Umbrellas, Boobs & Bad Ass Mohawks

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

The recent flurry of critical commentary provoked by the photo featured here set my New Feminist nerves on edge. What could possibly be wrong with a US Marine detailed to the White House holding an umbrella for the President of the United States?

The real story is not in the photo.  It’s in the Marine Corps regulations.  Umbrellas, it seems, are for females. Male marines are instructed,, “never to carry an umbrella from the earliest phases of training.” Female marines, however, are allowed limited use of regulation umbrellas “during inclement weather.” There is unquestionably a gender specific “double standard” in the US Marine Corps when it comes to umbrellas and, like any gender differentiation these days, we are not suppose to mention these differences in politically correct company. Blathering is often a telltale sign of an underlying gender issue. I’ll get back to this.

The photo itself seemed remarkable to me, not as a breach of military uniform policy, but for the utterly amazing umbrella-holding technique demonstrated by the buff US Marine, 25 year old Nathan Previti. This fellow has clearly practiced holding an umbrella so that he looks terrific in a photo of himself holding an umbrella, even though he is standing out in the rain and has his arm in exactly the same position bad boys in my 7th grade class had to balance a telephone book when Mr. Bailey got very pissed off at them.  I mean, could anyone possibly look more competent and in charge of an umbrella than Marine Previti?

Frankly, I would let this Marine hold my umbrella anytime.  Most men are pretty good at positioning the umbrella over their own heads, but negotiating where to put the umbrella to keep another person dry, is not normally in their umbrella skill set.  Most fellows end up badly miscalculating the direction of the wind and the rain and you end up getting drenched.  It’s better to have no umbrella holder than a poorly trained one like this useless fellow – which is to say that handling an umbrella for someone else is not all that easy.

But most of the social noise about President Obama and Marine Previti utterly ignored umbrella-holding technique and, instead, focused on Marine Corps Uniform Regulation 3035 which provides:

3035. UMBRELLAS (Female Marines). Female Marines may carry an all-black, plain standard or collapsible umbrella at their option during inclement weather with the service and dress uniforms. It will be carried in the left hand so that the hand salute can be properly rendered. Umbrellas may not be used/carried in formation nor will they be carried with the utility uniform.

From this provision – which “does not expressly [delineate]” umbrellas as authorized for men – one commentator spurred a charge that “The commander in chief of the American armed forces today forced a violation of Marine Corps regulations, so he wouldn’t get wet.”

Reactions (primarily from men) immediately grew emotional, leading Cynthia Enloe, a professor at Clark University, to note, “They seem to be very nervous what constitutes un-manly behavior.”  The fact that the Marine in question was detailed to the White House for service in ceremonial duties which, sometimes, means hoisting and holding steady an umbrella – and looking fabulous while doing so – were facts largely lost in the rising gender jitters.  One (male) writer went so far as to agree that the President had forced a Marine to violate the umbrella regulation but he insisted that the umbrella “rule is dumb,” an example of “macho B.S,” in other words, umbrellas are not just for girls!

Is the gender-specific umbrella double-standard in the US Marine Corps “BS”? Why do different protocols based upon gender make us so nervous we cannot even stay focused on the actual facts at hand? Umbrellas, actually, are only the tip of the Marine Corps iceberg of gender differentiation. A quick glance over the Table of Contents of Chapter 3 of the Marine Corps Uniform Regulations spots subtitles like “cuff link sets (men),” “earrings (women)” “handbag/purse (women)” and “suspenders (men)” in addition to the now well known, “umbrellas (women)”. In fact, from the hair on their heads to the tips of their toes, every US Marine is highly regulated in appearance and choice of attire and accessories and, more, those regulations vary significantly based upon the gender of the Marine.

But allowing variations in gender dress and appearance, is not, in my estimation, the sole reason these differentiations pervade the US Marine uniform regulations.  Rather, I suspect that the regulations actually operate to restrict and prevent much more overt expressions based upon gender which, left to their own choice, US Marines would pursue as readily as civilians.  Notably, rule after rule targeting certain gender specific issues restrict the choices Marines can make in selecting apparel and accessories.  There is no rule, for example, requiring women to wear earrings. But there is a 3 pronged regulation, with sub-parts, describing the size, shape, material and proper fit of permissible earrings if a woman decides to wear earrings.  The many, detailed restrictions on male and females expression of gender in their dress and personal appearance suggests that, even highly disciplined individuals like Marines, can drift toward expression of gender differences to the point of overshadowing the military identity a “uniform” is aimed to cohere.

Here are two examples.

Who can forget this May 2012 photo?

The photographer, Crystal Scott, who organized the photo shoot on the Fairchild Air Force Base and subsequently lost her civilian position on base, planned to feature in a show and posters her photographs of “a pair of Air National Guardsman breastfeeding their children in unbuttoned airman battlefield uniforms.” While the mothers apparently were not disciplined, there was widespread agreement that the photos misused the military uniform by creating an over-the-line, gender specific image in which the gender identity of the women out shadowed their identity as Guardsmen. How remarkably chipper and comfortable these nursing moms seem to be with their boobs on display, literally expressing the life-giving nurture women hold dear, while wearing combat fatigues!  This was an image of “women in uniform” that made even the most supportive “difference” feminists a bit uneasy.

Men just as naturally drift toward unambiguous expressions of their gender identity, given the option.  Consider the resources the US Marine Corps spends devising and educating members on appropriate hair styles.  Women are told cut it short or wear a bun.  Men’s style “short and tight” should be even easier to comply with, right? Apparently not. Bad ass mohawks, for example, are not permitted unless they measure out to the appropriate width of coverage.  Variations like a “horseshoe” or a “teardrop” have all been tried, only to be caught, captured and tossed out.

In case any ambiguity remains, there are detailed drawings of permitted styles available.

Differentiation in permitted hair styles was, incidentally, the first “right” to gender difference litigated after women successfully challenged the male only admissions policy at The Citadel. The “equality means sameness” litigant, Shannon Faulkner, who insisted that the male only admissions policy was discriminatory against women, nevertheless, refused to have her head shaved as required for all incoming cadets. The very same lawyers who had demanded “equality” in the admissions policy became, as New Feminist Elizabeth Fox-Genovese observed, “passionate” about “a woman’s right to have an attractive head of hair.” (Feminism Is Not The Story of My Life, p. 38).

