Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Don't "fawn over" a man......(vomit)

I'm amazed that whenever I talk to traditional Catholics or visit websites that market themselves to devout Catholics, there seems to be a consensus that fawning over your man is a good thing. It "makes them feel manly" if you're a dainty, "feminine" woman who's "admiring his manhood."

Is there a toilet nearby? I think I need to vomit. I would say shoot myself in the face but A) I refuse to own a gun and B) suicide is bad.

First, I refuse to believe in cookie cutter roles for men and women. I think so called "masculine" traits of protecting the innocent also fit into being a mother (geez, ever heard of "mama bear" syndrome?). Likewise, I think a sense of nurturing helps men to be better gentleman and better fathers. In some cases, if you travel across cultures, including those with separate spheres for men and women, ladies are expected to be tough! I think attaching labels onto people inhibits them from becoming who God intended them to be and that is a grave sin. Actually, in the New Testament, Jesus had very harsh words for people who choose to bury their talents and even harsher words for those who prevented others for getting close to God. To be something other than myself is dishonesty, which is another sin. I thought we, as Catholics, were supposed to guide people to God. You can't get to Him by sinning!

Second, I think excessive ego stroking can be spiritually dangerous. It's one thing to compliment someone on a positive trait they do possess. It's another thing to constantly fawn over someone in an effort to please them. If you love someone, you should be even more motivated to keep them accountable for their transgressions, whether to you, to God, or to other people. In my faith, marriage is about helping the other person get to heaven. You can't get their by sinning! Excessive fawning may actually help them sin and, by helping them sin, you are sinning yourself. In addition, an important spiritual quality, for both genders, is humility. Humility is the act of not acting less than or more than who you are. Fawning over someone excessively does little to promote that.

Third, promoting the idea of man as active leader and woman as passive admirer can also be physically and emotionally dangerous. While people promoting these ideals may condemn intimate partner violence, they don't often realize that abusers may use these images to control their partner. Girls already grow up learning they should please other people. This carries with it devastating consequences, from fearing they cannot stand up for themselves to friends or boyfriends (fueling a lot of the gossip and resentment that poisons relationships) to abusive relationships to eating disorders. While there are devastating consequences for men (feeling they need money to buy love, feeling they can never win a girl by being "nice"), the women unfortunately pay huge prices. For some reason, I don't think this is what God had in mind for men and women. I think God created us to be creatures of integrity, which involves courage, strength, humility, and kindness from all parties.

There are many requirements that Catholics and other Christians have to follow to attain a better world on this planet and salvation in the next life. Conforming to outmoded gender roles is not only unmentioned, it can actually prevent those two things from occurring. I strongly urge all Christians and, really, all people of faith, to seriously consider these, whether you believe in specific roles or not. I don't live my life for a man, I live my life to make the world a better place, whether or not I have a loving companion by my side. If we focused on attaining that, we really could set the world on fire.

Monday, May 30, 2011

So You Want A Travel Career: Part 1

As you all know, I am a travel junkie. I'd be even more of one if I had money. Throughout my experience, I've encountered lots of questions and some well meaning opposition (usually from people who worry about skinny little girls and forget that we have strong legs and tough hearts). What's my advice to the travel virgin? I was originally going to do a list of tips but figured it would be quite lengthy so I'm going to do a series instead. Here goes.

For the travel virgin still in college (who knows they want to travel as a career), I will not direct you to a specific major. I majored in International Studies, which was good for the framework but I really don't want to discourage those majoring in subjects like teaching, engineering, chemistry, biology, premed, nursing, business, environmental science, or the arts. We need EVERYONE. However, if you have room, I highly recommend that you minor, because the theoretical framework is essential. If you cannot minor, at least take classes in world politics, U.S. politics, and basic economics classes. These are vital courses to understanding relevant political systems, the market structures in place, and the reasons why countries interact in the manner they do. Seriously, I know politics don't appeal to everyone and I know Econ can be dry and sometimes very difficult (trust me, I minored in Econ and it was HARD), but you will be so grateful you took these classes. Also, gain proficiency in at least one modern foreign language. Everyone says Arabic or Chinese but even Spanish or French will help you. Also, follow the news. Kind of helps if you know what's going on.

Not in college or don't have the time? Educate yourself. You can get basic economics books and books on politics from your local library. Follow the news. Follow ALL kinds of news. Invest in a Rosetta Stone or take summer language classes (even audit if it's cheaper, they don't care about the grade, they care if you SPEAK it). Even if you don't know where exactly you want to go, learning a language that's spoken by a wide range of people can help (and learning one language can help you learn more). Having a basic understanding of the world stage and having language skills are vitally important.

For the very basics, I'd stick with this. Regardless of your reasons for traveling, understanding why the world is the way it is and having proficiency in at least one language helps A LOT.

Stay tuned! There will be more to come!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Geez, Kate, Stop Being So Political!"

