telling stories, hearing lives

Category: Digital Storytelling (Page 3 of 6)

Relay for Life at Drake–my first “cancer talk”

Four years ago I found a lump on my breast. I am not here to tell you that cancer is a gift. I will not tell you that I learned the true meaning of life or that I treasure the wisdom I gained battling and surviving this disease. I have survived, but I don’t want to own that word because the people who do not survive battled just as hard as I did. And it makes me angry that they are not here to tell their stories. I don’t want to share pink ribbons with you. I’d rather make you angry. That inspires change, and we really need to change the way we talk about the big C.

Cancer makes chaos of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. The unspoken stories I carried in my body–that I was healthy, that I was strong, that my life was in my own control–were shattered by cancer—not really by cancer itself, but by the implications and threats of it, the treatment for it, and by some of the destructive cultural ideas about what it means that I was inundated with. The cancer itself was removed in the lumpectomy. I was not being treated with chemo and radiation for a cancer that was still in my body; it was for the imagined cancer that might show up in my future life. And this statistical narrative will always be a looming possibility. Cancer makes chaos of all stories about my future. All possibilities of the future now have a shadow narrative threatening to take over.

The stories we tell ourselves try to answer the question of WHY. Bad things are not supposed to happen to good people. Why did this happen to me? It is hard to answer this question without being affected by popular explanations. I want to share a few stories. The first is one that still makes me angry.

One friend told me that I must have gotten cancer because I had not dealt with my “issues.” She said I needed to figure out what I had not dealt with and deal with it. She looked me in the eye and told me that if cancer comes back it will be because I didn’t deal with my “issues.” She did not seem able to hear me when I told her that cancer was not my fault and that I was not in control of whether or not it comes back. She did not hear my recitation of the aggressive nature of triple negative breast cancer or the higher than usual rate of recurrence for this rare cancer. While her insistent blame was a bit extreme, her view came out of mainstream ideas explaining cancer through individual actions, rather than larger systemic forces. Positive thinking, eating right, exercising, and alleviating stress are important for everyone, but doing these things will not protect anyone from cancer because we live in a cancerous world. If we want to understand why people get cancer we need to look to larger causes than individual behavior and broader solutions than just medical research for cures. These things may be necessary, but they are not sufficient. Of course, we need research, but we also need to stop polluting the environment. We need to eliminate structural inequality that puts some people at a disadvantage in society even though they work just as hard as anyone else. Pink ribbons don’t cut it for me or for all of us that need to think critically about what kinds of stories we draw on to make sense of our cancer, our survival, and our lives.

My second story is about the links between inequality, the stress of dealing with it, and 3 women in 3 years with breast cancer. I was first. Triple negative breast cancer is extremely rare, and occurs most frequently among African American and Latina women. Most white women who get it can trace it to genetic markers—BRCA 1 or 2. This cancer is aggressive and has a much higher rate of recurrence than other breast cancers. It is also the breast cancer we know the least about. One thing the Mayo Clinic seems to have figured out is that the higher prevalence of this kind of cancer among women of color is likely connected to the stresses associated with societal inequality, like the intersections of race, gender, and economic inequality. So there I was—white, in case you couldn’t tell—with triple negative breast cancer. It turns out I do not have the genetic predisposition. But what about this question of structural inequality? Are they keeping statistics on lesbians? A few months after my diagnosis, Judy, another white lesbian who was also a professor at Drake was diagnosed with triple negative. Research is clear that the stress caused by dealing with homophobia has negative effects on health. The third woman, who also identifies as queer, was diagnosed with breast cancer after several years of very pointed sexist and homophobic treatment by co-workers; the stress led directly to weight gain, and the cancer she got was linked to excessive weight. Inequality plus stress led to cancer. These two friends of mine and I are what scientists would call “anecdotal evidence,” but for me this is the real story. I think Judy’s family and friends would agree with me. She is no longer here to tell her side. Her triple negative cancer came back two years after her diagnosis. She died a year later. I can say with absolute certainty that she did not die because she failed to deal with her “issues.” She is not gone because of some moral failing. Her loss is not about poor lifestyle choices. She is dead because a rare and aggressive form of a deadly disease that there is no cure for took hold of her being at the cellular level. We will never know for sure what effect homophobia had on her or how much environmental pollution poisoned her body or mine. But the least we can do is to ask hard questions of the stories we hear about cancer.

Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde died of breast cancer in 1992. She wrote in “A Litany for Survival,” “So it is better to speak, remembering, we were never meant to survive.” Her words challenge us to question the stories about inequality that blame individuals for the pain we experience. Survival in this context is about living a meaningful, safe, and legally recognized life, family, identity. The system was not set up to nurture and protect those of us in the borderlands—those whose lives are defined as outside the norm. The power of the norm has profound consequences.

Sometimes I think cancer is a response to oppression, an escape hatch. Other times I think it is the arm of the state, the tentacles of worry and stress and dis-recognition sending invisible troops at the cellular level to attack the integrity of the organism. It is an attack of meaning that spreads and transforms from unequal laws and hateful words to over-replicating cells; some strange alchemy at work, mutating external attacks of legitimacy into an army of bio-invaders. The consequences of inequality are complicated, hidden in plain sight and diverted from acknowledgement by the stories society tells us, and the versions of them we internalize. We need to learn how to tell new stories that lead to social justice and healthy lives for all of us, new stories that provoke us to make the world a safer, more peaceful place for all of us to thrive, not just survive.

Sandra Patton-Imani

Modern Family Matters

Modern Family Matters

            The idea of how a family should be is continually changing. One thing that remains the same however is the fact that there should be two parents to raise a child. It doesn’t matter if they are married, together for life, or a same sex couple. But recently there has been a higher percentage of single-parent households. According to Nicholas Kristof, “Three important effects are the greatly increased incidence of long-term poverty, poor development outcomes and poor educational achievement among the children.” The article I read offers three different options for preventing an accidental pregnancy from happening to a single mother.

The first option is to expand family planning by adding it to the curriculum at school. Offering family planning is supposed to help prevent unexpected pregnancies by educating teens about safe sex. It is also supposed to save money by reducing the amount spent on health care when having a baby. Also educating girls about birth control and other options should be included in the curriculum because according to “Rethinking The Family,” it is our right as women to use these options.  The second option is to end America’s experiment in mass incarceration. The experiment has condemned millions of men to be less appealing as husbands, and it has taken fathers away from their children for very small reasons. I am not in any way saying that women would be helpless without a man, but it is helpful for a child to have two parents around. The third option would be an outreach program to help low income families find jobs. The programs can help keep families together by offering housing and jobs. The program would also help women in the work force because it would give women just as equal an opportunity as men to find a job, which according to “Rethinking the Family” is still a very unequal fight.

Overall it is important that the parent or parents of children can provide for them. We need to educate young teens on safe sex and incorporate it into the school system. Children also need their fathers and mothers to be around and not in jail for petty crimes. While the idea of how a family should look on the outside keeps changing, the idea that a child should be raised by both parents and provided for properly will always be the same.

The Progressive Nature of Social Media

Even just 10 years ago we could see the pope as more of a symbolic idea rather than a person. While the older media avenues has used the pope as a private catalyst to represent the evolving Catholic religion we see a great shift in this traditional interpretation of what being pope means. Today the pope of the Catholic Church is reaching more people than ever. Utilizing the evolving technologies of our time, we see the pope reaching newer and younger audiences.

The face of Catholicism is shifting in thought due to both the pope’s leadership and the message conveyed through public relations. Becoming more liberal and mobile than pope’s past, this religion has intentions to strengthen the faith in current followers and develop it in the younger population. While being connected it is extraordinarily easier to convey a humble and sincere message rather than reading a delayed version in the next day’s paper. This is the heart of how we see a given news source as “myth.”

