Hey Soul Sister

Yesterday I was savoring a delicious breakfast in the company of these two lovelies. We were discussing workplace dynamics, conflict resolution, documentaries, progressive women’s movements, faith, etc. Ya know, the usual…

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While sipping my coffee, I stopped to think about what my closest girlfriends do with their lives. I came up with the following:

Revitalizing neighborhoods, community building, leading people in worship, parenting, studying to be a midwife, assisting refugees with urban gardening and childcare employment, researching for child and welfare policy, coordinating volunteers, managing projects and events, serving people onboard aircrafts, teaching America’s youth, leading missional outreaches across the globe, helping homeless families transition into stable housing, campaign management for healthcare reform, and running their own small business.

You know, I think Jesus was spot on when he said that to be a leader you must first be a servant. These women are the most service-oriented people I know and that is one thing that makes them incredible leaders. The occupation part is just a glimpse. They also serve on committees, volunteer in churches, grow vegetables or knit scarves and give them away, teach yoga classes and mentor at-risk kids. THEN, on top of that, they also find time to bring me lunch when I’m sick, take me to the airport at ungodly hours, dance with me, remind me of my self-worth, defend me, let me get snot all over their shirt as I sob into it, accept my flaws and allow me to see theirs. They challenge me to see God in new ways, they inspire me with their intellect and passions and they bring me comfort with their presence (along with a million other tiny and big things).

In the last week some of these friends have told me:

-They were sexually harassed in workplace environment

-They attempted to lead a group at work and were immediately shut down

-They didn’t feel heard or that their voice mattered

Siiiiggghhh. I hate that.

And there’s nothing I can do to fix it or make it go away. I also hate that.

BUT, I just want to say:

Chin up, cookie.

You are courageous for being where you are and doing what you do.

You are lovable for making the world a better place with the work of your hands and the fruit of your spirit.

You are capable of leading one or one-hundred-thousand with your voice and your abilities.

You are valuable because you exist. And good Lord, am I thankful that you do.

Fight for a place at the table. Speak up. Make waves. Cause a ruckus. Practice your Wonder Woman stance.




I was ten. I was running through the sprinkler in my underwear. Blades of grass stuck to my skin. My body was long and lean, void of any curvature. It was whole and mine. It allowed me to do backbends and cartwheels. That is all I noticed about my body.

I was twelve. I was sitting at the kitchen table in my pajamas. My dad looked at me sympathetically and told me that I had reached an age where boys would start to see me differently. He spoke of the differences between boys and girls and hormones. “Boys are visual. Girls are emotional.” So, child, you must be careful. The world will make sure you learn not desire for the other, but the desire to be desired.

I was fourteen. I took off my jacket at lunchtime, scandalously revealing my strapless shoulders.[1] The Vice Principal swore at me. I was sent to the office a for a second outfit violation that year. Blindsided and face burning with humiliation, I hid in the bathroom stall and changed into clothes my mom had to bring me. My parents read me something out of Dr. Phil’s ‘How to Talk to Your Teen’ book. I was learning that people had opinions about my body. Now there were rules regarding my skin.

I was sixteen. I was wearing a high-collard turquoise t-shirt and a long skirt. I was teaching vacation Bible school for children in the villages of Panama. We were singing Abre mis ojos oh Cristo and throwing a giant colorful tent up in the air. Tiny ones squealed with delight and ran under. I felt a tap on my shoulder and the leader asked me to talk to her for a minute. We walked to the church entrance, where she told me that since my chest was big and my shirt was too tight, boys were staring at me. She lent me a big t-shirt to put on, lest the outline of my body cause those brothers of mine to sin.[2] You don’t want to do that, do you? I walked back to the giant colorful tent, now resembling what I was wearing. I looked over at the boys leaning out the church windows. My heart beat faster. Lying on the church’s cement floor that night, from my sleeping bag I watched my cursed chest rise and fall. I was drenched in a humid sweat, soaked with shame. On this day, a tiny bit of my innocence was sacrificed. The impact of your naturally developing curves is a dangerous thing, apparently. Hide.

I was eighteen. I was wearing jeans and a hoodie. It is important to note that my face and hands were the only parts of me exposed because I was on a service trip in Morocco[3], a place that forced me to constantly be aware of my femaleness. It was a place where I was chased out of a market. Where I sat in an Internet café writing e-mails while the man at the computer next to me watched porn. Where a man on the street asked if he could bring me home to his mother and fuck me. Where I listened to people have sex against the door to my hostel room. Where I was constantly “complimented” in the streets and strangers were not afraid to touch you. One day, I was sitting on a park bench reading my Bible. Two men walked up and sat on either side of me. They began speaking to me in Arabic. I did not look up or respond. I just stared at Isaiah’s verses, resting on my knees. Then I heard in broken English whispers that felt wet and hot in my ears, “Why you no talk to us? We be nice.” They played nice with their hands, which found their way to my neck, gliding down my breasts, and landing in my crotch. My legs, despite their Jell-O consistency, found the strength to stand. I apologized to the men for not wanting to talk to them as I walked away. When I came back home, the prayer ladies told me that maybe I was supposed to go back to Morocco because it was obvious the devil didn’t want me there.

