la cucaracha

“sometimes the beauty of my people is so thick and intricate. i spend days trying to undo my eyes so i can sleep.” ― Nayyirah Waheed

Category: feminism

A Review of Recent North Shore’s Netcast Pastor’s Reality TV Show

Netcast Pastor Matt Chewning released his reality TV show this last month, where he delves into conversations that are considered rare conversations held in evangelical circles. His message through this tv show is to connect with the “greater culture” and inspire his sermons based on the conversations he holds with people in the North Shore of MA area that do not attend his church. The first three episodes of the show revolve around the topic of sex. The release of culturally- centered evangelical messages tucked within an interaction with what seems like the local community, is a powerful and innovative means to reach a growing community of inquisitive and doubtful individuals towards the institution of the evangelical church. Matt Chewning makes a point of communicating that his hope is that the greater church realizes that the church needs to adapt to the fluidity of culture, to understand what the questions of the culture (or whomever this encompasses) are, and deliver the same messages that have predominantly controlled the context by which conservative evangelical speakers at the pulpit have taught since the 90s.

I am very interested in the new tactics for making messages that are very obviously being rejected by what Chewning calls the young twenty-year-olds; the purpose is so these same messages take on a “popular” rhetoric as a means to persuade this age demographic to maintain the roles and practices of how and who to be in order to represent what the institution of the church has deemed as moral. Chewning’s messages embedded in the first three episodes of his TV show promote the maintenance of roles of the binary hierarchy of sexual identity that have been aligned through ancient patriarchal readings of Biblical text, which have also been dangerously intertwined with who a morally correct participant of society is.

The rhetoric of Matt Chewning is misleading. It contains so many contradictions that all point to the clear messages to the larger community. Chewning admits his belief that as a generalized concept, all men are highly sexual and it’s evident that all women are highly sexualized. By placing himself on a walkway at a public park on the North Shore, with a large sign that draws anyone to have a conversation regarding anything under the larger theme of “sex”, he holds interviews with some four or five individuals. Only one of the two women shown are given a pseudo-productive screen time, as compared to the time spent with the men that he hosts at the booth; this young girl obviously represents a sexual orientation that differs from the presumed heterosexual lifestyle that is believed that all should follow, therefore given a focal attention in the show to make a pointed argument against the fluidity of sexuality so forbidden in the church. As a TV show that is broadcasted and promoted as a dialogue and conversation starter for the greater community, the message made through the interview with this young girl negates any openness for learning and conversation that had been previously communicated. Chewning asks the young girl to explain how she arrived to her sexual orientation, and she responded beautifully by describing the need and search for intimacy that we all share, “… everyone craves intimacy and affection… I wanted someone to text me in the morning to ask how I’m doing”. She expounds her orientation by sharing that for her, this can be shared with any gender.

Chewning’s response to her is eerily patriarchal. He persuades the young girl to depart from her sexuality through the promotion and attention to her physical beauty. He tells her, “You’re beautiful… why is [your sexuality] so tied to your identity?”. He demeans the fullness of her identity as being a spiritual, emotional, and sexual, and autonomous being. The rhetorical message is that her sexuality is not a part of her specific identity because it is not aligned with his own viewpoint. Her sexuality cannot be considered a valid feature of her identity. However, every other individual that makes an appearance on the TV show identifies as heterosexual, and there’s a clear mark of celebration of their sexual identities.

In the second episode of the show, Chewning plays match-maker. He promotes the institution of heterosexual marriage by connecting a woman from his congregation with a stranger they encounter on the street, and financing their first date. In this venture to find out what men want out of relationships with men, and what it would take for this woman to “lock down” a man for marriage relies on holding two very dichotomous interviews. Stark comparisons are made between the first man who is interviewed: he represents the non-committal man who just wants to have “fun”, no attention is drawn towards his value of hoping to provide financial stability to the right woman in this future. He is contrasted with the desirable man who wants to “settle down” and “make a family”. The message in this image here is clear: there is only one way to be a morally upright individual. And this is done through the heterosexual and gender-binary relationship.