According Jack Lule’s work, “News as Myth,” the media perpetrates a certain narrative when telling a story idealized for a particular civic group rather than us as individuals or an audience. We can also see how viewing the media and news as “myth” is often subjective to the reader at hand. With the increase in split views and biases in our media formats it seems that everyone has a story to tell, but who are we to believe anymore? With more denigration of media formats between the pope and the people we can have a better picture of what the real meanings and intentions are through an individual or an organization’s words or actions. The Catholic Church in many ways screens and scripts certain messages by the pope, but with an increase in media bias with contrasting or bipartisan voices, a stronger connection between the messenger and the receiver can occur limiting a sense of myth. The family unit is the product of the social environment and the policies that define it. Having a better understanding of what directly effects our social environment can allow us to think more critically of the policies that result and incite change. While widespread media has an influential bias when discussing the inter-working of the pope’s influential workings, we can limit the misinterpretation and assumptions by examining primary and public resources that are now easily accessible.

Welfare Families

In “Black Ladies, Welfare Queens, and State Minstrels: Ideological War by Narrative Means” by Wahneema Lubiano, the author talks about the idea of “what we see is what we get”, therefore many people tend to believe falsely represented ideas. Lubiano does not try to dispute this idea – instead she argues that we need to change the way we choose to represent the things we are choosing to expose. I find this topic rather interesting – especially when it comes to the idea of the “welfare queen”. Working in a grocery store, I see food stamps being used for many things that they should obviously not be used for. You see this everywhere, and Lubiano agrees. On the news, magazines, and on the internet you see people constantly critiquing the use of food stamps, saying that they don’t help anyone and people just use these to get free food because they don’t want to pay for it. However, coming from a very poor home where food stamps were what kept my family alive, I also see the other side. Welfare has kept my family alive through this year.

When I found this article criticizing Governor Chris Christie and her belief that many Americans rely too heavily on welfare and she wishes there was none, I thought back to Lubiano’s article and the idea that people tend to believe what they get. Why are people still making assumptions when they don’t really know the story? Why are people saying poor things about welfare, when they themselves have no idea what it’s like to be poor? It’s all about the representation. Lubiano says that it’s all about representation. How people are seeing these things are what they are going to believe. When people only see welfare being used for selfish things to lazy people, it is quite easy to assume that it isn’t helping anyone after all . A lot of people find the idea of welfare ridiculous. But these people don’t see the other side – the poor families who absolutely need it. The single mom who works 7 days a week and can barely afford rent. The family where the father was laid off due to the economy and is unable to find a job. The family with a disabled mother who is completely unable to work. These people need welfare – not as a permanent solution, but as a temporary one. Sometimes people just need help.

We Aren’t all Barbie Girls

Most girls can say that they played with Barbie dolls as a child. Some can even go as far to say that they envisioned themselves as Barbie. Can you blame those girls? Barbie had it all, a fantastic (although unrealistic) body, a well-mannered handsome boyfriend, and an incomparable career—make that 150 careers. Even as children we unknowingly already were comparing ourselves to Mattel’s idea of the perfect woman. She can do it all: cook, clean, raise a family, and have a successful career—all while smiling and having the perfect outfit and hair.

I don’t mean to hate on Barbie but her latest career choice brought out my feminist anger. Hear me roar, Barbie. In a legacy of female objectification that has now come full circle, Barbie, has debuted her latest modeling career on the alternative cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. The fact that Sports Illustrated felt that it was appropriate to make Barbie a sex symbol is absolutely ridiculous. The whole swimsuit edition is ridiculous actually, but that’s a rant for another day. They’ve taken a child’s toy and presented her as a sexual being for men to gawk at.  If that’s not repulsive (and possibly perverted) I don’t know what is. Perhaps the saddest part of this whole issue is the fact that there has been no apology from Sports Illustrated. They don’t see what’s wrong with what they did. And maybe the blame should be shifted towards society. We didn’t make a big enough fuss to capture the attention and remorse of Sports Illustrated. We have accepted this magazine and what they do year after year. We have allowed them to cross numerous lines, and because of our lack of anger towards this issue, we just let them cross another one.

