a western kentucky university photojournalism project by Sally Jean Wegert
the modern woman
is an artist... Throughout history and around the world, the idea of what is feminine has constantly been evolving. Despite its changing context, the gendered social construction, made up of both sociallydefined and biologically-determined factors, maintains a place of permanence in society even today. Women are womanly. Weâ€™re feminine. But what does that mean? Femininity is a fluid concept, open to the interpretation of those who claim it for themselves. For women, the feminine is not a separate entity, but an expression of oneâ€™s own identity.
her life, her canvas.
one year old
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fourteen years old
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femininity is defined by
an individual of their own
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seven years old eight years old nine years old ten years old eleven years old twelve years old thirteen years old
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the following is a
collection of stories of strong women living
celebration of womanhood.
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c o n tent s 12
eight years old
eighteen years old
twenty-three years old
Kayla â€œFoxieâ€? Phillips
Nyang Go Man
twenty-four years old
thirty-three years old
forty-nine years old
Gabriela Quintero-Lister fifty-two years old
sixty-four years old
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eighty-eight years old
one year old two years old three years old four years old five years old six years old seven years old
eight years old nine years old ten years old eleven years old twelve years old thirteen years old fourteen years old fifteen years old sixteen years old seventeen years old
mi k ae la c
l awre nc e Mikaela Joy Lawrence lives in Louisville, Kentucky, with her adoptive parents Bonnie and Russ Lawrence and older sister Eden. She loves basketball, skateboarding and playing the drums. More than anything, Mikaela wants to be herself. Sometimes though, she says, sheâ€™s still not sure who that is.
SW: First, can you introduce yourself? Tell me who you are and some things about you that strangers wouldn’t know.
SW: You told me before that you like your clothes today too, that you’re wearing your favorite shirt –
ML: My name is Mikaela and I am eight years old. I am in second grade and I like to play basketball.
ML: –yeah, this is the best one. I like neon.
SW: What else do you like? ML: Pokémon. And playing games, video games. SW: Games are fun. Your dad tells me you’re into a lot of sports. ML: Well, the only thing I’m into right now is basketball. That’s right now. I’ve played baseball and soccer too, but basketball is what I think is most fun.
SW: What do you think when you’re picking out your outfits in the morning? What do you want them to look like? ML: Cool. SW: What about your outfit today is cool to you? ML: It’s flexible! I need my clothes to be flexible. I mostly wear sports clothes. I don’t really like dresses. I don’t know why. I just don’t really like them. People ask me why but I don’t know why. Like, I just don’t.
SW: Tell me more about what you like! ML: I don’t know what I like! All I like is basketball and video games and... I guess resting and puppies and stuff like that too.
SW: Your hair used to be a lot longer, past your shoulders. What’s with the new look, girl? ML: It’s because it was just getting in my face and I didn’t really like it. I had all these tangles and I had to fix it. And so now, it’s just like … [sighs] it’s easy.
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Mikaela looks out the window of her bedroom in Louisville, Kentucky. Along with her stuffed animals, Mikaela also takes care of a beta fish. She keeps a calendar on her wall and marks each day the fish needs to be fed.
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This drumset was Mikaelaâ€™s favorite Christmas gift this year. Even with the electric set, she still sometimes plays loud enough for her parents to move her to the basement. - 16 -
Mikaela tests out the mobility in her arm after having a cast removed. She sprained her thumb playing basketball and was bandaged for three weeks.
SW: You’re doing what you like, and that’s what’s important. What did your friends at school say about your haircut? ML: They didn’t really say anything. We don’t talk about that stuff. SW: Tell me about your friends. What do you all do together? ML: Well… I don’t know what to say about them because I guess they’re just… all my friends at school are more like “hang out friends” instead of like, “let’s go home and play” type of friends. I don’t really have any friends that want to play. Most of them... we all just talk. I like that. It seems more cool to talk and not always be like, ‘Play! Play! Let’s go play!”
SW: But do you still like to play? ML: I do like playing, yeah. And by the way, I like Christmas more than anything else.
SW: What do you like most about your body? ML: I don’t know… that it’s flexible? I can bend it a lot of ways. Am I doing good at this interview?
SW: Tell me about that! ML: I get free presents and I get to open new stuff that I really like. This year I asked for a drum set. That was the biggest thing on my Christmas list. SW: What are your favorite things to do? ML: Well, the first thing’s basketball. I also play the drums and I can jump rope and skateboard. Just like...doing stuff that’s physical with my body. I love what I can do with my body.
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SW: [Laughs] Yes you are doing good! As long as you’re being yourself. You said your friends at school are people you talk with. What sort of things do you talk about? ML: I don’t know. Trading stuff. We trade pokemon cards, even though we’re not supposed to. Almost everybody does it at school, and if you’re caught you get your cards taken away for the day. Or sometimes even for two weeks!
Mikaela jumps over the sidewalk railling as she and her family leave Adventure Christian Church on Easter morning, April 16, 2017. “Jeans and a plaid shirt – that’s as dressy as it gets for Mik,” said Bonnie Lawrence, Mikaela’s mom. “We just hope she leaves her scowl at home!”
“I just like being tough. That’s me.” SW: I haven’t been in second grade for 15 years. I can’t even remember it. What is second grade like? ML: We mostly learn with a smart board. We usually use that. We don’t use the giant erase board. Do you have one of those in your school, like the big boards? SW: There are whiteboards where I go to school, yes. ML: Also, we usually sit on the carpets. But our desks are kind of old-school… we don’t know why. And everybody in my class mostly likes Pokémon. They’re all very talkative, we’re all always talking. SW: You weren’t very talkative when I showed up this morning, though! Are you shy when you meet people usually?
ML: Eden really wants to be silly every single second. Russ wants to be silly with his body, like tickly and stuff. Bonnie’s more of like… reading. And she makes sure everyone is safe. She’s good at that. SW: And how do you fit in there? ML: I like to talk a lot. I like to be silly and play. I’m the most playful person in the family, I think. And the flexible-est. And the toughest.
SW: Why do you want to be popular? ML: I have no idea! I just do. My best friend is Michael, and he’s awesome. He’s nice. Well, actually... he’s not my best friend. My best one is Alex. He’s so nice and we really get along. Michael and Alex are both pretty popular. SW: Are most of your friends boys? ML: Yes, I think so. Fifty percent, yes. I just get along better with boys than girls.
SW: You probably are the toughest! ML: I just like being tough. That’s me. SW: What do you think you want to be when you grow up, do you know? ML: A basketball player. I could play basketball forever.
SW: I’m going to ask you a few more questions, some of the big ones. What is your favorite thing about yourself? ML: I’m flexible. My favorite thing about myself is that I’m flexible. I need to spread out and bend and move.
SW: What kind of friend are you?
SW: What are your goals for when you grow up?
SW: That was very vague.
ML: How am I supposed to know that question? Ask the friends that I’m friends with maybe, I can’t tell you.
ML: I want to become popular and good at basketball. Like, really, really good. And I want to be a good friend.
ML: I still don’t know a lot of things. And I definitely don’t know what that word means.
SW: Can you tell me what kind of friend you want to be?
SW: What is most important to you?
SW: Sorry for using big words, that’s my bad. Why don’t you tell me about your family members.
ML: A nice one. The one that’s popular. The popular friend.
ML: I have no idea. I don’t know when I’m shy. I don’t know what I know about myself. There’s lots of stuff I don’t know. There’s lots of stuff I do, and lots of stuff I don’t.
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ML: Dogs. Or like, any animal. I love them. Also, getting enough sleep and being healthy. I want to be myself, I guess. That’s all I can think of that could be important to anybody.
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Leah Sergeant not only embraces her feminine side, she takes it to the stage. She has competeted in beauty pageants since the age of sixteen, and currently holds the title of Miss Daviess County, Kentucky. More than a platform for her own beauty, Leah views pageantry as a way to inspire those around her to live their best lives. Leah is a freshman studying broadcast journalism at Western Kentucky University.
After performing a choreographed dance number with her fellow contestants, Leah introduces herself to the panel of judges at the Miss Kentucky USA pageant finals on Saturday, February 25, 2017.
SW: How did you get started in pageantry? LS: I got into pageantry at first when I was 16. I remember I was about to go to my junior prom. My gay best friend from Miami was there helping me get ready, and he was like, “You should do Miss Daviess County!” So I was like, “Ok, like why not do Miss Daviess County!” So I did, and I ended up getting top [in my category]. I just loved it! And I loved meeting all the girls from my county that did pageants. It built my self esteem up. When I was a junior, I never thought, “Wow, I’m beautiful.” Like, I didn’t feel that way. But now that I am competing in pageants I do feel that way. SW: You mentioned before that philanthropy and charity work have become a big part of your life as well. LS: Yeah, that’s another thing. When you get involved in pageants, charity work is just a thing that’s required of you. You start doing it because it’s mandatory, but then you start loving helping people in your community and in Kentucky. You start to organize stuff and do it on your own. Not only that, charity work isn’t really required for you to win, it’s just expected. Another thing that they appreciate is when you do it to make other women feel confident and feel empowered. So that’s another thing that comes out of that.
A before and after look at Leah’s preparations for the Miss Kentucky USA Pageant on February 24, 2017. Complete with a spray tan, teased curls, false eyelashes and a rhinestone-studded dress, Leah was competition-ready.
SW: What sort of philanthropy are you involved with personally? LS: Everyone who competes in pageants has to have a personal platform, and mine is breast cancer awareness. When I was in the first grade and again in the third grade, my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was 17, I got tested genetically and [the results were] negative. From there I decided to make it my platform. I wanted to help other people who have breast cancer, or young girls whose moms have breast cancer - who are in what was my situation. So that’s what I decided to do.
name out there or anything. SW: Do these sort of invites just come with your title? LS: When you have a title, it’s easier to get invited because that’s when people know your name. They want you to come because you have a
LS: I kind of use pageants as an excuse to work out and eat healthy. Pageants motivate me to do stuff that’s better for me and better for other people. And I like that! I feel like if I didn’t compete in pageants, I wouldn’t have a reason to volunteer. I wouldn’t have a reason to get dressed up and help other people feel confident. And now I do, so that’s why I keep doing them.
“Pageants motivate me to do stuff that’s better for me and better for other people, and I like that.”
The first thing I did with breast cancer was when I was a senior in high school. This little girl from Utah got diagnosed - she was nine and she had breast cancer. I started a fundraiser at my school called “Coins for Crissy,” and we raised something like $400 for her cancer treatment. That was the first thing I ever did with it, and now I’m invited to do stuff all over Kentucky with breast cancer awareness. I’m just invited. I haven’t even put my
crown on your head. That’s why pageant people keep competing in pageants instead of just helping the community. Having a title helps you help people. SW: What’s your personal motivation for competing in pageants?