In the final episode, we are invited to a profound conversation that Chewning and his wife, Beth, share on a walk together. He boasts to the viewer about their intimate relationship and the privileges that they have been blessed with on the North Shore. Beth communicates to him a painful point for her in their relationship. She often feels less included and heard than strangers that Chewning invites into their home. She confesses that she doesn’t believe that this inequality will change between them, but does make him aware of that it is a present reality that she is sensitive and aware of. His response is puzzling because he appeases her by stating that he should really change this relational dynamic because he, “cannot stand when she’s angry” and desires to come home to a happy wife. When Chewning listens to a woman on this TV show, he promotes the availability of women to bend to the voices of men. Furthermore, anything he does to better the relationship that he has with his wife depends on his quality of life. Whether or not his response to his wife was meant as a joke, it negates the whole conversation of sex, because sex begins with honoring ourselves and others.

The conclusion is simple, this TV show is not counter-cultural, and does not engage with any questions of relevance regarding sexuality, human perversion developed through the objectification of the body, emotional abuse, or the concept of honoring one another. Matt Chewning is actually afraid of holding conversations that are difficult to bring up in the church. Any lack of fear is demonstrated through his consistency in maintaining the evangelical race to homogenize the world. These episodes are only promotional messages that have been in our ears since the puritan days, and placed at the forefront of evangelicalism in the 1990s by the purity movement. All messages revolving around the sexual needs and vices of heterosexual men, and including women only as the emotional caretakers and the responsible ones for advancing the traditional nuclear family. The show affirms the objectification of the female as a means for the male’s personal fulfillment of emotional intimacy and “morally-driven” sexual needs. As for women, their sexuality is a response to the presence of man, and her value and sense of being are identified as being the benefactor of emotional intimacy and a bodily contact for the male. Anyone else that falls outside of this binary, controlled, and moralistic approach to relationships is denied a place in the monologue; the rise of any sense of conflict for the heterosexual evangelical male is only welcomed to the point where it can be negated and reformed for the continuation of the hegemonic and heterosexual practice.

All in all- this TV show is scary, and non-progressive. By that I mean, there’s no movement present here– I only see retraction into dark times and rhetorical propaganda of hegemonic control. AKA fear and control: infamously the two historical Achilles’s heels of the church institution — but I didn’t come here to say that quite yet.

To see this show, here’s the link: https://www.google.com/amp/amp.www.complex.com/pop-culture/2017/02/what-happens-when-millenials-stop-going-to-church

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An Open Letter to Administration

I can’t sleep sometimes, I cry and I cry because the pain doesn’t have words. It will not find peace; my body has a memory that I wish it didn’t. But my skin still remembers when you told me that sometimes men and women desire sex after they have prayed together.
I close my eyes when I look into the mirror. Your faces appear there sometimes: not his. You didn’t reach my spirit, but you haunt it. You hated me for sitting in your offices; you hated me for not knowing what to do. You hated me for my sin. My sin, for you, was that my body was naked and he saw my body, and my finger did not have a band. There was a band around my mouth, around no; there was a band on my tongue because all you could ask me was why I had gotten in the shower with him that night after he forced me into his apartment. You did not hear me tell you that he raped me in that shower. You did not hear me tell you that he would not let me get dressed under his blankets, and that I was afraid I’d never be able to leave that room. You did not hear his words that morning saying, I’m sorry- I can usually control myself at night because I know how my body works, but not in the mornings. You did not hear my fear, my fear, my fear that my voice would never be heard.

That is your sin. All you did was leave me naked in that room, made me tell you over and over and over and over again that I was naked naked naked naked and you never heard me say

No, no, no, no- stop. And the silence, the band I endured on my tongue, on my mouth for months. For months until he came to my home, he came to my home and threw my wallet and keys into his car and made me drive with him. And he took me to his home and tore my clothes off and raped me. And all I could think was that, this was my fucking fault and nobody will ever believe because my voice stopped being mine that night in November.

And you kept taking it away, and I hope you carry the guilt of turning the other cheek. I hope your own skin continues to carry the memory that you betrayed the truth, and my own skin will never forget the infinite pain you have caused me. You betrayed the women, the students that you are paid to defend. You made me repeat myself over and over and over again; you made him keep abusing me over and over and over again. He pinned me down all those times, he never listened, I died that night in November. And you pinned me down, stripped me of any dignity in your eyes. And you will carry those days that you violated my rights, and hated me for bringing you a truth that you chose to demean.