People tell me this when they feel I take my feminism too far. People often tell me I do not value my femininity(which I do), that I don't think highly of men(have you heard me talk about the men in my life?), and that I'm too independent (thank God, I am). Apparently, everything I do is some kind of political statement, whether it's the music I play or what I have in mind for my fantasy wedding.

Well, first of all, everything's political. Second, here's when I'll stop being "so political."

I'll stop being so political when people stop telling me to tart up or put out, in order to find a loving partner.

I'll stop being so political when people stop questioning my sexuality if I've been single for a long time.

I'll stop being so political when people stop treating women like they're dirty for breastfeeding.

I'll stop being so political when people stop using our bodies to sell products.

I'll stop being so political when people stop acting like rape is the fault of the victim instead of the criminal.

I'll stop being so political when employers start paying me a wage equal to my male coworkers and extend the same opportunities for promotion.

I'll stop being so political when people stop judging me for my sexual history or lack thereof.

I'll stop being so political when people stop giving a damn about how I dress and start giving a damn about how I act.

I'll stop being so political when people stop persecuting men for choosing things considered "feminine."

I'll stop being so political when people stop selling women, children and men into slavery.

I'll stop being so political when people stop discouraging me from the things I love because, "You're a girl and it's not safe."

I'll stop being so political when people stop using hair color and cup size as a judge for intelligence.

I'll stop being so political when people stop telling me I need artificial means to be beautiful.

I'll stop being so political when age stops making women invisible.

I'll stop being so political when people stop mutilating our bodies and using threats of death to keep us in line with gender norms.

I'll stop being so political when people stop killing, aborting, or abandoning their daughters, just because they are girls.

Mainly, I'll stop being so political when people start to recognize that women too are created in the image of God and treat us with dignity, equality and respect in all corners of the world.

Until that day, I'll continue with my fight. If you don't like it, too bad.

Postponing Grad School

In one of my more recent posts, I had written about my decision to not attend law school. Maybe I will change my mind in a few years. Of course, it's not just law school I am avoiding for now. Though professors have tried to convince me to apply for Ph.d's, I've decided to stay away from grad school in general. While I know I will probably have to go back to school to further my career, I figure the best thing I can do right now is to take time off.

First, I am burned out from school. My last semester, while I did well in most classes, I had a hard time forcing myself to do work. Granted, through high school and college, I was the girl who could do papers the night before and kick ass on them (easy to do when the topics include Springsteen, the environment, and the Holy Mother). However, it was hard for me to become excited about my classes. Don't get me wrong, they were interesting ones and I ended up enjoying my SIS textbooks for summer reading. At the same time, it was hard for me to even prepare for my music classes. I just wanted to be done. I'll admit, the one thing I'm looking forward to most is having my nights and weekends to myself next year.

Second, I'm not sure what I'd want to go to grad school for. Law school does appeal to me sometimes, especially international law and immigration law. However, that involves a huge commitment of my time, money, and an idea of where I want to live (yes, they hire you based on region). Also, I've been flirting with studying theology, peace and conflict resolution, international development, development management, public health, going back and studying music, music therapy, environmental politics/management. There are so many topics that capture my fancy. I know that I need more professional discernment before I can make the financial and intellectual commitment to take on more education.

For me, I know that I'm not ready for this decision. I want to work a few years, travel, volunteer, work on my languages, computer, and music skills, and see where life takes me. I don't want to go simply because of the economy and then find myself more in debt and completely clueless. I want to enjoy the fact that, for the first time in my life, no one is telling me what to do anymore. My life is my own to figure out. There is no feeling that could take me higher.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

"Sins of the Father"

On a random search through the Internet, I found this (admittedly old) article. Last year, a daughter of a lesbian couple was denied enrollment at a Catholic school because, "the parents chose to live in discord with the Church teachings." Of course, this, among other discriminatory acts committed by Catholic and other Christian schools (expelling a girl whose mom was a lesbian, firing single, pregnant teachers), makes me somewhat ashamed of my own leaders.

I am not saying that the Church shouldn't teach about actions it considers sinful. However, punishing a child, a child who had no choice and nothing to do with their parents' choice, is a grave sin, in my opinion. This does not show a belief in repentance, this shows a belief in exclusivity and a choice of appearance instead of love. This has nothing to do with the parents who made the choice, it's about making sure they have no association with someone who sins. Sure, they say the girls can participate in Mass and religious education, but I think this has more to do with publicity than anything else.

Also, what other "sins of the father" are you going to choose to punish? Are we going to exclude children whose parents divorced and subsequently remarried without an annulment? What about those whose parents use artificial contraceptives? Had an abortion? Or had premarital sex, especially if they are single parents? Heck, let's put sexual sins aside. What about those whose parents have taken God's name in vain? Or those whose parents refuse to help the poor, raise them in lives of materialism, and teach them that money is everything (a good portion of where I grew up)? How about non-Catholics? How about we say, anyone who's ever sinned or won't stop sinning can't attend? Of course, that would be a problem donation wise.