Leah curls the hair of six-year-old Inara Miller on March 10, 2017 before her daddy-daughter dance later that evening. After she was requested because of her Miss Daviess County title, Leah volunteered to help the girls at at Sorgho Elementary School in Owensboro, Kentucky, get ready for their even. Leah manned a hair and makeup station for the afternoon. - 29 -
SW: What is the process of competing in a pageant like? What do you do to prepare?
LS: Pageants never really stop. You start like a year ahead. You work out and you eat healthy and you get spray tans and you do community service and it doesn’t ever really stop. There’s a different pageant system every time of the year, so while right now we’re doing Miss USA, in a couple months we’ll all be doing county fairs. A little bit after that, they’re going to start holding preliminary competitions for the Miss America contestants. It honestly feels like it never stops.
SW: Describe what it feels like to be on stage in your favorite dress. LS: Ok, so this is my favorite dress ever. I have never loved anything more than this in my entire life. You can tell when somebody loves their dress because - well you’re supposed to smile and you’re supposed to be excited and happy to be on stage but in reality it’s nerve-racking. You don’t want to be up there. But when you’re in the dress that you love, it radiates. You can just tell that you love it on stage and that’s something that the judges really look for, in my opinion. SW: Tell me about this dress. What makes it so special? LS: I bought this dress a year or two ago and I didn’t like it. My mom loved it and insisted that she pay for it and everything, though, so I thought, “OK, well if you’re going to pay for it then I guess we’ll get it,” because I usually buy all my pageant stuff myself. She doesn’t like the cape on it now. She actually wants me to take it off. She’s like, “Eventually can we take the cape off that dress?” And I’m like, “No, absolutely not. This is the love of my life.” [laughs] I got it for prom, but I ended up not wearing it so it sat in my closet for a really long time. And then I saw online where someone wore a cape that looks like this in the back, where it drapes down and you can still zip up the dress. So I decided to do the same thing, like “I’m gonna add a cape to this dress that I’ve never ever worn before and it’s going to be beautiful.” And I added it and it was beautiful. I ended up winning my county fair pageant, which had been a dream of mine since I was seven. I’ve always wanted to be Miss Daviess County. I grew up there. And winning in this dress just makes it so much more special to me.
Putting the finishing touches on her face, Leah’s makeup artist uses tweezers to perfect her false eyelashes before the opening ceremony of the Miss Kentucky USA Pageant.
“When you’re on stage in the dress that you love,
Leah consults with fellow contestants about her jewelery choices while getting ready for the interview portion of the Miss Kentucky USA pageant cometition on February 26, 2017. Interviews were on the second day of competition weekend, and determined whether contenstants would progress to the final round later that evening.
SW: Let’s talk about today - the Miss Kentucky USA Pageant finals. What have you done to prepare for this pageant specifically? LS: Honestly, nothing. I signed up the last day that we could sign up, and that’s because the director texted me saying, “Hey, do my pageant!” I had totally forgotten it was coming up, so I ended up paying the $650 last minute. Ever since I signed up, I ate healthy and did everything like that. Mostly I continued on as normal. It’s just a pageant. If [the judges] don’t like you for who you are, then you really shouldn’t win the title because that’s not what they’re looking for at the moment. You should just always be yourself in pageantry, that’s the most important thing to me. SW: So, are you saying you view the things you do in pageantry as an expression of who you are? LS: Pageants have overwhelmed my life. For the good, I guess. They are who I am now. If I’m not on stage, then I’m doing something in the community or helping somebody personally. It makes me a better person. And that’s how you win, by being a better person.
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Loren Osborne, Miss Teen Kentucky USA contestant from Bowling Green, helps Leah apply adhesive spray to her backside to secure her swimsuit before the swimwear portion of the Miss Kentucky USA pageant on February 25, 2017.
SW: What makes you feel feminine? LS: Define feminine.
SW: From what I’ve seen here, the pageant community is really unique. I’ve heard it called a sisterhood. What are the relationships like that you have with the other girls who are competing?
SW: No, you! LS: [laughing] Femininity… saying it out loud sounds like the whole anemone thing from Finding Nemo. I don’t know. I’m getting dressed up to compete in a pageant, so to talk about how girls shouldn’t get dressed up and compete against other girls... I’m not a good example of that, but saying it makes me feel more involved in being a feminist and stuff like that. SW: Do you consider yourself to be a feminist? LS: Yeah, I think that girls should have the same rights as guys do. I think we can do anything we set our minds to. I think that anybody can. I do consider myself to be a feminist.
LS: The relationship you have with the girls that you compete against is kind of like a family reunion, only when you never ever see your family. Most of these girls compete in this system all the time, and when you come back the next year it’s like, “Oh my god, we have to have, like, a reunion picture.” But when you win a title, you become part of a sisterhood. One of these girls that wins today is going to be part of the Miss Kentucky sisterhood - they’re going to have sisters going back to the 1900’s that have won this pageant before and they’re going to relate to them forever. And they’re going to have sister queens. Like, Miss Teen and Miss Jr Teen are all going to be best friends for the rest of their lives. They’re probably going to be in each other’s weddings, or something. It’s like a sorority but for girls who aren’t in sororities or are in high school and want to change the world. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. - 35 -
“Pageants have overwhelmed my life.
They are who I am now.”
After curling the hair of nearly 60 elementary school girls, Leah enjoys a cheeseburger meal from her local McDonald’s in Owensboro, Kentucky.
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Sarah Biscan is expecting her firstborn child in May of 2017. She lives a life that celebrates simplicity and intimacy, and has been looking forward to motherhood for as long as she can remember. Sarah works as a graphic designer for Inked: A Brand Collective and lives with her husband Luke in Glasgow, Kentucky.
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SW: There are so many ideas and definitions of what a woman can be, but each of us shape ourselves around a different understanding of femininity. Can you put into words what you understand “womanhood” to be in your life? SB: I think that womanhood, for me… I grew up around several really strong and really independent women, and I don’t know, we all just loved each other really well. So I think that that’s the kind of woman I want to be. I want to love the people that I’m around really well. But also, ever since I can remember I’ve always wanted to be a mom. Longer than I’ve wanted to be a designer, more than I’ve ever wanted to do anything else, I’ve always just wanted to keep a house and raise babies. I hope with this little one I can be that same strong symbol as their mother. I’m so excited to have this baby! I really am. It’s so surreal. It’s this thing that I’ve always dreamed about. I know that I was made to be a mother. And it’s so fun to be in the middle of it right now, or almost in the middle of it. I think that womanhood, for me, is growing in that role that I know is written on my heart. I know that being a mother is what I’m called to do and I hope that I can do it well. Love and nurture and raise them well.
SW: Let’s back up to the very beginning of your journey into motherhood. I want to hear about you and Luke! SB: Yes! Luke and I.... it’s one of those fairy book stories, kind of, but it’s actually so appropriate for us. We met at Mammoth Cave. I was there to go trail running, I was meeting a friend who was running further than I was. So I knew when and where I was supposed to meet my friend, and I was just warming up in the parking lot, drinking water, doing whatever. All of a sudden, these two other cars pulled in. The first one went by, and the second one was this little blue Subaru Impreza, and it had Maggie hanging out the back windshield. Sweet pup, just loving life, so excited. But in that moment, I was like, “Oh, this is important.” I just knew that I was supposed to see that car for a reason. I had this really weird feeling about it. And I’m not really that type of person. This was already so far out of my comfort zone. It wasn’t a bad feeling, but like, “This is significant.” I was supposed to be right there. So I wasted a little more time in the parking lot debating over whether I should go talk to him or whether I should not talk to a total stranger in the middle of a national park. I’m standing over by the park map, and in the reflection of the map I see this guy with the dog walking toward me and I’m like, “Oh my gosh!” He introduced himself and said his name was Luke, and he was there with a couple of friends to go backpacking. We talked for just a second and then I just kind of did my weird little thing where I was like, “Ok! Now I’m nervous and I’m going to walk away.” I literally took off running.
I immediately regretted it. I ran maybe a quarter mile and decided to go back to the parking lot, but he and his friends were already gone. I was like, “Oh great. I really just ruined whatever that was.” I was out on the trail for two hours and the whole time I was beating myself up because I knew that there was something significant I had missed. So I convinced myself that if his car was still in the parking lot when I finished my run that I would leave a note on his car, which is not something that I would ever do, ever. But his car was still there so I thought “OK , I have to do it.” He still has it. It said something like, “It was really nice to meet you and your pups. I would love to hear more about your Appalachian Trail hike. Find me on Facebook.” I just left my name because I didn’t want to leave my number for a stranger, which is so funny now. Yeah, so then I just hoped for the best. I think it was the next day or two days later, he did find me on Facebook and we chit-chatted for a little bit and we got coffee at Spencer’s on a Monday night. And the rest is history! We dated for right at a year. Together we took a big road trip out west, and we got back on our one-year anniversary and he took me to Mammoth Cave and proposed to me at the same spot where we met. We got married four months later and now we’re having a baby! It’s so wild. Listen to your instincts, I tell you what! Literally two minutes’ difference and we probably would’ve never seen each other on that day at Mammoth Cave. Mammoth Cave is our sweet spot now, we love it.
SW: What did you grow up thinking that your love story would be like? SB: I kind of always thought that I would be a little bit older before I got married and settled down, even though I knew I wanted to be a mom. For some reason, I thought I’d probably be in my 30’s or so before I met “the person.” My parents were high school sweethearts and they got married when they were 22 and 23, so once I graduated high school, I thought, “Well, I don’t have a high school sweetheart. This is going to take a while!” [laughs] I was never really seeking out relationships, I knew that the Lord had already provided someone I just didn’t know where and when and how I would meet them. I guess that’s why Luke and I’s story is just so sweet - it’s not something that I was looking for at all. I thought I would finish school, be a designer, maybe move, I don’t know. But all of that was intercepted with this guy that I met in a parking lot. So I don’t think the love story I grew up dreaming of was anything like what really happened, but that’s what makes it so much fun and so much sweeter. It just happened and I didn’t question it for a hot second. SW: Describe the home environment that you and Luke are building together. What roles do you think each of you will take in raising your family?
whoever else is here can feel at peace. I want it to be a place where we can have valuable discussions and we can love each other and we can fight and then we can make up. Because those are all the things that happen at home. As far as our roles, I have always seen myself as a home keeper. I want to learn how to keep my home really well. Maybe that doesn’t mean that the floors are swept every week, but I want my home to be this
your home is cozier. It’s more of a place that you want to be. I want to want to be at home. I meet a lot of people who are always going all the time. And we are too, we’re so busy all the time. But I always look forward to coming home because this is my sweet spot. I want it to always be that. I want my kids to always love coming home and love being here. I just want love! I want to love them really well and make a cozy place for them all to stay.
