Contraception and why you must vote in November

When it come to your reproductive rights, not voting in November makes as much sense as having sex without protection. Sure, you can take your chances, hope you don’t get pregnant. Likewise, you can risk letting other voters decide who will make laws that directly effect you. In fact, those most strongly opposed to women’s reproductive rights can be depended on to show up at the polls.

In the oldest section of many cemeteries you’ll find the graves of young women next to stone slabs inscribed with “Infant daughter” or “Infant son.” Only a hundred years ago, when my grandmother was in the early years of her marriage, Margaret Sanger was arrested for giving out information about birth control. Deaths related to childbearing were not rare, and large families overwhelmed many women. I was among the first generation of women to have access to birth control pills.

Last September Cosmopolitan ran an article, “11 Politicians Standing Between You and Your Birth Control” http://www.cosmopolitan.com/health-fitness/advice/a4845/politicians-anti-birth-control/. In primaries leading up to the last presidential election, Republican candidate Rick Santorum openly spoke of his opposition to many forms of birth control, including the pill. Legislatures in several states keep whittling away at women’s rights to contraception and abortion.

Check now to make sure your voter registration is up to date. You must change your registration if you’ve changed your legal name or moved to a different precinct. This site may answer your questions: http://www.eac.gov/voter_resources/ive_moved_recently_can_i_still_vote.aspx

And be sure to vote November 4.

 

When tragedy has a name

The Milky Way stretched across the clear night sky. Over the vast expanse thousands of individual stars were discernible. To my right, Polaris. Vega, almost straight overhead. From the multitude above me I could identify only a few. Astronomers, though, know many others by name. Knowing a star by its name makes a difference in how you look at the night sky, I’ve decided.

Recently I had the privilege to lead a concurrent session at the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society Conference. About 250 (I’m estimating) amateur genealogists gathered to learn more about how to trace their ancestry. By “amateur” I’m not implying these are beginners. No, they’re quite sophisticated in searching data-bases, locating cemeteries, and combing all kinds of records. Over and over I witnessed the satisfaction, delight too, of attendees who have identified slave ancestors. In many cases family oral histories have led genealogists to search manumission papers, ownership records of slaveholders whose surnames slaves took upon emancipation, military records of the United States Colored Troops, and Social Security Applications.

A name. Sally, female slave on XTZ Plantation, mother of Mr. G.’s grandfather. Willy, male slave on UVW Plantation, father of Mrs. L.’s great grandmother. Not simply a slave, but a real person, a woman or man who breathed and labored and loved. That, I think, must be the reward of searching for ancestors, finding a name. So that slavery becomes not just a historical event, where millions suffered and died, but central to a personal narrative.

A name. Malala Yousafzai. We Americans have shaken our heads in sympathy for Muslim girls denied an education by the Taliban. Along comes the story of a sixteen-year-old Pakistani girl shot because she spoke out on behalf of girls wanting to attend school. Not a faceless girl but a real one.

The photos of children in Sudan and Ethiopia, in Sao Paulo and Port-au-Prince—like the stars overhead their names are unknown to us. Polar bears and Bengal tigers are disappearing. We know no polar bears or Bengal tigers by name.

When stars or people or animals have names, they matter more. A people captured and enslaved, girls denied an education, children starving, animals facing extinction.

Many in our community lack good medical care. Children go to school hungry. Veterans suffer from PTSD. Women are battered by husbands or boyfriends. The mentally ill sleep under bridges.

What would happen if we learned their names?

Politics—who cares?

I’ve been trying not to care. It just makes me worry, deprives me of sleep, interferes with writing fiction. Reading the newspaper and watching the news on TV make things worse.

In my stop-caring campaign, I remind myself that retirement benefits, while not allowing luxury, do provide my shelter, food, and clothing. So it doesn’t matter to me when funds are cut to food stamps and programs that feed the indigent. My older neighbors who lack basic necessities should go live with their kids. If young enough to work let them get a job like I did. (Forget that my parents sacrificed for my college education so I could earn an adequate income.)

