25 July 2014

On Immodesty, Part 2

Or, The revelation of my body is not an incitement to violence.

As I've discussed before, I was taught to fear my body. I was taught that men had uncontrollable violence in them that would lash out against me if I exposed too much of my body to them. Which, inversely, means that my male peers were taught that violence was inherent in them. And I do not believe that this teaching was just a fluke of my rural Ohio Mennonite community. The simple fact that the question "What was she wearing?" is constantly asked in response to hearing a woman was raped or assaulted is, to me, clear enough evidence of the prevalence of this teaching. And if this is what we are taught growing up, is it so surprising that violence against women is so terribly persistent in the United States?

Women's bodies incite violence and men's bodies commit violence. That is the story I was taught all my life. Men will be violent and my body (I) will be the cause of it.

If a man walked naked down the street and got raped, would we blame him? There's a lot to think about with that one. What about if a woman walked naked down the street and got raped, would we blame her? Yes. Nothing to think about. Just: Yes. She was asking for it. She should know better.

I wore big, baggy clothes for years. Partly because I was taught to be ashamed of my body since it wasn't photo-shopped; but also because my body was dangerous. This is the piece that I do not feel is truly understood: I was taught that my body is dangerous. I was literally afraid of it. Do you get how awful and damaging that is?

Something I've been trying to live into is the Truth that I am my body. How often do we talk about our bodies in the third person? Like it is some sort of other. In philosophy class in college, I learned about Descartes' mind - body dualism that has so influenced Western culture. His belief that mind and body are two separate entities. At first this made sense to me. I so often accused my body of doing things to me. But as I came to understand the Trinity, I also came to understand the trinity that I am: mind, body and spirit. I am three and also one. I am my body.

If my body is shameful, I am shameful. If my body is dangerous, I am dangerous. If it is my body's fault that violence is committed against me, it is my fault that violence is committed against me.

This is what we are teaching our girls: that when they are abused or harassed, it is their fault. They did something to cause this. If only they had worn a longer skirt. If only they had covered their cleavage. If only they had worn less make up. If only they hadn't been "asking for it."

But I am declaring that no matter what, it is not okay to objectify or commit violence against me. I am never "asking for it." Doesn't matter what I'm wearing or not wearing. Doesn't matter what I'm doing or not doing. Violence committed against me, whether verbal or physical,  is never, ever my fault and especially not the fault of my clothes.

If a man commits violence, that is his fault. There are no uncontrollable violent urges that are just a byproduct of his Y chromosome. We all have full agency over our actions and no right to blame others for them. I have been blamed my whole life for the thoughts and actions of males and I am done.

I will wear whatever I want whenever I want. I will honor myself and my body by doing what makes me feel good and beautiful. I will respond to harassers by telling them their behavior is unacceptable and their problem. I will teach the girls in my life that they are beautiful and violence committed against them is never their fault. I will teach the boys in my life that their thoughts and actions are their responsibility.

I need this weight off my shoulders. Women should not have to carry all this blame and shame. Our bodies are a celebration of beauty and life, not an incitement to violence.

18 July 2014

Flat on my Back

Have you ever gotten the wind knocked out of you? It's such a strange and frightening experience. It feels like an emergency, but really you'll be just fine in a minute.

When I was about nine, I was playing with a friend in the backyard. As a kid, I was always called a monkey because I could usually be found barefoot in a tree. And even at that young age I felt strongly that I was equal to my male peers and could climb as high and as fearlessly as they could (and I could).

So on this rather ordinary day, I was probably twelve feet off the ground when I somehow lost my grip. Something I thought I could trust turned out faulty and the thing my mother had always warned me about was happening: I was falling out of a tree.

I wish I could remember what it looked like. All Hollywood and slow-motion, my hands reaching out futilely as I watch the branches slip further away. I hit the ground with what I imagine was a horrifying thud and found myself gasping for air.

I don't think my friend even checked on me, she just ran into my house as fast as she could screaming, "Brooke broke her back! Brooke broke her back!" I wondered if I had.

I would guess now that the time between the thud and my mom coming out to find me starting to sit up was less than a minute, but it felt significantly longer. I laid there trying to understand what had happened. I had been in a tree, where I always felt happy and secure, but something betrayed me and down I went. In an instant I went from happy and laughing to scared and gasping.

I laid there and thought I might die. Or worse, never walk again. (As a kid who basically lived in a tree, paralysis seemed the worst possible thing.) I was so terrified.

But then, as suddenly as I'd lost it, my wind came back. All that gasping paid off, my lungs filled with air and I began to feel again. And I realized that I felt fine.

That's when I started to sit up and my mom got to me. She was so flustered; it must have been awful for her, too. Once she was sufficiently convinced that I was, for the most part, unharmed, she forbade me from ever climbing a tree again, quickly reneged, and then asked me if I wanted ice cream.