All of which brings us back to umbrellas.

Whether an umbrella, any umbrella, is a unique expression of femininity within Marine culture, I am not sure. What I am certain of is that umbrellas can be, and often are, a fun statement of female sensibilities, both in the use of them to protect against rain and sun and, more, in coordinating them as part of a woman’s statement of feminine fashion.  If you leave it up to us, most women will make a gender statement of some sort with their umbrellas.

Like this:


Or like this:       

Or even like this:

And, well, if we can’t make that feminine statement with our umbrellas then, for most of us, the next best thing would be a well trained umbrella handler, like U.S. Marine Previti for example.  But that takes us to a different topic which I’ll save for another day.  

Whether Regulation 3035 makes sense or not, two things are clear.  Marine Previti did a darn good job with that umbrella when his President called upon him – and he broke no uniform regulation in the process. Second, the Presidential umbrella provoked gender anxiety and I think it is just fine to say so out loud. Some men, it seems, are trying to be heard, in a blathering kind of way, about what they would like to do with that accessory. Sometimes, pictures speak better than words.

An Open Letter RE: Louisiana SB 162

Jennifer Lahl

from Kathleen Sloan, NOW, and Jennifer Lahl, CBC

Members of the Louisiana House of Representatives:

We are writing to urge your rejection of SB 162, a bill that would allow commercial surrogacy or contract pregnancy in Louisiana. The inevitable consequence of this legislation is that it turns women into exploitable commodities through financial inducement that targets young healthy women. SB 162 would entice financially vulnerable women with “reasonable living expenses” in the range of $25-50,000 to undergo medical procedures that pose serious health risks. These procedures involve multiple daily injections of carcinogenic synthetic hormones in order to prepare her body for the transfer and acceptance of an embryo. As Senator Smith said in committee, it turns the woman into an “oven.”

As a national board member of NOW, Kathleen has worked for years against the sexual commodification of women and naturally segued into reproductive commodification. As a nurse, Jennifer is extremely knowledgeable about the medical issues, is the founder and president of a bioethics organization, and has made three documentary films on these subjects, including the award-winning Eggsploitation. We represent the spectrum of women all over this country, pro-choice and pro-life, secular and religious, all united against the exploitation of women as objects for sale.

Commercial surrogacy degrades pregnancy to a service and a baby to a product available to the wealthy. While this exploitive practice is illegal in many countries, in state after state, surrogacy brokers and lawyers who benefit financially from the commercialization of reproduction are behind these bills. Poor and low income women desperate for money are lured to sell their bodies to produce children for others. If passed, Louisiana will join a small group of states like California whose laws give rise to a new profit-driven multi-billion dollar unregulated industry that enriches baby brokers and lawyers at the expense of women.

Lured with the seemingly natural process of providing the “gift of life,” these young women are not aware of the dangers of undergoing multiple injections of synthetic hormones for embryonic implantation. These procedures can have devastating short and long term health consequences. Surrogates are pumped with drugs such as Lupron which is not FDA approved for fertility use; estrogen which is linked to breast and uterine cancers, heart attack, stroke and blood clots; progesterone; antibiotics; and steroids which are linked to high blood pressure, glaucoma, cataracts, peptic ulceration, and an impaired immune system.

Please do not gamble with the health and well-being of the most vulnerable women in your state. We respectfully urge you to defeat SB 162 by Senator Gary Smith.

Kathleen Sloan Jennifer Lahl
National Organization for Women (NOW) Center for Bioethics and Culture
Board of Directors President and Founder


Mother-in-Law Prenup?

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

I recently came across the mother-in-law prenup, in which a mother of a little boy jokingly  lists the things her future daughter in law must agree to in order to marry her son. The basic underlying premise of the post is as the writer puts it,

We have to take a stand against son stealing right now.

Of course, she’s half-kidding and the post is humorous—but the thing is, you know that the fact that she’s half-kidding means she’s also half-serious. And the fact that she’s half-serious is, quite frankly, pretty scary.

Especially if you’re a girl who plans to ever marry a boy.

But I’m already married and my mother in law and I get along great. So when I read the post, it didn’t scare me for my sake. It scared—no rather, alerted—me for the sake of my son. I had recently found out I was having a son when I read it and all I could think was:

Please God don’t let me be anything like this woman.

But the scary truth is that this woman’s feelings are natural. If you scroll down to the comments you may be surprised how many women agree with her and have genuine anger towards their daughter/future daughter-in-laws— sometimes because they have been genuinely mistreated, but often simply because a daughter-in-law guarantees that you’re no longer the number one woman in your son’s life. And that hurts. When you’re no longer the most beautiful woman in the world to your son, when you’re no longer his source of everything, it hurts. Because you’ve lost something that gave you meaning and value. And that loss is real. And as with any loss, in that moment, a mother is presented with an existential crisis:

What is my purpose?

Now the typical human response to this question, in any situation of loss or change, is to not really address it. We either live in denial and keep acting as if the relationship is as it once was, or we deflect our pain through anger at another person. Both of these reactions lead to unhealthy relationships between mother and son, mother and daughter-in-law, and in general, unrest within the family. Even in those circumstances where the feelings are completely hidden (or only revealed in jokes and/or side comments and gossip) they are still doing damage by not being dealt with and remedied. Any time we have hatred in our hearts we are doing damage because we aren’t open to love. So there is no question, that even if the feelings described in the blog post may be understandable, they must be stopped. The question is: how do we stop them? Well, I believe it starts with answering the existential question honestly. And most importantly, answering it long before circumstance shoves it in our face.