“I want to create a space where my children and my husband can feel at peace... I want to always look forward to coming home. This is my sweet spot.”
SB: My ideal home... I just want people to feel cozy whenever they come in. I want people to feel like they can take their shoes off and put their feet up on the sofa. I just want people to immediately feel like they’re in their own home when they’re in ours. I am such a homebody and I love being at home. I want to create a space where my children and my husband and
sacred space. Cozy is the word that always comes to mind. I don’t necessarily love the daily chores that come with keeping a home, I don’t necessarily love doing dishes and I don’t necessarily love sweeping the floor or doing the laundry. But I think that you have to do those things with the same goals in mind, like, “This is making this a more peaceful place. This is making this a more cozy place.” If you do those chores with care and with intention, somehow
SW: Do you want a lot of kids? SB: Um, yeah! I think I’ve always imagined myself with three or four kids. That was one thing that Luke and I immediately agreed on - we both wanted a really big family. Well, big in the sense of like, three or four, I don’t know. It can get crazy! I think there’s an agreement between the two of us that we know that we’re supposed to be parents. Now that we’re almost having our first one, it’s so much fun to think about our future - what we’re going to do with them, and the adventures we’ll go on. And how we’re going to grow them and teach them to be gentle and kind in such a world.
But yeah, I imagine us having several kids. I always joke that I would just love a sweet little farmhouse with some land and a yard full of kids. And chickens! I want chickens and tiny little babies running around everywhere. And our dogs, of course. Our dogs are so sweet. I’m very excited to see how they react to having a baby around. They totally know I’m pregnant, which is the wildest thing ever. They’re so snuggly and just always want to be close by. So that’s going to be really sweet too.
Sarah opens gifts at a baby shower with her family and friends in Columbia, Kentucky. In keeping with her parents’ tradition, she and Luke decided not to find out their baby’s gender before they are born. - 42 -
An ultrasound image of Sarah’s baby at 12 weeks pregnant
SW: What do you hope life looks like for you in the future? SB: I would love to be a stay-at-home mom. I would love that. I feel like that’s… not that it’s looked down upon, but it’s just not as common. I guess that’s what I’m getting at. Being a stayat-home parent is-- well I don’t know for sure, but I’ve heard that it’s incredibly hard and really challenging. And I can only imagine that it’s all of those things, but I just can’t imagine myself really doing anything else, you know? I am a designer and I love being a designer, but I would love to be a stay-at-home mom more than anything in the world. I think that’s where Luke and I are as far as keeping our home and what-not. We have these long-term goals, and even though I might not get to be a stay-at-home mom with this first baby, if we work really hard and keep those goals in mind, maybe that’s something we can reach with the second baby or the third baby. I think right now we are both working really diligently because we know that one day it’s going to pay off to have that farm house with some land and I can be a stay-at-home parent. Luke loves what he does. He loves being in the woods and he loves being a forrester. I think he’s the hardest worker I’ve ever met, other than my dad. Him and my dad are pretty similar. But I think that Luke and I are always trying to think about the life that we want to live and we are forming our days around that now, but we also know that it’s going to be really hard for a while. But if we work hard and are thankful and faithful and love each other and keep those goals in mind, one day I can be a stay-at-home mom and his business will be thriving.
SW: What drew you to design? What do you love about it?
involves a lot of the same processes that sitting at a computer and doing a design does.
SB: I think I was on the yearbook staff in middle school, maybe that’s what it was. I just loved the creativity that was behind that, even though it was nothing spectacular. It was just fun. Even in middle school and early high school they’re pressing you to think about what you’re going to do in college or what you’ll do when you grow up. I was just like, “I’m fourteen, I don’t know!” But I think that being on the yearbook staff and staying involved with creative things like that triggered this motivation to keep creating. I love creating. Whether that’s snapping a picture on my phone or just writing a quick journal entry, I love it. I guess once I figured out what graphic design was, I looked into that and it just felt right. I’ve always known I was made to be a mom, and I’ve always been excited to be a mom one day, but I think at the same time, that in itself is creative and
Once I got done with school I got hired at Studio Calico, which is called Inked: A Brand Collective now. So much is happening with the company it’s hard to keep up with, but I love what I get to do there. It’s always changing, and we’re growing like crazy. It’s really fun to be a part of that and to get to dive into so many different creative projects, but I still long to be at home and be creative with my kids. I want to be creative with just daily life in general. I like creating in just an overall sense, and design is one of the ways I express that. It’s all working out well so far! I love what I get to do and I’m excited to see how that role changes once I become a mother. I am still going back to work after the baby gets here, so it’ll be interesting to see if my feelings stay the same toward it or if I do really long to be at home with my babies. We’ll see.
Sarah and Luke attend a Lamaze class at The Spot in Bowling Green, Kentucky. During this particular class, the three expecting couples participated in an activity to help them prepare for the possibility of unexpected complications during birth.
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SW: Your body has been going through the craziest physical experience, creating a brand new person! What has pregnancy been like for you? SB: Honestly, I love it. I love every single bit of it. Since I’ve known that I was meant to be a mom, I always knew no matter how sick I was, no matter any trials that we came to, I was going to face all of it with utter thankfulness because I knew that’s what my body is made for. I’m up for any of it! That’s my mindset about this whole thing. I know that my body was created to do this and to watch my body actually do it is insane. It’s so cool that your body is doing all these things, especially what you can’t really see for a long time. When your belly is still so flat, you’re just like, “How is this even happening?” It was literally overnight and then I had a bump. It was just so crazy. Sometimes when it takes me 30 minutes to get dressed in the morning because nothing fits, those times are frustrating. But I’ve never been bitter toward any of it because it’s all just part of the process. I love being pregnant. I love it. And this has been such a sweet pregnancy, which is a huge blessing because there are a million other ways it could have gone. It’s been so smooth and so exciting. I am amazed at what my body can do. I can’t even imagine the actual birth! SW: The physical place that is your home seems to be really significant in your life. What is something special you’ve experienced while building your home with Luke? SB: Ok, so my family never grew a garden. But Luke and I… this year will be our third garden together. I cannot explain how much I love growing a garden. I’m getting teary-eyed even thinking about it, just how symbolic growing a garden is. In a way, it’s
just like parenting. There’s this little tiny thing that you put into the ground, and you love it and you water it and you put a whole lot of hope and a whole lot of prayer into something that may or may not flourish. But you’re doing your very best! I love, love, love growing a garden. Even though I’m not great at it, even though too many weeds get into it. It’s fine. It’s still this really incredible thing to me. Throughout this whole pregnancy I’ve felt this way too. In the beginning, when we first found out we were pregnant, I was like, “Is this even real? It’s so tiny! How do I even know there’s something in there?” But yet you still love your body. You nourish it and you put a whole lot of hope and a whole lot of prayer into it and it’s incredible. It’s just this little tiny thing that’s inside of me. I watch my belly grow every single day. Growing a garden and growing a baby are such miracles and I’m so thankful I get to do both of them. I love wildflowers for the same reason that I love growing a garden. They grow and they flourish in these places that maybe they don’t even have permission to. I think that’s so neat and inspiring. It’s really easy to be influenced by what the world tells you you should be or what your family tells you you should be, but sometimes we flourish in areas we haven’t been given permission. There’s something really beautiful and really symbolic in that. Wildflowers, they don’t care where they grow. They just grow and they’re beautiful and they do what they were made to do. I want my life to reflect that, but I also want my role as a wife and a mother to reflect that. I don’t want to be so easily influenced by what anyone tells me I should do. I will always respect others’ opinions, but I also need to listen more to what I was made to do. Wildflowers follow their instincts and I think that’s inspiring. I hope that I can do the same. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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Sarah and Luke plant their backyard garden together at their home in Glasgow, Kentucky on the morning of Saturday, April 29, 2017a. With Sarahâ€™s due date just three weeks away, the couple was finishing preparations to their home before the babyâ€™s arrival.
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Kayla â€œFoxieâ€? Phillips is a millennial, an activist, a musician, an entrepreneur, and about a thousand other things. After building a significant following through her social media presence, she used her web influence to market her business, Foxie Cosmetics, which she runs out of her apartment in Nashville, Tennessee. Kayla also made a name for herself in the Nashville hardcore music scene with her band Bleed the Pigs, and has since joined other bands and started her own experimental noise project. She places no limitations on herself, and lives in a way she hopes encourages others to do the same.
SW: Let’s start off with your name. I know you go by both Kayla and Foxie, and you’ve got to have a strong personality to have that nickname stick. How did “Foxie” originate? KP: Foxie originated when I was in middle school. It was honestly a stereotypical “you’re a black woman so we call you Foxie, but we’re middle schoolers so it’s fine” thing. But in 2010, maybe 2011, I grew my hair out into an afro and stopped straightening it and stuff like that. Then everyone just started calling me Foxie, and I was like, “Honestly, yeah! I’ll answer to that freely, it feels right.” I decided to spell it F-O-X-I-E to stand out a little, and so that’s the name I picked for my company, because you know… Foxie. It’s a way of life, a way of living. Anyone can live Foxie. SW: What does that mean, “living Foxie”? KP: To me, it means owning who you are unconditionally and unapologetically. Just being whatever it is that you are. That’s just what you are! There’s no answering to it, you know? I just have always been this way and I’ll always be this way. If I happen to change, I’m going to change. That’s kind of what my brand means - just like, be you. Do whatever it is that makes you feel good for the night. The products that I create are for people like me that sometimes don’t wash their face every night or every day. I forget, or I get sick, or I’m tired - whatever it may be. I create products that are able to take the load of that and still make you feel good. That’s living Foxie.
SW: How do you communicate that message of empowerment through your brand? KP: It’s just who I am. The people who model for me, my friends, they’re also covered in tattoos and are pretty unapologetic themselves. Also, the way that I name products and describe them is pretty different. I think the overall vibe is very hands-on. I genuinely make this makeup myself. I try it myself. My customers see me try it. I even did a live video feed once of me, like, washing my face and describing how it felt. All of the cosmetics I make are vegan, and I’ve been vegan myself for about 12 years too. So that’s kind of the natural way it would be. SW: Was the process of establishing yourself as a brand difficult for you?