When you close doors, you close hearts. Children have no say in what their parents choose to do. They are not the ones who sin in these ways, they should not be punished for the things their parents choose to do. However, accepting them may open a door into their families and may be a much stronger witness to the love of Jesus Christ than exclusion. Our Lord Himself said, "Let the children come to Me." An institution of the Church would do well to follow its Leader.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Yes, I'm smart. No law school for me!

Growing up, I was known as "the lawyer." A snarky nickname from childhood, this was given to me by my parents for my tendency to try and negotiate punishments-for both me AND my siblings. Of course, as I grew older, proved my academic prowess, and came to identify with the marginalized, my father and others encouraged me to consider law as a possible career. "Only bad lawyers don't get jobs," I was told. However, after meeting several lawyers and thumbing through my roommate's copy of Law School Confidential, I am pretty sure that law is not in my future. At least, not my near future.

You see, in this bad economy, people are hurrying back to school in the hopes that an advanced degree will help them make bank or at least buy time. A lot of them will go to law school because, they figure, they did well in undergrad, they can ride out the economy and they can do good things. A lot of these law school grads ended up working at my restaurant. Not because they're not good at what they do. Many had stellar grades and summer internships while in law school. It's because the demand for lawyers is relatively low right now and they're too advanced for other jobs (entry level jobs won't take you if you have an advanced degree and others may not want to pay you that much). One in particular did very well, had an MPA on top of it, and still took nearly three years to find full time employment as a lawyer. This was after several volunteer law gigs, and considerable time doing part time legal work on top of working as a waitress and sales associate to put some cash in the bank. I already have student loan debt, why would I really want to add to it?

Also, while my brain loves a good challenge, let's be honest. I get bored. I had a hard enough time doing my IR readings (though I'd read the same things for fun). I love writing but I hate long papers. I liked being able to still participate in class, think critically, do good work, and not have to devote every waking hour to school or work. I enjoyed my internship in Kenya, where I was on my feet nearly every day, getting to know people and mobilizing, much more than my academics there. I like working with young people, but I'm sure that most of my duties will take place outside the courtroom unless I'm advocating for them in some fashion. I hate sitting down. I hate it, hate it, hate it. I couldn't imagine spending my life at a desk, reading dry, complicated material.

In addition, it's highly unlikely I'd be fighting for human rights at the Supreme Court or the International Criminal Court. Those are for the absolute cream of the crop and would take years and years of making my bones in the lower courts, likely doing civil cases or something like that. While I'll probably have to do years of work for little pay in what I'd want to do and take years to get recognized, I'd rather do something I find more rewarding. My coming year with Americorps is one. A possible stint out of the country doing great work is another (stay tuned!). Working for non-profits with a good vibe and an effective mission, even for little pay and behind the desk is another. Things that have me doing good work now is what I want, not a job that has the potential but in the present, has me doing work I find less than meaningful to me.

If I want to go to grad school, I'm going to go when I know for sure what direction my path is taking me. I don't want to do it because I'm scared of the alternative or because the world tells me I'm too smart not to. I don't want to end up in even more debt only to become a slave to that debt. If I do end up in law school (simply because God has a way of reversing all of my statements), it'll be because I've determined for myself this is the right thing for me and the right thing for the people I work with. Doing anything simply because other people told me to has a way of backfiring. I'm not going to do that at the expense of my mind, heart and my bank account.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Do I "love my country?"

I'm an American girl who loves to travel. As such, people, mostly from older generations, often ask why I need to go overseas to help or to do things. "Isn't your own country good enough?" "Why can't you help Americans?" "You know, it's dangerous to go overseas." It's interesting to me that people would feel that my love of travel has to do with hating my country. Far from it, people. Let me tell you what loving my country involves.

I am an American and I'm happy to have been born in a country that guarantees basic rights and freedoms. I'm proud that we have a history of forging a path of our own and that, though we've made tons of mistakes and committed atrocities along the way, we were willing to learn and change. I'm happy that I can go to church, marry any guy over the age of consent (and any girl, depending on some states), have whatever job and not be killed or oppressed in any way for it. While we still have plenty of issues we need to work on, I'm glad I was born here.

However, I do consider myself a global citizen. When Jesus told everyone to love their neighbor, He was asked who neighbors were. This prompted Him to tell the story of the Good Samaritan. For those that don't know, the story involves a man who had gotten injured in an accident. The supposed holy ones of the Jewish community at the time walked by but did not notice him. It was a Samaritan, a foreigner despised by the Jewish people, who ended up helping the man. Jesus used this story to say that the definition of "neighbor" goes beyond kin or tribe. Thus, as a Christian, I feel I'm called to serve my neighbor, whether that neighbor is Kenyan, American, Pakistani, or Mexican. Wherever I end up, I should serve. That's where I say the call of my faith ranks higher than my citizenship.

In addition, serving the world helps America, whether America realizes it or not. We are interconnected for good or for ill, whether we're depending on China for economics or Saudi Arabia for oil. By helping others gain their rights and stand on their own feet, we are creating potential allies. Likewise, negative actions (such as deposing of elected leaders and supporting dictators) have negative consequences for us throughout the world. Like most species, human beings are an interdependent group. As people need each other, so do countries.