My experience as a mother is obviously incredibly small and I know I can’t begin to grasp all the feelings and pains and joys that come with motherhood. But I am a human being. And so therefore I do understand the feelings and pains and joys that come along with love. And that’s what motherhood is all about, really. Love. The problem is, human beings don’t always understand how best to love. We are overcome by the feelings of it all and in the process forget the point of it all. It is wonderful to be loved, but we twist our hearts into a mess the moment we value that feeling we get above the other person’s well-being. We set our psyches up for trauma the moment we allow that feeling we get to completely define us. Because the feeling is never guaranteed to stay. That little boy is going to grow up. One day, quite soon, he may ask me to marry him. And then twenty quite soon years later he may be asking another woman instead. That sweet and tender feeling that I will get from having this adorable little creature depend entirely on me will one day be somewhat taken from me. And that is a fact that absolutely must be dealt with. I must ask myself, now, how I will deal with it then. I must decide that something else is more important than those tender feelings. For tender feelings are not the substance of love.

Tender feelings are beautiful. But they are only the product of love. Love has to be bigger than that. Love has to say I’m going to love you even when you do not give me tender feelings—or, in this case, when you give your tender feelings to someone else. If anyone says this, it is usually mothers and fathers. They get this better than any of us do. Partially because their natural instinct is a little more selfless. But it is not enough to go off of instinct because instinct only takes love so far. If we want to learn to love, we have to consciously decide to do so. Even when it hurts us. Even when we feel rejected. Even when that rejection comes from the human being who we have literally given everything to.

And if we learn to love like this, if we learn to love above and beyond the tender feelings, we will receive an even greater peace and joy, because we are living as we should. We are living the way a human being was meant to live.

And what’s cool about it is that oftentimes when we do learn to love like this we end up finding even more tenderness. We may deepen and enrich our existing relationships or even discover new ones (like a relationship with an in-law.) I hope that one day my son grows up and finds a wonderful woman to spend his life with. Because his happiness, not primarily the tender feelings we share, but his happiness beyond me, is my purpose in his life. If I don’t live up to that purpose, neither of us will ever know our own true potential or the potential of our relationship. He may be a mere three or so pounds right now, and he may have never known anything outside of the little crib he nestles in inside of me—but true love has to start now. Or before I know it, as all experienced parents warn, I’ll be watching him walk down the aisle. And I want to be, as my parents and in-laws were for me, brimming with happiness. I want to be able to watch him give himself to her and think this was the point of it all. This was why he asked me to marry him. So he could learn how to marry her.

Pro-Choice Moms

Beatrice Fedor

Contributed by Beatrice Fedor

Until February 15th 2013, women were invited to share their abortion stories on CNN Ireport. The picture below is a screenshot of a CNN Ireport user who goes by the name “TheProChoiceMom.” TheProChoice Mom left a series of derogatory comments on abortion regret testimonies posted on CNN’s website.  Why would a woman, a mother – who claims to support choice – lash out at other women who publicly express regret that they once chose abortion?  The slogan at TheProChoice Mom twitter site reads “Showing America Pro-Choice DOESN’T mean Pro-Abortion!”

In my recent interactions with pro-choicers, I have noticed a pattern in women referring to themselves as a “pro-choice moms”:

1- They have one child born before or after they had an abortion (telling people that their child is “raised pro-choice”).

2- They had an abortion for “medical reasons” including genetic disease diagnosis, severe morning sickness, depression, anemia, cysts and arthritis pain.

3- They are angry at anybody who says that abortion hurts women, especially post-abortive pro-lifers.

4- They assert that abortion saved their life and anybody who says otherwise cares more about “non-sentient fetuses than women”, “would want to see them dead” and “deprive their born child from their mother” (quoting from ProChoiceMom).

5- Some of them had an incomplete miscarriage that required a D&C procedure and they call it an abortion.

Let me share a few reflections on this pattern.

It is always a tragedy to lose a child but let us be clear: having a D&C after a miscarriage does not constitute an abortion. Pro-lifers have no objection to the removing of an already dead baby. Many people are misinformed about abortion and, sometimes, we are not even talking about the same thing. Some believe that allowing medical treatment for an incomplete miscarriage = being “pro-choice”.

What causes this misinformation? I think it is the prevailing narrative that abortion = removing a fetus. not killing, not destroying; just “removing something that is too small to be human and alive”.  I have written publicly about my post abortion experience and regret, so I hear from a broad range of people. Last year, after sharing how abortion affects women, I received this Tweet:

Also, my general impression is that some women are told to have an abortion – as their only or best option – by misguided doctors. In this sense, women are sometimes denied health care for treatable conditions, or the opportunity to consider truly viable “other options”. I think we should worry about that trend.

We could speculate on the feelings behind venom-spewing pro-choice moms on the Internet, but, to quote the Letter to the Ephesians, we are up against principalities and powers. This is not a war of pro-life moms versus pro-choice moms. This is a spiritual battle and anybody’s heart can be changed. We have to discern when to speak (always share the truth in love) and when to be quiet. Let us keep all the pro-choice moms of the world in our prayers and trust that eventually, anger will subside and truth will prevail.

Béatrice Fedor is a pro-woman, anti-abortion, anti-violence advocate. The mother of three, she was raised in a culturally Catholic family in France; embraced liberal feminism, atheism and humanism. She has served as a trade union leader, taught a creative writing class and authored an unpublished book of poetry. The scar of her abortions moved her to search for God, and by His Grace, she has found peace and healing. She joined the Silent No More Awareness Campaign in 2008. “Neither do I condemn you” John 8:11. This post is edited and reprinted from her blog 400 Words for Women, the post originally appearing at

Boston Condom

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

A student from BC – better known as Boston College – paused in front of an informational table set up during the first days of his freshman year. Several pretty girls manned the table, representatives of “BC Students for Sexual Health.” This “BC” – or Boston condom –  organization has made national news as its pretty coeds posed with envelopes of “brightly colored” condoms they insist on distributing “for free” throughout the Catholic campus.  The conversation that day went something like this:

Pretty Girl.  “Hi you.  Welcome to BC.  Are you a freshman? (giggle, giggle)”

Male Subject.  “Well hi there.  (smirk, smirk).  Yea.  I am a freshman.”

Pretty Girl.  “Well, why don’t you join up with us. We promote sexual fun all across campus and we have a sex party this Friday. (giggle, giggle) I can’t tell you just what sex we’ll be doing this week but I promise you’ll have fun. (giggle, giggle)

Male Subject.  “Well, wow. That’s pretty awesome.”

