Category Archives: feminisim

How I’m Feeling about My Upcoming Hysterectomy

When people find out that I—a childless woman in my early thirties—will be having a hysterectomy, the first question they inevitably ask is, “How are you feeling about that?”

 

And I will be honest with you, after attempting to be diplomatic, after trying to come up with the “short version” for acquaintances and patiently articulating the long version for those closest to me, I have this to say: STOP ASKING ME HOW I’M FEELING (please). I’m so sick of being asked this question—because the answer is not what everyone asking this question wants or expects to hear. People want me to be broken up about it. People expect me to be devastated. And I think it offends some of them that I’m not sad about it. Of course, all of these expectations are rooted, however loosely, in the ancient belief that childbearing is the only thing women exist to do in this life. And I guess if I had that perception of myself and my life’s purpose, then sure, maybe I’d be heartbroken over this development. But dealing with the realities of my pending surgery has been loads easier than trying to walk on the eggshells of people’s expectations of my devastation and their devastation on my behalf.

 

Only a few people knew this before now, but I’ve always suspected I would never be able to have my own children. I could never explain exactly why or how this was the case, but from the time I was seventeen, I just somehow knew that my womb wouldn’t grow children. I told one person back then—and it’s doubtful she remembers such a prediction because it would’ve sounded ridiculous. And yet here we are. Because of this instinct of mine, I acclimated many, many years ago to the idea of expanding my future family through adoption. And so this fork in the road isn’t some great tragedy for me. It is a newer adjustment for my husband, and he is probably and understandably a little sadder about it than I am. But overall, we are fine. And I am fine.

 

But I’ll tell you about a time when I was not fine. I won’t recount the details of 2010—2015, from the time the fibroids were discovered to the time of my first surgery to remove them while leaving my uterus intact—a period during which I was also less than fine. But I’ve recounted at least some of those details elsewhere.

 

What I want to tell you about is what happened after that first surgery. I had been married all of eight months when I had surgery in November 2015. I had broached the subject of a hysterectomy multiple times with my doctor, both while I was still single and after I was newly married. I somehow knew all along, in my gut, that it would eventually come to that, and I wanted to feel better, sooner. I wanted to get it over with, sooner. I was ready long ago to embrace the idea of potential, someday adoption.

 

I was not ready to pull the trigger on pregnancy during my first year of marriage. And yet my doctor was adamant about a hysterectomy not being solely “my” decision (even when I was single!). She was adamant about preserving my uterus and my ability to bear children, even after I got married and even after David and I, together, expressed that we would rather do a hysterectomy than risk a surgery that might not solve the problem. She was adamant that we not rush into making that decision, and even though I disagreed then and it has now come to what it has, I don’t resent her. She’s seen a lot more than I have, experienced a lot more than I have, and she’s the medical expert. I respect her expertise, and I appreciate her objective in looking out for regrets I might have later. I did, once, try to explain to her my “feeling” that I might not be able to get pregnant anyway, once I was ready to begin trying. As a practitioner of science and medicine, it is her job to dismiss anything that has no tangible, explicable basis, and she did just that: “Why would you think that? There is absolutely no reason to believe that you cannot get pregnant.” And I let the conversation end there.

 

So, fast forward to after my first surgery. I recovered, I went back to work, and six months later, I went for the follow-up ultrasound the doctor insisted I receive. The goal was to find out whether my uterus was still uninhabited. I expected the fibroids to be back, and they were—with a vengeance. At the time of surgery, the doctor removed six and left four. Six months after that, the ultrasound showed too many fibroids to count. Too many to count. A literal invasion. For those last six months, I had also been on a contraceptive that was injectable. Its aim, beyond keeping me from getting pregnant, was to shrink fibroids. It had been unsuccessful.

 

My next birth control injection appointment was scheduled sometime in July 2016, but after the less-than-desirable results of the ultrasound, David and I had a decision to make. According to the doctor, it was now or never. “If you’re going to use your uterus to have children, you’ve gotta do it now. I don’t know how long your uterus will remain a safe environment for a fetus. The fibroids that are in there now are small—but they’re numerous. And there’s no telling how fast they’ll grow. The clock is ticking. Not to mention, you’re about to be 32. You just don’t have time to lollygag about this.”

 

So here we were, now sixteen months wed, and forced to decide whether we were ready for me to be pregnant. Our original plan, upon marrying, included an adjustment period of about five years before we started talking children. So, in short, no. I was not ready to be pregnant. We both had low-paying jobs with no improvement in sight. I’m still paying on a student loan. Our house is really too small to build a family that includes more than one child, especially if they’re of different genders. We only have one bedroom besides our own. And we didn’t want to have an only child. One thing we agree on is that, if we expand our family through children, we want it to be multiple.

 

So I went off birth control. We didn’t tell a lot of people about this development because it was fraught with pressure, with anxiety, with fear, with uncertainty. The people we did tell used a term I hate: trying. I preferred to go a different linguistic direction and told people, “We’re not preventing.” But those were the months, as opposed to now, when I needed to be asked and to articulate how I was feeling.

 

Earlier in this post, I used the word invasion to describe what the fibroids have done to my uterus. In early January of this year, I went out for dessert with a close friend, just after making the decision to have a hysterectomy, and when she asked how I was feeling about it, I described to her my thoughts about needing an emotional outlet six months ago rather than now. In that conversation, I said that “my uterus was drafted into service,” partly without my consent. Near the end of January 2017, in a text conversation with a different friend who was, again, asking how I felt about it, I had this to say: “I feel great about it. I’m tired of being at war with my reproductive system. I’m a pacifist!”

