Stop Watering Down My Beliefs

There are very few people in my life, whether they know me well or not, who are unaware of the very strong beliefs I hold, namely my faith and my feminism. Often these subjects come up in conversation, and not always in the best of ways. In the many circles I frequent, one or both of these topics are frequently the focus of negative attention.

But the thing is, most people like me, and so they quickly try and explain that they are not talking about me when they say derogatory things about something I believe. Phrases like, “But you’re not, like, really Mormon-y. You’re totally normal,” or “I’m just talking about those crazy feminists! I mean, you aren’t even that liberal.”

My patience with these kinds of phrases has been wearing short as of late, because as much as some people around me may want to protest to this fact, I am an extremely devout Mormon, and I am an adamant feminist.

This past week I spent nearly 9 hours going to church functions, on top of which I also fasted, read scriptures, and prayed multiple times a day. I believe, with all I am, that the Book of Mormon and the Bible are the word of God. I believe Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God. I believe we came to a fallen world to learn the importance of free will, and to become perfected through Christ, and return to our Father in Heaven. All of this is not to imply I’m some perfect Mormon, but simply to illustrate that I certainly fall into the category of devout. I am a very mormon Mormon.

Also, as I type this, I am wearing a shirt that says “A woman’s place is in the House and the Senate.” If you were to go through the books in my car right now, you’d find a copy of Bell Hook’s Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center and I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. I am best known for two things, one being a study I did in college (which went viral after The Guardian reported on it) that quantified whether or not the BBC show Doctor Who had become more sexist since it’s head writer changed. The other thing I am known for is my continuing attempts to combat misogyny in my own religious culture (not to be confused with the doctrine or gospel of my faith) and beyond. I don’t sort of support women’s rights. I am an unwavering intersectional feminist.

I am devoutly religious, and I am a feminist. And I don’t have to water down either of these convictions.

We live in a world that has confused strong beliefs with some sort of insanity. We imagine convictions somehow exist on a scale of 1 to 10, and we mentally place those who have extremist, violent, harmful, views on the 10 side, because they must have some strong convictions, right? Well, not if you stop to consider that much of what they believe is not actually in line with the beliefs of the whole community. Those who perpetuate violence and hate in God’s name are clearly missing the point. They hardly ever actually follow the tenets of their religion. Wouldn’t that make them less devout?

There’s mass confusion about feminism, too. The people who think all women must have careers, and are better than men, or something else along that line are subscribing to some seriously antiquated ideas in feminism. They aren’t particularly current feminists. It would be like someone claiming to be a scientist, while still thinking the world was flat. But the media, society, or some combination of the two has used such extreme rhetoric, like “religious nuts” and “feminazi” to make the world think that people with strong beliefs have somehow escaped the loony bin.

When people are around logical, balanced, intelligent individuals who are strong in their views, many try and water down what they believe. Because after all, they aren’t crazy, so they probably aren’t that focused on that way of thinking. It never occurs to people that they should challenge the idea those who are fervently living what they believe are not, in fact, insane.

The first thing we must do is be willing to be an undiluted version of who we are. Be unapologetic about your faith, political stances, and world views. Yes, it may be uncomfortable at first to be a vocal member of your faith in your more progressive (and paradoxically close-minded) circles, and I know that a “radical feminist” is not exactly who the person next to you in the pew on Sunday would always have you be, but don’t be afraid. You don’t have to be rude and shove it down people’s throats, but don’t shy away from opportunities to teach others what you really believe.

Once, when asked why I thought I was a feminist, I gave a fairly standard textbook definition of feminism, and then said I believed that, therefore, I was a feminist. The person responded with, “Well, that’s not really feminism. That’s just common sense.” Perhaps it’s both?

On the same note, I once was explaining to a friend of mine why I am a LDS, and why I had made certain lifestyle choices. I went over the basic doctrines of Mormonism, and her response? “Well, that actually makes a lot of sense.” I wasn’t trying to convert her, but a clear explanation helped her to understand my faith, and realize I’m not a brainwashed sheep.

I love what Aziz Ansair said a while back on why people need to stop distancing themselves with the word feminist. “If you look up feminism in the dictionary, it just means that men and women have equal rights. And I feel like everyone here believes men and women have equal rights. But I think the reason people don’t [want to call them self a feminist] is that word is so weirdly used in our culture. Now, people think feminist means ‘some woman is gonna start yelling at them. So, I feel like if you do believe that, if you believe that men and women have equal rights, if someone asks if you’re feminist, you have to say yes because that is how words work. You can’t be like, ‘Oh yeah I’m a doctor that primarily focuses on diseases of the skin.’ Oh, so you’re a dermatologist? ‘Oh no, that’s way too aggressive of a word! No no not at all not at all.’”

