capitalist lens with regards to women in the corporate world, a lot of what she calls for from women is what the nuns are already doing. They are making their voices heard by being fearless and leading without waiting for male approval. The men in the church are so afraid, the office that is investigating the LCWR is the same office that was once The Inquisition! For those unfamiliar, The Inquisition tortured heretics, burned witches, and even persecuted Galileo by calling his stationary sun "theory" contradictory to the Bible!!! (Global Warming skeptics, anyone?) The church is literally going medieval against a bunch of women who'd rather take their spiritual cues from their own brains, community service, and connection to god than a group of men who've completely overlooked and covered up their own GLOBAL PEDOPHILIA CRISIS. 

Tradition is a staple of the Church. There can be meaning in following the same rituals as people who have lived centuries before, however, if the main thing your ideology has going for it is tradition and history, it is antiquated and unnecessary. Progression must be a part of the equation. Priests can baptize, marry, counsel, and preach. It is not unfair for nuns to want to perform these duties for their parishioners. If they believe the people they serve need access to comprehensive health care that includes reproductive care, the Church should trust their motivations. And, as Sister Farrell reminded 60 Minutes, the nuns traditionally have "never wanted the men to tell (them) what to do." 

Damn yo, I wanna be a bad ass nun. I mean, not really, but if I could someday be half as brave as they are, I would die an accomplished woman. 

I understand many find solace and comfort from the guidance of their priests and look to the pope for spiritual inspiration. I am not saying the church is all bad nor am I saying all male leadership is corrupt. In fact, many priests are on the side of the nuns. Noted peace activist, Father Roy Bourgeois has been excommunicated for his efforts to ordain Catholic nuns to the priesthood. In an interview with Democracy Now! he points out the hypocrisy within the Church: 
"Less than three months after I attended the ordination of a woman in Lexington, Kentucky, less than three months, I received a letter from the Vatican demanding that I recant within 30 days or I will be excommunicated. The severity, the swiftness of the Vatican’s letter, I think it calls into question, you know, just what’s going on here. What really is the problem? I do believe that I did not commit a crime. I am following my conscience. Women—you know, it’s amazing, the thousands of priests and the many bishops were aware of these crimes of their priests, they remained silent. These priests committing the crimes and the bishops who remained silent have not been excommunicated. Yet, the many women who have been ordained to the priesthood and the priests and bishops who support their ordination are excommunicated. I do believe that there is a problem here. This is also a grave injustice."
The Catholics who defy the Vatican insist they have taken a vow of obedience to god and not the Church. This is an important distinction. I don't know what it exactly means to be Catholic or a "good" Catholic, but it seems when you have devoted followers in a world that is hemorrhaging spiritual believers, you should probably work to keep the faithful you have instead of needlessly excommunicating them from their community. As Sister Simone Campbell says:
 "I am Church."

Sister Campbell came to the national stage during the last election due in part to the budget laid out by Paul Ryan and endorsed by Mitt Romney. Ryan proclaimed his budget to be in line with the principles of the Catholic church and used his faith to campaign for the Republican party. The right regularly declare themselves the moral center, but there are plenty of progressives who are religious leaders. Ryan's budget really irked the women who are working on the front lines of the war on poverty. They formed "Nuns on the Bus" and campaigned around the country for economic justice. In her speech during the Democratic National Convention, Campbell stated their position:

"Paul Ryan claims his budget reflects the principles of our shared Catholic faith. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stated that the Ryan budget failed a basic moral test, because it would harm families living in poverty. We agree with our bishops, and that's why we went on the road: to stand with struggling families and to lift up our Catholic sisters who serve them. Their work to alleviate suffering would be seriously harmed by the Romney-Ryan budget, and that is wrong."

You should note that this criticism came before Ryan posed for his infamous soup kitchen photo-op. What a nerd.
Ryan, working hard to scrub clean dishes.
Perhaps the main reason the male leadership of the Church is persecuting the nuns is because they are redefining what it means to be pro-life. By focusing the term on providing for our nation's most vulnerable families, and spending day after day caring and listening to their needs, the nuns have a more comprehensive understanding of what life is actually about as Campbell stated in an interview with NPR
"When you don't work everyday with people who live at the margins of our society, it's so much easier to make easy statements about who's right and who's wrong," Campbell said. "Life is way more complicated in our society and it's probably way easier to be 8,000 miles away in Rome."