 

I was half-joking, but it wasn’t until I used the word invasion in this blog post that I remembered my phrases “drafted into service” and “I’m a pacifist” and realized that, all along, I’ve been subconsciously using war-themed language to describe my difficult, emotionally wrought, and long-suffering experience with the childbearing parts of my body. And it shouldn’t have to be that way. My body is supposed to work for me, not against me. Or, if not for me, at least with me. Biologically speaking, my uterus is supposed to sit relatively quietly until I’m ready for it to serve its designed purpose. It’s not supposed to wage war, bring its own army of soldiers too numerous to count, and wreak havoc inside me.

 

And so, during the months between ultrasounds (July—December 2016), when I went off birth control and we started “trying,” I was constantly on edge. I was excited about the possibility of having a baby by that time next year (summerish 2017), but I was also terrified, which I think is pretty normal. We started to sketch out plans: Okay, suppose I get pregnant by this date, at the earliest. That would give us this many months before we really NEED to start thinking about a new living situation. We tentatively imagined how we would make an announcement. In our church parking lot, there are a couple of reserved spaces for “new and expecting parents,” and we casually joked about an announcement that included a picture of the reserved sign with accompanying text that said something like, “We are eligible to park in this space now!”

 

We told both sets of our parents that we had stopped preventing, which just added a new level of tension every time we had something to talk to them about. When we got our kitten, Zuri, we had to spit out the news immediately because we knew that if we dragged out the “we have something to tell you” part, they would all four jump to conclusions and inevitably be disappointed. Living in that constant tension was difficult for me. I don’t want to be a disappointment to either my parents or my husband’s parents. Inevitably, I feel like one anyway. Once parents get to a certain age, and once their children are married off, it seems like their only dreams are of grandchildren. And, if my parents are any indication, it only gets worse once they get their first taste of it. Grandparents always want more grandchildren. It’s difficult to be a harbinger of bad news in that respect. It is not fun to crush a loved one’s dreams in that way.

 

My doctor, for her part, talked as if she fully expected us to be nearing the end of the first trimester by the time of my next scheduled ultrasound in December 2016, and we left her office in July with instructions on what to do—call and schedule an appointment immediately—were I to find myself missing a period or showing a positive on a home pregnancy test. I knew that was unlikely. And yet, every month when I did get my period, I experienced a legitimately mixed reaction of disappointment and relief. It was exhausting having that much emotion tied to a spot of blood in my underwear.

 

The worst, most difficult emotion I worked through during those months between ultrasounds was a feeling of failure. I have never been pregnant and I’ve never been someone’s legal guardian, but nonetheless I felt like I had failed as a mother—simply because I could not guarantee that my body would be a safe place for an embryo to grow into a fetus to grow into a human being. I think it was natural for me to feel this way because, even if childbearing isn’t a woman’s only purpose in life, it is a biological purpose that is designed into a woman’s cells and DNA. And to realize that I cannot participate in that basic, natural facet of “being a woman” did make me feel like I had failed in some way. Thankfully, that place of despair isn’t where my emotions ended.

 

At the end of 2016, I had another ultrasound that showed worse results than the previous one, which I had been expecting. And I was so relieved—more than any other competing emotion—when I finally heard my doctor say, “It’s time to consider a hysterectomy.” As disappointing as it is in the minds of some people not to be able to create life on your own, disappointment was not really in the pantheon of emotions I felt that day and during the following week as David and I discussed our options and a plan for moving forward.

 

Let me tell you, since so many of you have asked so many times, what I was feeling: Relief, that my reproductive nightmare was finally going to end. Hope, that David and I could decide to expand our family when we truly wanted to and were ready, rather than being pushed into it too soon. Joy, at the idea that if we do someday decide to adopt, we will have the opportunity to offer love to a child in need. Excitement, wondering what God has planned for us and where our adventure will take us next.

 

I fully recognize that I may feel differently about all this later, after it’s all over. Hopefully how I feel post-surgery won’t change a lot from how I feel now, though. They’re leaving all my hormone producers in, so I shouldn’t experience anything too drastically different. But I’m prepared to feel a sense of loss that I can’t quite imagine at this time. I hope, in that event, that I will grieve appropriately and move on, just as we do with any other loss we experience in life.

 

Some people have said to me that, when they try to imagine putting themselves in my situation, losing the ability to choose is the worst part of it. To an extent, yes, that is difficult. I will never be able to choose to be pregnant and carry a child to term in my womb. But on the other hand, I am choosing to go forward with a hysterectomy. That is my choice. Certainly it’s a choice that is a result of other factors, but it’s still a choice, and it is one I feel good about.

 

So if you’ve asked me recently how I’m feeling, this pretty much sums it up. Please don’t feel sorry for me—because then I feel obligated to feel sad just so that your sorrow feels appropriate. But I’m not sad. And your sorrow for me, in this situation, is not appropriate. I will, however, gladly accept your prayers and well wishes for a successful surgery and a smooth recovery!

 

The journey is ever changing, and I’m just grateful to be on it.

7 Comments

Filed under bloggy, feminisim, marriage, sentimental

Christianity Makes Me a Better Person, but Feminism Makes Me a Better Christian

One day a few months ago I came across an old blog post I published to this site. It was a review I wrote of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I hunted it down on purpose with the intent of showing it to someone on Twitter who had asked for people’s thoughts on Hemingway. For a lark, I read through it again myself and laughed out loud upon reading a line that said, “I’m no feminist, to be sure.”

Quickly I checked the date of the post. Wow, it’s already been five years since I wrote that? And then, on the heels of my astonishment, some surprise: I actually sound kind of proud to be claiming not to be a feminist. A curious realization, considering how sharply my views have changed since then.