I no longer need a job, so why should I care if minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and a single mother would have to work 15 hours a day/7 days a week to earn $40,000? It’s probably her fault she’s single anyway.

I have health insurance that supplements Medicare. If my back aches I call for a doctor’s appointment. Others in the country have no health insurance at all. Not my problem.

I’m white, registered to vote, and have a drivers license. The older lady down the street—her friend regularly drives her to the library, which does not require a birth certificate for a card. In fact she long ago misplaced hers. What do I care? She’d probably vote for candidates I don’t like anyway.

The planet’s getting warmer, bringing draught to farmlands, flooding to shorelines. By the time things get really bad I’ll be long gone.

So what if a woman at age 45, who already has three young adult children, gets pregnant and isn’t allowed, even upon her doctor’s recommendation, to have an abortion? I’m past child-bearing years. Her crisis has nothing to do with me.

Yes, I’ve been trying not to care about these things.

But in my Bible I read, “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you shall hunger” (Luke 6:24-5).

And my grandchildren say “I love you” as they hug me. I want fresh air and water to be in their future. Adequate shelter, food, clothing. Freedom from debilitating illness and financial ruin. As I want for all children.

I dare not quit caring.

Asheville’s Go Topless rally seeks new organizer

I hear they’re looking for a strong Ashville woman to head up this year’s Go Topless rally. I just may be the candidate Mr. Johnson’s looking for. But first I want to be sure I understand what he means when he specifies a strong woman.

If men ogling at bare breasts get out of hand, does he want a woman with the body of an Amazon to toss the offender in front of traffic? Five feet tall, I’d have to disqualify myself if that’s the case.

Or does he want someone strong enough to deal with types who would have covered Adam and Eve with fig leaves even before they ate the apple? I’m guessing it’s this group he’s more concerned about, that he’s looking for a woman who can stand up to Bible thumpers eyeball to eyeball and argue back. My husband can testify to my ability to argue.

Surely Mr. Johnson wants someone strong in her commitment to women’s equality, which again qualifies me. That is after all the sole purpose of topless rallies, is it not? No doubt he himself spends hours writing to legislators in support of women making their own health decisions. He’s got to be outraged that the Equal Rights Amendment never passed, and has committed himself to adding to the Constitution, “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

As ideal as this job sounds for someone with my qualifications, I’m a little concerned about guns. It’s my understanding that good guys with guns are really into the freedom issue these days. Surely they stay awake nights worrying about how clothes oppress their wives and girlfriends and turn out in big numbers to support women’s freedom whenever it’s challenged. So what happens when only a few feet from the armed men, people quoting the Bible are trying to take that freedom away? Now there’s a potential conflict: good guys with guns aiming at—are they bad men?–—with Bibles. Maybe this is why Johnson wants a strong woman. To stand between these groups of men.

As qualified as I am for the job I’m worried there may be criteria as yet unarticulated. Like, is it necessary for the candidate herself to have a pretty good rack? And a closely related question, is age a liability?

A Future with Hope (for survivors of domestic violence)

(In cleaning my computer files, I found the following essay. I don’t recall if/where it was published but thought these words might be of help to someone right now.)

It seemed natural for Linda to take her personal problems to her pastor. He listened kindly as she described her husband’s quick temper, the way he sometimes got so mad he hit her and bruised her body. Linda needed to hear someone say, “This is wrong. God intends that the relationship between husband and wife be one of mutual respect.”
Instead, the pastor said, “Go home and try not to anger him. Jesus set an example for us: that we are to suffer for his sake. God will not give you any more to bear than you can handle.” Then Linda and her pastor knelt and prayed.

Our faith should be a source of empowerment and healing. Yet churches have more often than not failed women who live with domestic violence. Some ministers preach that divorce is a sin, or that a woman is to obey her husband. Sometimes members, refusing to accept the truth that abuse occurs in Christian homes, ignore signs that women or children in the congregation are being abused, physically or emotionally. “What happens in a family is that family’s business,” church people may say.

In Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse, Et Al says of her childhood, “People knew of my father’s drinking and physically abusive behavior, but no one intervened or said his actions were wrong….Mama tolerated his verbal and physical abuse. She coped by trying to ignore it and sought comfort in reading Scripture or listening to the radio evangelist extol the redemptive power of suffering.”

It might seem that the church, the entire Christian tradition itself, is not to be trusted with victims’ pain. But that is not necessarily true. Within many religious bodies, attitudes about the abuse of women and children have begun to change. Clergy are being trained to respond with compassion and to assist in finding safety. People of faith are sponsoring hotlines and shelters for women and children living with domestic violence. Christian groups are bringing new eyes and open minds to passages that have traditionally been used to suppress women. At the same time they are lifting up scriptures that empower victims and help them find healing.

Denominations (Jewish and Islam organizations, as well) have been speaking out against violence in the home, forming task forces, writing official statements, training leaders on how to respond. I am most familiar with what the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been doing. In 2001 its General Assembly approved a policy statement on domestic violence, bringing to the denomination’s attention the causes of domestic violence, efforts the church can take to prevent it, and suggestions for ministering to victims. The statement is accompanied by a study guide for individuals and groups (available through http://www.pcusa.org/phewa/resources/resources-padvn.htm).

Because abusers within the Christian tradition have often hidden behind scripture, such as “Wives, be obedient to your husbands,” groups are challenging traditional interpretations. Christians for Biblical Equality deals with abuse issues on its website: (http://www.cbeinternational.org/?q=content/abuse).

FaithTrust Institute (formerly Center for the Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence) has for many years provided leadership and materials to the various faith communities: Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Christians. On its website (http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org), FaithTrust says of its mission: “We believe that the teachings of our religious traditions have been a source of pain and confusion as well as a source of strength and healing for those facing sexual and domestic violence.”

These three groups are only a small sample of the many religious bodies speaking to the issue of domestic violence.
What recommendations do I have for victims who are also people of faith? First, don’t think for a minute that God is testing you or has placed you in that situation for a reason. Affirmation can be found in Jeremiah 29:11: “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” I believe that God’s intention for us all is that we be part of loving, respectful relationships.

Second, you may want to question your own understanding of scripture. If you’ve been taught that a woman is to obey her husband or that it is her lot to suffer as Jesus suffered, read what Christians for Biblical Equality are saying. Open your mind to alternate interpretations of scripture.

Third, find a spiritual guide. Before you turn to your pastor, consider what clues he/she has provided in sermons about marriage and the relationship between a husband and wife. If the pastor has spoken of the authority of the male and against divorce in general, turn to someone else. My own pastor tells of how often women, seeing a woman’s name on the board in front of the church, come in to seek her counsel because their male pastors have only added to their pain.

My mother once told me that fifty years ago a small circle of women in her church knew that Alice was regularly raped by her husband. They knew that Martha’s husband verbally abused her. From the pulpit the pastor preached that wives were to obey their husbands and that Jesus taught us to forgive seventy times seven. This circle of women, while they felt powerless to take actions that would free Alice and Martha, listened to and offered sympathy to their victimized sisters. Fifty years ago women were helping each other the best they could. Today many communities have faith-based agencies that can direct you to local resources, such as a shelter, and offer emotional support.

Yes, it is possible to find empowerment and healing in your faith tradition. The Psalmist speaks to your pain; Jesus suffers with you. Somewhere a pastor, perhaps not the one in your own congregation, has the training and will to accompany you. Somewhere there is a circle of support, women who have walked in your shoes or compassionate people of faith who want to share God’s love.

Nancy Werking Poling
http://www.nancypoling.com
Author of Out of the Pumpkin Shell
and
Had Eve Come First and Jonah Been a Woman
Editor of Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse

A look at my wardrobe in light of Bangladesh building collapse

The lower rod of my closet currently holds forty-two light-weight jackets, sweaters, and blouses. I like choice: dressy, casual, grubby, something for those times when I feel blah, something else if I’m in the mood for pizzazz. Given the popularity of walk-in closets I doubt that my desire for variety is all that rare among middle-class women.