I was nineteen. I was wearing a white dress. It had little cap sleeves with sequins. The air was crisp. My stomach was in knots. I was his. We made lots of promises. We lit a candle and put rings on our fingers. We danced. It was sweet and sparkling and blissful. He carried me away and unlaced the white dress. I laced up my lingerie. Nothing went the way I thought it would. Rejection. Lies. Confusion. I had a lot of exposure to a world of fantasy and I grappled to understand how they became more desirable than reality.[4] You’re supposed to be both. But you’re not supposed to be both. The messages say things like: Be a virgin when you get married, but also know exactly what you’re doing in bed and be really good at it. Be outraged by the objectification of the female body, but also see your own as the sexual object it is. Just be you, but also look and act like these women. He’ll love you for it. You are valued for your purity, but desired for your promiscuity.

I was twenty-one. I was in the bathtub wearing a layer of bubbles. I knew something was wrong and I was trying to wash it off. He came in and sat on the bathroom floor. I asked him how he was doing. He admitted to this one thing that made my nose crinkle. This was different than the other things. Every cell in my body felt wide-awake and dead at the same time. This feeling wasn’t going to wash off. Something had to change. I can try to be or look as beautiful and perfect as possible, but I am it is not enough. I can leave for one, three, or five months, but I am it is not enough. I can read all the books, do all the research, plan all the things, say all the prayers and attend all the counseling sessions, but I am it is not enough. I can want, wish and love with all of my being but I am it is not enough. Something had to change.[5] It was me. The feeling never washed off.

I am twenty-four. It is pouring rain. The humid summer kind of rain. I’m wearing a striped dress, cotton clinching to my grass-covered skin. I’m dancing. My body, which has felt burdened and hallow for months, finds in this moment a sweet release. There is pure, unadulterated joy beaming from my twirling limbs and bouncing wet waves. My body is soft and strong, no longer void of curvature. It is whole and mine. It is more than enough. It still allows me to do backbends and cartwheels, among a million other amazing things. That is all I notice about my body.


[1] There is nothing scandalous about my shoulders.

[2] Boys are not helpless victims when it comes to their eyes. The evidence of my breast size does not cause them to sin.

[3] I was fully clothed when I was assaulted. Sexual assault happens because the perpetrator wants it to happen, not because any woman “asks for it” with her appearance.

[4] Love it or hate it; porn is a lie. It is a performance. It is not an instruction manual. Never before in our world have we had such immediate access and extreme exposure to this kind of media and at such young ages. Science is starting to show the negative effects it is having on our brains, relationships, and society.

[5] There is nothing I can do to create or initiate change in someone else.




Miss Representation

Last week I watched a stunning documentary called Miss Representation and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The documentary looks at the state of women in our culture’s media and politics. I realize that women are hyper sexualized in the media. I realize that most women hate their bodies and can never live up to the image of perfection we are presented with. I realize that women struggle to find their way into positions of leadership in our government. I realize women are still paid less than their male counterparts.

But I didn’t realize just how out of control sexual bias is in our culture. I suppose I thought about all the freedoms that women had gained in the last century and I wasn’t paying attention to how far there is to go. Take a look at some of these statistics and excerpts from the film:

-The U.S. is 90th in the world in terms of women in national legislatures

-67 countries in the world have had female presidents or prime ministers. The U.S. is not one of them. Cuba, China, Iraq, and Afghanistan have had more women in government than the United States.

-Women hold 17% of the seats in the House of Representatives (the equivalent body in Rwanda is 56.3% female)

-Only 34 women have ever served as governors compared to 2319 men

-“When I first ran for office, although my son was a senior in high school, the question I was most frequently asked was, ‘Who is going to be taking care of your children?’ and of course, it’s one of those questions that I don’t think a man has ever been asked when he has run for office.” –Nancy Pelosi, former US Speaker of the House

-“97% of everything you know about yourself and your country and your world comes from the male perspective. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. It just means that in a democracy where you talk about equality and full participation, you’ve got more than half the population not participating.” – Carol Jenkins

-The film spotlighted the way our media and culture handled Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin during the 2008 elections. Sarah Palin went with a very feminine approach. She was the all-American wife and mother. She was called a slut, ditzy, ‘great jerk-off material’ (by several men on stations like FOX News and ESPEN, to name a few). On national television, she was asked about whether or not she had breast implants more than about what she would want to do for our country. And Hilary Clinton is painted as domineering, a bitch, old, ugly, haggard, etc. One news anchor said, “The only reason she’s running for office is because her husband messed around. It gets sympathy votes.” Oh, right. It has nothing to do with her credentials or leadership abilities. Over and over again the media criticized these women’s clothes, hair, cellulite, wrinkles, and bodies over their voices. The fact that media is so limiting and so derogatory towards some of the most powerful women in the country, then what does it says about media’s ability to take any women in America seriously?