Loving my country means keeping it accountable. It means encouraging it to participate with everyone else (everyone likes friends, right?). It means expanding tis horizons and helping it to be the best it can be. We'd encourage this of individual people. As an economics professor of mine once said, countries are collections of people. Wouldn't these rules still apply?

Monday, May 23, 2011

No "Cookie Cutter" Vocations-Catholics, take note!

In the Catholic faith, we recognize everyone's life choice as a "vocation," from the Latin vocare, "to call." While used to describe a call to priesthood or religious life (nuns, monks), this term is also used to describe a call to married life or the single state. Regardless of the choice, these represent the states in life in which an individual can best serve God. Of course within these vocations, God's call is unique to each person. Not all priests, monks and nuns do the same things, not all single people do the same things. What bothers me is that people often believe that married people must do the same things.

I've read too many Catholic and Christian sources that proclaim a woman's duty to stay at home, have a bunch of babies, homeschool and submit to her man. Meanwhile, the man is expected to provide for all the family's needs. Of course, these are not all inherently bad. I know people who do well with big families. Sometimes, homeschooling is best (and may allow kids to go further academically) and, in many cases, it may be better for at least one parent to stay at home (day care prices being what they are). The problem arises when people proclaim these as expected roles and duties for all husbands and wives.

God created us male and female. Yes, female means our bodies are designed to bear children and to provide care after their born (yes, boobs are for food, get over it, America). However, God also gave brains to women and may call a married woman to use them in His service, whether as a teacher, a doctor, a politician, an economist or what have you. God also gave hearts to men, so that they may fulfill His call to love. As such, maybe a man is called to stay at home with his children, or to take a job that is more about nurturing (nursing, teaching, social work) than about money. Maybe God wants a family to only have a couple of children, so that they can best love them and give time and resources to them. Maybe God wants a family to put their kids in public school, so that the kids can get the best education to serve Him (not all public schools are crappy) and learn to love and respect people who are different from them while also living out their faith. Maybe God wants a family to travel.

Just because something is good doesn't mean something is good for everyone. In fact, persuading others to follow a cookie cutter path can cause much damage. Rather than direct their talents to God and His Kingdom, couples are encouraged to conform to an image, found nowhere in Scripture or the Catechism, at the cost of their sanity, finances, physical health (for mothers), and possibly their own faith. Further, to bury the talents God has given you are a horrendous crime in Scripture and Jesus Himself had very harsh words for those who chose to. We work to build a Kingdom, not an image.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Thoughts on "traditions"

Whenever I talk about my ideal Catholic, feminist wedding, I'll often hear things like, "But those are traditions!" and, "No one DOES that!"

My response? A) Not all traditions are good and meaningful and B) If everyone decides to jump off a bridge, should I jump too?

I'm not against all traditions. I'm Catholic. I like tradition (big T and small t, yes, there's a difference). I like going to Mass every Sunday and reciting ancient biblical prayers. I like saying the rosary. I like that my dad reads the Declaration of Independence every Fourth. I think some of the cultural and culinary traditions of my mixed ethnic background are awesome. Traditions mark our heritage, whether our religious or ethnic heritage or our heritage as a nation. However, I would not deny that some traditions are destructive.

For example, most of us in the West would agree that circumcising girls, a traditional practice in many countries, is a destructive tradition. Most of us Westerners would agree that paying a bride price for women is wrong. In my faith, some religious orders have bucked the tradition of the habit (the garb of religious Sisters and Brothers, as well as some priests) because they found it prevented them from reaching more people (whether through intimidation or anger at negative past experiences in the Church). Parades in Northern Ireland (Orange Order and Apprentice Boys of Derry, for example), while defended as cultural traditions, are often seen as extremely divisive and a potential catalyst for violence.

Yes, these are a bit extreme. No, not everyone is going to come to a consensus on what constitutes a good tradition or a bad one and there are some we will be indifferent about. At the same time, I disagree with doing something simply because we've always done it. Traditions should be meaningful, should be seen as a source of unity, and should be positive. Otherwise, they seem superficial and carry the possibility of sending a negative message, if not destruction of others.

Friday, May 20, 2011

My Ideal Catholic, Feminist Wedding

DISCLAIMER: This does NOT mean I'm thinking of getting married quite yet. I need at least two years to get my life together first!

Now that I've hopefully addressed concerns that Katie may be rushing things (when you end up in a relationship, everybody's got an opinion.....Sheesh), I think I should mention what sparked this blog post. The Washington Post published a "Spring Cleaning" article, one that listed twenty things our society needs to purge. One of the authors wrote about the engagement ring. Long treasured as a symbol of romance and commitment, the author mentions the implications of consumerism, ownership, and self-entitlement that go along with it. To me, that's how I see most modern weddings. Of course, in my opinion, we've cheapened the ideals of marriage in the first place and placed greater emphasis on "her" day while including traditions that imply male ownership simply because it's "tradition." Don't even get me started. Anyway, being a both a fiery feminist and a devout Catholic, I thought I should talk about my ideal Catholic, feminist wedding.