Pretty Girl.  “Well, here’s some information and condoms and, well, you know, (giggle, giggle), please come. (wink, wink)

I heard this story last fall. As a feminist and activist for women, I was dismayed that young women of the caliber and education I assumed Boston College would admit could behave with such triviality. Was the administration not aware of these coquettes operating under the guise of “sexual health?” Did the College realize the image of women, as flirts, sexual objects and pleasure toys, being flaunted and hawked to incoming first year students? I was further dismayed as I explored the girls’ website and discovered how the girls sponsored not classes or educational sessions; rather, they distributed condoms, party kits and literature promoting sport sex along with referrals to Planned Parenthood for the medical services available to treat the various illnesses promiscuity cultivates. Their online freebies even included solo cups!

Throwing a party? Get a Responsible Party Kit from BCSSH! We will provide you solo cups, condoms, and information about safer sex to post in your apartment to help your guests have a safer night.

I felt so ashamed and sad for these girls, who seemed to have no self esteem or sense of the social concern expected of thinking, educated persons, that I contacted the Jesuit college.

Now, the administration of this college has apparently had enough of the Boston Condom campaign to promote sport sex on campus.  Perhaps the college has concluded that passing out free condoms and designating “Safe Sex Sites” – dorm rooms across campus where free condoms (at least) are available when you knock and enter – does not promote safety, health or even common sense – much less the loftier purposes of the institution, “integrating intellectual, personal, ethical, and religious formation; and . . . uniting high academic achievement with service to others.” The college has reminded the girls that the promotion of sport sex on campus is inconsistent with the college’s policies toward the sanctity of life, and has scheduled a meeting with them on April 29 to discuss their condom and sport sex advocacy.  The girls can disagree, of course, but they’ve been asked to respect the college’s policy, the same way the college might reasonably ask student representatives of Altria Group to desist from distributing free purse packs of Virginia Slims.  Girls might insist that the cigarettes show they’ve “come a long way baby” but the college has responsibility to make its own assessment of the consequences of promoting social smoking to women on campus.

Equally disturbing to observers of the Boston Condom campaign is the apparent collapse of feminism on a campus traditionally dedicated to raising the social conscience and awareness of its students within the Jesuit Catholic tradition.  While girls like Chelsea Lennox and Lizzie Jekanowski posed with their condom symbol for a New York Times photographer, testimony unfolded in a Philadelphia courtroom of the brutal murder of live-born infant children.  North Korea sat poised and apparently ready to fire a nuclear warhead.  Efforts to address the violent death of 20 children in a bloody massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school faltered yet again.  Unidentified persons were executing a plan to detonate IEDs at the Boston Marathon finish line.  And a young woman was found burned and murdered in Jordan, her womb slit open exposing her 4 month old child, in another “honor killing” still practiced against women throughout the world.

The list of atrocities, threats and injustices against women and their children and families could go on and on. Campuses like Boston College have a long tradition of supporting feminists in raising awareness of the continued discrimination and brutality against women throughout the world and in sponsoring clubs and projects aimed at improving the lives of others. The objection of the administration toward the conduct of these girls could fairly arise from their apparent self-absorption with dubious pleasure pursuits and apparent apathy toward real social issues affecting even their local communities. How can these young adults honestly defend the promotion of sport sex as a social concern when the world around them cries out in pain and need? Do they honestly think that their peers deepest needs include free condoms and solo cups – both of which are available within a short stroll to a grocery store or pharmacy? Are these young women oblivious? By their own account, it appears so. As Ms. Lennox told the New Times reporter, she spends her time selecting condoms for her peers.

“We check for the integrity of every package. Everything we make sure is within its expiration date. The package is completely intact. There’s no lube leakage out of anything,” she said with a sheepish laugh.

The college administration is rightfully concerned. These students – who were presumably admitted under high admission standards – have focused their talents and skills and resources not only to promote social sport sex, but, more, to promote an image of BC college students as sexually obsessed, undisciplined and irresponsible.  As the chairwoman Lizzie Jekanowski put it in her interview with the New York Times:

“Students are going to be having sex regardless, and unless they have the education to know that you need to use a condom every time — for pregnancy prevention, S.T.I. prevention — and unless they have them available, they’re not going to use it.”

Ms. Jekanowski’s low assessment of her fellow students, broadcast more in the tradition of commercial sexual services rather than academic excellence, insists that bright, educated young adults have so little control over their sexuality that they cannot acquire condoms for themselves from Planned Parenthood or CVS or other providers.  The sexual impulse, from the Boston Condom perspective, is like a fire, poised to go out of control with damaging consequences unless quickly contained.  Like fire extinguishers hung throughout campus, condoms must be readily available, in easy reach, to grab, open and don lest loosed semen rain ruin within the dorms.

Both fellow students and administrators should find this perspective highly offensive, and, most certainly, inconsistent with a view of the integral formation Boston College values. This is certainly not feminism:  self-aggrandizing through the solicitation and promotion of sport sex runs completely counter to the history and tradition of the feminist movement. That movement, as generations of feminists will attest, seeks to free women from discrimination as sexual, pleasure objects. Its founding mothers launched the liberation of women by their successful demand for the vote, that women could be full participants in improving their communities and the world with the unique voice and vision of the feminine genius.

I applaud the administration for taking this initiative. I hope that the feminists on campus will let their voices be heard and that the coquettish, misguided work of these young women will be challenged and redirected for the wider good. I urge the administration to take back the College back from the Condom, and restore BC’s reputation for fostering concern and action in its gifted students on the challenging and demanding issues facing our world.

Planning for Parenthood

Elizabeth Hanna Pham

In this age of delayed and prolonged childbearing, it is expected that every expectant mother be completely “prepared” for her child. She should know the ins and outs of everything there is to know. She and her husband should have done all the things and travelled the world in all the ways they could ever want so as to ensure they’ve gotten all their other interests and desires out of the way before the baby comes. She should be in charge of her fertility. She should have completely planned such an occurrence and timed it perfectly. (Before long, she may be expected to have planned the baby’s gender or the color of her hair.) The nursery should be painted and furnished and the nanny already selected. Schools should be lined up, with the tuition allotted for them in a savings account. But most of all, in this age of planned parenthood, it is expected that, because she “planned” and “chose” it all, every expectant mother should be completely unafraid.