As weird as it may sound, Barbie is a role model for millions of girls (don’t get me started on the fact that little girls are looking up to a piece of plastic for). Put her on the cover of a mostly men’s magazine, in an issue that has way more to do with sex than sports, and “boom” you’re sending a horrible message to those same little girls. And what’s even worse, they juxtaposed a plastic doll alongside real women. What is that saying to women who see that; we’re on the same level as a piece of plastic? Or even worse, we are plastic. Are we just another object to society?  This cover is an absolute outrage and a low blow to women everywhere. When are we going to start celebrating women for their intelligence not exploiting them for their bodies? And, as women, why do we tolerate it? Sure, we live in a time of “equality”, but the underlying messages in our media in entertainment speak a very different story. In magazines, movies and television shows women are constantly being objectified or even mocked. It’s time we stick it to Barbie, and society as a whole, and tell her how awful a role model she is. It’s time we make our own realistic Barbie, one who is intelligent and doesn’t look like she made the vertical ascent of her career, in a horizontal position­­­­­­.

Welfare State

The article I chose for this blog assignment that seemed very interesting to me is “Gender, Race, and Class: The Impact of the State on the Family and the Economy, 1790-1945” by Boris and Bardaglio. On page 141, Boris and Bardaglio talk about creating a welfare state. “By the late nineteenth century, changes in family law had loosened the power of fathers within families, yet public policies reinforced economic inequality through occupational segregation by sex.” The family wage, along with protective legislation and mothers’ pension laws, improved the conditions of working-class families but further limited women’s options in the labor market.

Here, Boris and Bardaglio use gender as a category of analysis in discussing law and public policy. It is sad to see that most of the reluctance to interfere with family life rarely operated when it came to the lives of the poor or ethnic/racial minorities. “State policy could make it nearly impossible for such minorities to maintain a stable family life” (137).

The second generation of women who really didn’t face equal citizenship were the reformers who fought for the family wage and the programs of the welfare state and who worked to alleviate the suffering of poor women and children. There were certain sections where the Social Security expanded on the mothers’ pension idea which meant that the state had to play the father role since there wasn’t a male breadwinner in those families. Without a caretaker grant, the ADC was not based on wages, but on the simple assumption that mothers were unemployable.

I found a very interesting article from the Orlando Sentinel called “Keep Welfare Families Whole.” There is a young woman in Florida who is unemployed and has two children. Her husband, who is also jobless, had to leave. The state won’t approve welfare if both the parents are at home. I thought this was interesting when tying it back to Boris and Bardaglio because this woman from Florida is basically in poverty. She is well below the poverty line because she gets a $275.00 welfare check and $228.00 in food stamps which puts her at $6,036 a year. She needs to be at $8,500 a year or above to not be in poverty. Boris says, “The family wage was more of an ideal than a reality until World War II” and this woman is definitely living a reality.

I think the article I found definitely ties back to the reading by Boris and Bardaglio especially concerning the assumptions about both men and women’s responsibilities. For example, the law engaged in linking individual family members to the state. Laws and public policies developed a larger support system to aid women in childbearing and rearing. The nineteenth century feminists had campaigned for married women’s property acts out of the belief that “law and public opinion” made “the wife subject to the husband” (134).

The system of law and public policies also reproduced patriarchal social relations without individual patriarchs. Male-dominated families became less important in maintaining patriarchy in the larger social arena. Men were considered to be beneficial to the labor market, so the possibility still had yet to remain in retaining power in families through their economic prowess.