And the same goes for your faith, whatever it may be. People won’t stop thinking of it as something crazy until we stop watering it down to comfort their ignorance.

We can choose to distance ourselves from the world’s standards, and instead help everyone become more empathetic to each other. We must not be ashamed of who we are, and we must be willing to stand with our convictions, even if it is not the easiest thing to do at times. We must be willing to endure this temporary discomfort for the sake of progress in thought. After all, that is the foundation for progress in action. 

This piece was written for altFem Magazine. AltFem seeks to “give voice to women who find in their religion not just spiritual solace but also strength, power, and confidence. Mainstream media coverage of women of faith depicts these women as disempowered and brainwashed by dominant men in their faith. Religious women are almost invariably painted as irrational and their devotion to their religion inauthentic. altFem is working to change that perception by providing a platform where religious women of all faiths can speak for themselves rather than be spoken for—and its goal is nothing less than redefining feminism to include and celebrate women of faith.”

Why You Should Be As Excited About Orion As your Grandparents Were About Apollo

In case you haven’t heard, we’re going to Mars. I’m not talking a robot or probe. I mean actual living, breathing, human beings.

Last week NASA, with help from Lockheed Martin, successfully performed the first flight test for Orion. You should get used to hearing that name. It’s our generation’s Apollo. Orion is “NASA’s first spacecraft designed for long-duration, human-rated deep space exploration. Orion will transport humans to interplanetary destinations beyond low Earth orbit, such as asteroids, the moon and eventually Mars.”

10847967_10152908131659524_2882149552231798915_n

Look who was live on NASA TV!

Since Mars is a much longer trip than the Moon, the operation will happen in stages, as opposed to just sending it to Mars. Just prior to the launch, I was able to spend a day at NASA Langley Research Center learning all about Orion and what is going into to the project.

In addition to the final goal of actually landing on Mars, NASA will be making other significant advancements along the way. One of the most notable for me was their planetary defense system. As mentioned before, Orion will land on an asteroid before it lands on Mars. When they do this, they will be able to collect samples to learn more about the asteroid, but they are also working on contingency plans in case an asteroid was ever on a trajectory that would hit the Earth. They would be able to send up a rocket, and using the 0 g environment, redirect the asteroid, so that it would not collide with us, landing us in history with the dinosaurs. Here’s a video of the simulators they are using! (You only need to watch until 3:07) 

Safety First

If you watch until the end of the video I included, you will also see a huge advancement for deep space travel: the inflatable house in space. How cool is that! For take off, they need the spacecraft to be as small and light as possible, but they also want a larger living space for the astronauts, as the journey will be many months (6, if I’m remembering correctly). Using similar material to a basket ball, they can create a habitat for the astronauts to live and work. This will be much more effective for deep space travel.

On top of all the amazing scientific things that are happening (and I only mentioned a few), Orion is already having amazing effects on the ground. “Lockheed Martin leads the Orion industry team which includes major subcontractors Aerojet Rocketdyne, United Technologies Aerospace Systems, and Honeywell, as well as an expansive network of minor subcontractors and small businesses in 45 states across the country.

“In addition, Lockheed Martin contracts with hundreds of small businesses across the United States through an expansive supply chain network. There are approximately 3,000 people who work on the Orion program nationwide, including contractors, civil servants, subcontractors, suppliers and small businesses.”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Expanding the space industry would drastically affect our economy for the better. Yes, it’s pushing for the stars. Yes, it’s letting the next generation dream about reaching further. But it will forever change things here at home. The space industry can help create a stable economy, and the American people should understand how vital an investment that is.

Orion is amazing. What it will do is amazing. It is the next leap into the great beyond. Orion is the future.

oojourney_to_mars (1)

Sources:

NASA

Lockheed Martin

It’s Ok to Hate Jell-O: How to Deal With Culture Vs Doctrine

This article was originally written for and published on Millennial Mormons.

In the October 2013 session of General Conference President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “[T]o be perfectly frank, there have been times when members or leaders in the Church have simply made mistakes. There may have been things said or done that were not in harmony with our values, principles, or doctrine. I suppose the Church would be perfect only if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us—His imperfect children—and imperfect people make mistakes.”

This was a rather bold admittance. While it was not exactly new information that God’s people are imperfect, including His prophets, apostles, and other leaders, it was still quite a thing to state in the middle of General Conference when we were supposed to be receiving council and revelation from these men and women.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the greater part of the 20th and 21st century, you will know that the church over the years has faced criticism from external, and internal, individuals or groups for practices, principles, and doctrine. In fact, I can think of no point in time, Genesis to now, where someone was not critical of God or his mouthpieces. Now, what President Uchtdorf said is true, there have been mistakes made in the past, and I’m sure that more will be made at some point or another. However, we should not take this knowledge as an excuse to challenge the doctrine of God to conform to the world’s standards.

