Empowered Womanhood

  • Empowered Womanhood,  Religious Abuse

    Cheap Woman

    Just the latest in a long line of labels Christians have given me.

    Cheap Woman? Alrighty then, if that’s the game we’re playing. I would rather be a cheap woman known for my love, than an abusive man touting religious superiority.

    Cheap woman? I didn’t know I was for sale. But I would prefer being a cheap woman instead of a man who costs people their sanity and safety in the name of Christ.

    Cheap woman? That’s a fascinating claim made by a Christian who preaches finding self-worth in God alone – a God who valued me enough to die for me, apparently.

    Cheap woman? Your accusations speak volumes about your character and nothing about mine. Oppressor, abuser, liar, thief – ringing in the air.

    Cheap woman? Your effort spent defaming me says otherwise. You’re willing to pay a high price, your very life – exchanging time and peace of mind for the bitterness slowly poisoning you.

    Cheap woman? Hating me is expensive. You save space for me in so many of your thoughts and ways.

    Cheap woman? At least it doesn’t cost enormous levels of perseverance just to withstand my presence. I’ll take “cheap” any day over “costly to be around”.

    Cheap woman? I’m relieved to hear I don’t have the admiration of a person like you. That would terrify me. I’ll take your disdain over your praise.

    Cheap woman? Long have women been labeled as such so men could avoid reckoning with their own shortcomings.

    If an Evangelical man can’t control a woman, she is “cheap”. If he can’t destroy her, he must dismiss her. If he can’t use her, he will abuse her – all the while believing God is on his side.

    Cheap women are women patriarchal men don’t know what to do with. I’m proud to be counted in those ranks. I must be doing something right.

  • Empowered Womanhood,  Gender,  Gender Trauma

    Breaking the Ice Ceiling

    As we exit Women’s History Month, I wanted to first share an article (linked below) that impacted me greatly when I found it in 2018. At that time I was very hard on myself, pushing myself to be “as good as the guys”, always trying to prove I belonged in male-dominated spaces.

    While I’ve never done anything quite as intense as these ladies’ Antarctic expedition, I resonate with every word from their story. Being a woman in the outdoors is truly a different experience. There is greater weight to your limitations culturally and socially: they can get attributed to your entire gender, reinforcing ideas of being “weaker”. Things are changing now, but as an adolescent climbing the bigger mountains I would count the women we passed, because there were so few of them. I could often count them on just one hand.

    Even still today, when seeing other women on the trail is common, on long-distance backpack trips I usually only see other women for the first four, maybe five days. Anything beyond that and it’s stepping into a man’s world. Male backpackers sometimes comment on how it’s surprising to see me so far from a trailhead. Even today when I backpack solo, people sometimes stop me in disbelief, asking how I’m so brave.

    On one such solo trip, an older man took it upon himself to interrogate me in the parking lot about how much water I was bringing (plenty) and then warned me that I would probably have a difficult time further up the trail in the snow. However, when I got there it was only a small flat patch about 50 feet long, and easy walking. I had been singled out and my competencies grossly underestimated, because of assumptions that were made just by looking at me.

    A stranger hit on me during a life-or-death situation ice climbing a treacherously steep glacier at 10,000 feet altitude. I’ve been taught I should feel flattered by this – because apparently the male gaze determines my worth.

    Sledding down a steep snowy slope with my male best friend, I was having the time of my life – at first. We were chatting and hooting and hollering from a distance with a couple of men who were there adventuring as well. When we walked up closer however, one of the men’s demeanor suddenly changed. After exclaiming “Oh! You’re a girl!” his tone changed to mimic how you might talk to a child and he called me “sweetheart”. Apparently my bulky snow gear and hat had hidden my womanly figure and long hair, allowing normal human interaction between us until my gender was discovered. When my best friend spoke up saying “She’s not your sweetheart”, the man became irate, cursed at us, and marched away over the crest of the hill, friend in tow. The wilderness should be a place where all is natural and in balance as it was intended to be. But for women this is often not the case.

    I’ve heard men I’m close with make hurtful jabs at other women on the trail: “She sure is gutsy to do this alone!” “She’s probably meeting her husband”. “Maybe someday you’ll take up needlepoint instead.” These are actual comments I’ve heard over the years from men who know me well. At a young age it became clear to me the summit could only be reached by breaking through an ice ceiling.

    The way I was received as a woman climber and backpacker taught me to view myself as an anomaly. Women were generally weak and helpless but I was somehow an exception. I was still, of course, a class below the men but allowed to be there nonetheless. It became increasingly difficult to love my womanhood while believing the traits I loved most about myself were manly, and rare happenstance for a woman.