For the engagement, I would not want a proposal or a ring. To be honest, I would not date if we were not discerning some type of future ( and I believe discussions of marriage should be frequent. It's so easy for us to stay with someone because the emotions are strong, thinking at first that we don't have to marry them, but becoming so devoted to them that it takes us by surprise. I think that, for a relationship to be successful, a couple needs to constantly discuss their future. Once we've decided that, yes, marriage is in our future, we both can pick a day to "become" engaged. For me, this would involve hosting a party for our friends and families (not telling them why) and then reciting heartfelt promises to marry each other. We would exchange small tokens (matching wristbands or something) that mark us as engaged. To me, it shows that the decision to marry is a mutual decision, that we will belong to each other, not solely me to him.

For the wedding, I'd walk down the aisle with my intended and instead, have my family serve as my wedding party. Why not my father? In a Catholic wedding, no one "gives me away." The man and the woman are ministers of the sacrament of marriage and, while a priest or deacon is present, they are there simply to witness and officiate at other parts of the ceremony. It makes more sense for me to walk down with my intended because we are giving ourselves to each other. Having our families participate in the ceremony makes more sense because it shows how they both prepared us for this journey and served as the first to teach us about relationships. Now, I'd still dance with my father afterward, because I am a daddy's girl and I think it's cute (I vote a Springsteen song for that). I just think the idea of the father bringing the woman to her husband smacks of old ideas of women as property and it doesn't sit well with me. Unless the groom walks down with his mom, or both walk down with their parents, it doesn't make sense to me. Also, having my family as my wedding party removes the drama behind choosing bridesmaids (plus, I don't want to have to deal with picking dresses).

For my dress, I don't want white. I've heard so many times that people will, "Think I'm a slut." OK, in our culture, how many of those brides are virgins? Second, why isn't the man showcasing HIS purity? Last I checked, Catholic teaching applies to him too (and yes, whomever I marry will be Catholic). Also, if people really know me and love me, would they really refer to me by degrading names because of a friggin' color? To me, white isn't even about virginity, as most Christian women did NOT wear white dresses until Queen Victoria made it popular. White became the fashion because it symbolized wealth (it's difficult to clean so you could only wear it once). To me, symbols of consumption seem incompatible with Christian teachings on sacrifice. Also, I tend to be loud, fiery, and crazy, which means color is in order! To me, I'm thinking royal blue. Why? Blue showcases everything I love like Mary's mantle (Mary's painted in many ways but we all know her by a blue mantle), the ocean, the Kenyan sky, parts of my ancestry (Italy's team is the Forza Azzuri or the Blue Force and it's also part of the tartan that marks the clan of my Scots ancestry), my graduation from university (our robes were royal blue). Royal blue because everyone always told me it flatters me. To me, it seems to reflect my essence. My essence is what I present to my groom on my wedding day. Why shouldn't my dress reflect that?

No diamonds for this chick. Exploitation of children in Africa does not seem like the greatest aphrodisiac in the world. Even conflict free ones just smack of expense and extraction of minerals just reminds me of environmental damage. Maybe wedding rings made out of recycled metals? They can still be beautiful, meaningful and appreciative, while also affirming our love for the earth. To me, that's another theological incite, as Adam came from the soil, so man was to be connected with the soil. Original sin broke relationships between men, women and the earth so I see it as a symbol of attempts at reunion and reconciliation.

Reception time? Everyone dances. Everyone eats. Everyone drinks (responsibly, I WILL throw you out if you're a drunken buffoon). I dance with my husband, with my dad, and with my friends. I like the whole, bride dances with her dad, groom with his mom. There will probably be a lot of Springsteen, U2, and the Eagles as well as whatever he likes. Oh, did I mention there will be food? Mangia, mangia!

I also will keep my maiden name. My refusal to change it does not lessen our unity. Our unity will be showcased through our home, our life and our children. Yes, I know, it's my father's last name so I still have a man's name. But that's because it's from a long tradition of women changing their names. I also don't mind mine too much. Marriage makes us one but it doesn't mean I forsake my identity. I am open to giving my kids their father's name, simply because everyone will know they're my kids (hard to hide a pregnant belly, especially on a skinny frame). Or name blending. I just want to keep mine. Many Latin cultures (which are very Catholic, by the way) involve women keeping their names and giving both to the kids. To me, there's no theological reasoning for it, so I won't bother myself with it.