The fight by some Catholic organizations to preserve the separation of Church and State with regards to Obamacare covering abortions (it doesn't) and employers not wanting their health care plans to "pay" for birth control is ridiculous. It's important to acknowledge that these efforts are a waste of time because if they succeed, where would it stop? Not being able to use the money from your paycheck to pay for the pill because of your employer's personal beliefs? The nuns are working toward real things for actual people and it's shameful they don't have the support of the Vatican simply due to gender discrimination. The "Nuns on the Bus" supported the bishops after all, but the men are not being interrogated and harassed. Today, the pope addressed 800 nuns in Rome and told them to be "chaste mothers" and not "spinsters". Great tip! He also reminded them to be obedient to the Church/him. Submission, ladies! It's your calling!

Sister Joan Chittister* has been leading the charge against the Church's sexism for years. She maintains it is not an opposition view to disagree with the Vatican but rather her own understanding based on spiritual commitment and research. She doesn't advocate for abortion (does anyone?), but as a rational human working with actual women, she knows the reality: abortion is sometimes necessary for the health and well-being of the woman. The anti-choice movement is oftentimes at odds with the end result of carrying a pregnancy to term: a human being. Chittister summarizes this perfectly: 

"I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born, but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. 

I've been working hard on this post for a while now. I think I've had a difficult time writing about these women because there is too much awesome to compact into one readable post. And that is the point I want to leave you on. Look further into the work they are doing because whether or not you are a Catholic or understand any of the motivations behind religious people, I believe inspiration can be drawn. Sisters Farrell, Campbell, and Chittister and many other American nuns do not limit their work to people who believe what they believe. They reach outside of their religion to affect actual change within their community. In addition, they are standing up to one of the oldest, most aggressive male organizations the world has ever known. This will impact all people for many generations to come and for that work, I am grateful. 

While I understand the Church's use of the "Radical Feminist" accusation is meant to be a dis, I'd say that is EXACTLY what the nuns embody and we should look up to them for it. To march in the face of obvious subjugation, at the risk of excommunication from your chosen church for the betterment of that very church: this is the purest form of revolution. I hope they succeed because I know their leadership will make the entire world a better place. 

*Please, please read the full transcript of this interview with Sister Joan. She is extremely eloquent and clearly states her positions and the basis for them. It is incredibly informative.

And Just for Lawlz:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Evelyn Joan Kamps Jansen

Guest Post: I've reached out to some friends who have been really supportive of me and Calista Jones over the years to submit their own posts to the blog. I told them they could write about anyone they wanted and to make it as personal as they want. My friend, Liz Jansen, is the first in what I hope will become a regular series of guest posts about the many varied ways in which women have inspired us. I'm lucky to know Liz as she is a woman of exceptional character and devotion to others. If you'd like to submit a post, just contact me at! 

When thinking about this piece, my initial and obvious goal was to make it about the influencer, my subject.  As soon as I decided to write about my mom, I knew it’d be hard to avoid some self-reflection. I'm adopted, which has the capacity to complicate things like family, race, and ethnicity (if those weren’t already complicated enough).  Adoption is simultaneously a defining part of who I am, yet almost completely irrelevant to my day-to-day life.  In one sense, I am adopted.  My life would have been vastly different had I not been or had I been adopted into a different family.  In another sense, adoption—as a past event—is completely banal.  It’s something that happened in 1985 and is done.  It is simultaneously a past, concrete event and a present, fluid experience.

As a state of being, adoption gave me somewhat of a blank slate to work with as far as identity is concerned.   To sort of elaborate, I know I look Asian and often deal with inaccurate expectations based on my physical appearance, but I do not identify with and am therefore free to act outside of the norms of traditional Korean culture. Additionally, because I am adopted and don’t look White, I am also free to act outside of the norms of traditional, middle-American, suburban, White culture.  While not fitting in can be daunting, in my experience, it’s also been liberating.  As an adopted person, I may not quite fit into a specific category, but I’m also not beholden to a specific category.

I don’t quite have the words to describe my adoptive experience, and that attempt is for another time and place, but the point of this digression is to give a small sense of the many ways my story could have gone and to emphasize that who I am—the best parts of me—is almost entirely dependent on my family and the strong influence of the woman you’re about to meet.

