Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The body

A woman's life is tied to her body in a way that a man's simply isn't. People are always analyzing our bodies-whether or not they're beautiful, attractive, healthy (looking) enough to bear a child. It's no secret that our rites of passage involve what I like to call the four M's-menstruation, marriage, motherhood, and menopause. Even today, when we are encouraged to be well educated, have careers and have at least lip service to a political voice (female politicians being treated as they are in the media), the focus is always on the body. Advertisements, celebrity gossip, the well meaning advice of our mothers all still focus on the body.

Yet, when it comes to actually caring for the body, we fall short. Much like a woman's political voice, people pay lip service to the need for better health, especially better women's health but how much of that is actually encouraged? For example, for mothers who just gave birth, especially if they are breastfeeding, doctors advise a slow weight loss. Yet, when a female celebrity gives birth, she's almost encouraged to lose all the weight. How many, "New mom loses 30 pounds in the first month" stories have you seen? Of course, the magazines will sound concerned-until a mom actually doesn't lose the weight like that and they're like, "She admits to letting herself go."

"Letting herself go," my ass. She just gave birth! That's not letting yourself go, that's letting yourself recover! Of course, motherhood is no excuse in our society, we're still expected to be rail thin. Actually, skinny's taking me somewhere. I'm thin. How many times have I heard, "Oh, you're thin! You don't need exercise or healthy foods!" So, because I look small, I don't need to be fit or healthy? Yet, when a woman is larger, even if she DOES eat right and exercise, she faces no end to the criticism. It could be the one day she eats ice cream but, when she does, people are horrified. I could eat ice cream every day, feel like crap, and have the stamina of a 90-year-old woman yet because my body conforms to society, that's OK. Never mind that, even among skinny college kids, they are finding problems like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other issues people don't think of until you hit your forties. For this, I don't think the issue should just be an "obesity" crisis, it should be a "health" crisis.

Or fertility. Take "control" of your life, even if that "control" means pills that increase your risk of heart attacks, liver problems, and breast cancer, as well as, apparently, making women vulnerable to AIDS. Even if it means horribly invasive surgery that has risk of complications and puts you up for over a month. Even if it means we're the ones bearing the brunt of the responsibility. Even if it means fewer choices when we actually do become pregnant and give birth and stigma no matter what choice you make (I'm not even touching abortion, adoption, single parenthood here-just things like breast vs. bottle or home vs. hospital!). Even if it means doctors who are well-meaning but horribly misguided and who, at some level, have to look after themselves even at the expense of our health.

I'm not even going to get started on the various aspects of the media, sexual preferences or issues like that. The fact of the matter is, this is a huge scourge on our society. A woman's body, like a man's, is a temple. A temple that should be respected, honored, venerated because within that temple contains something more precious: the soul. At the end of the day, the soul is what matters. We need to start acting like it does.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My feminism

I do identify as a feminist. I believe that, world wide, women should have choices. I deserve the rights to pursue education, a career path, money based on my merits alone, protection from violence and fear of harm, and to pursue and form my own friendships and family. I deserve the right to practice my faith, to speak out on issues, and to be treated as a human being, without fear of any sort of retribution. However, aspects of my feminism are variable and don't conform to any sort of model.

I do believe that people should not face persecution for their sexual identity or choices (unless those choices involve a non-consenting partner, that is). I believe homophobia and corresponding bullying/acts of violence are reprehensible. I don't care what people do with their partners. That's their decision. However, I'll admit, I'm not completely condoning. For example, I think promiscuity (irrespective of identity) is irresponsible. In a society that worries about STI's, HIV, and cervical cancer, even protection can't make up for the increased risk. I'll admit, regardless of gender or sexual identity, I think it's selfish and represents and attitude of consumerism with regard to people. We're human beings, not cars to test drive or clothes to try on before you by them. Save that shit for a commitment!

With regard to abortion: I'll admit, I'm pro-choice with regard to desperate circumstances. Rape, incest, life threatening medical complications, impending poverty, excessive youth (see rape and incest for that one) are all circumstances in which I would deem it a necessary evil. Believe me, I don't want the back alley to come back. Nor do I want women to die or face serious complications (mentally, financially, physically) because of a pregnancy. At the same time, I don't think it's right willy-nilly. Yes, the men need to step it up in terms of support. Yes, we need fair policies. I agree with that. Yes, we need more education. No, I don't think late-term abortions are OK (unless really life threatening and the baby isn't viable at all). I know, most people don't like it/want it, and I'm not saying that. However, hearing about the twin selection abortions (where mom decides, "Oh, I'll just have one") or a recent article in which a mom confessed to, "not wanting to move to a cheaper zip code," I have to wonder. I'm not sure this is a direction I want our society going into.