The recent collapse of the clothing factory in Bangladesh has caused me to think about my wardrobe. Employees who earn less than $40 a month (no, I didn’t mistakenly omit any zeros) saw cracks in the structure but were ordered to keep sewing. After all, we American women are anticipating new summer selections. As of April 29, the death count is more than 380. The building collapse, along with a factory fire that killed 112 a few months ago, is putting pressure on big retailers to demand safer conditions and pay higher labor costs.

Maybe the pressure should instead be on me, the consumer. How many tops, how many pairs of jeans, how many pairs of shoes do I really need? In Korea and several European countries, I’ve noticed that what mannequins wear in store windows is expensive by my standards. Yet women still manage to appear smartly dressed. They own fewer but better quality clothes.

It’s largely the American demand for inexpensive clothing and other consumer goods that has sent jobs abroad. We want to earn a living wage, pay little for a lot of stuff, and have jobs stay here. Is that possible?

I’ve considered sewing my own clothes, as I used to do. Too time consuming. I could call a moratorium on purchases altogether. Or I could keep my money in the community by buying what a local person produces, that is have fewer but more distinctive garments.

But the issue isn’t that simple. A few years ago a visitor from Nicaragua wanted me to take her shopping for clothes. She bought dresses made in Central America because it helped employ women there. Columnist Nicholas Kristof, who has traveled extensively in developing countries, writes that for the severely impoverished, a job in a sweatshop would improve their lives (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/15/opinion/15kristof.html ).

I look at pictures of Bangladeshi futilely scratching at concrete to reach loved ones. I dare not conclude that because issues are complex there’s no need to change my consumption habits.

Teaching imprisoned women how to avoid domestic violence

Gaze in any direction from inside the grounds of the Swannanoa Correctional Center for Women (SCCW), and your eyes come to rest on peaceful mountain ridges. As inviting as the mountains are, though, you can’t forget that you’re behind a fence topped with spirals of barbed wire.

My husband, Jim, and I didn’t know what to expect the first time we were buzzed through the single gate. The Chaplain’s Office had invited us to teach an eight-week class on building healthy relationships and preventing domestic violence. But would our skills be tested? Would we be able to identify with personal stories that would surely arise from discussions about abuse? Would the women be reluctant students? Our fears were unfounded. The women were, in fact, more eager to learn than many of the college and seminary students we’ve taught.

Today we finished our second round of eight-week sessions. During that time I have felt privileged to hear . . .

Women’s voices. Honest voices. They told about violence inflicted on them: neglectful parents, drunken husbands who hit them, verbal put-downs, sexual abuse. Rape. Yet class participants did not use abuse as an excuse for their own behavior.

Women’s voices. Wounded voices. A box of tissues handy, we touched on topics that reminded participants of the life they left behind: a controlling partner, ongoing fears for their and their children’s safety. They were reminded of how they tried to ease the pain through alcohol or drugs.

Women’s voices. Angry voices. Many in the class expressed surprise to learn that it’s usually healthier to act out in anger than to become the good girl who represses it. So while anger got some of these women in trouble, and while they work on skills to control it, they have come to understand it as a reflection of their strength and resistance to abuse.

Women’s voices. Hopeful voices. Participants expressed their hopes for healthy relationships. They want to heed the red flags of abuse and not repeat past mistakes. They hope to be a positive presence in their children’s lives.

What an honor it’s been to share with women at SCCW. While my intention was to be of service, I have been blessed by the experience.

 

Politics and Clotheslines

Late 19th century advertisement for laundry st...

Late 19th century advertisement for laundry starch manufactured by Gilbert S. Graves in Buffalo, New York, showing two women hanging laundry on a clothesline. 1 print : lithograph, color. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Line-drying your clothes seems to have become a political issue. I’ve concluded this because 1) The Huffington Post, a liberal website, reposted a blog with instructions for using a clothesline; 2) I, a liberal Democrat, hang my laundry outside; and 3) Were she alive, my mother, who was a Republican, would probably refuse to do the same.