Bill, Sue, and
their eldest daughter Donna.
Evelyn Joan Kamps (now Jansen) was born on January 29th in Allegan, Michigan.  Her father, William (Bill) Kamps, was a dairy farmer his entire life and also worked at a sawmill during the winter months. Her mother, Suzanna (Sue), worked in a factory until she had their first daughter, Donna.  After the birth of Donna, Sue dedicated her life to her family, which eventually grew to include five daughters.  Sue was able to stay at home until my mom was about three or four years old, at which point she went back to work full time. In remembering her parents, my mother writes, “They were hard working people who didn't take things for granted…walking close with God and trusting in him was evident in their lives.”

By the age of ten, my mom was in the barn working with her dad.  Although, instead of working I think she actually meant playing, because the only story she shared was about how she used to dress up “a big old tomcat” in a bonnet and push him around in a stroller. After the dressing up tomcats phase, my mom transitioned to horses and enjoyed riding with the neighbor kids.  On growing up and the prospects of growing up, my mom writes, “I always wanted to be a mom.  I didn't really want a career and never really thought I was smart enough for that. Little did I know you had to be super smart to be a parent, which doesn’t come with a handbook.”

In July of 1976, my mother took the first step towards her dream of a family when she met my dad, Christopher David Jansen.  In proper Christian Reformed fashion this romance revolves around the church, where they initially met. One day during service, my mom spotted her future husband across the sanctuary sitting with a family she knew.  On her way out, a mutual family friend introduced them and set them up on a date, a movie a neighboring church was hosting for “young people.”  So began a courtship of Wednesday night church softball leagues and dates to the Dairy Queen in Dorr (extra points to anyone who has been to Dorr, MI).  Dairy Queen eventually led to horseback riding and dinners with the family.  During this time, Sue was sick with Leukemia, obviously a tough time for my mom.  Thankfully my dad was able to experience her legendary humor and hospitality before she passed.  Eventually Chris and Evie were married and had a reception featuring ham on buns in their church’s basement.  (I’m sure potato salad was also included.) 

After marriage, my parents moved in with my Bill (my grandpa) and eventually came a baby in a baby carriage (or rather an airplane).  Born in Seoul, South Korea, I arrived in the summer of ’85.  My parents adopted me because they were initially unable to conceive, a problem more than overcome once my mom had three biological children in a row (1992, 1993, 1995), officially ending my 7-year reign as queen of the Jansen household.

On achieving her dream of motherhood, Evie writes, “When you kids were small I enjoyed being home with you and taking care of you.  In fact, it was probably one of the happiest times in my life, but I am also now ready to move forward to a little more mom and dad time…” (I don’t want to know what “mom and dad time” means.)  As she continued to reflect on her experiences as a mother, she writes, “Wanting to do the best for each kid’s personality is sometimes a big job, but I remember being pleasantly surprised when suggesting something, giving [you] time to think about it, and letting [you] come to [your] own conclusion.” My mother continued to reflect on how hard this was for her as her natural impulse was to protect through managing decisions.  She overcame this fear and need for protection through a strong faith she defined using Q&A 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism, “What is your only comfort in life and death?  That I am not my own, but belong body and soul and in life and death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”  Like her mother before her, Evie’s life has been grounded in faith and family.  Those have always been and still remain her top priorities. 

My family has made me who I am, and this is but a small piece of our ever-evolving narrative. The good parts of me are because of their influence and support. A huge (but by no means complete) portion of that influence and support comes from my mom, Evelyn Joan Jansen.  My mother is a warrior and she is a survivor.  She is strong and tender, courageous and gentle.  My mother, like all women, is complex and paradoxical.  It is because of her ability to let me come to my own conclusions that faith and family remain cornerstones in my life.  Though I may live out these traditions in different ways, my mother succeeded in making sure the foundations her parents laid remain a steadfast part of who I am.

I drafted much of this on my iPhone on public transportation surrounded by people, all strangers and all with a unique story of how they got to be on the Purple line express on a rainy spring-ish type day in Chicago. As I sat there, thinking about my story, how I got to be on the Purple line express and where I could have ended up, I was reminded of how infinitely grateful I am for my mom.  It is a testament to her love and support that two people who were born worlds apart, who should be strangers, and who remain vastly different are eternally bound by the words mother and daughter, words that transcend and defy both blood and biology.