The cherry on top, of course, is the part where, at the beginning of the book review, I claim not to be a feminist and then spend the rest of the review lambasting Ernest Hemingway for his blatant misogyny. So it seems that, even though five-years-ago Audra may have been resisting feminism on a conscious level, its deep moral truths had already woven themselves into, at the very least, my subconscious. How I couldn’t see that for myself at the time, I don’t know. If I were a prouder woman, I would delete that post and try to erase all memory of ever having been such a contradictory yet transparent writer. But I’m not all that proud, and besides, that post is part of my journey. So I’ll leave it on my blog. I just won’t link to it.

So now we’ve arrived at the main topic of this post: feminism. At first, I’ll admit, I did resist outwardly identifying as a feminist, although only because I didn’t understand it. Back then, I found it easy to believe that “reverse sexism” was actually a thing. I am aware that I only fell into the same trap that all young people fall into–erroneously believing that they’ve magically figured out the mystery of life by the time they’re twenty-three, and that all the opinions they hold at that age are going to be their opinions for the next sixty years too. But even allowing for the ignorance of youth, I still find myself embarrassed by some of the things I used to believe, and steadfastly. The older I get, the more I realize how much I’ve never known and how much more I never will know.

But feminism has changed my entire life, and I say that non-ironically and completely in earnest. As a younger woman, I measured my own self-worth only in proportion to how much I was valued by my male friends and family members. I did this because society taught me to do it. I was termed (both by myself and others) as “boy-crazy,” as extremely “flirtatious,” as a “tease,” and as a “heartbreaker.” I wore these sexist and demeaning labels proudly, like Girl Scout badges. I sought the company of the opposite sex at every opportunity and shunned the company of other girls and young women almost exclusively.

In part, society trained and encouraged me to behave this way. In part also, I felt more comfortable in the company of the opposite sex because I never quite grew into the feminine persona that I was told all women “should” be. Since I was raised in a Christian environment, my preference for the company of boys was viewed especially harshly. One male youth worker warned a guy who was actually dating me to “stay away from her; she’s a bad influence.” The boy repeated that warning to my face, I guess because he thought it was funny. But I wasn’t a bad influence. I wasn’t sexually promiscuous, although I did enjoy kissing and cuddling and making out. (What teenager doesn’t, though?)

But there was another reason I didn’t like other girls. Sure, I didn’t feel I could relate to a lot of them; I wasn’t fashionable, I couldn’t do my hair, I was awful at applying makeup, and dressing up was a chore reserved for Sundays rather than an elective treat. But that wasn’t all of it. Other girls were my competition. Or, at least, that’s what society said. Plus, I found out quickly and early that if I made fun of my fellow female adolescents for behaving in ways that perpetuated stereotypes, I gained more favor with the guys. So I made fun of gigglers, of bathroom posses, of hair-dyers, of manicures–you name it; if another girl did it, I made fun of it.

But this behavior didn’t really yield positive results for me. What happened instead was that other girls started talking behind my back about what a nasty person I was. What happened instead was that, when the guys whose company I preferred decided they were ready to date the girls I myself had ostracized, I found myself alone and almost friendless. I noticed the negative results of my behavior when I was in college, and I attempted a corrective action in the form of a New Year’s resolution that I sarcastically called Operation: Be Nice to Girls. But it took me many years to figure out how to engage other women in my life in genuine friendship. It took me far longer than I’d like to admit before I stopped viewing other women as competition for male attention (single or otherwise) and started viewing other women as true potential friends and allies in a world where power has been derived from keeping women down.

It’s easy to look at this behavior and judge it as wrong. For those who have never struggled with this, it might be doubly easy to judge. For myself, looking at it in hindsight, it tempts me to feel shame over the person I used to be. But, as a former pastor and fantastic friend once taught me, shame is not productive or constructive. Shame has no positive side effects, and shame has no place in any life, but especially not in the life of a Christian. (Nota bene: Shame and remorse are not the same thing.) But more than that, my behavior was a form of internalized sexism. A sexist world taught me to believe that all women (except myself, of course) were somehow bad.

Other forms of internalized sexism have manifested in the way women have been conditioned to be perpetually dissatisfied with our bodies; we’ve been conditioned to shame women who don’t act in ways that society deems appropriate for a woman; we’ve been conditioned to see beauty only in what we’re told is beautiful (like thinness or tan skin), rather than what we ourselves might find naturally beautiful if we were never influenced by outside factors; we’ve been conditioned to blame other women for making the problem of sexism worse. To linger on that last point for just a second before moving on: Calling out sexism as the primary role player in these issues does not absolve anyone of responsibility for resolution, but blaming women for perpetuating sexism is as vile, inaccurate, and ultimately unproductive as blaming black people for racism or rape victims for their clothing.

But feminism has opened my eyes to the realities I’ve described here. Feminism has taught me that women are not inherently bad, and they are not automatically the opposition. Feminism has taught me that femininity is not about wearing the right makeup and always crossing one’s legs and making sure to be polite and never using swear words. Femininity is not about being a good housekeeper or a good cook or a tolerant/easygoing wife. Feminism has taught me that I am a woman because that is my physical biology. Not to digress too far, but in that same vein, intersectional feminism has taught me that I am a woman because I feel like I’m a woman. Luckily for me, these two things coincide. I was born with a vagina, making me biologically female, and I also identify in my heart and mind with what biology tells me I am. But we don’t need to argue the merits, the reality, or the morality of transgenderism here. The point is, I don’t have to conform to societal expectations in order to be a woman. I am a woman even though I hate pedicures, don’t brush my hair, don’t love to go shopping, and hate wearing heels. I am not less of a woman for not liking the kinds of activities that society has assigned as girly.