Read the rest at Millennial Mormons!

The Lie Coming Out of Conservative America Part II: You Actually Care About Peace in Ferguson

  Screen Shot 2014-11-25 at 11.17.35 AMScreen Shot 2014-11-25 at 11.17.09 AMScreen Shot 2014-11-25 at 11.16.58 AMScreen Shot 2014-11-25 at 11.16.41 AMScreen Shot 2014-11-25 at 11.16.23 AMScreen Shot 2014-11-25 at 11.16.12 AM

There are accepted revolutions, revolutions which are called revolutions; there are refused revolutions, which are called riots.” – Les Miserables Volume 5, Book 1, Chapter 20

I tried to think of some witty opener for this piece, but honestly not today. I’m not here to provide a humorous anecdote that will somehow make this a better written article. I don’t give two flying craps if there are imperfections style wise in what I’m about to say.

Michael Brown was shot in cold blood and his killer will not be brought to trial. This will not be a debate on weather or not he deserved to be shot because he possibly could have shoplifted $5 worth of cigarettes, or whatever other pathetic excuse people want to bring up. I want to talk about the reaction to the verdict that this case will not go to trial.

The pictures featured at the beginning of this article are not from Ferguson. They are riots from around the U.S. (with one in Canada) mostly of people reacting to sporting events. One was about pumpkins. These are all fairly regular occurrences, but I’ve never seen anyone on any of my social media feeds, or on the news for that matter, start lecturing people about how we need to “be more peaceful” when stuff like this happens. But a real human being lies dead in the street for hours, and now all of a sudden you need to quote Bible verses at people.

No. No. You don’t get to climb up on your moral pedestal and pull that hypocritical crap. You don’t get to be the tone police for people who are justifiably outraged and terrified.

Do I think violence is the right option? NO! If you haven’t been already been made aware of this from my other writing, I’M A GIANT PACIFIST. But I’m not about to derail this issue and act like the real crime in this situation is some people burned a flag or stole a tv. Honestly, most of the protesters are being peaceful, because they are trying to respect the wishes of Michael Brown’s mother, who has called for nonviolence, and peaceful solutions. But you would know that if you were actually invested in what is going on there instead of just wanting to tell people to “calm down.”

So the next time you feel the need to quote MLK at an angry black person, I suggest you check yourself real quick. Shut down the urge to say “Not all cops” or “Not all white people.”

If you really want to rally for peace, then start supporting all the people who are seeking justice peacefully. Sign their petitions, support the call to have cops wear cameras. Do something productive as opposed to just say, “You’re being kind of generalizing” to people who are justifiably outraged.

This is not about you. This is about changing a system that supports liberty and justice for some, even when we are told it should be liberty and justice for all.

Resources:

Official statement from Michael Brown’s mother:

We are profoundly disappointed that the killer of our child will not face the consequence of his actions.

While we understand that many others share our pain, we ask that you channel your frustration in ways that will make a positive change. We need to work together to fix the system that allowed this to happen.

Join with us in our campaign to ensure that every police officer working the streets in this country wears a body camera.

We respectfully ask that you please keep your protests peaceful. Answering violence with violence is not the appropriate reaction.

Let’s not just make noise, let’s make a difference.

Petition to take the case to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Veterans’ appeal to National Guard: “Stand with Ferguson protesters, not the police!”

Complete List of Evidence from the court.

American Bar Association’s response to the Grand Jury

Petition for police to wear body cameras.

KKK admits to relationship with Ferguson police. (Go to 4:48 if you don’t want to watch the whole segment.)

Also, please watch this short film with people from Fergeson. I usually avoid strong language on here, but I feel what these people are saying is important, and needs to be heard.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/111938224″>Ferguson Speaks: A Communique From Ferguson</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user23018322″>FitzGibbon Media</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The Morality of Space Exploration

Imagine sitting next to Thomas Edison as he is creating the light bulb, and all of a sudden, someone walks in and says, “Tom, would you put that away! There are real problems we need to deal with. You shouldn’t be wasting time making a fancy candle.” You would probably think, “Wow, this person is so backwards. If they only knew how important this is and how much good will come from this.” In fact, I know you would think this, because we all do all the time. After all, how many inspirational Hollywood movies focus on a dreamer who has to overcome all the naysayers and then create something amazing? But for all we do to celebrate the forward thinkers of the past, so many still refuse to see the importance of investing in scientific advancement.

I spent the past three days with NASA as a social media contact for the Antares Rocket launch in Wallops, VA. Before going, I told people they could send me questions I could ask the scientists and other representatives I’d be meeting with. I got some really interesting ones here and on Facebook. One person asked “Do they think they have the moral right to spend such enormous sums on space technology when there are such urgent needs here on the earth?”