KP: Personally, I was really lucky because I already had an internet presence from music and writing and activism. And honestly just being a pretty girl on the internet can get you that. SW: What was it like becoming a person that people know about, a public figure in a small sense? KP: It was mostly social media for me. Tumblr and Instagram are really good ways to get yourself out there. My fans from music and stuff have always said to me that I’ve always helped them be unapologetic themselves - that I inspire them to, you know, do whatever it is that they want to do and be who they want to be without fear of what everyone else thinks. That’s something that I’ve always wanted to promote because I was lucky to grow up knowing who
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I am and being confident in who I am, and I know not everyone gets that. SW: Where does this “unapologetic” spirit come from? Have you had experiences where you felt pressured to be something else? KP: Yeah, yeah, yeah! Of course. I mean, I’m a black woman who plays extreme music. Like, I scream off the top of my lungs to grindcore music. I’ve always listened to extreme music, and it’s looked at as something that I’m supposed to do! But that’s not true! Black people created rock and roll, so. I have a strong personality and I’m just weird, I guess, in the sense of the whole world and how everyone else is. It’s as simple as doing whatever I like. I wake up and I wear mismatched socks just about every day. That’s just how I live my life.
SW: Were you intentional about growing your online presence and gaining followers? How did that work? KP: I wasn’t at all! I am a Leo, but I’m kind of private at the same time. I don’t post a lot of personal info online. I do rant a lot about activism things, and stuff like that. The followers came naturally, though. I think I’ve always had that vibe, that appeal. People come to me and talk to me about their problems. And I like that, I welcome that wholeheartedly. But no, I definitely wasn’t trying to get famous or something. It just kind of happened. But you know, if you have the platform to do something worthwhile, you have to use it. SW: Are you thankful for that platform? KP: Yeah, definitely. It’s given me so many things. I was able to start a band and have it get picked up quickly and
tour all over the place with it and have people come up to me and talk to me and express themselves. I have a web platform for people to feel safe. I was able to start a company that I live off of. Like, I almost can’t believe this is how I pay my bills. It’s amazing. It’s still all the things that I want to do. No one can tell me what to make and what not to make. I get to create art and sell it to people and have them feel good. SW: How do you see making cosmetics as a form of artistic expression? KP: It’s all total color theory. Especially with bath bombs, you have to choose colors that are eventually going to mix together in the water and look nice. I sometimes try to make things that look like paintings. I have a soap that’s called Roth & Co, like Mark Rothko. It all feels like a form of art, making it and getting to name it and mixing scent combinations.
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SW: Tell me about your career in music and how you’ve come to express yourself artistically in that way. KP: I’ve been playing music since I was about twelve years old. I started playing drums because I wanted to be in a band with my friends. One girl had a guitar, one could sing, and the other one played bass, so I was like, “I guess I’ll play drums, I don’t know if I can!” And I can keep a beat. So I’ve been playing in bands for so long. Bleed the Pigs started because my friend was like, “Hey, I’m throwing a show at the beginning of January. Are you ready?” That was only weeks away. We were like, “No, but we can make ourselves ready!” We made a bunch of songs in about a week’s span, played them, recorded them in a garage and did vocals in closets and put it all together and released it. And we just became a thing.
Bleed the Pigs went really far. It’s still going, just with a whole new line up. But I’ve been able to be in Spin Magazine and talk about what it’s like being a woman of color in the extreme world and that platform. And then I do on the side a harsh noise project, kind of an ambient thing where I just create sounds - intense sounds, ambient nice sounds. It’s experimental, so I make whatever I’m feeling in the moment. It’s called Pulsatile Tinnitus, which is this in-ear pulsing sound that you can hear inside of your ears at all times. It sucks really bad. I have that. SW: What has your experience been as a woman of color in the extreme music scene? Did you feel welcome or that you had to break in? KP: I kind of just showed up. I knew this is what I like, I’m going to stand here. But at the same time people do look at you weird. They either are overjoyed to the point where you’re like, “Chill out, I’m still just a human,” or like, I’ve been told that I don’t belong. “You don’t belong here, this music’s not for you.” The weirdest thing …. A lot of bands that are on tour… because like, for a lot of my shows it’s like - black woman at the front, which is not a normal thing that you see. It’s always typically white men at the front, being super aggro. You know, I don’t feel safe sometimes coming to shows. Yeah, but it gets tough when people make you feel like you don’t belong. At the end of the day, you’re just trying to listen to music and have fun. It gets tough. My advice to everyone is just to stand wherever the hell you want to stand, and just listen to whatever music you want to listen to. Whenever
I play shows, I’m wearing lipstick. One of my favorite things is leaving red lipstick on microphones because I’m like, screaming into it, and then leaving it for the guy after me. Like, “Here you go, your turn.” [laughing] That’s my favorite thing. Music is such a good vessel for everything. Music is super important to me. I name most of my products after bands and songs and stuff like that. Music is in everything that I do.
KP: I write, and I do Bleed the Pigs stuff. I wrote a piece in 2014 for Noisey called “What Do Hardcore, Ferguson, and the ‘Angry Black Woman’ Trope All Have in Common?” that totally took all of those worlds and showed people how those things intermingle. For me, my music is angry. I’m talking about stuff that makes me mad, like police brutality, whatever. A lot of people will tell me I need to chill out, calm down. But all the other bands that are full of white guys are talking about
“It’s as simple as doing whatever I like... I wake up and I wear mismatched socks just about every day. That’s just how I live my life.” SW: So, your time as the vocalist for Bleed the Pigs has been an empowering experience for you? KP: Yeah, 100 percent. I write about these experiences and some political things. You don’t always get to hear black women talk about our emotions and stuff like that - depression or mental illness. So I talk a lot about that too. That’s super important. Representation overall is just super important. I wish I had that growing up, so I’m happy to be an inkling of that for anybody. SW: What do you do that makes you an activist? What are you involved in?
Kayla performing as Pulsatile Tinnitus, her experimental harsh noise project, at Blackbird Tattoo and Gallery on March 22, 2017. She is known for using a chain to make noise in her music. - 59 -
the same things, that they don’t even necessarily experience, and they’re not being told to calm down. It’s just accepted as what their songs talk about, sure. That essay tied into what was happening in Ferguson at the time, because a lot of bands were profiting off of it. I do a lot of writing. I do a lot of just like tumblr ranting, and that has a pretty good reach. I think just having a loud voice is super powerful - a loud voice saying some of the things you might not feel comfortable saying, or just putting some things in perspective. I’m just trying to make the world a better place while we’re here.
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SW: A lot of what you’re saying has to do with finding and taking control of your voice. Why do you think having a loud voice is important?
Especially if I’m not around people that I know are of like mind, I can feel tokenized and not really taken seriously.
KP: I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have a loud voice. I think it’s important because women have always had such intelligent thoughts and creations and theories and everything, but we’re always being overshadowed for the simple fact that we’re women. I just don’t vibe with that at all. It’s not in my personality to allow someone to speak over me, especially when I feel strongly about something. Even when it comes to our issues today - we have men that want to be allies who try to speak for us. I’m like, you gotta speak with us or beside us, but not for us because that means you still don’t understand what women have been trying to say for so long.
Now that I’m known for always having a voice, sometimes that even gets in the way. People will be like, “Oh that’s just Kayla on another one of her rants.” But it’s like, “No, listen! I swear, this is something that has to be said!” I have to tell myself to pick my battles. Each time I decide, you know, do I really want to talk about this today and open the floodgates on that topic?
SW: Have you ever struggled to feel heard? KP: Yeah, actually. As loud as my voice is, I still feel that way. Even with my band, talking about sexual abuse and my own personal experiences with them. Before, when I mentioned people being overjoyed at your presence - those people are really excited because you’re a girl and you’re in the band, but they’re not going to listen to you.
After performing as Pulsatile Tinnitus, Kayla talks with Kathryn Edwards, booker for The Other Booking, outside of Blackbird Tattoo and Gallery.
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SW: What effect do you hope you have on other people, those in your life or those who know you as a kind of public figure? KP: I would hope that I inspire people with my voice, I guess. I would hope that they felt that they could live a super positive life regardless of what they were going through. I know that a lot of the time, especially with social media, we can look like we’re living the best life. But I still struggle with PTSD from sexual abuse and mental illnesses. I would hope that other people can see me and feel that they can still thrive and open a business and make money doing what they like to do and just live a good life despite everything else.
“I’m the typical hairy-legged, hairy-armpitted feminist... I think that everything I do is what being a woman is, because I’m a woman and I do it.”
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SW: How does the idea of womanhood relate to you? Do you feel like you have “a feminine side,” or maybe that your whole personality is an expression of that?
our records and the other side is my bath bombs. It’s fun! I love mixing those worlds and people in the scene like mixing those worlds too.
KP: I mean, I’m the typical hairy-legged, hairy-armpitted feminist, but I think that everything I do is what being a woman is, because I’m a woman and I do it. Anything I set my mind to is womanly if I want it to be. For me, it’s pretty much... if you’re a woman and that’s what you like to do, then that’s what being a woman is. Being exactly who you feel inside is womanly. It’s all about finding a way to express that.
For me, being a woman is just owning who you want to be, unapologetically. The word unapologetic is super important because women say “I’m sorry” a lot.
That’s kind of what I do with Foxie Cosmetics. I’m expressing myself by naming these products after bands that people probably don’t know. I’ve sold my stuff at shows before actually, and it’s been cool. People will come up and see one one side of the table with my band merch and
Regardless of if we’re sorry or not, women feel like we should just say sorry for just, like, standing there. Just being around, existing in a space. I don’t want to feel that way. With my music and with my cosmetics, that’s the attitude I want to give off. People shouldn’t have to apologize for wanting to moisturize their face or wanting to take a bath. Taking baths is super important. I write all my lyrics in baths. I’m writing these angry lyrics in a pink, glittery, smell-good bath.
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SW: That sparkly bath sounds like the best environment. Why is promoting self care so important for you? KP: I mentioned my mental illnesses, but the reason I started Foxie is because I have invisible illnesses. I have Crohn’s Disease and bad muscles. I used to be touring a lot. I would be on a month-long tour, my knees are bruised and I’m just hurting. At the time, I was tired for working for other people and I wanted to work for myself. One night I created three bath bombs that were all super potent with epsom salts and peppermint oils and things that make your body feel good. So I was like, “Hey guys, I’m making bath bombs for aches and pains to help you feel good,” and then it just took off and now I have over 400 products.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Kayla and her boyfriend Spenser Knight run a booth together selling Foxie Cosmetics products at VegFest, a vegetarian festival in Nashville.
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Rachel Allen is a survivor. As a single parent of two young boys, she sometimes struggles to make ends meet. Her faith in God and a support system of friends have carried her through many trials - physical, spiritual, and emotional. Though her family background left her disadvantaged, she has a resilient spirit and a determination to thrive despite her circumstances. In everything, she aims to set an example of strength and love for her sons.