I don’t have everything completely “prepared” for my baby. And I know I won’t by the day he comes. After all, are we ever truly prepared for anything in life? We do our best. We use our prudential judgment and we definitely should plan as much as we can. We try our hardest and love our deepest. But there will always be delays and unexpected changes. There will always be something to mess up our plans. And if we waited on doing anything until absolutely everything was “ready” we might never experience anything at all.

One of the nice things about having a baby young is that people know I’m not completely prepared. They know there’s no way my husband and I have the nursery painted when, ten months after our wedding, we only now just painted the kitchen. They know we’re new to this. They know we’re going to struggle. They know we’re going to be exhausted. They know we’re going to be even, at least a little, afraid. And that’s okay. Because we’re young. And so we’re excused for such feelings. People want to help us and they do help us. Because they know that we need it.

But it seems like the older you get, the less mercy you’re given for any shortcomings, fears, or needs. After all, if you are the type of woman who did “take charge of her fertility,” (or even if you didn’t, but were unable to have children at a younger age,) then you are assumed to be an independent woman. That is part of this whole concept, is it not? Our modern mentality of being on the pill, of being sexually available, of planning everything, of having the freedom to end an unwanted pregnancy—so much of it is about independence. And it necessarily transfers over to parenting. We expect the older parent to be independent. Oftentimes, they inevitably are forced to be independent due to family members growing older themselves or moving away. You read now of parents throwing their own baby showers because no one offers to throw one for them. And how sad this is! How sad it is that we force so many parents into such complete and cold independence. Because such independence is actually a lie. It doesn’t work. It isn’t human. No parent is ever fully prepared. And every parent needs help.

And we understood this years ago. We understood this in the days when grandparents, extended family members, and neighbors and friends were an integral part of a child’s growing up. We didn’t expect expectant parents to know everything there was to expect. And in many ways, children were better off because of it. In general, I imagine, our children are better off the more we admit our shortcomings—children are better off the humbler we are as parents. Because when our children know that we know we aren’t perfect (but that we do our best,) and that the world isn’t perfect (but that people will be there to love and help them,) they learn to forgive. They learn to forgive us, and they learn to forgive the other people in their lives.

But a child will never learn forgiveness from a parent who is not allowed to be imperfect. A child will never learn forgiveness from a mother who is not allowed to admit she is at least a little afraid of labor pains or postpartum depression—of a mother who is not allowed to admit she’s genuinely concerned that she may gag each and every time she changes a diaper– but is ready and willing to try her best and love her hardest and ask for help when she needs it. A child will never learn forgiveness from parents who are supposed to be completely prepared– because no parent is completely prepared. We must teach our children forgiveness by first admitting that we will fail and that we cannot do it alone. And we absolutely must teach our children forgiveness. For if a child cannot forgive, how will they ever love a child of their own?

And so as a young expectant mother, blessed to have many people ready and happy to help me and forgive me my lack of experience and my shortcomings, I ask the world to do the same for the older “more prepared” mothers and fathers. The truth about planned parenthood is that it doesn’t work. The unplanned may be as significant as the baby himself or as insignificant as a diaper leak—but either way, planned parenthood is an impossibility. We can only do our best and ask for forgiveness and help and for friends and family to laugh with along the way. So let us do so. Let us learn to embrace unplanned parenthood (which is every case of parenthood) at any age and let it teach us better how to love.

Searching for Family

Jennifer Lahl

Several months back, a donor-conceived friend of mine challenged me to undergo DNA testing as part of my ongoing advocacy in the space of anonymous egg and sperm donation.  It was a sort of ‘walk a mile in my shoes’ challenge; see what it’s like to go and search for your family.  I balked at the cost of the testing (although the pricing has really come down) so my friend even footed the bill.

In about a weeks’ time, my home test arrived.  I opened up the package in my kitchen and followed the step-by-step instructions.  Swab the inside of my cheeks.  Carefully put the swaps back in the vials, label them, sign everything and drop the package right back in the mail.  My children were curious and wanted to do the test too.  I told them they could do it if they bought their own kits.  Their curiosity ended then and there.

Then I waited.  And wondered.  I wondered what I would find out about my family tree.  Would there be anyone famous I could now claim as kin?  My maiden name is Chenoweth, so I was sure I would find out that I am related to Kristen Chenoweth!  I had grown up being told that Don Knotts (you know, Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith show) was a distant cousin. I wondered if I would uncover any ugly family secrets I might not want exposed.  I wondered if people had been looking for me, realizing this is a two-way street and that I not only had the ability to find others, but they could find me too.  Maybe I wouldn’t want them to find me.

Soon the day came when my testing was complete and the details were posted on the Family Tree website.  I first contacted the benefactor of my testing kit and got filled in on how to navigate the website, what to look for, and how to make contact with those who came up as ‘connections.’  Then I began the daunting task of slogging through pages and pages of names, names that were listed along with a possibility of related kinship: distant cousin, 3rd-5th cousin.  These were the names of total strangers who shared geographical connections with my relatives, and some even the same surnames.

I began emailing a few, asking how we might be connected.  And I answered emails from others who reached out to me, saying things like:

I received your match request and am wondering how we may be connected.
I’m Chenoweth and Neal on my father’s side and Baker and McKittrick on my
mother’s side. 

I’m still in the process of discovering  my full Family Tree, but I have come to an even greater appreciation for what those in the adoption community and in the donor-conceived population must struggle with every day in their search for family and identity, and the meaning these can bring their lives.  I have the much taken for granted luxury of knowing who my mother and father are, and of knowing my siblings and my extended family.

I can see how, with modern DNA testing, one could spend hours, weeks, months, and even years combing through endless pages of data, looking for that missing link to biological ties.  Each day, with more people being added to the DNA databanks, this search could be never ending—and quite exhausting.

I can’t even begin to imagine the feelings they experience with each passing day, nor the toll this must take on a donor-conceived person’s life and family.  What it must feel like when you’ve found a match—terribly complicated feelings like, should I contact this person?  Will they respond to my inquiry or ignore me?  And then that long dreamed about meeting day.  What will they be like?  Will I look like them?  Will we like each other? I just can’t imagine living each day with so much a part of me being a mystery.