News and Transgender Families

“First, like myth, news offers the steady repetition of stories, the rhythmic recurrence of themes and events” Jack Lule writes in his essay News as Myth (104). What I would like to focus on however is one particular narrative that is told again and again in relation to families or rather families with transgender or gender-queer members. Now most news outlets have only recently begun to report on transgender issues and so far, to my knowledge, gender-queer is not even a term that has had any exposure within the news. News stories regarding trans individuals are also limited to either hate crimes or overcoming enormous odds. It is limited even further when you only consider news stories with the focus on families that in a trans individual. These stories follow the same narrative format of a family with a child who is either in preschool or up to possibly high school having to overcome great odds in our culture raising aforementioned child. Now this story is told, with great effect, to gain support and understanding from citizens especially those who have been hateful or apathetic to the ideology of gender questioning. Its popularity is also due, I think, to presenting the trans child as “safe” and “nonthreatening” to the powers that be.

This trend can be clearly seen in a news article from the Kansas City Star titled ‘I am a girl’: Transgender children face a society slow to accept them. Eric Adler crafts this article by weaving the story of 6 year-old A.J. and her and her family’s experience of her coming to terms with her gender identity while providing thought provoking statistics of transgender individuals and how society reacts to transgenders as a whole. A.J. is used as a symbol for all transgender children facing stigmatization from society. The article goes into how she had felt like she was living a double life as a boy and how her parents coped with the revelation of her gender identity and their ostracization[1] from the community because of it. The article however only focuses on strict gender identity issues as it pertains to the current gender binary. Lule states that news “support[s] the social order and sustain[s] the current state of things” (107). By focusing solely on the binary nature of gender there is the exclusion of any other kind of gender identity and it supports the prevalent notion in our society that there are only two genders. Further, by only publishing transgender family narratives that center around transgendered children there is the inherent exclusion of other transgender family members.

There are no narratives, to my knowledge, of a positive narrative of family in which a parent is transgendered. If a transgendered parent is mentioned at all in the news the narrative is one of tragedy. Our culture has only recently been portraying family units with two dads or two moms and, while this is a step forward, these narratives are still within the framework of the pervasive gender binary. Apparently our mainstream culture cannot conceive of a happy family unit where an adult muddles with our notions of gender.

I do feel that the struggles of transgender children and their families have great value and need to be told, however it is also wise to consider how there is only a single narrative that is provided again and again to the public in regards to families with trans members. While these stories may be positive they are also limiting due to the nature of their singularity.

[1] On google there are various sources that says this is a correct term however Microsoft Word says otherwise. If this is an incorrect term or wrong usage I apologize.

(also I thought I posted this earlier but apparently I didn’t!)

Questionable Morality–Pedophilia and the Catholic Church

Scanning the online edition of my native Minneapolis’ Star Tribune, an article about the pedophilia rampant in the archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul caught my attention. A former Catholic and member of the Twin Cities archdiocese, I was thoroughly disgusted. Among my many criticisms of the Catholic Church is this archaic insistence on exclusively [outwardly] heterosexual, male, unmarried and chaste clergymen. Who does that leave to take the vows of priesthood? Ideally, benevolent men who have never been interested in physical relations with anyone, male or female, and who have no desire to marry or to father (or adopt) children. While there are some priests in the Church who are genuinely devoted to both their faith and their congregations, these unreasonable restrictions on who may enter the priesthood—as well as how those within the clergy are required to conduct themselves—has opened the door to gross sexual misconduct and the exploitation of children whose parents have entrusted their care to the clergy. And generally, the Church does not respond to reports of either consensual sexual misconduct with a member of the congregation or allegations of child molestation because, after all, men of God would never behave in a manner so inconsistent with Church doctrine. It’s all pushed under the rug.

With the patriarchal values that keep women out of the priesthood, as well as absurd notions of sexual purity that are meant to keep men of the cloth chaste and unmarried, it’s really no wonder that molestation within Catholicism has been effectively institutionalized since the Church’s founding. Akin to expressions like ‘everyone has a funny uncle’, dark humor surrounding the worst-kept secret in Catholicism often jabs at the pedophiliac undertones of the priest/altar boy relationship—and the fact that Catholics refer to their priests as “Father” adds a particularly nauseating dash of incest. So what, then, is the religiously devout family supposed to do? Protect the children from potentially harmful encounters by keeping them firmly seated in the pew during Mass? Stop attending church entirely? Or continue to trust in the goodness of the majority of the clergy, sending the kids up to the altar or into Confession like any good Catholic parent would? Perhaps the answer lies in altering Church doctrine itself—but good luck with that.