SW: What is being a woman to you, and how do you see womanhood in your life? RA: Being a woman, to me, is growth. I think that there’s different stages of womanhood. You become a woman at 18 by law. I wasn’t a woman at 18 in real life in my eyes, but the law considered me a woman. I have grown so much into the woman I am today. Womanhood to me is about growth, and it’s breaking cycles of what they say a woman should be - in my family or in my environment. For me, it’s just breaking cycles as a mother and just growing every day. SW: Can you explain what breaking cycles means for you? RA: I grew up different. I had to grow up at a very, very young age because my mother was by herself. She worked two, three jobs to take care of me and my sister. At the age of eight, I had big responsibilities. I remember staying home by myself at six because mama didn’t have a babysitter. Then when my sisters came along, I had to take on that responsibility of basically raising my sisters and taking care of them because my mother was at work. So breaking cycles to me is... I know that I don’t have to work that many jobs to be ok. I want to be able to show my kids that, you know, you get the education and you learn all you can, you fight for what you want and you don’t have to settle to have just anything.
What I was taught as a kid, what my mother taught me is that you work. You work, you work, you work, you work. You get welfare, you get the help you can get, and that’s how you make it. That’s not my vision in life. What I want to teach my kids is that you don’t have to do all that they say. I want them to get the best education and learn all that they can, and I want them to make something out of their life. So it’s just breaking those cycles of what I saw growing up. All the things I went through, [sighs] I could go on and on. Seeing my mother struggle, that single mother struggle. Right now, I’m still in that single mother struggle cycle. However, I want more. So that cycle will be broken. Yes, I’m a single mother, but I can still have more. I can still go for what I want. I can own a house one day. I can, you know, take vacations with my kids when I want to and make different memories. I can not depend on welfare and the government to take care of me and my children. I can get a college degree. You know, we as women can do anything we want to do instead of just sitting down and settling for a bunch of nothing. SW: How are you breaking cycles in your own life and setting that different example for your kids? RA: So right now, that’s me pursuing my GED. I’ve always worked to take care of my kids, and I’ve always worked very hard., but we only just barely made it. I was working
as a sales coordinator for Marriott, and I’ve been with Marriott a total of almost 15 years. I started out as a housekeeper and worked my way up. Housekeeper, front desk, night audit, operations manager, front desk manager, and sales coordinator. Even as a sales coordinator though, I was living paycheck to paycheck. I felt like I was just settling. So, I quit my full time job and I’m basically starting all over. I am going to school to get my GED and I am going to go back and get a degree. I don’t know whether I’ll be a dental assistant, a medical assistant, or something else, but my focus now is getting a GED. I’m also working on my credit because one day I’m going to buy a house. I guess the example that I’m setting is just because of my age and my circumstances, just because I have kids, I’m not going to give up at what I want to better my life. I’m not going to just settle just to make it. SW: So you don’t want to settle, where is that motivation coming from? RA: Life. Life has been my teacher, nobody else taught me. Mostly just having these two boys. I can never let them settle for what I grew up with. So what I do is show them different. We have different kind of people in our lives that show positive inspirations to them, to show them different.
Rachel cooks a dinner of sliced hot dogs and french fries while her son Makai, who is one and a half, whines at her feet for attention.
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SW: Tell me about your two boys! RA: I have an eight year old. His name is Martrell Newbolt. I’ve never met a kid as smart as him. He’s so smart, he’s too smart. He is a black and white type of kid, no grey areas for him. If you tell him to sit down, you better tell him exactly what you mean by “sit down,” otherwise may take a turn and head down the road somewhere. He’s like, “Well you didn’t tell me I couldn’t do that.” And ain’t that the truth? I didn’t tell him that! So he’s a black and white kid. He gets straight A’s and B’s. He’s very athletic, very competitive. He was my hero. The day I had him changed everything because I knew there was more for me. More for us. Eight years later I get pregnant with Makai, and oh my goodness. I guess God said, “This is your last go-around, so I’m going to give it to you.” This little baby, at one-and-a-half years old, is a handful. He’s a chunky sweetheart, but full of energy. He never stops until he sleeps. He came at a bad time, but him being in our lives has blessed us so much. It was a bad time, really bad. I think when I was pregnant with him I was probably the most depressed I’ve been in my life. But came into the world and completed us. It’s crazy how something so beautiful came from such ugly circumstances.
SW: For each of the boys, you said their births came at really significant times in your life. Can you tell me a little about each of them? RA: With Martrell, I think I was still immature. He actually was my third child. I had twins before, back in 2004, and they didn’t make it. I went into labor early at five and a half months. My daughter only lived for a couple of hours. Her name was Jayla. My son lived for three weeks. His name was Jaylen. He was doing great, but he had to have a blood transfusion and the blood went up to his brain. He was basically a vegetable. I let things go because I thought living as a vegetable… that’s not living. So that was in 2004. I had Martrell in 2008, and he was my third. After my twins died, I didn’t think I was going to have any more kids. When I got pregnant again, I was scared. I was immature. I was still looking for love in their daddy, so I got pregnant. I was just so hung up on him, always worried about what he was doing or where he was at. And he wasn’t there for me or going to doctor’s visits with me. I was sad. Me and this guy, we had a lot of history. I was there for him during anything he went through but he never could be there for me in those important times.
While helping Makai put on his shoes, Rachel disciplines her son Martrell because he was dishonest with her. To her, respect is one of the most important things to teach her sons.
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Rachel wipes leftover ketchup off a giggling Makai’s hands after he finished his dinner on April 1, 2017.
When I had Martrell, I think I matured so much as a woman. Back then I couldn’t even keep a job. I was more worried about where their daddy was than keeping a job. I’ll never forget - I was working at a Marriott, and I was on the phone one time with him arguing about a birthday cake. It was Martrell’s first birthday cake. I remember my boss telling me, “It seems like you worry about this man more than you worry about your child. You’re on the phone arguing with this man about buying his son’s birthday cake and not even working.” And that hit me. I was like, “Duh!” That’s exactly what I was doing. And she ended up buying the birthday cake - my boss.
I was stuck raising Martrell by myself. During that time, we left Louisville and went to move to Pennsylvania. I packed my car up, I had $300, and I was gone. We lived there for two and a half years. I moved there with a friend of mine, lived with her for two weeks and all of a sudden she didn’t want us to live with her no more. We moved into a hotel and stayed there for a while. Thank God for my Marriott discount. When Martrell was two, we were in a hotel for Christmas. I remember thinking, “What am I doing?” But I was determined not to go back home, because I didn’t want everyone to be like, “I told you so.” I was going to do this. I’m going to stay here, and I’m going to figure it out.
When Martrell turned one, their daddy went to prison for four years, so
I did figure it out after a while, but I lived at the hotel for months before I
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found a place. I grew a lot being there because I was totally out of my comfort zone. Martrell was with me through all of that. He was my rolly buddy. SW: And Makai? What were your circumstances when he was born? RA: So their daddy gets out of prison, and we’re not together but I still have this soft spot for him. He was my son’s daddy. Like I said, growing up, I learned the wrong way of love. I learned that you basically have to prove how much you love a person. That’s the same way I went about love with their daddy. He never loved me, but I thought I was going to make him love me by loving him as much as I could. So we were not together, and he was
Rachel takes a call during her shift at the Springhill Suites Mariott in Louisville, Kentucky. Even though she left her full-time position, the hotel kept Rachel in their employee database and she is able to occasionally pick up shifts to make extra money.
actually living with a woman, but one day he reached out to me about how much he does care for me and everything. It was a night that I was out with my friends and we were drinking. I was very, very vulnerable. Makai was made that night. I found out I was pregnant about a month later. I texted him and said I was pregnant, and his text back was, “By who?” I texted him, “Who do you think?” And his response was “smh.” “Shaking my head.” And that was the last time I heard from him throughout my whole pregnancy. He didn’t reach out to me, he didn’t see how I was doing, he nothing. I was feeling so low. “Oh my goodness, you dummy, you have another baby by a man who’s not even
a daddy to your first kid.” This is hurtful to even think about now, but it’s honest. I remember saying to God, “If you make me lose this baby, I wouldn’t be mad at you.” I didn’t want to have that baby. I was going back and forth about abortions, and I was embarrassed. I went to church, to a Bible study at church. One of the ladies I met there, I actually told her first that I was pregnant. I told her what I was going to do - I had an appointment and I was going to have an abortion. She wouldn’t let me do it. She said, “I am with you. We’re going to talk.” Oh my goodness, talk about two months of low. I felt like junk. I felt dumb, I felt stupid, I felt embarrassed. For a long
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time, nobody knew I was pregnant. My job didn’t know until I was six and a half months pregnant, when I had to tell them because I was showing. Friends didn’t know, my mom didn’t know, nobody knew. I was embarrassed and mad at myself that I did that. When I had Makai, I just thought, “Wow. God loves me.” He was just perfect. I started realizing all that time I had felt like this was the worst thing, it turned out to be the most beautiful thing from the ugliest situation. Their daddy did not see him until he was two months old. Now Makai is one and a half. Every now and then he’ll buy Martrell an expensive pair of shoes - a pair of Jordans or something.
In his mind, he’s a daddy and that makes him something. He’s being a daddy. Martrell struggles now because he wants his daddy in his life. He wants a man in his life. He’s gone as far as to tell me, “Do you not understand that you’re the only mother at all my practices? Everybody has a daddy but me.” He struggles from that, his heart is angry. What Martrell doesn’t realize is that it’s a blessing. If he only knew what he would have to endure if his daddy was around. I feel like the absence is better because he’s not the man he needs to be to be their father. Someday if he becomes that man, the relationship could be restored. SW: Is it hard for you to fulfill both parental roles as a single mom? RA: Yes, it’s hard because I watch my son cry out for that father figure, for what he’s missing. One night it was bedtime, and he asked if I would please watch a movie with him. He was supposed to go to sleep, but his face told me I needed to say yes to this one. He put on Home Alone 3, and basically the movie is about a dad who leaves his wife and kids to be with this other woman, and the kid wants his daddy to be with his mom. We were watching this movie, and he turns to me and says, “Do you know why I watch this movie all the time?” I was trying to get him to express it to me, but I knew exactly what it was. So I said, “No, why?” And he busts out crying. “Because, Mama, it’s the daddy!” He was so upset. I told him, “Martrell, we’ve just got to continue to pray. Your daddy loves you.” And I know he loves him, but he struggles with being a father because he never had a father. I had to just be blunt and say, “Right now, your daddy is not the daddy he needs to be. Maybe we should keep praying more and more for his heart to change.” That’s just not something that Martrell understands, and he’s hurt. It’s a struggle but I do my best. I don’t know if I’m doing it right or wrong, but I know that I’m giving it my all. Every ounce of me goes toward trying to be the best mom I can be. These boys are my everything. They are my motivation, my heroes. Oh goodness. Words can’t even explain what they are to me.