    There is more equal representation in the backcountry now than ever before, thanks to ground-breaking women who have mountaineered before us. But the fact that I’ve witnessed the shift even just in my own lifetime speaks to how a woman’s experience in the outdoors community is unique from that of a man’s. Eliminating the discrimination we face still has a long ways to go. I’m thrilled by the history-making women in this article and by all women everywhere who are unapologetically blazing trails in whatever form that takes for them. Every day we ascend new heights!

    https://www.theatlantic.com/sponsored/north-face-2018/in-her-element/1999/

  • Empowered Womanhood,  Gender Trauma,  Religious Trauma,  Spirituality

    Sacred Feminine

    I notice I celebrate my womanhood a little more each year than the year before. I’m becoming more comfortable in my femininity. I’m cherishing the ways I’m “traditionally feminine” but also the ways I just don’t fit in. I’m growing to love my body and accept it. I’m learning sacredness. I’m apologizing less, disagreeing more, and rarely ending my statements in question marks these days. I’m bolder, more opinionated; discovering I was never as nonchalant and indecisive as I was led to believe – rather I was oppressed, suppressed, and cornered into submission. Infrequently now do I spend the energy defending my choices and beliefs. I don’t really give a shit about who I’m “supposed to be” anymore. I am who I am and other people’s reactions have nothing to do with me. It was damn hard getting here, but now that I am, the possibilities seem endless. I feel powerful. I’m grateful for the brave womxn who have gone before me, laboring to carve out the path that I more easily climb up now. I’m proud of women everywhere and I’m proud of myself.”

    I wrote the above paragraph about a year into exploring empowered womanhood after escaping patriarchal evangelicalism. It’s exciting to see the subtle differences in how I talk about my femininity in 2020 versus in 2019 (posted a few days ago – see “Caricatured and Erased”). The tone is direct and fierce. I have less questions and uncertainties. I focus less on the sorrow of oppression and more on the beauty of design. I’m unapologetic about my journey.

    However, in 2020 I still had a long way to go. Much further than I would have expected at the time of writing.

    I had no idea that six months later when my partner expressed an interest in having children it would trigger in me overwhelming panic, and anger toward the church mothers who raised me to believe women were valued only for our ability to serve men and give them children. I didn’t realize how trapped I still felt by institutions that preached self-neglect to women under the guise of “selflessness”. I hadn’t fully grasped how scared I still felt of my own biology – constantly waiting for the day my female body or female mind would turn on me, transforming my into an anxious, subservient puppet – a hollow vessel, a fragile vase.

    I had no way of knowing I would struggle in 2021 with the most intense trauma-induced gender dysphoria I had ever experienced, leading to an official medical diagnosis, or that the dysphoria would make mensuration so triggering that the sight of blood each month would tempt me to end my life.

    I couldn’t have planned for the confusion that would come knowing I didn’t want to be a man, but hated being a woman – so much so, I would feel urges to escape myself even if that might bring me dangerously close to self-harm. I didn’t know how many more days there were ahead of me where I would feel dirty, broken, weak, corrupt, defective… Everything the church wanted me to feel.

    In 2020 I had overcome so much and I’m proud of that version of me. But I wasn’t aware how much self-loathing still lurked deep inside me and how much farther I felt from God’s favor than men were. That is, not until my progressive church at the time explored God’s gender and pronouns. During a visualization exercise, I broke down into tears seeing God as a woman. She looked like me. I was truly made in her image. Woman are powerful and mighty and sacred. Sophia – the biblical name for the Holy Spirit – was here and she was majestic. It was still hard to connect to God as Mother because of all the trauma I had with human mothers. But it was a start.

    After being diagnosed with gender dysphoria in 2021 I embarked on an EMDR therapy journey in early 2022 specifically focused on gender trauma and the mother wound.

    I can’t recommend it highly enough.

    Even my name feels new. I could never connect with the meaning of Sarah as “mother of many nations”. But now I feel empowered as a life bringer whether physically, spiritually or emotionally. I am a portal between the spiritual and physical realms – both spiritually, and physically.

    I still have fears and insecurities around my gender and sometimes I’m unsure of what I want for my life and my future. But things are different – I feel good. Not good in spite of my womanhood, but good because of it.

    I am the sacred feminine. I am the image of God. I posses the gift of divine motherhood in all its forms.

    When I wrote the first paragraph in 2020 I truly felt every word. But now in 2022 there is new depth to the concept of celebrating my femininity that makes my insights then feel shallow in comparison. At that time I couldn’t imagine healing beyond what I had already achieved. I certainly never thought I could get here. In fact, I didn’t know it was even possible to feel this way.

    Will I look back again sometime in the future and see how far I still had to go today, in 2022? Absolutely. But I’m celebrating and honoring each element of the goddess within as I uncover her and lift her up. I am her and she is me – the sacred feminine.

  • Empowered Womanhood,  Gender,  Gender Trauma,  Religious Trauma

    Healing My Ancestors

    I can’t count the times I was told as a child I had an amazing mother. The comments always bothered me, but it wasn’t because I had a terrible mother. My mom really loves her children and gives herself to us. It wouldn’t be until I was in therapy at 30 years old that I would realize it was because these comments always pointed to her being a good mom because of what she did and never who she was.

    People would praise her for making us meals and washing our clothes and setting herself aside. No one said anything about her being passionate or talented, or powerful, brave, wise or confident in herself. It wasn’t that she didn’t have good qualities, its just that as a woman in the evangelical church – no one sees them.