Unfortunately, there is still a myth that “family values” are synonymous with religious affiliation. Good parents—in their efforts to raise good, morally upright offspring—take their children to church on Sundays. It’s just was “normal” families do. Jack Lule, in his essay News as Myth, cites historian of religion Mecria Eliade as saying, “Religious life, and all the creations that spring from it, are dominated by what one may call ‘the tendency toward an archetype.’” Families taking their children to church and entrusting their care and spritiual educaiton to the clergy may be doing so in an effort to fit the “good Christian family” mold, but are not necessarily leaving their kids in a safe space.

Further to the notion that churchgoers = good parents is the myth that the Church itself is infallible, and that everyone within it is morally superior to those poor suckers who have yet to be saved. The handful of “bad apple” priests are therefore aberrations—the problem is not with the system, clearly, but with troubled individuals. Because it’s totally normal for young, college-aged guys to swear off masturbation and sex for life, never consider marriage or children, and be completely fulfilled in their relationships with Christ. Or maybe it can be a struggle that leads to inappropriately expressed frustrations—possibly to the point of sexual misconduct or child molestation. Not saying that it’s always the case, but one can see where the constraints the Catholic Church puts on its clergy members are less than ideal, or even reasonable. But the Church can do no wrong, so why question it?

‘Without a mom’: Lame Deer family still waiting for cause of death vs. News as Myth

This article in the Missoulian talks of the disappearance and death of Hanna Harris, a single mother on an Indian Reservation. Those two social constructions are key to this article; they take the forefront in how the story is laid out and portrayed to the audience. They cause us, as the article News as Myth by Jack Lule outlines, to make assumptions about the subject of the news and construct reasoning behind her tragedy.
Hanna was a single mother to her son Jeremiah who lived on an Indian reservation. She left her son in the care of her family when she went downtown on Tuesday, July 2. She told her family she would be home later so they could all go to the fireworks show together, but she never returned. Her family reported her missing on Friday, July 5 to the Lame Deer police. The police wouldn’t do anything about her disappearance until the following Monday saying she was probably just out drinking and would turn up. Her body was discovered on July 8 and, though the family suspects foul play after she was seen in a surveillance tape with two individuals who were in possession of her car keys, the FBI and Bureau of Indian Affairs aren’t giving them any answers, just saying that it’s an ongoing investigation.

Stereotypes presented in this article about irresponsible single mothers and Native Americans as heavy drinkers goes to show how these constructions play into our news every day. These things don’t have to be in the forefront of the article, but they are because they construct a narrative that is normalized in our society. Though we see single fathers as successes over the stereotypical “deadbeat dad,” our construction of single mothers is one of irresponsibility. The narrative says that Hanna should have never been downtown because she shouldn’t have left her son; it says she was probably just out drinking because our society has constructed stereotypes about Native Americans, especially ones on Reservations, are drunks. These stereotypes become normalized through the article and, though her family has presented what I view as legitimate reasons for their suspicions, the evidence is brushed off because of them.

As in the essay, News as Myth, Jack Lule tells of the construction of news through the normalization of mythical narratives. In his essay, Lule points out just how much news relies on the myths. News stories often repeat the same narrative; in this case, there are the narratives of the single mother and of Native Americans. News relies on these narratives so the story can flow. In this way, news stories don’t always create their own narratives; they’re able to use pre-constructed narratives to propel the story forward. This becomes problematic when readers just take what they read at face value. Instead of looking forward into the true story and the true narrative, readers take what’s already been constructed and run with it.

Original news source, click here.

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