Before leaving for service at Southeast Christian Church, Rachel checks with Martrell to make sure he’s taken care of his chores for the day.
“It’s a struggle, but I do my best. I don’t know if I’m doing it right or wrong, but I know that I’m giving it my all.
Rachel takes down the breakfast display during her Friday morning shift at a Mariott hotel in Louisville. Martrell was out of school that day, so he had to wait through his mom’s workday at the hotel.
Every ounce of me goes toward trying to be the best mom I can be.â€?
SW: What cycles did you want to break out of with regard to your family? RA: My mother worked two jobs, and she wasn’t in our lives. She was a single parent as well. She did the best with what she knew how, but she missed out on so much. She wasn’t able to get us involved with what we should have been involved in because she was too busy. Her paycheck was going straight to bills. We never took vacations with my mother, we basically did nothing with her. But like I said, she made things happen. She made sure we had food. We may have had fried potatoes every day, but she made sure we ate.
But in my mind, I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want to miss the most precious moments of my kids’ lives. I’m not going to miss a game, I’m not going to miss nothing. I just want to show that I’m there. Everything I do as a parent I’m trying to do better than my mama. I don’t want to tell her that because it would hurt her feelings, but I think she knows. I’ll be honest, yes, I didn’t want to have any more kids after Makai. But another reason I tied my tubes is because my mama had three kids, and I don’t want to be like her. I just feel like I had to grow up too fast, and when I did get older I was wild.
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SW: Obviously your main focus is being a mother to your boys, but are you still pursuing romantic relationships at all? RA: I think about it sometimes because I get lonely. I’ve never brought a man around my kids. But I notice what my son wants, he wants that man. I maybe talk on the phone, but I haven’t been on any dates or anything. I want it, but I’m so busy. My kids are my everything. Any man that comes into my life would have to be so understanding of how busy I am with my kids.
So I do want love, but I want the real thing. I would never go about love the way I’ve always gone about love. I have a different outlook on it. I don’t have to prove how much I love you. I am a good woman, and I don’t have to prove that. Just being me is enough. I feel like the guy that comes into my life, he’s going to have to show me that he’s the one for me and mine. He’s got to do it, and if he wants me bad enough then he will. And vice versa, he gets what I can give. SW: Which is a lot! RA: Yeah, I have a lot! I’m a great mother and a good person. I have a totally different
outlook. It’s all been a journey but I’m telling you now, it wasn’t nothing but life. Life happened for me to get here. My mother, she wasn’t that teacher. I saw her survive with three kids, and that’s one thing I learned. I can make a dollar out of fifteen cents. I’m a survivor. I can handle that. A lot of stuff I’m learning as an adult, I learn from other people. I learn from the people in my life and strong women around me that I didn’t have in my family. I’m setting a new standard. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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Martrell, Rachel and Makai walk together to their car before attending church on Easter Sunday, April 10, 2017.
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Niang Go Man, who goes by the name “Mann,” was born in a hill town in remote northern Myanmar, but immigrated to the United States with her husband and children in 2014. Ever since western missionaries visiting her country introduced her to Christianity, she has fervently persued a life according to the Bible’s teachings, raising her children to understand the character and lessons of Jesus Christ.
SW: What can you tell me about yourself and your history? NM: My name is Niang Go Man, and I have six brothers and one sister. My mom already passed away in 2008, and my dad is still alive. I married in 1996, on May 26. My husband is a pastor at my church. We have four children, two girls and two boys. We were living in Burma. It’s called Myanmar now. There we have 52 ethnic groups, and I belong to Zomi* group. We came here to the United States in January 2014, and we’ve already been here three years. *Zomi means Hill People, it is an ethnic group present in northern Myanmar. SW: What is different about your life here in the United States? NM: When we go here to a big city, it’s more happy. More good. Better than a remote area and small village. SW: Has it been hard for you to come to live in the U. S. and learn English? NM: It’s different, yes. Hard. When the first missionary came to Hakha, at that time we did not know anything. My people, when the missionaries went to their farm, they want to see and they want to look at the western people. Western people, for them, look very strange, so they want to see them very much. The missionary woman, the wife, had duplicate teeth, and they
want to touch! [laughing] The people came one by one and wanted to touch the lady’s teeth. Very funny for us now, but at that time they wanted to see them very much. The missionaries came to our place in Burma and teach us how to dress, how to eat, how to cook and how to talk. They taught us many things, and because of that we can become like this in America. SW: Tell me about what it was like growing up in that small village. NM: In Burma, for 66 years, we had military government. It was changed to a democracy, and became a little bit more open to religious ideas. Before 1966, we could not have missionary from western countries, they did not allow them to come to my country. And now they allow them, and many people can visit my country. Even you! You also can visit. The education in Burma… we study nursery to 10th grade. After 10th grade, when we pass, if we got a good mark, we can study to be a doctor or engineer or something like that. Women can too, it’s equal now. Before, for my forefather and mother, during that time the women could not study. They had to work and men only can study. It’s not like that now. We can get education, we can study. Everything is open. SW: What was expected of the women in your household when you were growing up?
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NM: Before I was born, I have two brothers and after that my sister. To my sister, my mom said, “You cannot study. You cannot go to school. You have to work. You have two brothers who have to study.” So my sister never went to school. She doesn’t know any literature, or any words in my language either. After my sister, my third brother was born, and after that me. Because I was younger, my elder brother said to me, “Now you have to study and we can work.” This way I can study. I studied until grade 10, and after that I went to Bible college in India. SW: What did you study? Do you use your education in your life currently? NM: I studied theology. I still use it now. Every Saturday I have a prayer meeting with my people, some refugees who came here. I lead the meeting and I share the word of God and I lead prayer. We need to thank God for everything. We need to thank God because God brought us here in a nice place, a nice country. We have to pray for U.S.A. people also. We have to pray for our president. We have to pray for the lost one who does not know Jesus. And we have to pray for different jobs, for company and for health. We have to pray for many people - the one who suffer from sickness. We have to pray and encourage. We pray together and we sing together and we praise the Lord and I lead.
SW: Do you feel like your role as a woman is equal to that of your husband? NM: Yeah, same. We are equal. The Bible says when Jesus set free us from being slaves, we are the same. Because the blood of Jesus, we are the same. SW: Is there any difference in what you teach your sons and your daughters? NM: For me, my children are all so good. Some people say a son will be very naughty, quite different from a girl. For me, not that much. I teach my sons that they have to work hard more than their sisters, because for our culture, their sisters will one day marry. They have to go out from our house, but my sons have to remain here. I tell them, “You have to look after your parents, so you have to study more. You have to work hard and you have to be nice to your parents and your sister.” SW: Did you have a choice in your own marriage arrangement? NM: Yes, I prayed for my husband. I prayed like this - “God, I want to marry the one who accepts Jesus Christ as his personal savior, the one who believes. I want the one who has a burden for lost souls and the one who preaches the word of God.” And unexpectedly - I mean, God knows what I need and what I want - but God let us meet when I studied in India. After graduation we came home. He is from a different place than I am, so he brought his parents to my house and asked my parents, and my parents allowed us to be married. This year we had our 21st wedding anniversary. When I prayed for my husband, God answered me. Now, many people want to hear my husband’s sermons, so he goes to speak in
different places. So I have to look after my children, my kids, and sometimes I think I prayed the wrong thing! [laughing] Back in my home, when I accepted Jesus Christ, I prayed, “Lord, I want to study your word,” and the Lord brought me to India. When I finished school, I prayed that wherever I am, God will show me the way how to serve the Lord. Even here, I have a good neighbor - she is Christian, speaks English, American. After the children go to school, we get together and we pray and share good news and things like that. I love to pray for others - for the one who have problems or burdens. SW: What makes you feel happy in life? What’s important to you? NM: When I wake up, when I see the sunshine, I see all this and think, “God created this sunshine and God gave us a new day this morning.” I am so happy and I gave thanks to the Lord. This is the new day God has given to me, so I should be thankful to God and I have to be happy through this day. For my kids, before they go to school, I prepare breakfast. The youngest one, he loves pancakes and I made them for him. After he ate, he went to school so happily. That also makes me happy, the good things I can do for my kids and my husband too. I serve for him and for my kids. God m us as a woman to make a happy family. SW: What do you think is the role of a woman in life? NM: Well, in the Bible it says a woman is for a man’s punishing, back with Adam and Eve getting made. God made Adam, the first man, and then Eve. In this way, the woman was a punishment for men. [laughing] Women - we cannot have a happy home or a happy family without them.
With help from her daughter Mary Zen Sawm Kim, 20, Mann cooks a breakfast of ramen for her children and herself on a Friday morning. She is dressed in traditional Zomi attire from her village in Myanmar.
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Mann holds a small wallet she made with the Maya Collection, a cooperative made up of Nepali refugees in Louisville, Kentucky. The ministry supplies refugee women with crafting materials and sells their handmade goods to create a source of income for the women.