My initial reaction was dismissive. I thought, “I’m not going to waste these people’s time by asking such an asinine question,” but then I realized that this kind of attitude of discouraging scientific progress, whether coming from a false sense of moral superiority or just a general shortsightedness, was a much too widely held attitude, and with the explosion at the launch, naysayers will have one more thing to point to as to why funding should stop. 

The youth of America are often accused of always needing instant gratification, however I have come to think that is much more of a universal human trait as I see many older individuals being the greatest critics of the space program because they don’t see the payoff IMMEDIATELY. But it is there and it’s huge. 

Now, I’d like to tell you about my time with NASA over the past few days. 

The Antares Rocket, which was built by Orbital Science, and contained a variety of supplies and scientific experiments that are needed on the International Space Station. The ISS itself is a marvel, and even though it can be thought of as routine, it is anything but that. The ability to keep six people in space for months at a time is a key stepping-stone to developing the technology for a manned mission to Mars, and build permanent outposts in space. The amount of time and manpower going into this is remarkable. But equally so, is what is coming out of this push to move farther into space exploration. 

Much of the scientific equipment being sent up is medical. Spending long amounts of time in space creates unique medical problems, and people need to figure out answers. One of the issues faced is how blood flow goes from the heart to the brain. “A human health study called Drain Brain will inform understandings of blood flow in space to possibly aid in the treatment of headaches and other neurological systems reported by crew members living on the space station. The special neck collar used to measure blood flow from the brain for the Drain Brain study …does not require surgery or special knowledge to operate. This could make the collar a useful tool for monitoring patients on Earth who have heart or brain disorders. Drain Brain could also have implications for development of screening mechanisms for cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.” (Taken from Orbital CRS-3 Mission Overview) Other equipment being sent up could have similar outcomes, in that they answer problems both in space and at home. 

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) research is vital to answering many very real problems we face in the world, but with American students falling further and further behind in the these areas , it is unlikely we will be able to compete in solving them on a global scale. Is this because American students are stupid? No. They simply need more opportunities, and NASA is working hard to provide them. 

The Student Spaceflight Experiment Program, part of National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, was sending up experiments from students all across the country that would help find answers to problems in long term space flight, from air filtration to calcium deficiencies. 

I was able to attend the conference where several teams of students  presented what they would be sending up on Antares. I was amazed by how elegant some of their ideas were. Addressing the formerly mentioned issue of air filtration, one team discovered that living chrysanthemums, could help filter out some of the chemicals in the air. They were sending up a small tube containing seeds to test whether or not they could grow in a zero gravity environment. 

Afterwards, I spoke with some of the students. I was particularly moved by one group of middle school girls who were studying muscle loss in a certain type of shrimp that has similar muscle makeup to humans. They were so excited about this opportunity. One told me, “This has been the most amazing experience. I didn’t know I was smart. I had no idea I could do something like this. I didn’t even think I liked math and science.” Another piped in, “Yeah, I feel like this is really teaching a man to fish. We have learned how to problem solve. This was so hard, but I would do it all over again.” 

Programs like these are helping the youth of America discover their own potential. And this isn’t just inspirational – it is essential. I spoke with NCESSE’s director Dr. Jeff Goldstein on Monday at the conference about this. “There are a myriad of problems here on earth, but many of those problems are going to be solved through science and technology. We are going to need a next generation of scientists and engineers to address many of these problems here on earth. We have got to inspire the next generation, or we will have no one to solve those problems.”

A group of students as they presented to us their project nicknamed "Blood Suckers."

A group of students as they presented to us their project nicknamed “Blood Suckers.”

As I mentioned earlier, American students are falling behind in the world in math and science. This means, in the global job market, our children will not be competitive. “If we are going to compete in a high tech, 21st century market, we’ve got to bring innovative products to market that come from science and technology fields,” says Dr. Goldstein. “The need to compete, to maintain our standard of living, critically depends on getting the next generation involved in STEM fields.” If this weekend is any indicator, that is exactly what they are doing. Many of the students, even ones who had grown up around science, had no interest in pursuing it, until this program came along and showed them their own potential.

(I’d like to take a moment to note that, after speaking to their director, the experiment lost should hopefully be able to be built again and sent up on a later flight.)

It’s not just a distant day in the future we would start seeing benefits. There are immediate benefits from pushing forward with space exploration. On Sunday, while we were touring the launch pad, the facilities director told us, “These contracts have been a shot in the arm to the local economy.”

What is a problem Americans are facing right now? Unemployment. Investing in and growing the space industry can help create a stronger economy. If just these contracts have helped the local economy so much, imagine if, on a country-wide scale, this industry could grow to be as big as some of our other manufacturing industries. We could see a major change in our economy. 