And I will not tell you who I am today, because I hope the memory in your conscience is the only voice you hear from me again. I will never again repeat to you the violence that he caused me and that you caused me. You violated my rights; you attempted to violate my dignity and my personhood.

May you never forget this. And I have promised myself to never keep silent again. My story will be known, and I will no longer keep this in the memory of my skin, of my eyes, of my mind, my spirit, my body. I will not stop speaking.

Where are the Women?

There is a piece written by the poet and mystic, Rabia al Basri titled, Reality, and she is speaking about being in the presence of a god– and the line that is most poignant for me as I am awakening to the reality of woman blotted out in the presence of man is this,

How can you describe the true form of Something
In whose presence you are blotted out?
And in whose being you still exist?

I have known the world through the eyes of man. My father’s work was alive within my mother; my grandmother is still shamed for leaving my grandfather in order to reclaim her personhood; my aunts’ smiles hang from the fingers of their husbands; and I have understood the history of mankind, the fight against injustice, and the pride for my country through the words from the men around me that had voice to teach. Nobody asked where the women were. If my mother were sick in bed, the maid would be the one to put the tortillas, beans, and rice on the table for my father when he came home to have his lunch. I never knew to question why my history textbooks and my literature texts held no memory of the women that fought simultaneously with the men depicted within. Why was it that I sat alongside my Abuela, my mother, and my aunts, at the same table as my father and my grandfather and none of us would talk with our mouths and with our hands about the opinions in politics like them? We are observers of a world dominated by men; we are poorly represented in government, and rarely represented in family, but exist as adjuncts of the hands of man that wield their power to speak.

To unfold the dynamics of power, it is necessary to look into the lives and the corners that we often deem irrelevant. One can look at the power structure within the home of the family to test the representation of the woman. My father left my family, and with him, the legal status of my mother was retracted. Under the screams of crisis, the women were called in to pray over my mother that a new husband would come into her life; that god would become her new husband. I had nightmares for three years that a blonde-haired white man would not let me into my mother’s bedroom. My sister and I were prayed over; that our knees would remain closed by god our new father, that our futures would remain pure. My brother was prayed into the family, inducted as the new man of the house; prayed over that god would bring him a man that could walk next to him, and lead him in the right ways. My brother spent three years falling asleep on the side where my father used to sleep, waiting. I told my therapist that my father was going to come back and that he was going to pay for our health insurance again. I was convinced that we were only living in another family’s basement temporarily—that my mom kept a fifth plate in the microwave, because otherwise, our home would continue to deflate without his presence.

An unmarried mother is told that god will straighten her life when she puts her values in line; when she marries the man she is living with, god will honor her life and surely multiply her resources. Single women earn less money than single men. Single moms receive fewer benefits than single dads. The door of our home, the door of our country, the door that dictates our comings and goings are for the woman to find presence, stature, dignity, and the right to life by all men. A woman is woman because of the men that stabilize her body, her health, her home, her finances, her children, and her ability to love and be loved. The term feminism has never scared me, and to be a feminist means to place the spheres and spaces we are a part of under our criticism. It means that we question why we believe the things we believe, and why we do the things we do. And it is the responsibility to make sense of this space that gender occupies and look at the tiniest details in this sphere of the tensions between the masculine and the feminized.

Take for example, the tortillas laid on the table for my father’s lunch. Those tortillas were handmade by the ladies at the market, and it is a store owned by a man. A stack of tortillas cost no more than 2 dollars. This is the same price that the women receive as their pay per hour, if they manage to sell the number of stacks expected by the owner. This man purchases the ingredients to make these tortillas from the manager of a cornfield and farm. In this farm, there are barracks for men and women. The men cut the corn husks, the women work a 12- hour day shucking the husks and preparing the corn to be packaged, shipped, and delivered- whether it’s locally, nationally, or internationally. The conditions within the barracks are deplorable—and the abuse that the women receive from the managers of the farm and fields in order to maintain the order of the power hierarchy is inhumane to say the least. In the bites of our tacos, of our enchiladas, of the corn in our soups and salads, are the hands and the sweat that are treated as machines—but as machines, that if they fail, they will not be fixed or helped, but beaten down for their inability to perform at the quality level the managers expect them to reach every hour, and every day. Here is a look into the politics behind one bite at the table: the same table where my father’s work, health, and wellbeing are the priority of the family.