I'm not knocking anyone who chooses to go the traditional route. Rather, I'm proposing we reflect on WHY we choose the traditions we choose. To me, (yes, to ME), may of these traditions have become meaningless and don't coincide with my understanding of both femininity and my faith. To me, unity implies a combining of souls, bodies, houses, and resources to produce something powerful. We both bring unique talents, personalities and thoughts to the table so marriage should be an equal partnership. Not me under him, nor him under me, but both at an equal level. If we are truly ministers of the sacrament, and if women are also made in the image of God (and therefore, powerful in their own right), our ceremonies and customs should reflect this. So, for me (again, for ME), this is what a Catholic, feminist wedding looks like.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Terrorists and IMF leaders

What do they have in common? They thought they could mess with NYC. Instead, the U.S. messed with them. Of course, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, leader of the IMF, obviously missed that memo. Either that, or he thought his wealth, his status, and his country's condemnation of our walks of shame would protect him. For those who don't know, Mr. Strauss-Kahn was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a hotel housekeeper. He tried to run from the cops.

Sexist and classist comments aside (referring to her as a "girl" when she's 32, barely even mentioning her), I have to wonder. France is bitching because they don't like photos of him in handcuffs. They say it makes him "look guilty." I don't know about you but I think running from the cops makes you look guilty. Others mention him as a loving husband and father, you know, because cheating on your wife really shows your family how much you love them. Seriously, what was he thinking?

There's no excuse for his behavior. Anyone who commits sexual assault deserves a nice spot in the big house. I don't care how wealthy you are, how famous you are, or how many movies you make (yes, Mr. Polanski, I'm pointing the finger at you. My middle finger, that is). That act proves that you are a dangerous person who cannot be trusted. To whom much is given, much is required and, even if it wasn't assault, he shouldn't have been cheating in the first place.

Mr. Strauss-Kahn, listen to Marlon Brando and act like a man. All the money in the world can't hide your character. I'm surprised this is your crime, because you obviously need to grow a set. If you cannot, I will lend you mine.

Monday, May 16, 2011

"Taking Care" Of Yourself

"I want someone who takes care of themselves." OK, that seems reasonable when you're looking for someone to marry. If they don't take care of themselves, they may not take care of you or the kids, right? Yet, something in me smells a heaping pile of bullshit and I think I know why.

Ever notice people are usually referencing someone's weight when
they say this?

Weight is one of those things that has become extremely dicey in our culture. On one hand, we make it very clear that we do not like the idea of fat. People will refer to a plump person as "disgusting" and chastise them for "unhealthy habits" while our magazines feature skinny women (who are either starving or snorting coke) who somehow have huge boobs (yay, silicone?) while the men are built like a Greek goddess' wet dream. Our grocery stores are filled with "low-fat" and "fat-free" everything and diet pills and fads come and go. There is extreme pressure on postpartum mothers to drop the weight as quickly as possible, even if they are breastfeeding (another loaded issue in our puritanical yet hyper-sexualized culture). Doctors diagnose eating disorders in younger and younger girls (and boys too), simply because they are absorbing the messages they see on TV and in the movies and simply want to be pretty, even at the risk of sudden heart failure. It isn't even about being healthy, fit or taking care of yourself. It's about fitting into a certain image, determined by people eager to make a few bucks.

On the other hand, our culture (as well as our corporations and politicians, through subsidies and cheap products) makes it easier for us to be overweight. Especially in impoverished neighborhoods with little access to grocery stores (and more access to overpriced convenience stores), soda is cheaper than milk and it's often cheaper to buy boxed foods than to constantly have to buy vegetables (which have a low shelf life). Our chaotic work schedules make cooking (a healthier choice) seem like a luxury and a long commute cuts into work out time. Due to standardized testing, young children spend more time than ever sitting down in school and find their gym and recess times cut short (and we wonder why they act up in class?). Further our culture of instant gratification makes healthier choices such as cooking (rather than microwaving) and losing weight over a longer period of time when it is an issue very unappealing. Thanks to TV's, the Internet, and other fun distractions, who needs to play outside?

I mean, seriously. How many skinny people do you know who are out of shape? Who drink soda like it's water? Who may have high blood cholesterol? Who want to pass out after walking up one short flight of stairs? Yet, how many people tell them, "Oh honey, you can eat as much as you want! How lucky?" Or encourage them to eat like crap, because at least they still conform to our beauty standards? How many people have told me I don't "need" to work out because I'm slim, not knowing that, yes, osteoporosis, runs in my family, so I better hit the gym? The whole, "taking care of yourself" is utter bullshit. If we really did believe in that, we'd make it so our culture wasn't so sedentary. We'd hold corporations accountable for pushing crap foods on us and make it so politicians didn't subsidize unhealthy products. We'd acknowledge that lack of access to healthy food is a sign of a hunger crisis, even if our hungry people may not look like a "starving kid in Ethiopia" (feed the hungry, damn it!). We'd stop cutting recess and gym time for our kids and encourage interactive learning that involved them moving around. We'd make time to work out, regardless of age, and make it part of our social, family and love lives. We'd offer healthy, yet delicious, snacks as a sign of hospitality.