Of course, that is not to say there will be no failures. As we saw on Tuesday, accidents happen. But going into the frontier was never supposed to be easy. It never has been. It wasn’t easy for our ancestors who did it here on earth, and we cannot expect anything different for our own generation. I spoke Dr. Goldstein after Tuesday’s briefing again and he remarked, “Failures are simply the signposts on the road to success.” To use an even older phrase, “Fall down seven times, get up eight.”

So, to the initial question of morality, my response would be that it would be morally irresponsible NOT to invest in the space program. We cannot abandon our future for the sake of immediate gratification. We have a responsibility to push ourselves to explore, innovate, and create, because through this, we will secure a better world for the next generations. 

Want to Talk to NASA?

If you could ask NASA a question what would it be?

15618370851_8fe2ffd2f6_k

On Monday, October 27th, NASA will be launching the Orbital Sciences’ Antares rocket at 6:45 p.m. The rocket is heading to the International Space Station with 5,000 pounds of supplies including science experiments, experiment hardware, spare parts, and crew provisions. The Orbital-3 mission is Orbital Sciences’ third contracted cargo delivery flight to the space station for NASA.

In addition to traditional news outlets, NASA has selected some people from the social media world to come and cover the launch. I applied to be one and… I GOT ACCEPTED! I am very excited about this, and will be spending Sunday and Monday at the NASA visitors center and Wallops Flight Facility getting to go to press briefings, tours, and of course, watching the launch.

I’ll be able to ask questions at some of the press conferences, and I’ve asked if I can bring questions from people who follow my blog (or other social media accounts) and I can!

So, if you could talk to NASA, what would you want to ask? If you go here, you can learn lots more about this specific mission, or you can just ask a question in general, like “What are NASA’s long term goals with manned missions?” or “What are the biggest obstacles you face right in the space program?”

If you have a question, submit it in the comments below, and make sure you are following me on Twitter! I’ll be updating it during the two days in addition to a full article I’ll write after the launch that will be published here on the blog.

Slut Shaming Eve: How the Mother of All Living Became the Mother of All Sin

“So came Eve…the last created being in the creation of the world, without whom the whole creation of the world and all that was in the world would have been in vain and the purposes of God have come to naught.” -Elder J. Reuben Clark

Technology has brought us some truly remarkable abilities as humans. We can cure disease, travel hundreds of miles with ease, and talk to someone in Hong Kong as we sit in Washington, D.C. Slightly less remarkable is our ability to consume 5 years worth of television in 2 weeks, which is what I did a short while ago with the BBC series Merlin. I’m sure most of you are familiar with that odd empty sense you get after binge watching something on Netflix, so I convinced my mother to watch the series so I might have someone to wax endlessly on to about my theories on religious symbolism within the series.

Now, my mother has long been a fan of Arthurian legend, so it didn’t take much convincing. One of her favorite books is T. H. White’s The Once and Future King, and it makes for interesting discussion on the series to have that perspective. Yesterday, she and I were discussing Morgana and (spoiler alert) her descent into evil and how it can parallel Lucifer’s fall from grace, especially within LDS doctrine. Sometimes, Morgana is evil in other Arthurian tales, and at one point my mother asked me, “Why do you think it is that so many stories portray evil, or the one who is supposed to be like Satan, as a woman?”

My response came like a reflex. “Eve.”

Over the years, the woman who ushered in not only knowledge, wisdom, and choice, but humanity itself has been corrupted into some sort of vile temptress, or “The Original Sinner,” as some texts would call her. In fact, her names have grown to include, “the lance of the demon”, “the road of iniquity”, “the sting of the scorpion”, “a daughter of falsehood”, “the sentinel of Hell”, and “the enemy of peace,” to name but a few.

All of these titles came because of her decision to partake of the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. What most people fail to realize is that without this decision, we would not be. Adam and Eve lived in the garden as little children, with no concept of sexual relations. General public sex education may be lacking, but I think you can put two and two together and realize that if the rest of humanity was to come into the world, the two of them had to come to know each other Biblically, which was only understood after partaking of the fruit.

On a broader scale of just good and evil, we must realize that personal accountability is paramount. Mormon doctrine teaches that we are not to be held accountable for the sins of our first parents, but for our own. That means the converse is true, in that we cannot hold Eve accountable for the sins committed by humankind. They are our own to bear, and calling her the “Mother of All Sin” is simply a way of shifting responsibility. In our last General Conference, Elder D. Todd Christofferson addressed the importance of accepting our agency and responsibility therein. “God intends that His children should act according to the moral agency He has given them, ‘that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.’… In matters both temporal and spiritual, the opportunity to assume personal responsibility is a God-given gift without which we cannot realize our full potential as daughters and sons of God. Personal accountability becomes both a right and a duty that we must constantly defend; it has been under assault since before the Creation. We must defend accountability against persons and programs… And we must defend it against our own inclinations to avoid the work that is required to cultivate talents, abilities, and Christlike character.” The mentality to blame Eve for the sins of the world is not only incorrect and grossly degrading to her character, but also something that will prevent us from progressing to become something greater.