Honestly, that conclusion wasn’t the hard part for me. The hard part was the piece feminism taught me after that: Other women are not less valuable just because they do like activities that society has deemed girly. Women who enjoy shopping, who love having their nails done, their hair dyed, and walking in six-inch heels are just as validly women as I myself am. I’ve fought so hard to be accepted as a woman even though I don’t want to be traditionally feminine, so it only makes sense that I would extend back to women who want to be traditionally feminine the exact same grace and acceptance I have demanded for myself. People are people, and they are complex. Women are women, and they are complex. Women can enjoy rom-coms, chocolate, and pink. Women can also enjoy sports, science, and technology. Women can be any combination of these things or none of these things and still be women. The beauty of a free life is that we get to choose who we want to be.

For me, figuring out that I didn’t have to be like other women in order to like other women was one of the biggest and most important epiphanies of my life. And, strangely enough, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve turned back to some traditionally girly practices in my life. I like dressing up and looking nice (sometimes). I enjoy wearing heels (if they’re wedges). I’ve even been known to enjoy a craft on occasion (if it’s not too complicated)! Once feminism liberated me from the bonds of feeling like I had to prove that femininity could look like nontraditionally feminine activities and interests, I felt free to turn around and start re-exploring some of the activities and interests that are traditionally feminine.

Feminism has helped me become more open, more loving, more accepting, and more encouraging as a person. Feminism has helped me view other people in the most positive light I can. I used to look for the negative in other women. Now I try my darndest to find the things we have in common, and if we truly have no common ground, I do my best to listen to them and learn about their interests so that maybe I can find a new interest myself or, at the very least, I can understand them a little better. Because understanding leads to love. And love is what I am called as a Christian to do. Maybe not everyone needs feminism in order to be a better Christian. But it has worked for me.

Leave a comment

Filed under bloggy, feminisim

Not Everything Is Sexism

A lot of people are tired of sexism coming up in conversations. You’re not alone. (Many of you are so tired of the conversation that you already stopped reading this post.) But, before you dismiss the conversation with “not everything is sexism,” consider this:

No, not everything is sexism. But yes, a lot of things truly are. And the more we talk about it and learn about it and point it out when we see it, the more often we are going to see it in the everyday world around us, even in the seemingly harmless ways we engage in personal conversations with our friends and family or inside our own thoughts. Sexism is a huge part of the world, and it sucks to have to acknowledge that because, once we do, we must change. And changing is hard. And it might mean sharing power, and if people feel like they aren’t starting out with a lot of power to begin with, then the idea of sharing it (even with someone who has less power) is not appealing because we erroneously view power like we view the world’s resources: as both finite and scarce. Further, if we ourselves haven’t been socially responsible with the power we were born into, we tend to imagine the worst about other people’s potential to wield power.

The conversation on sexism is changing. It’s like in a game where you reach a certain level of achievement, so the game becomes harder. Well, world, Achievement Unlocked: Noticing Blatant Sexism and Misogyny. So now the conversation is getting harder because now it’s about pointing out the subtle infrastructures our society has in place that not only allow sexism to thrive but also allow it to lurk below the surface and masquerade as not-sexism. Making excuses for sexism or denying that sexism exists in a given conversation are both part of allowing sexism to live on. We all have sexism ingrained in us because we were all born into a sexist world. Even those who fight to dismantle sexism must continually examine the subtleties of their own sexist thoughts and behavior—regardless of their own gender, and especially regardless of their intent.

Intent is a huge roadblock to people thinking critically about sexism. Haven’t you heard the adage about the road to hell and how it’s paved? Intent is ultimately meaningless in any -ism conversation. Intent exists to make us feel better about our own mistakes. But good intentions are not our get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s not tacit permission to ignore the actual ramifications of our actions. Have you ever felt completely satisfied after getting your feelings hurt by someone saying, “I didn’t mean to” and leaving it at that? I know I haven’t. We didn’t mean to [insert bad action here]? Okay. But that’s not very productive toward reconciliation. “I didn’t mean to” has become a poor substitute for an apology, but it doesn’t take responsibility for what actually happened. We’re still responsible for reconciliation. We can’t resolve or change what happened by saying we didn’t mean for it to happen.

Personal experience seems to hinder the sexism conversation just as much as, if not more than, intent. Men look at the women in their lives whom they love—their wives, their mothers, their sisters, their daughters—and draw the inaccurate conclusion that, because they like those women, it must be impossible for them to ever participate in any actions that are sexist or misogynist or hurtful toward women as a whole. In the same way, women who don’t want to engage the conversation on sexism look at the nice ways their own husbands treat them and incorrectly conclude that, just because they don’t experience the oppression of sexism in their own lives, sexism must be a myth invented by someone with a political agenda. Using one’s own positive personal experience as a way to deny someone else’s negative personal experience has become a powerful weapon of privileged classes. It has never happened to me, and I’ve never seen it happen to anyone else; therefore, it doesn’t exist. To digress for a short second, this is a common defense of the privileged classes in the racism conversation. A white person may find it easy to think, I’ve never seen anyone be rude to a black person; therefore, racism doesn’t exist. Sadly, personal experience can also be weaponized in the exact opposite way. People who have had negative experiences use those experiences to form simple generalizations about complex issues. A woman was rude to me once; therefore, all women are rude, which makes it okay for me to be preemptively rude to all women I encounter, or to dismiss any ideas a woman puts forth.

I know there are people in my life who roll their eyes every time I bring up sexism as a possible factor in a given scenario. I’ve literally watched them do it. But I refuse to feel bad about making you uncomfortable. I’m uncomfortable too. Imagine how tired I am of talking about the role sexism plays in everyday life! I promise you, I would love to stop starting this conversation as much as you would love to stop hearing about it—probably more! But we don’t quit just because we’re tired. That just isn’t how change works.

