The Case for Women: Nan-Hui, Purvi, Rekia, and Caitlyn

We’ve entered that stage with Anna. The season where princesses and fancy dresses are the driving force of her life. Headbands with boys. Pink. Oodles of pink and purple and flowers and butterflies. And Frozen is on almost once a day.

I suppose we could have done much worse. At least it’s a story about female empowerment and the love between women and sisters. But I can’t help but think about the state of women today – the fantasy and reality. The stories of real-life women, everyday women, ordinary and regular women, and then namely the women of color who have been served with major injustice makes me wonder if I should still burn all notions of Disney princesses to the ground.

In order to rise from its own ashes, a Phoenix first must burn. -Octavia Butler

Think about these stories as of late:

Earlier this year , the state of Indiana sentenced 33-year-old Purvi Patel to 20 years in prison on charges of feticide – an act that causes the death of a fetus – and neglect of a dependent. She received a 30-year-sentence on the felony neglect charge, 10 of which were suspended. A six-year sentence for feticide will be served concurrently. Patel is the first woman in the U.S. to be charged, convicted and sentenced on a feticide charge. Reproductive rights activists are outraged. “What this conviction means is that anti-abortion laws will be used to punish pregnant woman,” says Lynn Paltrow, Executive Director for National Advocates for Pregnant Women.

Nan-Hui Jo (조난희) is a loving single mother, undocumented Korean, and survivor of domestic violence. After fleeing to Korea with her child to escape her abusive partner, she has been charged with “child abduction.” Nan-Hui has been in jail for over nine months without bail. Upon her arrest, her six-year-old daughter was given custody to the child’s father.

On March 3rd, she was found guilty of “child abduction” and is awaiting her sentencing on April 28th. Nan-Hui now faces possible felony charges, indefinite detention, and/or deportation, resulting in permanent separation from her daughter.

Nan-Hui Jo has been criminalized because she is an immigrant, a survivor of domestic violence and the fierce protector of her daughter.

Likewise Rosa Martinez Duarte, a mother of 4 who is a victim of domestic violence, is likewise facing deportation.

Rekia Boyd was fatally shot in the city’s Lawndale neighborhood in 2012. The shooting occurred near the intersection of 15th Place and Albany Avenue as an off-duty Chicago detective stopped to look into a “disturbance” that reportedly involved a group of people gathering near Douglas Park. According to police, after the detective stopped and announced his office, a man — Antonio Cross, 39 — allegedly advanced toward his car with a gun in hand. The officer opened fire from his car, striking Cross in the hand and Boyd, who was standing nearby, in the head.

Have we come very far? We might be able to say, yes, in general, but when I look for shining examples it tends to be narrow and specific. White. Educated. Cisgendered.  Suburban. Economically viable.

And then there’s Caitlyn Jenner. I’m so happy for her debut, and despite the negative response from the insanely Christian Right, which I won’t totally go into how enraged I am at the vitriol they spew in the name of God – I am overjoyed by the expression of support and encouragement. By people of all walks of life. There’s hope. But, Jon Stewart reminds us that there’s still work, when it comes to the treatment of women. The media’s focus on her appearance reminds us that perpetual objectification and sexualization of women’s bodies is oppressive to women:

“Caitlyn, when you were a man, we could talk about your athleticism, your business acumen, but now you’re a woman, and your looks are really the only thing we care about,” said Stewart on Tuesday’s episode of “The Daily Show,” mocking the media’s focus on Jenner’s appearance and calling out coverage that became immediately disparaging to other women.

“Okay, I have to ask the most important question: Does she have a better body than Kim Kardashian?” was a comment in one broadcast, while, “Do you think Caitlyn is actually hotter than Kris [Jenner]?” was said in another.

“Look, we want to give a woman a compliment here. We just need to make sure another woman gets taken down a peg in the process,” quipped Stewart. The comedian also called out slut shaming over Jenner’s outfit and questions over the use of air brushing on the photo before eventually ending the segment with a sincere message from the heart:

“Caitlyn Jenner, congratulations. Welcome to being a woman in America.”

Even further, Laverne Cox reminds us there’s other work, too, and it’s equally if not more compelling. There are still young people who are at risk every single minute of every single day. There are trans people of color who are on the verge of losing their families, their homes, and their lives. There are trans people who are constantly trying to be who they are despite the violence done against their bodies. I can’t call myself a feminist if I’m not advocating for all women to find dignity, value, and life. And I fee this all the more acutely as Church struggles to make space for all – conforming and nonconforming to whatever societal or “biblically-mandated” convention. 

I have a feeling that for the few readers of the blog I’m preaching to the choir. But as each day goes by, and Anna gets older, I am more and more convinced that a queer of color perspective is necessary to my writing, ministering, organizing, parenting of not only her but of Desmond and Ozzie, too. I want Anna to feel free to love and be a princess but I want Desmond to do so, too. I want Anna to play with trucks and building sets, and not girls’ building sets. I want Ozzie to play with ninja turtles and wear sweaters with flowers because he chooses it. I want them to know and love their bodies in whatever manner they deem fit because their bodies are their bodies. Bodies matter. All bodies matter. Because it’s about acceptance – that they know they are accepted no matter what, and that we in turn are called to love and accept others. Full stop.