Much of the corruption of Eve’s divine character came about during the time of Medieval legends, so it is not surprising that the stories of that time would have chosen a woman to bear the role of the Devil, or some representation thereof.   

But what does this specifically mean for women today? What effect does centuries of portraying evil as a woman have on us? I’ll tell you what it does. It creates cultures that shame us into hiding, into viewing ourselves as innately wrong. Women will see themselves, and more especially their sexuality, as something sinful, instead of beautiful and moving. In a different address, Elder Christofferson stated, “There has long been a cultural double standard that expected women to be sexually circumspect while excusing male immorality.”

I recently saw a woman ask, “Why do all portrayals of the Seven Deadly Sins always use a woman for lust?”

The reason is femininity has been degraded to a weakness, either as our own or that of men’s hearts. It is supposed to pale in comparison to the “strength” of traditional masculinity, but when his “strength” fails, and a man actually succumbs to feelings of lust, it somehow is not the evil within himself that has come out, but the evil of the temptress before him. Society has done far too much to remove any responsibility for sexual relations from a mans shoulders, and it is this mentality that continues to contribute to rape culture and slut shaming.

Those aforementioned terms may be new ones, but the concept is not new. It was in the 2nd century that Tertullian told women that they were all “the Devil’s gateway” because of Eve. It is a tragedy to me that our mentalities have not come as far as they should since then.

Until we remove this seemingly permanently ingrained, however false, ideal that women have a naturally stronger relation to temptation than men, we will never be able to resolve the acts of violence, hate, and injustice that plague women to this day.

Author’s Note: I wish to say something on my choice of title. I know for many within my own faith it may have been jarring as we hold Eve in such sacred regard (imagine if I was Catholic and I wrote a piece called “Slut Shaming Mary”), and wanted to express that it was meant in no way to degrade her. I chose the title with much pondering, as I am always deeply troubled when I see how the majority of the world treats Eve, and I could not find a better current vernacular to express what I feel has been done to her over the years.

Painting by Anna Lea Merritt (1844-1930)

Why NASA is Vital to America

If you were to ask me as a child what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer would not have been a ballerina, doctor, or firefighter. It would have been a Vulcan. Yes, even in my youth, I was a giant nerd. I loved Star Trek, and I loved the world in which it existed. I grew up watching a universe where the earth was united, poverty was nearly non-existent, and exploration, discovery, and peace were the primary goals of those in charge.

Now, I have since grown up and have realized that becoming a member of a fictional alien race is not a valid career option. However, my ability to imagine a better future has never left me, and as I watch current events unfold, my heart breaks, as I fear we are moving farther and farther away from what could make us great.

We need to be putting more money into the space program.

Everyone knows that the United States spends more on our military budget than any other country in the world. I know that I have made it clear in the past that my tendencies are usually pacifist, and I am not such an idealist to think that we can remove our military budget, but we are spending more and more on weapons while NASA has seen its funding drop another 2 billion in Obama’s second term. There are real threats in the world and I am aware that ISIS is a problem. I suppose we could have a debate on whether or not we should be bombing the middle east, the ethics of drones, how involved we should be with this, etc., but even though our leaders came to the conclusion we needed to be at war, that does not change the fact that our greatest accomplishments in the space program came during the Cold War, a time where we were under constant fear of destruction. NASA makes up less than half a percent of the US budget. At its peak in the 60’s, it was about four percent. It has never been a huge cost to the American people, but the space program has given us some of the most remarkable accomplishments of humanity, and it is ours. It is our heritage, but with the current funding, it will not be our future.

The technology developed by NASA does’t just allow for exploration, it provides answers to major problems we see on the ground. The space program gave us medical advancements, like artificial limbs and LED therapy. It gave us cell phones, firefighter equipment, and water purification and so much more. If we were to continue investing in NASA, we will see technology that will save lives, solve conflicts, and propel us toward a safer and more stable country and world as a whole. 

As I watch the government strip more and more from NASA, while at the same time maintaining the largest nuclear arsenal the world has ever known, all I can think is that we have become incapable of investing in anything other than our own fears.

We once inspired the greatest scientists, the greatest explorers. Not any more. We are far behind in math and science, and the upcoming generations will be much more likely to associate the word debt than dreams with their education. But that’s not how it has to be.