I just can't jump as easily on board with what other feminists authors would claim as feminist sexuality. Part of that is my Catholicism, which I adhere to pretty strictly. At the same time, it's not even about what people do different from me. Like I said, I don't care if a friend has a same-sex partner or that sort of thing (I won't do likewise but it's between them and God). I just can't embrace a vision of sexuality that reduces us to fifteen minutes. Nor can I embrace a vision of bodily autonomy that puts me at war with my offspring.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Fertility Awareness and an Interfaith Dialogue

I had learned of fertility awareness in my first foray into Catholicism. When I was converting, I knew that Catholics couldn't use artificial birth control but they could use a natural method. For a long time, I wanted to learn about it, as well. However, my period in Kenya made me question, as I ended up using the pill to help my periods and loved it so much, I figured I'd just stay on it. In addition, seeing women in poverty with eight kids-including one nursing baby and one in utero-made me a tad protective of my lady parts. Of course, then I couldn't take the pill anymore because my doctor was concerned over my liver and then I fell in love with a wonderful Catholic man. I was still nervous, because I didn't really trust condoms (18 instructions-you really going to follow them in the heat of the moment?) and felt I was unprotected. Then, I did my research.

Lo and behold, Planned Parenthood and the University of Maryland both supported Catholic sources saying that fertility awareness methods were effective-as long as you and your spouse (yes, both of you) were diligent. One of my married friends sent me a copy of Taking Charge of Your Fertility (written by a non-Catholic woman who doesn't feel any moral qualms about premarital sex or the use of barriers on fertile days) as well as some charts and a basal body thermometer. I was reading the book on the metro when a Muslim lady approached me and told me, "Oh, that book is awesome! I've been married ten months and it WORKS!!!!!!!!!!"


We had a wonderful conversation about marriage and ended up exchanging numbers. I have to tell you, this woman did me such an act of mercy. Unfortunately, even most Catholics would tell me to use birth control. My own family doesn't know too much about it-my mom once told me it was for couples who need help getting pregnant. Others will say, "What do you call a couple who uses natural birth control? Parents!" Or, "abstention? That's too much to ask of a man!"

Yet, after that conversation and perusal through this book, I too am falling in love. I can actually know what's happening in my body, prevent AND achieve pregnancies, not have any side effects, not spend money (except on software to keep track and on a class, if I feel it necessary), AND my guy HAS to cooperate. I can't imagine a better form of birth control.

My body, my choice. :D

Saturday, October 1, 2011

So, How Did It Happen?

I spent most of my college years thinking my life would be one of travel, a glamourous career, and one spent mostly by myself. If I married at all, it would be later in life, perhaps with adopted children, as I'd be too old to give birth (much like a beloved relative of mine, may he rest in peace). The kind of guy I'd fall for would be likely Catholic, as I still adhere to my faith, yet also somewhat of a hippie. He'd be daring and adventurous, willing to go mountain climbing and surfing with me in dangerous parts of the world. In the quieter aspects of our life, we'd make lattes, do yoga, and play music at open mics. He'd likely be of some type of Mediterranean, as I tended to fall for them, the kind that cooks and enjoys good food, kisses everyone with enthusiasm, has no qualms about alcohol (OK, the northern/mostly Christian Mediterranean type), and has long wild dark hair.

And then God laughed. Hard.

I ended up in a serious relationship my senior year of college. How serious? We announced our engagement very recently. Recently meaning, after six months together. Barely two months after I turned twenty-two. And, while my guy is handsome, intelligent, as much of an urbanite and a willing traveler as I am, he so does not fit the stereotype I just laid out for you. Like me, he has Italian blood, but looks more like the Irish and Scots in his ancestry, with beautiful blue eyes (everyone else had brown eyes). He tends to reserve his affection for people close to him, enjoys good food but wants to learn to cook, isn't a fan of most alcohol, and wears his hair short. He does go to the gym but if I suggest we do yoga together, he looks at me funny. He has many talents but his creativity shows up more in writing and in thought, while my open mic performances will likely remain solo endeavors (once I have time for them). He does enjoy a good chai latte every now and again. Hikes, I could see us doing. Climbing Mount Kenya? Maybe, if we could afford it. Surfing? We like beaches. However, our Italian genes did NOT give us the olive skin they gave to our fathers.

Yet, even though it wasn't what I expected, I'm happy. I had known my companion for a good two years before we ended up together and liked him then. He balances me out in so many ways. For example, while I'm pretty fiery and explosive, he is calm and gentle. While my emotions are tied to my work and my politics, he can detach more easily to analyze situations. While I critique some aspects of my faith, he reminds me why I love it in the first place. We have similar goals and are happy with settling down in the city we love. We love each other, as well as each other's families and friends. The thought of spending my life with him doesn't scare me like marriage did even just last year. Rather, it comforts me.

No longer will it be only my life, but his as well. As such, we will now discuss our adventures on our mutual blog. Check us out at Urban Catholic and follow us to the ends of the earth!