Henry Karlson

C. S. Lewis’s popular satire, The Screwtape Letters, showed us the way our mind often thinks things through in a way that justifies activity which we know we should not do. This book brought Lewis into the limelight and helped launch his literary career, even though the unique style used a devilish mentor explaining how to convince people to turn away from a path of righteousness, Lewis was not the first, nor would he be the last, to investigate the psychology of justifying ourselves. We can find this theme, for example, within The Book of the Rewards of Life by St. Hildegard von Bingen.

Throughout her book, Hildegard gives various erroneous dispositions, the way they tempt us to follow them, and the proper responses needed to overcome them. For example, she began her work with a vision of seven sins and seven responses to them: Worldly Love, Impudence, Jesting, Hard-Heartedness, Slothfulness, Anger, and Foolish Joy. In each, we are shown elements of truth which attract us:  there is always some good which is abused and leads us to evil. Examining how Hildegard portrayed Worldly Love and Slothfulness offers far-reaching implications for how we should view ourselves in the world today.

First, St. Hildegard had a vision of “Worldly Love:” an Ethiopian, full of youthful vitality, has his hands around a tree with branches containing a large variety of flowers.  The figure then speaks, “I hold all the world’s kingdoms with their greatness in my hands. Why should I be withered when I have all this greenness in my hands? Why should I be old when I could be young? Why should I lose my sight to blindness? If this happened, I would be embarrassed. I would hang onto the beauty of this world as long as I can. I do not understand words spoken about another life when have never seen it.” After the Ethiopian speaks, the tree withers and falls and everything becomes dark.

It might seem difficult to understand how, exactly, this represents “worldly love.” Yet, what is presented is the transitory nature of worldly goods.  What we love is only the world in a particular state of its history. We can be attracted to the good things in the world. They truly represent something great when they are at their peak. This is how we feel when we are young, when we think we can go out into the world and make it our own.

Yet, contained within this vision is its own undermining. What beauty, what strength, what vitality we have shall, one day, no longer be there with us. If all we have is this world and its impermanent beauty, then we have nothing: we will end up being depressed. We will not even be able to appreciate ourselves and our bodies as they age and become weaker and in need of care and attention. We might like who we are in our youth but it is fleeting.  Can we find the beauty and joy in the world when we are weak and infirm? Can we accept our bodily state when it is imperfect? Worldly love, with its affection for impermanent moments, makes us momentarily happy when we meet these sham standards of glory, but it will not allow us to appreciate ourselves once these favored moments pass. We should enjoy the gift of life – as Heavenly Love says in response to Worldly Love – but how can we enjoy it if we only accept a small portion of it and judge everything according to it? We will push for a state which we cannot always have. We will try to grow in self-glory only to find our very bodies keeping us away from such infantile glory. We will find, even though we claim to love the world, we really hate it, because we have no ground to understand it, to accept it for what it is.  Worldly love in this fashion leads to worldly hate as soon as that which we try to love is shown to be false to us. The one who can accept weakness, the one who can accept the not-so-glorious state and transformation of their bodies, those who can accept that they might need the help of others, to stand with others in order to thrive, will be those most capable of appreciating the world, and truly loving it for what it is, instead of the shallow vision of what we want it to be.

Slothfulness presents to us different goods and different temptations. St. Hildegard saw it as a man with the body of a worm and a head where its left ear was like a rabbit’s, so big it covered the whole head. Sloth is shown as self-justifying because sloth does nothing; therefore, sloth does nothing which will make anyone hurt or angry. Is that not a good thing? “I do not want to injure anyone by rushing [….] I will not pay any attention to the holy and the poor since they cannot benefit me in any way. I want to be pleasant to everyone so that I do not suffer. For if I fight with someone, they might hit back with force. And if I injure someone, they might injure me more. As long as I am alike I will remain quiet. Likewise, it is sometimes better to lie and deceive than it is to speak the truth. It is also better for me to gather possessions than to do away with them. It is better to run away from the strong than to fight them.”

Here, as “Divine Victory” points out, “good intentions” are being used to justify inactivity, but if one looks closely at oneself, those good-intentions are lies, self-deceptions seeking to pacify the conscience when one looks at injustice in the world. “I don’t want to harm anyone,” while a good intention, is false because if we let injustices in the world continue without speaking up, we let people be harmed. Sloth is about “looking out for number one,” while claiming it is about looking out for others. It is very easy for us to fall into this trap. We lie to others out of it. “We don’t want to hurt them.” But the truth is if we are dishonest, we are hurting them and ourselves. Sloth only does that which is necessary for relaxation, for “enjoyment” in life, and anything which would trouble us, must be pushed aside, and left for someone else, someone who is stronger, more capable than us. Or so we let ourselves think. After all, the opposition is too great.  Who are we to do anything? But justice demands we try.  Even if we fail, we help more by trying than when we stand idly and let injustice thrive unopposed.

Self-deception always borrows from the good, where it feeds off of the good like a parasite, using only a small portion of the “good” to discourage us from proper attitudes and ways of living in the world. It is such sloth, for example, which led to the accumulation of injustices towards women throughout the centuries, and it is such sloth which can now be seen in the reverse, when some radical feminists show slothfulness despite acknowledging demonstrable injustices toward men.  This is how, even when injustice is recognized, we find excuses not to care – to let someone else care – sighing with a righteous resignation that echoes through the world.

There are many other examples of self-deception found in St. Hildegard’s work.  It’s a remarkable book with reflections that tell us much about ourselves, and how we think ourselves into error.  St. Hildegard came from a different time, and sees some things quite differently than us today – but in this way, she offers a better light to us, from a time when self-criticism was common.  While nearly forgotten today, self-examination can clearly be a fruitful endeavor in these times of heightened individualism.


Maternal Imperative

Marjorie Murphy Campbell
Book:  My Sisters The Saints
Author:  Colleen Carroll Campbell (no relation to reviewer)
Publisher:  IMAGE


Have you ever grumbled to yourself, “Is this all there is?  Why does my life feel so empty when I really ought to be grateful and happy?”  You can list your achievements and count your blessings, but, still, a nagging sense of nothingness tugs on your sense of self, and you wonder why, why am I so miserable?