In conclusion, if your knee-jerk reaction to someone bringing up sexism is to deny or to argue? Maybe just pause and think before responding. Think about why you want to deny or argue or disagree. Could it be because that’s easier? Could it be because, if you acknowledge that sexism is a main character hiding in the wings just offstage of our lives, you might have to change something about yourself? Sexism is truly everywhere. And maybe it’s just a supporting role. And sometimes just naming it and noticing it without harping on it will go a long way toward finding a sufficient resolution. But we owe it to ourselves as a society to at least consider the role sexism might be playing. We must keep talking about it, no matter how weary we get.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under bloggy, feminisim, stream of consciousness, writing exercises

The Beauty in a Body

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for a while, for many reasons – the main one being, who wants to listen to a girl of reasonable weight discuss body issues? Well. If you don’t want to, this is your cue to step out because that’s the topic today.

So here’s the thing. I don’t think I’ve ever met a girl – not even the most confident one – who doesn’t have at least a little bit of a body image issue. It’s a spectrum for sure. Some are far more severe on themselves than others. But all girls and women have something they don’t like about their bodies. The funny thing is, it’s usually something that nobody else has ever even noticed, and in some cases, it is something a lot of other people actually like and find quite pleasing about that person. But none of that matters because all the girl can see is a huge flaw in herself.

We all know the reasons this issue exists: the male-driven mass media, male-driven society, male-driven porn industry, and female-driven comparison games. There is no need to tell you what you already know. I’d rather just talk about my own body image and how I’ve dealt with some of my personal struggles.

I was allowed to be mercifully ignorant for a very long time of how the particular shape of my body measured up against other girls. The only thing I noticed and which bothered me as an adolescent was that my breasts didn’t develop as quickly as some of the other girls’, and when they did eventually grow in, they never got even close to being as large as what seemed average (and they probably never will). My flat-chestedness was the only thing that bothered me about my body for a long time. Otherwise I really had nothing to complain about.

In my late teens I started noticing the…shall we say, athletic-ness, of my thighs. I noticed they weren’t as slim as other girls’ thighs, or as ramrod straight. I saw my thighs as thick, chunky, fat even. I stopped wearing shorts for the most part. If I went swimming I preferred to keep my bottom half under the water or just wear shorts instead of bikini bottoms. I did almost anything I could to cover up my thighs, to the point that people would say, “How can you be wearing jeans right now, it’s so hot out!”

I have no idea where I got it in my head that my thighs were fat, or that muscular thighs were unattractive. But the comparison game struck once again. All I saw was that other girls, with pretty faces and pretty hair, had smaller thighs than I had.

Because of a gift of good metabolism and (maybe?) good genes, I never battled a weight problem until very recently. I’m going to be straight with you here and provide numbers so that everything is on the up and up. All through high school and college I weighed between 110 and 120. Totally fine with that. In my 20s it crept up to 125, then 130. I started running, which maintained things around 130 except in the winter, when it would go up around 135. I accepted all of this as part of growing older but also kind of assumed that 130-135 would be my base weight from that point on.

Over the last couple of  years, my body has gained more weight to accommodate a medical condition that was diagnosed four years ago but not cared about or monitored by a doctor until this year, and that condition is uterine fibroids. I won’t bore you with the details of what that means, but the long and short of it is that they are taking over my uterus in a way they are not supposed to, which has caused multiple side effects as a result (including becoming a threat to my fertility), but the one that has bothered my vanity the most is in the area of weight gain.

Currently I weigh the most I ever have in my entire life, tipping the scales at 145. This fact has puzzled the few people I’ve told up to now because, according to them, I don’t look like I weigh that much. I don’t look like I’m carrying an extra 15 pounds, and I’m “hiding it well,” as they say (which is an unfortunate reflection of what it’s clear our culture and society value – thinness). But, whether others can see it or they can’t, I know it’s there. My pants fit tighter. My stomach has a pooch it’s never had before. When I eat, because of how things are situated in my uterus, the pooch becomes a bulge until I have a bowel movement (sorry to be graphic). My running pace is slower because I have more weight to haul.

There are lots of ways that my body reminds me that all is not right inside at the moment. The sad part is that, because of the culture and society I live in, I’m usually more focused on my new weight, and how I look in certain clothes, than I am on the scary reality that this condition may very well prevent me from conceiving and giving birth to my own biological children. There is something very wrong with that. Very, very wrong.

Body image is being talked about a lot more these days, and I’m glad. Many celebrities and a few corporations are speaking out about the negative and untrue messages the media and our culture have hammered over women’s heads for years and years. (Unsurprisingly, these efforts are often also tied to the fight against sexism, since sexism is the biggest reason women have body image issues to begin with.) As I’ve watched my body age in ways unrelated to my weight, my perspective on beauty has changed significantly. I have begun to realize something I wish I’d seen long ago.

It began, for me, with teenagers. I do this church/Bible-related volunteer thing that puts me in the company of a bunch of teenagers for several hours on a Saturday once every month (sometimes twice, depending on the schedule). I’ve been doing this particular volunteer activity since my freshman year of college, and in the last couple of years, I started seeing the teens differently. Teenagers are wonderful creatures, if you didn’t know, especially the ones who don’t realize they are wonderful. They’re so fragile and yet so resilient. It’s amazing, really. But one thing everyone generally agrees on when discussing teenagers is their awkwardness.

Adults talk about the awkwardness of teenagers because we remember what it was like. We remember feeling like our legs were too long, our noses too big, our faces too pimpled, our breasts too small, our breasts too big, our biceps too undefined, our braces too obvious, our teeth too gapped, our legs too hairy, our legs not hairy enough, and on and on and on. I remember. You remember.