Sometimes life knocks the wind out of you. One minute you're just a happy kid in a tree and the next you're flat on your back gasping for air. I've been gasping for air all week.

When you're lying on your back, it can feel impossible that you'll ever get up again. There's no air in your lungs or energy in your limbs. You're sure you'll be paralyzed forever while the world just keeps stepping over you.

But as I metaphorically lie here on my back I am reminded of two things: The air will come back sooner than I expect and talitha cumi.

I am going to be okay. And, yes mom, I do want ice cream.

11 July 2014

On Immodesty, Part 1

Or, I like to show off my legs and I am not a slut.

I was taught to fear my body. It was a dangerous stumbling block for the men around me and if I showed too much skin, men would be filled with uncontrollable urges and it would be my fault. The way I was taught this sounded much more empowering and flowery; but this is, essentially, what I was being taught: My body was dangerous and something to be feared. I spent many years hiding it under baggy clothes to protect myself and the men around me from this dangerous burden I carried: my body.

When I was growing up, some of the women trying to teach me modesty (it's even more depressing that it was always women teaching other women to shame their bodies) would contort themselves into an argument that I am beautiful and delicate and that is why I need to cover up. Which makes absolutely no sense. "You're a gorgeous girl! But, careful, wouldn't want anyone to see your beautiful body; that only causes problems because your body is bad. But beautiful! But you can't show it off because that's dangerous. But don't feel bad about yourself because you are lovely. But your body is dangerous, so keep it covered. But you should be proud of how good you look! But not too proud. Did I mention that you shouldn't ever show off your beautiful body?"

The alternate message I was getting from popular culture was one of sexual objectification. I am to be skinny and sexy so that men will be attracted to me. My body is only worthy insofar as it is appealing to men. Teen magazines didn't give me tips on being healthy, but on losing weight. They didn't talk about how comfortable clothes were, but about how seductive clothes were. I was being told that my body exists only to please men.

Women are only given two options: Virgin or Slut. Angel or Nymph. Old Maid or Cougar. The Virgin Mary or Mary Magdalene.

Rachel Held Evans wrote a blog on modesty and I think really nailed this dichotomy when she said: "While popular culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to get men to look at them, the modesty culture tends to disempower women by telling them they must dress to keep men from looking at them...Women are left feeling ashamed of their bodies as they try desperately to contort around a bunch of vague, ever-changing ideals. It’s exhausting, really, dressing for other people."

I went to a women's group through my church a few weeks ago and we had a discussion on modesty. Again, I heard that flowery language about being beautiful and delicate and that's why I needed to cover up. I kept pressing the women who were talking positively about modesty on why? What's the point of being modest? What we kept coming back to was, in essence, dressing for men. Dressing frumpily to try and stop the cat calls from men. Dressing provocatively to attract the attention of men. Dressing modestly to protect the lust of men. Dressing safely to prevent being susceptible to violence from men.

As a woman, no matter what I think about what I'm wearing, what men would think must also be a factor. I am 100% not okay with that. Not even a little, not even kinda.

It is completely unacceptable that I dress with anything but my own happiness and comfort and the appropriateness of the situation in mind. I know that I shouldn't wear booty-shorts to work or a plunging neckline to church. But that is not because it would make the men at work or church lust after me, it is because I want to show respect for myself and the situations I'm in. I'm not saying we should be hoochie-mamas whenever, wherever; but I am saying it's okay to rock a really short skirt if that makes you feel good. I'm saying I can show off my legs and not be a slut.

I vote we ditch the term modesty. I'm not usually one to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but this water is gross and the baby isn't gonna recover. What does modesty even mean anymore? It seems to me like it's just a way to shame women's bodies. I believe there might be ways to redeem modesty (Rachel Held Evans gives some good ideas in the blog I mention above), but I just don't know if it's worth it.

Can't we all agree that women are so much more complex than just virgins and sluts? Can't I just look good and not have it be anything more than that? Can't I just be a woman regardless of men?

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body,
~Philippians 1:20a

04 July 2014

To Philly, With Love

When I first came to live in Philadelphia for the summer of 2006, I thought it would be just that: one summer. But I fell in love. Truly, madly, deeply in love with this beautiful city. Now, over four years after I moved here in April of 2010, there's no place else I'd rather be.

I'm proud to be considered one of the better Philly tour guides among my friends. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with my sheer enthusiasm about this city of brotherly love (and sisterly affection). So, when I was considering what to post on this Independence Day, I decided to write about where it all happened: my dear city. What follows is my idea of an ideal tourist day in old city. I'm going to stick to the old city area, because this post would be way too unwieldy if I wrote about ALL the places I love in Philly and these are the places that were around that first Independence Day.

