Posts Tagged ‘women who are awesome’

Easter is upon us, and I’ve been thinking about this passage from Romans:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (8:22-23).

With Easter, Christians celebrate Christ’s triumph over death. The Son has been murdered, and the Father has responded by giving him new life. And specifically within that, his broken body has been resurrected and glorified (with scars still remaining), which signals a promise to us about the irrevocable goodness and ultimate glorification of our own bodies (also scarred, perhaps), and of creation as a whole. The groaning of our bodies reaches out toward an eschatological promise.

And the Easter implication of all this is that Christians are called to come together, as Christ’s corporate body, witnessing to him and living as a sacrament of divine love for each other and for the world. It is an embodiment that is social, tactile, joyful. Speaking about how we understand all this today, I know many Christians who, in preparation for this occasion, have been partaking of Lenten acts of purification and ascetic seriousness in order to refocus their attention, their bodies, on God and the celebration of the Triduum.

Given that Easter is saturated with various overlapping meanings, I always have difficulty speaking well about it (and this problem has only been compounded by the PhD in theology!). So I’m going to explore its significance and what it calls us to indirectly, by describing something else, and then perhaps we’ll get there.


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“So the people who were sitting in the audience, we were transported to a different time…the time before, when we lived in a normal civil life, civilized well, and hoping and being convinced that the war will soon finish and we will go back home and it will go on. But of course, what we knew later, the Germans knew full well, that we are sentenced to death, and thought…let them play…let them laugh. The laughter will soon vanish from their face…and we were dancing under the gallows.” – Zdenka Fantlova

Though I tend to be a pretty emotional human (I’m a high F on the Myers Briggs!),  my intellectual disposition and many years of education tend to make it rare for a piece of art or literature to truly capture me, to break through my defenses –I’ve been trained to be too critical, perhaps even too elitist… I can appreciate a great deal of art and literature and music, but the things that split me open, that stir my soul, are far and few between: Picasso’s paintings, Andrea Gibson’s poetry, J.A. Nicholls’ collage art, Sigur Ros’ and Florence + the Machine’s music…

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Mary Catherine Hilkert, beloved mentor to many who have worked with this blog and original inspiration for our name “WIT,” was interviewed on All Things Considered last week.  Take a listen!




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Mary Daly famously said that men would have to find their own way through and then out of patriarchy; she herself could not be bothered to tell them what to do. Her focus was on helping women connect with the root of their own fundamental Being in order to conjure up the existential courage to become who they were supposed to be, above and beyonds the delimiting confines of patriarchal conceptions of womanhood. In all likelihood, she had to say this because she was probably asked on a regular basis what her feminist critique would mean for men.


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Icon of Catherine of Siena by Robert Lentz, OFM

(I think she looks a little too wry for someone being crushed by an unimaginable weight, but, hey—who can resist a snarky-looking saint?)


This is a long post—about twice the length of the papers my students recently wrote, in fact. But it’s about what sustains me through the difficulties of being a critical Catholic woman, and I hope it’s helpful to some of you.

Last week, April 29, was the feast of Catherine of Siena, one of the four women included in the list of theologian-saints whom the Catholic Church recognizes as Doctors of the Church. (If you haven’t already, be sure to check out these brief and inspiring words from M. Catherine Hilkert, Professor of Theology at the University Notre Dame). I’ve been thinking recently of her last reported mystical vision. Here’s how Paul VI relayed it in a general audience on April 30, 1969:  (more…)

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…And not like a girl who is unsure of herself and her ideas, as Julia so clearly put it recently.

As I am wont to do, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the academy, the growth from graduate student to scholar proper, and the act of gradually coming to claim one’s authority, especially if one is a woman.


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Last week Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Mark Cuban invited Brittney Griner, the 6’9’’ women’s college basketball sports revolutionary, to try out for a spot on his NBA team this summer.  Cuban’s comments electrified the brittney-griner_02sports world.  Some fans tweeted their excitement about Griner’s ability to shatter the gender barrier and be the first woman to ever play in the NBA.  But most insisted adamantly that no woman, not even the greatest of all time, could ever hang with the grown men of the NBA.  The ESPN show Sportscenter even devoted an entire several minute long segment to reciting over and over again the many reasons why Griner just could not cut it.  Staged as a debate, the segment played as a men’s chorus.  The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.

Interrupting this spectacle of gender difference, sports journalist Jemele Hill refutes this debate’s entire premise.  She explains: “what I don’t like about Cuban’s comments [to Griner] is that they perpetuate the dangerous idea that great female athletes need to validate themselves by competing against men.”

Hill’s argument is unexpected.  In the sports world, one pays a woman a supreme compliment by telling her “she plays like a man.”  Indeed, men’s athletic superiority over women operates as one of our society’s most self-evident truths.  The objective and inherent superiority of men’s sports to women’s seems to us equally self-evident.  Men’s sports earn more money, draw more fans, and elicit more media attention than their female counterparts as a result not of sexism but the facts of life.

And in some ways, this is true.  On average, the most elite male athletes do in fact jump higher, run faster, and exert more physical power than their elite female equivalents.

But even if we grant that male basketball players display more skill than female ones, does this alone explain why we consider men’s basketball so much more important? For example, we do not as a rule love musicians in proportion to their skill.  Madonna sells out stadiums while symphony orchestras play in cozy theaters.  Perhaps we value skill more highly in competitive endeavors like sports.  But even then, we do not always love in proportion to skill.  In certain parts of the country, for example, the local high school football team is loved as deeply and rooted for as fiercely as its big time college or pro equivalent—even though they are slower, weaker, and much less skilled.