Several months ago, though, as I sat in a room with the eyes of eight teenagers all fixed on me, I looked at each of them and noticed how they varied in size, stature, and stages of physical development. And, remarkably, all I saw was beauty. These were developing persons, sitting right in front of me. I almost felt as if, if I just looked closely enough and watched for long enough, I would see them fill into their bodies. I could see the ways in which they probably felt insecure. One boy in particular didn’t seem to be able to control his limbs, which were quite long. The rest of his body didn’t fit with the length of his arms and legs yet. One girl in particular was several inches shorter than her peers, though I knew her to be in the same grade. Looking at them, I could see the beauty in what had developed, and what had yet to develop. I could see the beauty in what they would become, in what they currently struggled through.

Unfortunately, I could also see their insecurities. In the slumped shoulders, the eyes cast down to the floor, the shuffling feet, the crossed arms. So many actions that essentially added up to this: They were turned in upon themselves. They felt unbecoming, awkward, ugly, because society has told them that’s what they are. We – adults – have told them that’s what they are because that’s what we remember feeling when we were that age. I wanted to hug them, and tell them all how magnificently, and simply, beautiful they were. But I also wanted to keep being allowed to volunteer without being viewed as creepy, so I kept my thoughts to myself. But it brought tears right to the edges of my eyes to sit there and see them that way, and know that they didn’t see themselves that way.

On the other side of things – perhaps because I’m growing older myself, perhaps not – I’ve also noticed that my view on beauty has changed in regard to age. No longer do I see old people as unattractive. Wrinkles, hair color, and looser skin are all indications of life lived, and how can anyone not recognize the beauty in that? I look at the elderly people around me and marvel at the histories they’ve built. I look at the middle-age people around me and see how the continual maturation of their physical bodies does nothing to diminish the light that comes from within them.

Our bodies are shells, intended as a means to house the essence of who we are; a way to live out who we are; a shelter to grow and maintain who we are. And they are beautiful. My body has never been perfect, but it has always been mine, and it is the body I was given to hang out in while I formed the essence of Audra.

My best days are when I look into the mirror and get a momentary flash of what my fiancé must see when he tells me I’m beautiful. It’s brief, it lasts only an instant, and it usually begins in my eyes, but it ends up encompassing every single part of me. I see it more and more frequently when I let go of the American media’s shouted lies about what beauty is, and listen to the whispered truths that come from God, and from my fiancé.

1 Comment

Filed under bloggy, feminisim

Let’s Talk Sex(ism) [Part 3 of 3: Feminism’s Biggest Obstacle]

I’ve spent the last two posts discussing my struggles with balancing feminism and common sense, and feminism and my faith. As I’ve established over the course of this three-part blog series, the institution of sexism is one I feel called and created to speak out against, and – in time – to overthrow. So does that automatically make my opponents (whether men or women, whether purposeful or unwitting) my enemies? I’m not convinced it does, but there are times that my adversaries do feel like legitimate enemies.

The sad truth is that sexism against women is not something perpetuated solely by insecure, chauvinistic men. If it were, I don’t think it would be quite so difficult an institution to abolish. For me, the most frustrating detractors of feminism are other women. Misogynistic women are the worst kinds because they breed intra-gender discord, and they have an easier time convincing other women that they are less than equal (and not only less than equal to men, but to certain types of women as well). As Jesus said (paraphrased), “A gender divided against itself cannot stand.” When I use the term misogynist women, I’m talking about the ones who are overly competitive with other women, who set themselves apart from and above other women by putting women down, and who are generally nasty to anyone who doesn’t have a penis.

I’ve struggled at times to keep from becoming this kind of woman myself. My personality does tend to mesh a little (or a lot) easier with men than it does with women. I’m not interested in arts and crafts, home decor, fashion, or cooking and baking. I’m not married, engaged, or dating, so I don’t have a man to lightheartedly complain about with my coupled-up female friends. I don’t have children, so I can’t talk breastfeeding, homeschooling, stay-at-home vs go-to-work mothering, cloth diapers, or whatever else the moms think is interesting these days. And finally, I hate Pinterest.

On the other hand, I live alone, my longest-lasting non-familial relationship is with a canine, I eat Ramen and pizza more than is good for me, I enjoy crude jokes, I have thick skin, I’m sarcastic, I enjoy sports, and I stay up later than I should. By default, that usually means it’s easier for me to hang out in male company than female company. It means I don’t have to try as hard, and it means I can talk freely about my own interests, rather than trying to muster up an interest in things I don’t understand. (If we’re being totally honest here, it also means I can fart with impunity.)

Because of this natural tendency to gravitate toward the opposite sex, it’s always been easy to cause friction with other women, and for a long time, I didn’t even care enough to try not to. I do remember one year in college, though, when I decided I should attempt to cultivate more meaningful friendships with women, and I declared a New Year’s resolution that stated simply, “Be Nice to Girls.” Seems comical, but considering that for the past four or five years I’d been going around saying things like, “I hate girls” and “Girls are stupid” and “Girls are the worst,” it was quite an adjustment for me.

What I learned during that year (and have continued to learn in the years since) is that there are deep rewards to be found in meaningful friendships with women. However, I have also learned and relearned that not all women want to be friends, and I’ve been burned in relationships with other women that I thought were real friendships but turned out actually to be only shallow competitions of one kind or another. I wish that more women would realize that feminism and equality could make a lot bigger strides if we would start by being kind to one another.