This is one of Stephen Starr's many restaurants in the city. Each has a different feel and flavor and I have yet to be disappointed. At Continental Old City (there's another Continental in Midtown) you'll feel like you're sitting in a diner from The Jetson's. It's futuristic, but still comfort food. A great place to start a Philly day with plenty of fuel.
Old City Coffee
If you're not much for a hearty breakfast, but would rather something grab-n-go, this is a great spot. With La Columbe coffee and a variety of pastries, you're sure to find something to get you through to lunch. This cute coffee shop is located in a cool, old alley near Christ Church and it's fun just getting there. You can hang out and munch on your pastry and sip your coffee in one of the shop's comfy chairs or in the 300 year old church garden next door.

Continental. (Totally looks like The Jetsons, right?)
Elfreth's Alley
This is America's oldest, continually residential street. I honestly can't quite put my finger on what gets me so excited about this place, but I always love coming here. I guess part of it is that it feels like taking a step back in time. Trust me, it's worth wandering through.
Betsy Ross House
I've never paid for the tour here, but it's a fun place to stop by and hang out in the courtyard and check out the gift shop.
Engine 8 Ladder 2
This place is worth walking by simply for the pictures of the bust of Ben Franklin made of keys and the other bust of Ben Franklin wearing a fireman's helmet.
Ben Franklin's Grave
Another place worth it just for the pictures. Some will toss coins onto Ben's grave and make a wish (I guess). I just like to read his epitaph: "He tore from the skies the lighting and from tyrants the sceptre."

Ben Franklin's Grave
Independence Mall (not the kind with stores)
There's a lot to do in Independence National Historical Park (that's right, a national park in the heart of Philly) and all of it is worth doing at least once. Here are some of the highlights:
National Constitution Center
If you're not really into history, this place can be a little disappointing. If you are really into history, this place is awesome. They also have some great exhibits. Right now, they have one on slavery in Jefferson's Monticello. When I went last summer, it was on prohibition and suffrage and was really interesting.
Independence Visitor Center
This is not so much a neat place to visit as it is a place to get tickets for Independence Hall (sometimes a long line, but they're free), go to the bathroom and hang out in the air conditioning. And it has a good gift shop.
The Liberty Bell
Definitely worth it if you've never seen it. There's a great photo-op with the bell in the foreground and the clock tower of Independence Hall in the background. There can be a crazy long line sometimes, and since there's a window that you can see the bell through (the same window that you get the photo-op through), I'll usually take visitors there rather than wait for an hour and waste time to see other things.
Independence Hall
The building is beautiful, though surprisingly small on the inside. If you get a good tour guide, the history is really interesting and fun. It's a short tour, but definitely worth it if you haven't been.
Independence Hall
There are so many great places to go for lunch in this area, that I suggest you just wander until you find something you like. But, here's where I would take visitors:
This pseudo-hole in the wall pub is a little hard to describe. Most of the bartenders are Irish (Niall is my fave) and you can almost feel like you've walked into Ireland when you enter the doors. It's cozy, but rarely gets overcrowded. The service is great and the patrons aren't generally too rowdy. The food is awesome and, ladies, the bathroom is an experience unto itself. Trust me.
Franklin Fountain
After lunch, head here for some of the best ice cream on the east coast (yeah, I said it). It's worth the wait, if there is one. And I suggest getting a little adventurous as they often have interesting seasonal flavors. The staff all wear costumes from the turn of the century soda shops. It's quite an experience.
Shane Confectionary
This is Franklin Fountain's sister store and if you bring in your receipt from one store, you get 10% (or is it 15%?) off your purchase from the other store. Again, the staff are in costumes from the early 1900s and it's worth it just for the experience. But I go for the chocolate. This is my favorite chocolatier I've found and I come here any time I want to treat myself or just need something delicious.

American Philosophical Society
I've never been inside here (though I'm sure it's great), I just walk by to see the statue of Ben Franklin in a toga. Ben Franklin. In a toga.
Second Bank of the US
This place seems a little strange, but I find it quite fun. It's a huge, old bank that is now used to house a free portrait gallery. It's mostly people from Philadelphia and America's early history. The architecture is interesting and the portraits are fun and (bonus) it's air conditioned.
The Philadelphia seal, Ben Franklin and John Paul Jones
Race Street Pier
This is a lovely little park that juts out over the Delaware river. It's a great place to hang out for a while in the afternoon.
Franklin Square
This is place is great, especially if you've got kids. There's mini-golf, a merry-go-round and a huge fountain. It's another great place to hang out and there is an amazing sculpture of the infamous key and bolt of lightning.

To end your day, explore beautiful and smelly Chinatown. Go on an adventure in any of the shops that seem intimidating. You'll be amazed what you can find (live sea monsters in one store and an entire store devoted to Hello Kitty next door). Chinatown is fun and vibrant and interesting. Also a great place to get dinner. Again, I recommend just wandering until you find something you like, but I would take my guests to Penang or Pho Xe Lua.

I hope you all enjoy any festivities you have planned or just the day off today! And come Visit Philly sometime!