Yes, we all need to take care of our bodies. Taking care of our bodies means ACCEPTING them. It DOES NOT mean forcing them to conform to an idealized image. It means learning how we best can preserve our health and lives and acting on it. It also means fighting so that others may not only be educated but that they may also have access to healthy food. It means we give other people dignity and treat them with respect, rather than make degrading comments about them because of struggles they may have. It means we'd affirm people's looks when they look healthy, not when they look skinny (I can't tell you how much it hurt when people told me how good I looked by "losing weight" when I was actually stressed out, tired, working too hard, and barely eating). It means we stop nit-picking celebs for their looks (especially when we have daughters of our own. Yes, I'm talking to you, Mr. Beck) and critique them on, well, their purpose as actors, musicians, public speakers, and what have you.

So, kids, take care of yourselves (for real), love each other, see your physician annually and don't do drugs. Actually, some recreational drugs are acceptable (moderate amounts of caffeine and alcohol). Just don't do the stupid ones. Yes, I'm including diet pills in this one.

Take that, Kelly Clarkson :D

Our culture prides itself on independence. Individual rights, Independence Day, "pulling one's self up by the bootstraps", the list goes on and on. While we have taken it too far, to the point where we spend too much time isolated from others and forget the needs of others (how often do we ignore the homeless guy on the street or forget to say thank you to our servers and bus drivers?), independence is something I value and cherish. I've become pretty financially independent in college, having paid my own rent since summer 2009, and I've lived my own life since attending school. I think young people, especially young women, need to learn independence. What do I mean by this?

Independence means being your own person. It means knowing yourself, knowing what makes you tick. It means learning to appreciate all your traits, with the intent of using them for good things. It means learning why you think negatively about other traits and trying to change how you use them (for me, it means not using my temper to lash out, but using the fire behind it as a motivation to make the world better instead of simply wishing I wasn't so fiery). It means embracing your own means of expression and developing your own interests and hobbies. Why are these important? It's these traits, these interests, these hobbies, that help you to develop your life's work and purpose. If you know who you are and own who you are, you can use this as direction for a few important decisions such as your education, your career choice, your future spouse. Independence means the courage to use this knowledge and make these choices, regardless (and sometimes despite) what family and friends say.

Independence means survival. People use this in the financial sense of the word (in the end, I have to present my own check to the landlord) but I mean this as a means of emotional survival as well. We all need the love of our family (whether biological or of our choosing), our friends, our communities, and our partners. At the same time, there are points when we need to depend on ourselves. People die, people leave our lives, people change so, as much as they love us, they can't and won't be around forever. I'm not advocating a hermitage type of existence where we simply eschew human contact. Instead, I'm saying that, while we should absolutely reach out to others and love people in spite of their faults, we can't depend on them to complete us. We need to show respect, we also need to demand respect. We should take time to just be alone (and not hooked to technology), in order to reflect on ourselves. Am I where I want to be? Am I who I want to be? Is this person good to me? Am I good to them? This not only helps us become better people, it helps us determine if those in our lives help us to be better people.

Independence does not mean we shut ourselves off from love or from our loved ones' desires to help us. It means constantly discerning whether these displays of love or help are actually loving or helping. It means becoming comfortable in your own skin, trusting in who you are to make positive change in your own life as well as in the lives of other people. Rather than isolating, independence can serve as a powerful mechanism to connect people. I would say that claiming the title of "Miss Independent" enabled me to love others better by helping me love myself (yes, people of faith, loving God means loving yourself because, guess what? You already believe that God made you). Kelly Clarkson was wrong when she equated it with refusing love. Strength means the ability to go it alone when you have to and only a strong heart can truly love others.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

How Do I Feel? Post Grad Emotions

Last weekend, I made a milestone many of my family have not finished. I graduated college with a Bachelor's degree. While they seem a dime a dozen now, college education continues to be a luxury for many in the world, especially women. As you can imagine, this was a huge deal for my family, who all made the six hour trip to DC to see it. On top of it, I finished college in the midst of adventures, from lobbying Congress, to studying in Kenya, to now heading south for a year with Americorps. Nonetheless, my family is very proud. Yet one question sticks in my mind.

"How does it feel?"

A week later, I don't know what to say. I did feel a burst of excitement as I processed in and again as I was about to walk. Afterward, I felt overwhelmed by everyone's outpouring of love for me and teared up quite a bit (the most when my grandfather told me how proud my grandmother would have been). Yet, for the most part, I don't feel different. I mean, I still live in DC, I still work at the same restaurant that I've been with for nearly three years. I hang out with my friends. I sing/play music, I cook, I clean my apartment. I pay my rent like a good girl. I listen to music and go on Facebook. I do my own brand of light reading (usually, same stuff as school but on my terms). You know, the usual.

There are times, like just now, where I realize it, usually because I'm filling out roommate requests, uniform size sheets and forbearance forms for my student loans. I feel excited about it, a new adventure, an opportunity to serve, the beginning of what hopefully will be a long and glorious career of I-don't-know-what-except-it's-awesome. Yet I do feel sad. Sad to be leaving the city I've lived in and loved for four years. Sad that it's my turn to say goodbye. Sad that it's an end. Sad that I'll be leaving someone I've come to love dearly behind (I have hope for us, the leaving part just sucks).