SW: Do you believe there are differences between what women are made for and what men are made for? NM: I do. For example, in my country, a woman… with laundry, like what I’m wearing now, we cannot put our laundry together with a man’s cloth. We cannot hang them together. Our clothes have to put lower than men’s pants, clothes and shirts. If a man comes in the room, I have to give them the chair and I have to sit in a different place. We have to show respect to them like that. Biblically, women and men are equal. The Bible said, though, that a woman is weaker than a man. So we need help from men because we are weak, and what we think is more narrow-minded than men. We need their advice, but also we have to make our own decisions. We have to think about what they say, about whether it would be good or not. But women have to obey and they have to
follow the leadership of man. For my husband, he needs to show his love to me. We need to share whatever we have, and we need to share with each other if we have a burden or a problem. I have to share if I have a problem too, and we have to pray together and go in the right way. That way we can have a happy life, happy marriage and happy family. If the husband and wife are going in the right way, the children also will go the right way. If we are fighting every day, wife and husband, the kids will also be fighting. We have to be kind to each other so our children can look at us for how they will go in their next steps. As a mother, I need to be an example. SW: What is the most important thing to you as a mother? NM: To take care of my kids, my babies, is more important to me than work. Work also is important, and having a - 86 -
job is good, but I have to take care of my kids. The Bible also said if we instruct the children in the way they should be, they will go right. This is my principle. I want to teach them about Jesus, and to love others - not to fight others. I want to teach them to respect teachers and respect pastors and respect parents. I want to teach them to love everyone because God created them. And if we teach them that way, they will go right. Now they are already grown up, and I can work. I can go anywhere because I already taught all of that. SW: Is there any difference in what you tried to teach your sons and your daughters? NM: For me, my children are all so good. Some people say a son will be very naughty, quite different from a girl., but for me, not that much. I teach my sons that they have to work hard more than
their sisters, because for our culture, their sisters will one day marry. They will have to go out from our house, but my sons have to remain here. I tell them, “You have to look after your parents, so you have to study more. You have to work hard and you have to be nice to your parents and your sister.” SW: Did you have a choice in your own marriage arrangement? NM: Yes, I prayed for my husband. I prayed like this - “God, I want to marry the one who accepts Jesus Christ as his personal savior, the one who believes. I want the one who has a burden for lost souls and the one who preaches the word of God.” And unexpectedly - I mean, God knows what I need and what I want - but God let us meet when I studied in India, and after graduation we came home. He is from a different place than I am, so he brought his parents to my house and asked my parents, and my parents
allowed us to be married. This year we had our 21st wedding anniversary. When I pray for my husband, God answered me. Now, many people want to hear my husband’s sermons, so he goes to speak in different places. So I have to look after my children, my kids, and sometimes I think I prayed the wrong thing! [laughing] Back in my home, when I accepted Jesus Christ, I prayed, “Lord, I want to study your word,” and the Lord brought me to India. When I finished, I prayed that wherever I am, God will show me the way how to serve the Lord. Here, I have a good neighbor - Christian, speak English, American. After the children go to school, we get together and we pray and share good news and things like that. I love to pray for others - for the one who have problems or burdens.
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Mann waits for her youngest son Samuel Dal Lian Mang, 10, to put on his socks and shoes before the family leaves for a weekly prayer meeting with other refugees from Myanmar.
â€œI tell my kids... even though we donâ€™t have silver and gold, if we have Jesus Christ,
Mann sits with her husband and children to read from the Bible and pray together before she begins preparations for dinner.
Mann and her children lead a worship song during her weekly prayer meeting with refugees from Myanmar. After Mann taught the lesson, her son Joseph Thang Sian Tuang, 17, played the guitar while his sisters Esther Cing Tul Vung, 14, and Mary Zen Sawm Kim, 20, lead the group in song.
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SW: Can you talk about what it feels like to lead other people? NM: I feel happy because God chose me to lead my people to know the word of God. I am honored in that way. I’m proud of that. SW: Can you tell about how you came to believe in Jesus for yourself? NM: Yes. I was 20 years old. During the month of April in my country, Buddhist people have a big festival.** It was very hot, and they have a festival for pouring water at this time. Every day they pour water. **Thingyan, Myanmar Water Festival, takes place for three to five days toward the end of the hot, dry season and ushers in the Myanmar New Year. At that same time, Christian people also had a Bible camp. I went to the camp and the pastors, they teach us Bible verses and tell us about Jesus Christ. From there, I understand the word of God and the Bible. The gospel of John chapter 3 verse 16, it touched me. It’s well known. “For God so loved the world, he gave his begotten son, and whoso believe in him should have eternal life.” That verse touched me. I could not believe Jesus died for my sin. Before, I didn’t even know I was a sinner. The pastor referenced that Bible verse that says “all have sinned and come short of the glory,” something like that. He explained it, and at that time I realized, “Oh, I’m a sinner. Though I think I’m a good girl, in my bone, I am a sinner.” I came to know Jesus died for our sins. He takes all our sins away, and if you believe in him you have eternal life. You will not perish anymore. It is so amazing. Jesus loves me so much and he suffer a lot and he died on the cross for me for my sin. This way I say, “Oh, I have to accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior! He died for me and He saved me, so I have to live for him.” I invite him to live in me. In this way I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior.
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SW: Was your family religious as well? NM: No. Before I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior, my mom and my dad were not Christian. After I accept Jesus Christ, I pray for them and after two years they accept him as their savior and they have faith in God. SW: What was that experience like for you, when your parents came to believe the same thing you did? NM: I was so happy! Before they accepted Jesus Christ, there was a song… It sings “every knee shall bow, every tongue confess…” That song, when they sang that one it touched my heart. I thought, “Oh! When we will sing before the Lord, with every head bowed down and every knee kneeled down and praising the Lord at that time, my parents will be not there. I will be alone. I was feeling so saddened. Whenever people sing that song, my tears start coming out. I pray, pray, pray. And you see, God answered my prayer. My parents came to know Jesus. SW: Do you feel the same way about your children and their personal faith? NM: Yes, sure! I was so happy when they made that choice too. Even though we don’t have silver and gold, if we have Jesus Christ it’s enough. I tell that to my kids. SW: To me, it seems you derive a lot of your purpose in life from your religious beliefs - your work in the church as well as your family life and relationships. Do you see the same pattern? NM: Yes, and I think my family is quite different, most in their attitudes. Whenever they receive something - new clothes, or something - they are happy and say, “Oh this
comes from the Lord.” They are thankful and give thanks to the Lord. We are a family who says “thank you” for all we have. SW: Do you view yourself as different too? NM: I am very different. Before I accept Jesus Christ, sometimes I had selfishness and greediness also. Sometimes I had some temper. After I accept Jesus Christ as Lord, all the bad things have gone from me. SW: Tell me about the work you do with the Maya Collection. NM: My friend, she is from Nepal and her husband also studies with my husband in Southern Seminary. She invited me to this fellowship and to work with the Maya Collection. I joined with her, and every Friday we have a meeting. If you attend three times the meetings, you can do these projects, and after three times they gave me work. Firstly I did knitting, then the next year, they said, “Mann, if you want to sew you can sew!” So I said OK and I joined the sewing project. Now I make big bags and small pouches and wallets and things. SW: Do you ever feel ostracized or alone in American culture? NM: No, I don’t feel like that. Jesus is with me everywhere so I don’t feel lonely. Even at home, if I’m alone in the daytime, I know that Jesus is by me then. So I never feel like a stranger. SW: What do you want people to know about you? NM: When other people know me, I want them to know me and say, “She loves God. She is a good person.” This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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Mann looks over some completed handbags she sewed during a Maya Collection meeting. Though the Maya Collection is a ministry aimed toward helping employ Nepali women specifically, Mann has been making products and earning a small income for several years.
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QuinteroLister Gabby Lister is a rule-breaker. She has a powerful voice and a curious mind that has led her to a rich life in the United States and career in education. Born in Spain and raised in Venezuela, her rich heritage gives her a unique perspective on womanhood, family values, and true success in life. Gabby lives with her husband and teaches Spanish classes in Louisville, Kentucky.
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SW: Of course the concept of womanhood is a very broad topic, but what comes to mind when you think of your own identity as a woman? GL: Well the definition of what it is womanhood, it is foreign to me. I was not even aware of feminism until I moved to the United States. Because when you grow up in another country, there… you’re not aware of your identity. SW: Where did you grow up? GL: Spain. In Barcelona. I lived with my mom and her mother-in-law. Gabby and her twin sister Alejandra as children.
SW: So you were surrounded by women growing up? GL: [nods] Very strong women, but very quiet. SW: You don’t seem very quiet. GL: No, I’m the opposite. I’m not very quiet. But I thought a lot, always thinking. So my mom grew up in a very conservative family, very religious. I remember going to church, and everybody had to wear the most fancy, elegant outfit. There, my mom was not very welcome. But she always said, “If God will accept me the way I am, then I don’t have to dress up to receive his blessing.” I kind of heard my mom’s voice, although she didn’t say it too loud, but from time to time she would express that. Then, life happens, and she loses her husband. She was suffocated in her home because they blamed her, like it was her fault that her husband died. After 8 years or so, we moved to Venezuela. My mom went there because she was invited by a very very fine lady. I’ll call her... a liberal woman.
She did whatever she wanted to. The community saw her as a wild, crazy woman. But she welcomed my mom, and she let her be herself. She let her say, “you don’t need a man to survive, you don’t need to feel that you have to go to church, and you can get a job. You can make your own money.” I embraced that attitude. I wanted to imitate her freedom. I didn’t want to feel restricted, and the only way for me that I found that I could do whatever I wanted to do was through writing and reading. So I always gravitated to books, and people would tease me. I was a little nerd. I would rather be alone reading than to socialize. One of the important aspects of my life is that I have a beautiful, humble, remarkable twin sister. And she is an angel, but we could not be more opposite. She loved to please
everybody, she was so happy all the time. She didn’t question nothing. Everyone who knew us, they would call us “las morochas.” They would never call me my proper name or her proper name, we were always one unit. And she loved it! She wanted to dress up like me all the time, she wanted to do everything with me. But I was thirsty for me. SW: You wanted to be more of an individual... GL: Yes, but remember I was very young! I didn’t know what that meant or who I was. I didn’t want us to always be pushed together. It was like, you know, when we had a birthday, there was always one gift for us to share. And I love my twin sister, but I wanted to find the Gabby in me.
With her husband Everett standing in the doorway, Gabby leans on the shoulder of her son, Alex, 25. Occasions where the whole family can be together are very rare, Gabby said.
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I refused to follow the stereotype of... if you’re a woman, you do everything for everybody without question. I would always get in trouble with my mom and with my brothers and uncles because they would say to me, you know… “Bring me a cup of coffee!” And I would always say, “Where is your please? Where is your thank you?” This was my voice when I was only fifteen. I had that attitude, that strength from novels that I read. I read books from Gabriel García Márquez. I loved Frida. I love women who were, um… “trepadoras.” (Spanish for troublemaking women). Who didn’t feel that they couldn’t do anything. SW: Tell me more about how life was with your twin sister. GL: My years in Spain were like silent years. Relatives in my family didn’t really talk to children. You’re just there, but you couldn’t speak if they were not speaking to you. So in Venezuela, I was a little bit more… I got more attention. But it was because I was not doing what they were expecting from me. Then I felt I had to compete with my twin sister, who was doing exactly what everybody was expecting a girl to do. In Venezuela, when a girl turns fifteen years old, we have a big celebration - the quinciñera. I said, “I’m not doing it. I’m not participating.” To be honest, I felt that is a display for older men to find a wife and to have your kids engaged. And I didn’t want to be part of that. My mom and my aunts would say, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to be a princess?” And I would say, “I am not a princess, I am the queen!” And I was! But my twin sister Alejandra, she is such a sweetheart. She was so heartbroken because it meant so much to her to wear that pretty dress. And it was a big night, or whatever, so I did it to please her. It was for her, and she knows that. In fact, it was at that celebration my twin sister got engaged to a gentleman who was her school teacher. And actually
they’re still married and they’re happy. But at that time, he was already a man with a profession and he worked at the private school that we went to. SW: I can see how that would be strange for you. GL: Right? She was only fifteen! And he was an older man. I remember though - my mom was married when she was fourteen years of age. And my grandmother was married when she was twelve. But that concept to me was like… insane. And I wasn’t even exposed yet to what the United States can offer to a woman. So that’s when I wrote an essay. Back then, I had a very great school teacher. Her name is Nancy Reyes, and she is in heaven right now. She was a great educator and she realized that my sister and I may be identical twins, but we are two individuals. She is the reason why I decided to write an essay - to find a way to get out of my home. SW: Tell me the story behind this essay you wrote! What was it and what did it mean for you? GL: The essay I wrote was what gave me the opportunity to come to the United States. The teacher who was able to realize that I was just not a twin, Nancy Reyes, she said, “Guess what, there is a scholarship for students who want to learn English, to travel abroad to learn ingles.” But you had to tell them why you want to go. I won. I got the scholarship to come to the United States to learn English for one year. The title of my essay was “Hear my voice.” I didn’t have a voice in Spanish, so I wanted to see if I could find it in some place - maybe another way. I was nervous about coming to the United States, and I would try to imitate me talking in English. I would be making silly sounds! I would mimic, I don’t know, what I thought English sounded like.