In the past, we fought a failing economy with the machine that is war production. What if, with that same vigor and zeal, we became a powerhouse for space exploration? Older industries are dying out, but if we could replace them with the space industry, on a massive scale, we would see a dramatic increase in jobs. Instead of making an industry who’s primary goal is destruction, we could build one that would push us into being something greater. We would see students rise to the challenge of mastering the great unknown. In the first part of the 20th century, we went from having people that were born still using horses and buggies, to see a man on the moon before the end of their lifetime. Don’t give me any more of this half a percent of our budget. I want leaps like this again. I want to live to see people colonize Mars. I want to see us leave our solar system. I want to push to be absolutely everything we can be but aren’t living up to.

I don’t know if you understand how much my generation loves space. With Pluto’s recent (possible) comeback, all I’ve been seeing on my social

Image Source

Image Source

media feeds for the past few days are my peers typing in all caps, “VIVA LA PLUTO!” I’ve seen infographics, and discussions, all from thousands of people who just really love space. In general, millennial’s see their future as pretty gloomy, but if you talk to most of us about space exploration, we think that is such an exciting thing. It’s something so many dream about.

NASA can give us the answers to our greatest problems, and everyone, especially my generation, needs this organization more than you can imagine. Please, don’t cut us off from reaching for the stars.

Every Mormon Should Be a Feminist

A while ago, I found myself, as I often do, explaining to someone, why I identify with feminism. I told him what feminism is, that at its core, it is allowing women the same rights as men, not forcing sameness, but giving them the option to choose. It is a movement against violence, and oppression, and silence. His response was, “Well, that’s not really feminism. That’s just common sense.”

Perhaps it’s both?

In case you haven’t heard, feminism is not a hate movement against men. It never really was, but of course, everyone latched onto one set of ideas that some people in the movement used to have, and made that an excuse to invalidate one of the most important cultural shifts the world has ever known.

Now, most people are eager to engage in a dialogue with me about what they perceive to be two conflicting ideals: my faith, and my feminism. For me, the two were never contradictory, but in fact complimentary. I am a feminist because I am a Mormon. It’s as simple as that. However, as I’ve pondered it more and more, I’ve come to believe that it’s not just me who should see the world this way. Feminism and Mormonism go hand in hand, and I’d like to tell you why.

I understand that right now there is a stigma within the church with the word feminism. We just went through a rather public trial of dealing with the Ordain Women movement, and most of you probably have a bitter taste in your mouth because of it. While my heart has softened since I last wrote on this, that is a discussion I’m not looking to have here today. I’m asking you to put aside any hurt feelings from that, and listen to why the feminist movement should matter to you, the church, and the world as a whole.

Feminism reflects a more Christlike attitude toward all genders. During His mortal ministry, Christ did not discriminate between men and women. While we read the stories through the eyes of history, and many of His actions may not seem overly noteworthy to us, they are terribly significant. It matters that He gave His time and energy and friendship and respect to women. It matters that some of His greatest sermons were given to women. It matters that He ignored societal standards of association with them. And it matters that He chose a woman first to testify of His resurrection. Christ broke many cultural norms in His time, and His treatment of women as equals should not be forgotten.

There is a quote I’d like to share with you. “There are some men who, in a spirit of arrogance, think they are superior to women. They do not seem to realize that they would not exist but for the mother who gave them birth. When they assert their superiority they demean her. It has been said, ‘Man can not degrade woman without himself falling into degradation; he can not elevate her without at the same time elevating himself’ (Alexander Walker).”

This is not a quote pulled from one of my many books on feminist theory, it’s a quote from Gordon B. Hinkley’s October 2004 General Conference address. (For Non-Mormons reading this, he was our prophet at the time, and this was a talk he gave to the entire church. This means we consider it doctrine.) That entire address discusses the importance of women and their contributions that he knew were so often went diminished and forgotten by the world. Perhaps if a prophet (and there have been others as well) is telling us to move away from the idea that men are superior to women, we ought to be listening. It is necessary for the Church to thrive. Not just the individual family unit, but the church and society as a whole must become more inclusive of women in positions of leadership. As President Hinkley said in another part of that same talk, “Our stature as officers of this Church was not diminished by what [the female General Authorities] did. Our capacities to serve were increased.”

Most importantly, at its most pure core, feminism is fighting to give women back their right to choose. All the violence, all the oppression, all the things we as feminists fight against, take away a woman’s use of agency. They take away her ability to say “No,” to voice what she believes, to be valued as a daughter of God. Do not be so shortsighted to think that feminism is simply about trying to put more women in executive positions. It is about allowing half of God’s children to have their voices and free will back. The entire Plan of Salvation, the core of our faith, is built upon the idea that we were brought to this earth so that we might choose for ourselves. But history has robbed my sisters and me in varying degrees of our choices. History has taught us that a man, in almost all cases, will have more choices of what he can do in his life than a woman.