-53% of 12-year-old girls feel unhappy with their bodies

-78% of 17-year-old girls feel unhappy with their bodies

-65 % of American women and girls have disordered eating behavior

-Rates of depression among girls and women have doubled between 2000 and 2010

-20% of Americans have sex before the age of 14

-1 in 6 women in America are survivors of rape or attempted rape (15% of those are under the age of 12)

-Study after study proves that TV violence enhances violent behavior. 1 in 4 women will be abused by a partner in their lifetime.

-Girls are learning to see themselves as objects. American Psychological Association calls self-objectification a national epidemic.

-Female characters in G rated movies are just as likely to wear revealing clothing as in R rated movies.

-US advertisers support this content- they spent 236 billion in 2009. Because of the deregulation – “This is the first time in human history that marketers have dictated our cultural norms and values.”- Caroline Heldman, Occidental College

-American women spend more money of the pursuit of beauty than on their own education.

-“There used to be a thing called family hour, where you couldn’t air anything inappropriate for families before 9 pm. That is gone. Today it is the wild wild west. In the last 25 years our lawmakers have essentially been absent, out of the picture.”- Jim Steyer, Common Sense Media

-More than 70% of women on TV are in the 20s and 30s. “ A male dominant system values women as child bearers so it limits their value to the time that they are sexually and reproductively active and they become much less valuable after that.” –Gloria Steinem

-“When I did my first television show…I had a lot of problems with the network because they were constantly telling me that I was too fat…I became very anorexic trying to somehow keep this job that I really wanted to keep…they ended up cancelling the show and they replaced it with Drew Carey…’cause he’s so thin,” –Margaret Cho, comedienne, actor, activist

-Women are merely 3% of Fortune 500 CEOs.

-Women hold only 3% of clout positions in the mainstream media (entertainment, publishing, advertising, telecommunications)

-Women comprise 7% of directors and 10% of film writers on the top 250 grossing films

-“I started acting when I was 28, and I was told that I was old, needed to lie about my age, and was asked to take my Stanford MBA off my resume. We need to challenge the media conglomerates to value women for more than their youth, beauty, and sexuality, and we must hold these companies accountable.”- Jennifer Siebel Newsom- Founder and CEO of Miss Representation

-“All of Hollywood is run on one assumption: that women will watch stories about men but men won’t watch stories about women. It is a horrible indictment of our society if we assume that one half our population is just not interested in the other half.” –Geena Davis

-Who are behind the scenes making the crucial decision about what we see?

Walt Disney Company- Board: 4 of 13 are women

Viacom- Board: 2 of 11 are women

TimeWarner- Board: 2of 13 are women

CBS- Board: 2 of 14 are women

FOX- Board: 1 of 16 are women

-Women only own 5.8% of television stations and 6% of radio stations

I appreciated that the film pointed to the fact that not only does the way our media handle women negatively impact females, it doesn’t help the male population, either. It doesn’t do anything good for anyone. And our media doesn’t just impact our own culture. American movies and TV shows are watched all around the world. I remember when I went to Morocco, some days it felt like every other guy on the street was asking to have sex (that’s a nice way of putting it). Of course he would expect that of me. Practically every western movie he sees has a guy and a girl that meet and then a few scenes (or one scene) later, they’re in bed together and every western magazine has some chick wearing a bikini and sultry pout on the cover.

There are so many issues the film touched. These are obviously complex issues and I’m not an expert by any means, but I think the statistics speak for themselves. I strongly encourage everyone to see it and think for yourselves. It’s on instant watch on Netflix.

Visit www.missrepresentation.org to watch a trailer, stay informed, and find out what you can do to make a difference. And please, men, do it too. If anything, you should’ve realized from this that you’re running the show. Therefore, you can make a big impact, too.

“I am over the passivity of good men. Where the hell are you? You live with us, you make love with us, father us, befriend us, brother us, get nurtured and mothered by us, so why aren’t you standing with us? Why aren’t you driven to the point of madness and action by the rape and humiliation of us?”- Eve Ensler