We actively forget that we are part of this abusive hierarchy. A hierarchy that depends on women remembering that they are the caves that hold men’s future, and their world of opportunity. Through the criticism of the forces that drive our world into its successes or its failures, we shift our paradigm from actively forgetting to actively analyzing. Justice, then, becomes the analysis of the hierarchy of gender: from the lofty levels of political and social affairs, to the tortillas on the table.

Feminism is asking where the woman is and who she is: is woman a breath in the work of man, is woman the sum of space- a means to an end? My mother believes that choosing to abandon her career, as a lawyer, is the best means for the creation of home and for taking care of her husband and her children. We believe that home, husband, and children thrive when the woman is fully present here. Man’s presence is vital because he supports the family financially, but he is also expected to rise within the hierarchy of the masculinized world of power. The woman is the home that is expected to create the best space for man and family to inhabit. She is nutrition, a clean space, an environment for child rearing, and the scented candle for man after his long day at work. We do not ask where the women are, because we know that women are where we need them to be.

Mami, why aren’t women in history?
Well, Marianthy, we stand behind the men-
we’re not seen, but we are the ones that get
things done.

            I remember my mother telling me this one day during the years that I was home schooled. I remember loving when the mother in My Big Fat Greek Wedding explained to her daughter that, maybe the man was the head of the household, but the woman was the neck. I build myself as the neck, and the language that I use to position myself in relation to men is, I am behind you.

            In 1910, Mexico entered into what would turn into a decade of civil unrest and major armed struggles. What began with an uprising led by Francisco Madero against Porfirio Díaz to dismantle the established order of power, turned into a very complex and multi-sided civil war. This conflict was one of the most important sociopolitical conflicts in Mexican history, as it led to reformation in social organization. Some of the major individuals involved in the struggles, battles, and intellectually reforming the structures of Mexico were Pancho Villa, Venustiano Carranza, Emiliano Zapata, and the Catholic Church—all of which are male. When studying this part of Mexican history, women live in infamy as the camp followers. And though they carried bullets across their chest and were some of the best shots within battle, they are still glorified as the sustaining mirages for the struggle of the men. We consistently miss the role of women in political and social movements as we pass them by blotting them out in the presence of man, and maintain their existence within the struggle of man. Feminism is seeing the obsession with femininity, and acknowledging the hand pressing to squeeze out the female in me. Feminism is the refusal for the continuation of our castration, where we are expected to continue in our subordination. We miss woman because she is swallowed up, not considered as an entity of her own.

On October of 2014, Mexico was overturned as a response of the disappearance of 43 students from a town called Ayotzinapa, all of which were men. The whole country responded in protest to a crime that meant a loss to so many families and a whole community, but this became a beacon that represented the nation-wide problem where around 45,000 people disappear a year. This crisis caught the nation’s attention because it was the disappearance of 43 male students. Their identity as students underlined over and over again. No matter that mothers, wives, daughters, and female students, embody the greater part of the 45,000 disappeared persons a year. Ayotzinapa is a male tragedy. In order to make the point that something extreme has happened, we picture the weeping mother of one of the 43 students. She is nothing to us but the symbol of the national crisis, a means to move us over her disappeared son. I am not minimizing the pain and chaos that these families are experiencing. Rather, I am detailing this crisis and looking at it from a feminist perspective: we miss the women. If it is a national crisis it is a conflict spearheaded by a group of men. And the women that continue to vanish from our streets, from homes, from schools; they are a loss, but not our loss. We only respond when it is a male tragedy.

Feminism is folding the tortilla in my hand and living fully engaged with the world around me. The two lines above Rabia Al Basri’s poem that I begun this essay with, go as follows,

The one who tastes, knows;

the one who explains, lies.

Like a prayer, I have explained to myself since my dad left that I did not need a man to survive. Then, I explained that, I don’t need a man to be defined– then, I don’t need a man to understand, to believe, to do anything. This in itself is not a lie, but a room to heal so that I could recognize that my feet had the ability to walk out, and taste the beast within me. The term, feminism, I have learned to be a source of life. It is all moving, changing, shaping, and cannot die. And this is because the world of men has attempted to isolate women- heads above necks and the history of mankind- but our narratives continue. We look for words to express the systems that contain and make us; and when we taste our world, we become feminists.