Colleen Carroll Campbell’s spiritual memoir, My Sisters the Saints, now on Virtual Book Tour, opens with the author’s own experience of “nagging discontent” and unfolds a remarkable 15 year, determined journey to find her female self, that “feminine part of me that I thought I had smothered with resumes and credentials.” (79).  My Sisters the Saints offers a ground-breaking view of the challenges facing modern, educated women in discovering their female significance in a culture intentionally designed to measure women like men, by their sexual, material and professional achievements.

Here, we have an accessible, eloquent expression of New Feminism.  Imagine a mix of Betty Freidan’s opportunity-seeking feminism and Caryll Houselander’s female-specific spirituality – utterly opposing views of the feminine and its significance in self-fulfillment.  Campbell charts a very personal, moving struggle through this dichotomy in search of an authentic significance, the sort of peaceful, internal calm which signals a life on track.  In so doing, she discovers that being female is more than biological accident.

Hers was not an easy journey. When Campbell suffered her first bout of malaise, she was already a perfect prototype, a product of the massive, concerted restructuring of female roles and expectations sparked by the 1963 publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Campbell’s life was molded and cast to subordinate marriage and family to the career objectives touted and taught by 20th century progressive feminism.   A graduate of Marquette University, a member of the editorial board of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at age 24, and the only woman of six speech writers to President George W. Bush, Campbell fully embraced the goals and reaped the benefits of progressive feminism. Campbell admits that “feminism . . . was simply the air I breathed as a girl growing up in the 1970s and 1980s and coming of age in the 1990s.”  (5).  Like most young women today, she knew her priority:  “I fiercely guarded my professional achievements as the core of my identity.” (82).

Campbell could not have known, could not have seen, that she came of age in a vast social experiment. Decades before Campbell was born, Friedan herself suffered a hunger for significance. Her emptiness motivated a series of surveys of other women. These women, mostly well-educated, white, suburban housewives like herself, expressed unhappiness in their lifestyle:  “Is this all?” “I feel empty somehow . . . incomplete;”  “I’m so dissatisfied.”  Friedan diagnosed a “feminine mystique” as the cause of this “Problem That Has No Name,” a cultural prison which bound women to mindless domestic roles.  She wrote:

These problems cannot be solved by medicine, or even by psychotherapy.  We need a drastic reshaping of the cultural image of femininity . . .  A massive attempt must be made by educators and parents – and minister, magazine editors, manipulators, guidance counselors – to stop the early-marriage movement, stop girls from growing up wanting to be “just a housewife,” stop it by insisting, with the same attention [given to] . . . boys, that girls develop the resources of self.”  (TFM, 351).

This “drastic reshaping of the cultural image of femininity” proceeded apace, during the years that Colleen Carroll Campbell was born, went to school and came of age as a brilliant, well-educated young woman ready to take on the world in her restructured femininity – that new image of womanhood which sees child-bearing as a biological accident and marriage and domestic interest inferior to traditional masculine measures of achievement.  Combined with the successful promotion of sexual permissiveness, birth control and abortion, progressive feminists have accomplished a massive indoctrination and “re-education” of females to a more “equal . . . image of femininity.” (TFM, 356).  Campbell was exactly the type of new woman progressive feminists sought to manufacture:  women who placed their autonomy and financial and career ambitions at the very core of their identity. 

Now, on the 50th anniversary of The Feminine Mystique, Campbell – a child of the “drastic reshaping” of femininity – has published a new feminist treatise which, like The Feminine Mystique, evolved from Campbell’s own moment of utter disillusionment. In her opening chapter – Party Girl –Campbell writes of the feminist culture bequeathed her:

If the key to my fulfillment as a woman lies in maximizing my sexual allure, racking up professional accomplishments, and indulging my appetites while avoiding commitment, why has following that advice left me dissatisfied?  Why do my friends and I spend so many hours fretting that we are not thin enough, not successful enough, simply not enough?  If this is liberation, why am I so miserable? (5).

For Campbell, the progressive feminist experiment failed. True, she enjoyed its worldly opportunity and freedom to pursue “money, sex, power, and status.”  But the “problem that has no name,” the sinking feeling of insignificance which Friedan insisted would be cured by paychecks and promotions, stirred unabated in Campbell’s “liberated” heart.  She found herself adrift in an increasingly unfulfilling pursuit, without cultural icons or markers to deepen the experience of her life.  Like Wendy Shalit, Carrie Lukas and other brave young women challenging the dishonesty of progressive feminism, Campbell refused to accept the malaise and sought models for “deep-down, joyful peace.”

Where are such models to be found?  The thinning ranks of progressive feminists are disturbingly angry, like Friedan was, referring to themselves as “menopausal warriors” (N. Keenan) and their critics as “anti-feminists.” (S. Coontz).  Increasingly, women of the Baby Boomer generation, my generation, women who themselves have discovered that they are not just the people “who happen to … give birth” and that their “equality and human dignity” are not just functions of earning a paycheck (TFM, 371) are speaking up, refusing to perpetuate the myths which mislead young women like Campbell into masculinized life styles.  As Anne-Marie Slaughter dared to explain when leaving her high level State Department job to spend time with her family:

When I described the choice between my children and my job to Senator Jeanne Shaheen, she said exactly what I felt: “There’s really no choice.” She wasn’t referring to social expectations, but to a maternal imperative felt so deeply that the “choice” is reflexive.

But even with such public admissions, we are a long way from offering detailed guidance to young women for fashioning a workable balance between work and family, much less how to secure a sense of feminine self that feels authentic and significant.

Where can young women turn for understanding and guidance on their inner most longings as women? Campbell turns to a source that has offered a rich tapestry of the “maternal imperative” over the ages.  Whether raised Catholic, as Campbell was, or not, the treasury of the Catholic Church teems with stories of women who found, captured and deployed the “desires that [spring] from a soft, passionate, feminine part” of a woman’s being. (79).  Caryll Houselander once described this vast store of experience and wisdom as “a grandmother . . . with a fortune, indeed, and we dare not miss it; but she certainly has a lot funny old hats and shawls and beliefs and traditions, none of which seem to be fashionable or useful or even wearable.”  (RoG, 92).  It’s a fortune, nonetheless, that represents two thousand years of compiled information by and about women – a fortune amazingly disowned by Friedan feminists as patriarchal, even as they crafted strategies to capture the spoils of the patriarchy they decried.