Women get especially competitive and territorial when it comes to certain of their hobbies and interests that they believe to be unique, such as (gasp!) being a sports fan! The truth is, however, it’s not unique to be a female sports fan. It might be a less common occurrence than a woman being into fashion, but it’s not unique, plain and simple. And who cares? Whatever world it is that a woman is interested in, that she believes to be dominated by men, what’s the big deal if she encounters another woman in that same world? It doesn’t make her less interesting, and it doesn’t invalidate her interest in the least, whether that interest is hunting, sports, video games, comic books, etc. I know some women (myself included) don’t want to associate themselves with women who pretend to be interested in these fields just to get a man’s attention, or to seem cool. Here’s a tip, though: People can tell if you’re faking it. So if your interest is genuine, you have nothing to worry about. So what if Valley Girl wants to wear high heels and pink sports apparel? Does her wanting to look cute make you less of a fan? No. No it does not.

Full disclosure: I do still struggle with this from time to time in my baseball fandom. It’s important to me that people view me as a real fan and not someone who’s just trawling for men. And I don’t want to be associated with cleat chasers, that’s for sure. But, for the most part, I haven’t had to work very hard to establish myself in people’s eyes as a genuine baseball fan. My enthusiasm has done that all on its own, I think. Besides, baseball is too exhausting a sport to keep up with for someone who’s just pretending. Unfortunately, the people I have had to work the hardest to convince of the authenticity of my newfound interest have actually been women, further proving my point.

Other than being unequivocally kind to the women I meet and get to know, I don’t know what the solution to this problem is. It’s my experience that, no matter how kind and open and vulnerable I am with other women, there are some who are just going to be competitive, shallow, catty, or territorial. Since it’s not in my nature to just back off at the first sign of conflict, I usually initiate some candid confrontations, but if that doesn’t resolve matters, my next recourse is to write those women out of my life. I don’t do that to be rude. I do it because I don’t see a positive way forward, and disengaging seems more healthy for both parties than the alternative. And because I loathe pretense and false courtesy. (I could never survive in the American South.)

Now, admittedly, “being unequivocally kind” is not necessarily something that comes easy to me. If I sense insecurity or intimidation in other women, I tend to ignore them because that’s easier than trying to engage them and be friendly and prove to them that I’m worth getting to know. I’m extroverted, but one-sided small talk is hard for me, and if someone doesn’t “get” me, or if I have to carry the conversation, I prefer not to waste my time.

All things considered, even though I have some work yet to do, I know I’ve made a lot of progress both in how I think about my relationships with other women, and in how I execute them. Since I became a Royals fan, I have enjoyed finding other women on Twitter who like to talk baseball. It’s good to have allies. And that’s really what it comes down to. If this feminism thing is going to get us anywhere at all, if we’re ever going to conquer sexism, we are going to need as many allies as we can get. We have to be on the same team. We have to stop cutting each other down and start giving one another the benefit of the doubt.

2 Comments

Filed under baseball, bloggy, feminisim

Let’s Talk Sex(ism) [Part 2 of 3: Feminist Christian]

In the last post, I talked about my need to accept that there are legitimate, biological differences that make men and women different. This time I want to discuss the difficulty I have in finding the balance between being a disciple of Christ and being a feminist.

I have been a Christian for many years. So many that I’m not even sure of the exact number. Certainly far longer than I’ve [consciously] been a feminist. So the instructions to treat others as I would prefer to be treated, to love my enemies, to be kind to those who hurt me, to turn the other cheek – basically to lovelovelove until every little thing I do operates from a framework of love – these imperatives are familiar to me. I’ve grown up on them. I cut my teeth on them. I memorized and re-memorized and quoted and re-quoted every Bible verse related to these commands to various parents, teachers, mentors, and spiritual leaders during my childhood and adolescent years.

In addition, I’m painfully familiar with the humility verses too, and there are many. There are verses that make promises to the humble (sometimes known as the meek); there are verses that implore God’s people to take care of the marginalized (sometimes known as the impoverished, the widows, the orphans, or the oppressed); and there are verses that command me to put myself last, to serve others, to lead by following, to understand that someday those whom society puts last will be rewarded.

These verses – the ones that ask me to turn the other cheek and to subordinate myself to others as a humble disciple of Christ – are the ones I struggle with the most, especially when it comes to feminism. Before I became aware of the significance of feminism, before I knew that my voice was muted in the world simply because it’s female, before I knew that women have to fight for almost everything they get in this world, I had the type of personality that finds it difficult to adhere to what I like to call Jesus’s “be nice” commands. I’ve always found it very difficult to “be nice,” especially when I feel that I am or someone near me is being treated unfairly. So, when it comes to feminism, it sometimes feels that my innate desire to stand up for myself and for my entire, oppressed gender is at odds with my Christian call to be humble and kind, especially toward those who seek to oppress me.

There are lots of teachings and theologies and theories out there that describe Jesus Christ as the ultimate feminist, and while I haven’t delved very deeply into any of them, I can’t say I disagree with the surface premise. There are plenty of examples in the New Testament of Jesus showing favor to women, of Jesus trusting women, of Jesus redeeming sinful women, of Jesus elevating women to societal significance (the woman at the well, the woman with the expensive perfume, the adulterous woman, and the woman at his tomb, to name a few). So it’s never been a doubt in my mind that – in some ways, at least – standing up for myself as a woman is right and okay, even as a disciple of Jesus. After all, my personality type (according to intelligent-type books) is the kind that stands up for those who cannot stand up for themselves; the kind that seeks justice and fair treatment for the oppressed; the kind that doesn’t let inequality slide unchecked. So why, when I’m the one being oppressed and treated unfairly, would I suddenly go silent? I wouldn’t.

Still, though. There’s some balance or line or moderation to be found, I think, that I maybe haven’t found yet. Somewhere that I can live both as a humble advocate of love and service without being a doormat or sliding into the realm of the oppressed. I’m called to love my enemies, but I’m not called to submit to them. I’m called to serve, but I’m not called to pander. I’m called to turn the other cheek, but I’m not called to be silent.