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A photograph of Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, & Ekaterina Samucevich

Right to left: Maria Alekhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Ekaterina Samucevich. Photograph from freepussyriot.org

(OK. I’m going to warn you, this post is long. If you’re strapped for time, my suggestion is to read the text of “Punk Prayer,” and then skip down to “First,“. Thanks in advance for your patience.)

By now, I’m sure everyone has read about yesterday’s conviction of Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, and Ekaterina Samutsevich, three members of Pussy Riot, “an anonymous Russian feminist performance art group formed in October 2011,” for their “punk prayer” protest.

On Tuesday, February 21, Masha, Nadya, and Katya entered the Orthodox Cathedral of Christ the Savior wearing bright dresses, tights, and balaclavas, and stood in front of the iconostasis, crossing themselves, dancing, and singing in protest of the Russian Orthodox Church’s support of Vladimir Putin. Cathedral security stopped the three less than a minute after they began. On March 4, after a video of the action had gone viral and the Russian Orthodox Church had initiated a criminal case, Alyokhina and Tolokonnikova were arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service‘s terrorism division on suspicion of “hooliganism.” Formal charges were not filed until March 15, when Samutsevich—initially considered a witness—was also arrested. Yesterday, all three were sentences to two years of prison.


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In response to last week’s crackdown on the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Fr. James Martin, S.J. took to twitter to celebrate and show solidarity with Catholic Sisters  during their time of trial,  inviting Catholics to share with the twitterverse the ways in which Catholic Sisters have impacted their lives.

The response was overwhelming.  Thousands of people tweeted messages chronicling the various ways in which Catholic Sisters have made their lives better–people spoke of Catholic Sisters being the reason they first fell in love with or remain committed to Catholicism; people spoke of Catholic Sisters being their teachers, mentors, and inspiration; people spoke of Catholic Sisters saving their lives and giving up their own.  This campaign even made it to the pages of the Huffington Post.

We at WIT participated in this campaign via our own twitter account but we also wanted to do something a bit more formal for our blog.  We encourage all of you to join in this celebration of Catholic Sisters in whatever way you are able: on twitter under the hashtag “WhatSistersMeanToMe,” on facebook via your status message, in a letter to a Catholic Sister who has played an important role in your life, or in good old fashion conversation with your circle of friends. (more…)

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This is the second in a series of posts featuring some women’s experience with natural family planning.  The first can be read here. For the post that originally inspired this project, click here.  To read about the purpose of and ground rules for this project, click here.

K’s Story

NFP has been the biggest struggle in my marriage and has really has tested my faith. My husband and I grew up as evangelicals and became Catholic in college, before we were married.   The Catholic Church is more reflective on sexual ethics than the church or my upbringing, so NFP and the Theology of the Body appealed to me on a philosophical and theoretical level.

After college my husband and I were married in the Church and were determined to make NFP work for us.  I took a year off from school to work and save up money for graduate school.  We were trying to avoid children in order to further our educations and save up money for a house.

My job was really stressful and my signs were difficult to read.  My husband and I were virgins on our wedding night, and the long periods of abstinence were adding additional stress on our marriage.  With these circumstances in mind, it’s no surprise that I became pregnant within the first year of marriage, right after enrolling in graduate school.

Working, graduate school, and caring for a baby were simply too much for me.  My husband and left graduate school so that he could work and I could devote my time to mothering.  For my husband to obtain decent employment, we had to move across the country, away from friends and family.

We were barely scraping by, but we were slowly starting to save money and secure a stable life for our family.  We decided to continue practicing NFP, despite the difficulties of reading my signs while breastfeeding.  During this time the recession hit, my husband’s company faced large budget cuts, and he was fired.

This happened the week after I learned that I was pregnant with baby #2. We were frugal and had 3 months worth of money in savings, but we eventually had to move the entire family across the country, so my husband’s parents could support us.

I’ve struggled with being angry at God and at the Church for unplanned pregnancies and financial problems. It’s one thing to experience financial difficulties without kids, but it’s a completely different thing when you are responsible for the lives of those you love. Each baby has brought a new crisis into our lives, things that would not have happened had we been in a stable position before having kids.

Sometimes I wonder if the Church’s teaching on sexuality places a greater burden on the poor than it does on those with means. The refrain I hear with NFP is to “try another method” or “take another class.”  But I seriously have anxiety issues over having to face another pregnancy with no money. How can I know if another method will work better, when the only way of testing this is to wait and see if I
get pregnant?  The stakes are simply too risky when caring for two children under 3, both still breastfeeding.

Sugar-coating NFP is not helpful, and I’ve seen Catholics attacked and hounded on Catholic forums for admitting that NFP has been a rough spot in marriage. People will say that NFP was not the problem; rather “poor communication” was the problem, or “lustful behavior,” or “selfishness,” or anything but NFP.

We decided to practice complete abstinence for a year, in order to study Theology of the Body again, try to re-learn my fertility signs, and decide if we would continue practicing NFP.  For a year we practiced the sleep-in-separate-rooms-so-can-follow-Church-teaching-but-not-have-kids method of family planning.

We were afraid of disobeying Church teaching and going to hell, but strict abstinence put more stress and strain on our already stressed marriage.

When the year was up, we decided to cease following Church teaching in our married life, finding inconsistencies with Humanae Vitae and Theology of the Body–things we did not see early in our marriage when looking at these documents with rose-colored convert glasses.   Giving up NFP has greatly helped heal our marriage and has given me psychological relief to my anxieties surrounding sex and becoming pregnant AGAIN.

For us the pressure of feeling like we had to perform on certain days combined with the frustration of “off-limits” days, and the unplanned pregnancies–-it was all very stressful and very hard on our marriage.  Nearly two years after abandoning NFP, I still feel like I am recovering emotionally from the whole experience.

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