So why is The Huffington Post promoting clotheslines? Maybe male liberals are more likely to share household responsibilities, and, being untrained in traditional women’s work, need guidance in maneuvering clothespins. Or, if liberal women are spoiled elitists, as some conservatives claim, a reliance on dryers may have stymied the hand-eye coordination essential for hanging up clothes. I tend to believe liberals take climate change seriously and work toward reducing carbon emissions.

Yet I’ll bet that most conservative women—many of them older, with line-drying experience—would, like me, laugh at the idea of someone needing instruction. For we girls used to have no choice but to learn women’s work. I, for one, resented Mom waking me up early every Saturday to do laundry. It didn’t occur to me that, having a job, she too would have preferred sleeping later.

Out in the garage stood our wringer washer alongside two rinse tubs. A woman could easily get a finger caught in the wringer as she transferred clothes from wash to rinse to second rinse. Three lines stretched across our back yard. A fabric clothespin holder was designed to slide along them. I learned from my mother, as she had learned from hers, to shake clothes out, hang shirts by their tails, ration clothes pins by using one to join two items. On cold days further north, I hear, clothes would be frozen when they were taken off the line.

For good reason Mom came to consider washers and dryers real progress. She never complained about the community she lived in not allowing residents to have clotheslines, a not uncommon rule these days. But how, being opposed to government regulations, could she tolerate such restrictions? Me, I demand the freedom to hang up my clothes.

I don’t fault my mother for having been a Republican. But if she were alive, I’d remind her of how washing machines and fabric have improved and urge her to line-dry her laundry. For the sake of the planet. Nevertheless, for reasons unrelated to politics, she‘d probably say, “Been there, done that.”

 

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Join the movement to end child abuse: www.1sta...

Join the movement to end child abuse: http://www.1stand.org (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month, as well as  National Oral Health Month, March for Babies, National Occupational Therapy Month, Stress Awareness Month, Alcohol Awareness Month. Jazz Appreciation Month, National Car Care Month, Facial Protection Month, Women’s Eye Health and Safety Month, Youth Sports Safety Month, Cancer Control Month, and National Autism Awareness Month.

So many causes. So many people whose lives have been touched in ways that lead them to dedicate their energies and financial resources toward making a difference (though I’m not sure how National Car Care Month fits into this).

Why have I chosen to become involved in the domestic violence movement rather than Stress Awareness Month or Train Safety Month?

I have been influenced by real people, women and men of courage who have shared the pain of having been beaten as children. Women who have been raped, fondled by someone they knew. I have heard women and men speak of the lifelong effects of child sexual abuse, usually by a trusted uncle or priest, a father even. They have pictures of themselves taken before the abuse, their eyes sparkling with energy, smiles wide and engaging; pictures from afterward, eyes lusterless, shoulders slumped. I fear for my grandchildren and every child I meet who still trusts adults and loves life.

In 1999 United Church Press published a book I edited: Victim to Survivor: Women Recovering from Clergy Sexual Abuse. One of the contributors, Marian (Et Al in the book), wrote about having been physically and sexually abused in childhood by her father. She told of the shame she felt, the vulnerability that led her to seek the counsel of her priest, who also abused her sexually. She became dissociative; that is she did not allow herself to feel the pain, the betrayal of trust. Several times she was admitted into psych wards of hospitals, the diagnosis being multiple personality disorder. Her career as a social worker was short-lived because of her fear that she might do harm to others.

Marian and I stayed in touch after the book came out. Six or seven years ago she wrote that her only close friend, Darrell, had died. A year or so after that I was among several people who received a letter from her telling us she planned to take her own life. Without Darrell, she no longer had the energy it took to keep her different personalities under control. She was tired.

Like other friends I tried to offer her reasons to live. But one day a letter was returned to me stamped, “deceased.”

Among my possessions are a small jar of sand Marian sent me from a trip to the Holy Land, a tea cup with the inscribed words, “You never know how strong a woman is until she’s in hot water,” and a photo of her as a little girl, a cheerful looking little girl with energetic eyes. On the back is written, “Before the abuse.”

Marian is one reason why I am committed to the cause of preventing child abuse and the sexual assault of women.