    Growing up, I received a loud message that whether or not a woman is “good” – especially if she has children – is based entirely on what she does and not who she is. No one seems to care about the latter: who a woman sees herself to be doesn’t matter because the most important and all-consuming part of her is being a wife and mother. Rarely did anyone see or know who was beneath the label. I think often the mother herself wasn’t sure, after years of this erasure.

    I grew up watching my mother live in a box and it made me afraid to grow up. My mom was always contained in a box metaphorically and physically, because while the world was my dad’s oyster, the house was her domain.

    I was free to tag along with my dad as long as I was a child, but my freedom came with a ticking time bomb that little boys didn’t have.

    My mom’s life consisted almost entirely of household work – she didn’t have much time to do anything fun. Granted, I’m not sure how much of it was necessary and how much was her refusing help or creating work to do to feel useful – because that is where her identity lies. As an evangelical mom, that’s the only place your identity lies. It wasn’t my dad’s fault, he tried to help and encouraged her to get out and do what she loved, but I don’t think she knew what that was. How could she? Her entire life had been filled with caring for others.

    I never saw my mom have a hobby or passion. She didn’t really have any friends or any aspirations that she talked about openly or pursued. She isn’t a bad person, but the church made sure she was hardly a person at all – beneath the role she played there’s no substance. I don’t know who she is. She’s just a wife and mother. I can’t find anyone underneath the title or the duties.

    I was afraid to get to close to my mother because the limits she lived under felt contagious. She made comments occasionally about me needing to learn to be a good wife and mother someday, and I was scared about which parts of me I would have to give up to do that.

    When I participated in less traditionally feminine activities like adventuring outdoors, she was a worry wart, putting limitations on my freedom, wanting me to hold myself back to be supposedly safer. Even when there was no real risk. I wondered if safety was a facade. No one seemed to worry about the boys being able to handle themselves.

    If I ever voiced frustration, I was always told me that’s just how moms are, they worry, they take care of their kids, they are selfless (void of self) – and that’s it. They can’t help it.

    I didn’t want to become a mom. Why would I? What was presented to me was the antithesis of everything that makes me, me. I don’t blame this all on my own mother. She is the victim of overbearing sexism – being raised in a large Catholic family to be a second mother to her seven brothers. She was never given the same freedoms they were, and often blamed for their misbehavior. She was raised by a woman who experienced an even higher level of abuse and restriction; a woman who didn’t know how else to exist in the world, raised a woman who wouldn’t either. Somehow the cycle broke with me – leaving me feeling lonely, confused, and like an anomaly.

    Most of my life I have felt very uncomfortable with my heritage. I have no role model of a powerful healthy woman. I can’t proudly say “I am my mother’s daughter”. I can’t look back at a lineage of women who created me and want to be anything like them. Admittedly, I am ashamed of my ancestry. Sometimes even my very DNA feels contaminated. I’m blazing a new trail completely on my own. I don’t know how to do this, and I cannot be proud of where I came from.

    I feel like an orphan.

    But… maybe that’s not the full story. I come from a long line of injured women who submitted to survive. I wonder who they could have been if dealt a different hand.

    Maybe I can heal my ancestors. Maybe they would be so happy and hopeful to know that generations down the line their own flesh and blood would be independent and powerful like me. Maybe it’s redemptive.

    It’s a common story arc for the hero to rise up from an unlikely place or family or bloodline. That’s partly what makes them special. Maybe I’m the hero of my mother’s story and our motherly line. I’m still writing chapters, and my daughters will write chapters, and their daughters’ daughters. We will be the authors of our own stories – starting with me.

    I know I’m lucky to be born into a time where there are more opportunities for women. I know I’m better equipped with resources available to me – ones my mother and her mother and her mother’s mother never had. I carry the weight of generations of oppression and abuse, but I have education at my fingertips and communities to turn to, to learn what to do with it and how to heal it.

    Maybe when I save myself, I save those who came before me and whose trauma is wired into my DNA. Maybe as I heal my body, that trauma loses its grip on our family line.

    I am healing my ancestors – starting with me.

  • Empowered Womanhood,  Gender,  LGBT,  Poetry,  Progressive Christianity,  Spirituality

    Sunrise and Sunset

    God may have made day and night,
    but God also made sunrise and sunset
    color splashed in amber light
    painted skies so we won’t forget


    There are more than two ways of being

    God may have made day and night,
    but God also made sunset and sunrise
    bluebird skies, dawn growing bright
    pastel rainbows dazzling before with our eyes

    There are more than two ways of being

    God may have made night and day
    but some nights are starry, crystal clear
    and some nights are moonless, foggy gray
    dewy or frosty, changing with the year

    There are more than two ways of being

    God may have made night and day
    but some days simmer, air thick and still
    others frigid, lung-biting, a frozen display
    some days are blustery, others tranquil

    There are more than two ways of being

    God may have made woman and man
    but why can’t people be more unique
    than we experience night and day can
    what we like, who we love, how we think

    There are more than two ways of being