3 Comments

Filed under bloggy, feminisim

Let’s Talk Sex(ism) [Part 1 of 3: Equal but Different]

As I’ve gotten older, sexism has become a very important issue for me, and because I think about it a lot, it’s turned into the kind of thing like when you get a new car and suddenly start noticing all the other cars on the road that are the same model. Have they always been there? Of course they have. Well, unless what you got was a Prius in 2008 or a Hummer in 2003. Hello, trendy bandwagoners.

In any case, I see examples of sexism everywhere because it’s ingrained in our culture to the point that, unless it’s blatant sexual harassment, most people (men especially) don’t even realize they’re doing it. It’s similar to how people don’t have any clue that gypped is actually a racist slur, or that thug is an offensive term that should not be used to label any given adolescent who happens to be wearing baggy pants. When it comes to sexism, terms that our society considers harmless insults are thrown around every day, especially in the sports world: throws like a girlsissycrying like a girl, etc.

So, because I’ve trained myself to stop ignoring sexist comments or treating them as harmless, I’ve become a bit of a Sexist Nazi, much in the same way that I’ve been a Grammar Nazi my entire life. It’s a soapbox issue, and I know certain people view me as beating a dead horse, or as crusading a pointless cause. I also know, however, that other people are listening, and some are even examining and changing their own behavior and language as a result of heightened awareness. And for that reason, I will probably always raise my feminist voice when I think it’s needed.

However, something I’ve noticed recently is that sometimes the line is blurry between what is sexist and what isn’t. Believe it or not, there actually are some legitimate differences between male and female human beings, and acknowledging such a truth does not make one sexist. I had to confront this reality for myself recently during the Sochi Winter Olympics. For instance, as far as athletic ability, male bodies appear to be predisposed (at least in some sports) to a higher level of elitism than female bodies, which is why they separate the competitions by sex. If the female snowboarders and skiers were pitted against the male snowboarders and skiers, then women would rarely – if ever – reach the podium.

This truth became the most evident to me while watching women’s slopestyle snowboarding just a day or two after watching the men’s competition. The men’s slopestyle competition was impressive. Those guys can do things I would never dare attempt, even underwater or in a padded bounce house. And the judges gave the men impressive scores for their impressive tricks. All right. Cool. I could handle that. A few days later, the women took their turn in the same event, on the same course, with what I presume to have been the same group of judges.

However, even though the women – like the men – did things I will never be able to do, they didn’t seem to be performing as many tricks or turning around in the air as many times as the men had. (Keep in mind, this is the viewpoint of someone who knows nothing about snowboarding, but my untrained eye perceived the women to be turning only once or twice in the air instead of two and a half times or thrice like the men had.) Despite that, they received comparable scores to the men for what seemed like fewer tricks, and less impressive technique. This bothered me because, in my mind, if a man jumps and turns three times around and receives a score of 90, and then a woman jumps and turns around one and a half times and also receives a score of 90, that’s an unjust imbalance, and it’s insulting to both parties. It’s insulting to the man that half as much trick gets the same score, and it’s an insultingly patronizing way to treat the woman. It makes the woman feel like the fat kid who gets a head start in a foot race.

Before I was able to reconcile my indignation with the scoring disparity, the snowboarding announcers (I heard their names were both Todd-something, but I’m unfamiliar with them) made everything worse by making comments such as, “That would’ve been a really good run even for a man!” and, “[She] snowboards better than some men I know, and the men get paid to do it!” It is clear the announcers were trying to pay compliments to what they considered impressive feats of athleticism, but was it necessary to be so condescending?

If a feminist such as myself is going to accept the premise that in some respects, such as athletics, men have a natural ability to achieve higher levels than women, then shouldn’t men accept that there is no need to remind the world that women are inferior? In my mind, it was bad enough that the judges were inflating the women’s scores, but the announcers didn’t need to pile on by opining that it was impressive, for a woman. If everybody knows that, why does it need to be stated outright? I can concede that, no matter how good Jamie Anderson gets at her sport, Shaun White and Sage Kotsenburg will probably always be just a hair better. Not because they work harder but simply because their ceiling is likely higher than her ceiling.

It is a biological fact we can all agree on that, in general, men tend to be taller and more naturally muscular than women. God just made it that way. (Okay, we may not all be able to agree on God’s role in it, but that’s irrelevant.) So, as far as inflated scores go, I get that. If they graded the women on the same scale they graded the men, then gold medalist Sage would stand next to gold medalist Jamie with a huge score disparity. Sage’s gold medal score would be 91-point-whatever, and Jamie’s would be (according to the scale by which they scored the men) 70-point-something, probably. And then people would be up in arms about that because it would feel sexist and insulting, even if it technically isn’t. So I can get on board with separate competitions for each sex, and even with adjusting a scoring scale and inflating or deflating the numbers based on competitive ceiling.

But I cannot get on board with the condescending comments toward women. If we’ve established that the competitions need to be separate events, and scored on a slightly different scale, then why do we need to remind everyone that the cute little women just aren’t as good as the men?

Well gosh-darnit, you gotta give those girls some credit. Sure, they can’t do what the men do, but golly, them li’l firecrackers try their best, and it’s just adorable, and boy, do their boobies look great in those jumpsuits, don’t they. Garsh. I hope my mom/wife has a warm bowl of soup waiting for me when I get home from this taxing, bread-winning job.

That’s what I heard when the Todds made their ignorant and insensitive comments.

I am slowly coming to terms with the concept that the genders being equal does not mean the genders are the same, nor should it mean that. But if men could dispense with the patronizing comments, I could make my progress a lot more quickly.

3 Comments

Filed under bloggy, feminisim