As a member of the LDS faith, I believe in the doctrine of the War in Heaven (see Revelation 12). I believe that “Satan rebelled against [God], and sought to destroy the agency of man. (Moses 4:3)” I believe that already I fought for my right to choose, and I know I will keep fighting for it. Because it is a gift given to me and to all of us from God, I will not allow it to be robbed from me or anyone else simply because Satan has entrenched his values into the hearts of men.

I’ve won this fight once before, and I intend to win it again.

The Most Preventable Birth Defect is Costing All of Us Billions

Today, in honor of national Fetal Alcohol Syndrome awareness day, I’m going to tell you about my brother.

In 1999, after many failed attempts to have another child, my parents decided to adopt two toddlers from Russia. Their names were Ilya Sadriev, and Roman Schneider. For privacy purposes, I will not be using their current given names.

Roman was energetic, but not so much that we thought too much of it. When we adopted the two boys, my parents were informed that Roman’s mother had drank while he was in utero, but a physician had told them this “would just make him a little more hyper.” A few years later, after his energy seemed to be growing, and after switching physicians, my brother was given the diagnoses of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, (or Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder).

What is FAS?  Well, it affects the brain of the fetus when they are in certain development stages, causing damaged neurons and other mental problems. Below is a picture comparing a regular brain, and one with FAS.

fas-brain

FASD (the current term) is never outgrown. The side effects include: aggression, an inability to understand consequences, impulsive behavior, poor memory, and a high likelihood to have another mental disability. For example, Roman was also diagnosed with ADHD, Sensory Integration Dysfunction, ODD, RAD, Depression, Auditory processing delays, and I think there’s more. FASD is considered to be the leading cause of developmental disabilities and mental retardation world wide. (Journal of FAS International, 2004)

Because of side affects like these, individuals with FASD tend to have drug and alcohol problems, propensity toward violence, and are 19 times more likely to end up in the prison system. There are a variety of statistics I found on the exact percentage of the prison population make-up, but most tend to be in agreement that well over half of the population suffers from some sort of in-utero exposure to alcohol.

Here are some statistics:

  • 94% of individuals with an FASD also have a mental illness
  • 50% of adolescents and adults displayed inappropriate sexual behavior
  • 60% of people with an FASD have a history of trouble with the law
  • 50% of individuals with an FASD have a history of confinement in a jail, prison, residential drug treatment facility, or psychiatric hospital
  • 73-80% of children with full-blown FAS are in foster or adoptive placement
  • FASD is 10-15 times more prevalent in the foster care system than in the general population
  • 61% of adolescents with an FASD experienced significant school disruptions

But what is the dollar amount we pay every year as American for this?

$6 Billion.

Billion. With a B. It’s not a euphemism when I say this 100% preventable defect is costing us.

Back to my brother. As the years passed, he became more and more difficult, acting out, yelling, and eventually turning to violence, both toward others, and himself. He cut his hands all the time, and tried to stab my other brother. Between that, and his behavior at school (most other kids were afraid of him), he was eventually deemed “unfit” to live at home, as he was causing an unsafe environment. He was moved to a care facility out of state for troubled teens.

My parents were devastated. They had tried everything. They began a regimen of medications and physical/occupational therapies at an early age.  They tried every philosophy that came along.  Since you can never go back and do things differently, they aren’t sure how effective any of these things were, but they had hope that their efforts were helping. Now, however, it looks as if the care facility he’s at is the best option. He’s been there a few months, and is finally showing some progress. We can talk to him twice a week, and visit on occasion, and I can say, I’ve never seen him doing so well.

My heart breaks when I think of my brother, and the life he has cut out for him. The constant struggle to not be a statistic and end up in jail will be difficult. But there are other little things. I remember sitting with him, listening to him tell me how hard it was to make friends, how frustrated he was that it took him a month to figure out what the other kids figured out in a day, and how unfair it felt that he hadn’t done anything, but he still was “stupid.” He said that all the time. “Why am I so stupid?” I wanted to cry and hug him, but he wasn’t a touchy person. The problem he has is he’s just smart enough to know that he has tons of limitations. But maybe, just maybe, he can overcome them.

But for the rest of you, please, please, don’t do to your kids what my brother’s biological mother did to him. Don’t drink when you’re pregnant. Not at all. Not a glass of wine here or there. None. They still haven’t been able to figure out exactly when and how much causes it. There have been cases of women who thought they only had a little, but ended up with a child who had FASD. The cost is too high for all of us, in money, and in lives. Don’t play Russian roulette with your child’s brain.

If you would like to donate toward my brother’s medical expenses which my parents are having to pay out of pocket, click below. All contributions through this PayPal button go toward him. 

PayPalDonateNow1

Sources:

http://www.mofas.org/2014/05/fasd-and-the-criminal-justice-system/

https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/opinion/fetal-alcohol-syndrome-in-america-a-silent-crisis-of-apocalyptic-proportions/4084

http://www.rethinking.org.nz/Default.aspx?page=4343