As Campbell journeys in search of her own feminine expression, she discovers and shares the story of six women from her Catholic faith tradition, most of them not biological mothers themselves, but each a saintly expression of the abiding love for humanity so often identified as the natural genius of women. Campbell travels with these women through the small and enormous challenges of daily life:  work-family conflicts, deteriorating illness in a beloved parent, infertility and longings to control and command fulfillment of wishes. Figures like Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth century “party girl with the gift of gab and no shortage of male admirers” (14) and Maria Faustina, “a mousy-looking, barely literate nun,” (65) each become role models, spiritual mentors and true beacons of hope for Campbell as she progresses in her search.

Campbell’s chronicle reminds me of my own gratitude to the women I searched out and found as spiritual guides as I wrestled years ago with my conflict between career and family goals.  Like Campbell, I seemed curiously to cross paths with women just when I most needed them, as I was frantically looking for the next stone in raging waters.  The writings of Erma Bombeck and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, for example, lifted me and stretched my thinking and spiritual life in directions I could not have found without them.

Perhaps unintentionally, in sharing this personal, beautifully written journey, Campbell now contributes herself – her pain, her challenges, her spiritual growth and her faith – to the feminist treasury, a stunningly rich treasury open to all young women wondering why, as Campbell did, with academic credentials, paychecks and careers, “why am I so miserable?”

Campbell’s feminist discoveries are worth reading repeatedly and sharing broadly.


Mary O

Contributed by Mary O'Neill Le Rumeur

Director: Haifaa Al Mansour

Starring: Reem Abdullah, Waad Mohammed, Abdullrahman Al Gohani

Saudi Arabia is a country where cinemas don’t exist and women are hidden behind black veils. Yet this month a film has come onto the screens in France, Wadjda, the first-ever fiction film made in Saudi Arabia – and the director is a woman.

As a child, the eighth in a family of 12 children, Haifaa Al Mansour had watched many movies on the home television. She says: “My father was a lawyer and a poet, and to have some peace and quiet he brought home video cassettes and we were able to watch Bruce Lee, Indian films from Bollywood and Disney cartoons. We especially loved Snow White.

Her parents gave the same education to all their children, boys and girls, and Haifaa went  to Cairo to study comparative literature at the American. Back in Saudi Arabia, she worked for a petrol company, at first giving English classes, but was moved to the communications department where she learned to make videos.

Haifaa decided to use her new-found abilities to make a documentary on the life of women in her own city and in the desert. “For Women without Shadows I met old women who were very shy, never having been to school. And others who were younger, and had been able to go to school, but they suffered from much stricter segregation than their mothers.”

In 2006, this documentary was shown at international festivals, and one day also at the American Embassy, where Haifaa met her husband, an American diplomat. Later, she was able to study cinema for a Masters at Sydney University while her husband was posted to Australia.

Back in her home country, now 38 years old and the mother of two children, she decided to make a film “to show what it’s like to be young and a woman inSaudi Arabia. The heroine, Wadjda, is a mix of myself, my school-friends and my nieces,” she says.

Permission was given to film in the capital, Riyad, but a woman cannot be seen working with men in the street, so for outside scenes Haifaa directed the actors sitting in a van and using a walkie-talkie.

Wadjda is not a crusading film, but an intimate, often funny story which brings us close to a band of schoolgirls coping with strict limits on their freedom. The heroine, like many another 11-year-old, dreams of having her very own bike.

The main character is played by Waad Mohammed, dressed in jeans and trainers under her long black abaya, for she is just at the age where she must wear a veil in the street. We are privileged to witness a tender relationship with her mother, Saudi actress Reem Abdullah. Because women are not allowed to drive, this elegant and intelligent woman is dependent on the whims of an illiterate driver to be able to go to work.

Girls are not allowed to ride bikes either. But Wadjda keeps her target always in view, earning and saving whatever money she can get, and often, after school, passing by the shop where the bike she dreams of owning stands wrapped in plastic.

Then her school announces a competition for the recitation of verses of the Koran, with a prize of money for the winner. Wadjda begins to practise, and we Western viewers learn the intricacies of the Arab psalmody, sung by the school girls.

Many other stories are interwoven into the scenario. When Wadjda won the prizes for Best Arab Film and Best Actress in Dubai, some people from Saudi Arabia were able to see the film.

“What struck my own sister, who is very religious, was that the film shows the ‘real life’ in our country. On the TV we usually have only soap operas where heavily made-up women are seen in huge American-style apartments.”

In one scene, Wadjda accompanies her mother who wants to buy a new dress for a wedding. They find a beautiful red evening dress, but to try it on they have to go down the street to the public toilets where Wadjda sits on the washbasin and watches her mother put on the beautiful gown. As always in the film, there is no explanation, but we guess that there are no facilities for women to try on clothes in the shop. The mother has to make the best of the cramped space in the toilet to change, and looks at herself in the cracked, dirty mirror. There is a silent complicity between the mother and daughter, and a stark contrast between the bright beautiful red dress and the heavy black abaya that covers the mother from head to toe.

The way Haifaa found the funding for her film is a story in itself. “No-one thought it was possible to make a film, so no producer wanted to give me any money.” Finally, it was a member of the Saudi Royal family who financed the film. Prince Al-Walid bin Talal saw the documentary Women without Shadows and decided to help with the production of Wadjda.

“Some members of the Royal Family realise very well that we will have to end the segregation between men and women. Of course, it’s very slow. But King Abdullah has just named 30 women as members of his Council.” Women will get the vote in 2015, but only for municipal elections.

And they still must not laugh in public, nor let their face be seen by a man.

If this film comes near you, go to see it. It’s a gem.

Mary O’Neill Le Rumeur writes from Angers in France where she lives and teaches English.  This article is reprinted with permission from MercatorNet where you can access a video with the director and clips from the movie.