To conclude, I'm not sure what I feel. I think I feel many different things, all at different times. Am I happy? Yes. Proud? You bet. Relieved? Damn straight, I want time off before I return to the walls of academia (hopefully with more purpose and drive, as well as some funds). Sad? A bit, more about leaving DC than finishing my time at AU. I feel everything and nothing but I guess that's just how life is.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

What Would You Die For?

I love to travel. My love is apparent in the fact that I lament only having been to six countries before my 22nd birthday (never mind that my parents have only been to two each, my father because he was born in another one). It became pretty clear when I chose to study in Kenya for a semester, rather than graduate early. It was even more obvious when I gave my boyfriend an ultimatum about traveling with me in the future before agreeing to become a serious couple. Let's face it, I love it, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Trust me, I've seen quite a bit of ugly.

People often question this love. They never fail to remind me how it will be difficult to have a family, how I need to settle down at some point. They remind me how expensive it is, how time consuming it is, and how mishaps always occur (lost bags, delayed flights, credit and debit cards screwing up). Finally, they often remind me how dangerous it is.

The other stuff to me is very easy to work around. If men can travel with families, why not a woman? I've known several woman with both traveling careers and families. To me, that's remedied with a supportive spouse and prudence in location choices when young children are present (like, I would not be opposed to living in Kenya or Peru with a small child. I would be opposed to living in Somalia or Mexico when I have small children). Expense takes care of itself with financial prioritizing, plus I can accept jobs overseas and earn a comfortable salary. Mishaps happen all the time and make for hilarious stories later on (I have PLENTY of stories from being stuck in London for two days with no money). However, I do need to talk about danger.

Travel, like anything else, has risks. Anything that attracts tourism is likely to have pickpockets. Further, in other places, there are risks for infectious diseases, and some places have high rates of kidnappings, security threats and in some cases murder. As a woman, I face the risk of rape wherever I go (whether that's in the U.S. or in other countries but I pretty much have that risk alive or dead and that is something I've come close to facing). Yes, we can get our shots, have local guides, live in high security compounds, boil our water, wear our wallets and documents under clothes, and make sure our phones can be used in any part of the world. At the same time, I want a career in Peace and Conflict Resolution. What does that mean? It means Katie's putting her life on the line.

Yes, I may die as a result of my career. Maybe I end up in unfriendly territory, I stand up against the Mafia, I do research on a specific conflict. Maybe I catch a disease no one can cure as a result of my work. Maybe the plane crashes or there's a natural disaster. Maybe there's a fire and the building codes aren't up to par like they are in the Western world. I'm not advocating recklessness here. I would never go looking for trouble, would gladly take any health and security workshop I needed and would honestly research and discern certain placements and opportunities before jumping the gun. I would invest in traveler's insurance and always make contacts before I head to a new place. However, to deny the real and sometimes mortal risks of my chosen path would be an act of dishonesty.

In truth, I could die from just about anything, young or old. The risks I mentioned happen in the U.S. as they do in the rest of the world, albeit in different frequencies for each risk. Yet everyone dies at some point. I could not think of a more fitting death than one which involved serving my fellow man and doing what I truly loved. In addition, if I can't find something I'd give my life for, what do I have to live for?

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama's Dead..........

I'll admit, my initial reaction was, "Ding Dong, the witch is dead!" As someone who still remembers 9/11, all the kids called home from school, families worrying if their loved ones would make it home on the commute from the city, how we tried to get some of our firefighters home (at least one didn't make it), how people feared anthrax in Halloween candy and the fear, my only thought was, "Finally." But then, my fellow Christians gave me pause.

Yes, what Osama did was truly evil. He, at the very least, needed to be stopped. Yes, the relief is understandable, especially for those of us who lived close to NYC or DC, were in them, lost family, or survived. However, there are still thousands like him, who wish for our deaths. There are even more who will now hate us, due to our intense celebrations of his death. While violence, unfortunately, is sometimes necessary, it should never be the primary solution and should always come with sorrow and repentance.

Further, to all the Christians, the Lord's Prayer/Our Father has a line stating, "Forgive our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." We're asking God to forgive us as we forgive our enemies. If we can't forgive our enemies, isn't it presumptuous to ask God for His full forgiveness? This doesn't mean pardon or excusing the action itself. It means letting go of the anger and the bitterness to see that the wrongdoer was still a human being, equal to us in standing and dignity. Yes, we may have to punish the person, but in the hopes that they will turn from their wrongdoing. If that is not possible and the lives of the people are at stake, then we may have to use violence. Again, this should be done with sorrow.

American Christians need to remember that vengeance is not our territory. It is God's and God's alone. If we want to be people who truly love Jesus Christ, we need to follow His commands. These include loving your enemies, forgiving 70 * 7, and working for peace and justice in this world. While we have to punish violence (sometimes using violence), rejoicing in suffering makes us no better than the people who hate us. Let's not be like those who danced at the deaths of our loved ones when my beloved cities were struck by evil.