Candles with religious depictions sit in the window of Gabby’s family home in Louisville, Kentucky. “I felt many years that I was a bad person and that I was a bad daughter. I thought If anything bad happened to me, it was because God was punishing me. But then through the love of my husband and my family, I realized that there’s nothing wrong with me,” she said.
My mom and my aunts would say,
“What’s wrong with you? Don’t you want to be a princess?”
And I would say,
“I am not a princess, I
am the queen!”
Drawings from when Gabbyâ€™s children, Alex and Suzana, were younger hang on the refrigerator in the Lister familyâ€™s kitchen.
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A photograph of Gabby and Everett on their wedding day, given to them as a gift by a fellow exchange student at Marion College.
SW: Had you never heard it spoken before? GL: No, never. In Venezuela, you hear about the United States and you have access to the TV and the newspaper, but as a teenager you’re supposed to stay home, clean the house, and be pretty, you know. So it was really challenging. SW: How did your family react to you winning the scholarship? GL: When I wrote that essay, it was a secret. Actually, one of the inside aspects of my quinciñera is that I had a gentleman who requested to be my husband. His name was Feli García. He was in the military, so he was quite older than my twin sister’s husband. I looked at him and I was not attracted to him at all. I said to my father, “Don’t worry. If I’m going to get married one day, I will pick him, he will not pick me.” I got slapped that day. It was very challenging, but during that time I did have to maintain a relationship with that guy, with Feli. Because, you know, that’s the tradition. He’s going to be your boyfriend and if he’s your boyfriend, he’s going to be your husband. I was like, “What is wrong with me?” Everybody hated me because I always talked too much and my mom thought that I was too aggressive. Feli was my oldest brother’s best friend. We tried to have a chaperoned date at home, and one time I was having a dinner with my
family. They were all playing dominos and he asked me for a cup of coffee. And I brought him a cup of coffee because I was trying to fit. I thought maybe, you know, I needed to do what everyone was expecting from me. So he asked me for a cup of coffee and I brought him a cup of coffee. And he looked at me and he said it was too cold. All the men at the table who were playing dominos just started laughing. So I went back into the kitchen and I brought him a very hot cup of coffee. And I poured it all over his… well, you know. SW: Oh no! GL: I think today he may still have a little-SW: A scar? GL: Probably! So, guess what! All the men were sitting down, smoking their cigars, and playing dominos, and they were laughing. And Feli… I think he felt like, “See, I can tell her to get a better cup of coffee and she will bring it to me.” So that was the end of our relationship. When I was with him, a couple of times he tried to kiss me. And I would let him kiss me. My voice, my words were the only weapon I had. So I would say to him, “Ugh! Do you feel like you want to throw up? Is that normal after somebody kisses you, to feel like you want to just vomit?” [laughing] And he would get so angry!
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SW: I bet, wow!
Gabby and Everett in their first apartment.
GL: And let me just tell you, all these thoughts… well basically I’m just reading you my essay. And the community that offered me the scholarship to come to Indianapolis - that’s where the language center was, in Indianapolis - they said that I expressed myself very clearly and they wanted to know if I could do it in English as well. At the time I got the scholarship, the only English that I knew was “hel-lo,” and when people would say “hi,” I did not know what they were saying. Isn’t that funny? I came to the U.S. when I was sixteen, no English and no family. I only had one suitcase. I was full of fears, but I so thirsty to be me. People said to me, “You are crazy.” I was not crazy, I was young and I just wanted to get out and to be myself. Because I was by myself, there was some self-doubt. But soon I started feeling like, “Oh my god, this is where I’m meant to be.” So I felt more powerful. I felt that I had more strength.
Guess what I found. This may sound cheesy, but it’s the truth. I could just go to the library and get any book I wanted! And I could read it! It was just all so fascinating. I used to read in English and in Spanish, because I was learning English as a second language. SW: Have you been back to Venezuela since then? GL: I went back with my family, my husband and my kids. When I went to Marian College to learn English as a second language, they also had a scholarship program for further education. Because I was there for a year, and I didn’t do anything but study, they offered me a scholarship to go to Earlham college. So, I called my mom and I said to her, “I’m not going to be back in a year, I’m going to be here for four years.” The four years that I went to Earlham, it was like a separation from my family. I needed that, but also they were very unhappy with me. I’m talking about more than 27 years ago, but the mentality was that if you are a single woman and you want to come to the United States, there are two things that are going to happen to you. You’re going to get involved in drugs, and you’re going to be a prostitute. They didn’t care that I earned a full scholarship to be in a college for four years, that didn’t register to them. The fact was that I just didn’t follow the pattern. So those four years were very hard for me. But that’s when I met my best friend and my husband. After four years of college, I met my husband Everett and that’s why I live here in Louisville. I have two wonderful kids, my son Alex, Alejandro. He’s 25, he’s an artist, he is amazing and he’s married. And then my daughter Suzanna, we call her “Zana.” She’s 23. If anybody ever asked me, “Who is the woman who has influenced you the most, that you didn’t read in books?” I would say
Gabby and her daughter Zana sit together on their front porch in Louisville, Kentucky on April 28, 2017. The family was together celebrating Zana’s engagement to her boyfriend, Neil.
that is my daughter, who is just 23, because she is furious. She follows her dreams. SW: What is she doing to follow those dreams? GL: Right now she is pursuing her career as an actress. But she’s always spoken her mind. She always says, “I do what I want, when I want to do it. I’m not harming anybody, but this is what I want to do.” And she learned that from me. I was shocked that I got married to a gringo, cause I never thought that I would fall for it! In the United States you have the liberty, the freedom to put new ideas in your head. I even questioned myself a little, I questioned my womanhood, I wondered if I actually wanted to be a mother. Because I already knew from my life in Venezuela that I didn’t want to be a fianceé, I didn’t want to be married, so I didn’t think that womanhood to me was to be a mom or to be married. That stereotype repulsed me, that idea that you have to be a princess. That wasn’t going to be me. SW: What did you dream your life would be like when you came to the United States? GL: So when I came here, I just wanted to make money, honestly. My goal was to make money because I thought that if I have an education, I have power. If I have power, I can do whatever I want to. Of course, life teaches you that it’s not as easy, but I do have more freedom. I don’t have to feel ashamed when I have a thought. I can speak up. But, being in the United States as an immigrant is also a factor. So, your voice is not heard as much as you want it to be. But it’s better than if you were in Venezuela. So my daughter and I have been very active, we’re very outspoken. And my family here, my husband’s family is full of strong women too. I tend to gravitate to education, I tend to gravitate toward strong women.
My husband and I, when we started dating, I told him, “If you think that I’m going to be a typical Latina woman, we should not date because I am not anything like that.” I’m proud of my heritage and of my culture, but not of the social norms. I would never tell my daughter she is a princess. I would say, “You are Zana, you are smart, and you are good.” I would say the same thing to my son. So when people said to me, “Oh, you’re very pretty,” before they finished the comment I would shut them down. I have more to offer than to be pretty. I just was very much a rebel. I still am. SW: What does your life look like now? What takes priority in your life? GL: I’m going to be honest. I love my daughter and I love my son and I love my husband, but they are not the center of my life. Womanhood to me is not motherhood, they are very different. You know, I meditate every morning and I just give thanks. I give thanks that I can finally feel what I wanted to reach so much. I wanted to feel the love of my family, and my family here… I think they love me and I can feel that. Not even because they have to. Truthfully, though, one of the biggest priorities in my life has been my career as an educator. SW: Why did you decide to go into teaching? GL: Because I had the most wonderful role model! Nancy Reyes was my inspiration and still is. You know what, in that time and in that culture, she was able to realize, “Oh my god, these two may be twin sisters but they are different people.” And for a teacher to perceive that in a child… was amazing. SW: Can you walk me through your career as an educator? How did you come to where you are today? GL: Eso es difícil! I have a hard time remembering these things. I know I got my B.A. from Earlham College in 1989, because the next year I got married. Then when my kids were little, I went to get my master’s degree in education at University of Louisville. As a mom, and I worked full time in the school system, I didn’t have the privilege to just take classes all the time. I would go Tuesdays and Thursdays for a year or two. When I had the master’s in education, I went to Jefferson County Public Schools and that’s when they offered me to work as a full time job as a Spanish teacher. And I worked there from when my kids were from kindergarten to fifth grade, and then after that time period I stayed with them.
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Gabby works with students learning verb conjugations during an introductory level Spanish course at 100% Spanish Language Center.
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Gabby teaching at the Louisville Science Center. Image sourced from the Louisville Science Center’s 2005 Annual Report brochure.
I think, honestly, I think the two reasons the Louisville Science Center hired me on the spot is because I was a woman and because I was a minority. But I showed my worth beyond that during my time there. Before I worked for 100% Spanish, which is my current job, I worked in early childhood education. One of the major stereotype-breaking jobs that I had was when I worked for the Louisville Science Center. I was the physical science educator, and I was there for 8 years teaching science. It was amazing to see people’s faces when they knew that I would be the educator to do the lab. I was the only educator with color, with flavor, in the Louisville Science Center. Because of that, they wanted to honor me as employee of the year, and I said no. I thought, “You can recognize me as being a great educator of physical science, but not as a minority.” SW: Your career in education has taken you so far. What is it about being a teacher you love so much? GL: I think I was always very curious. I always wanted to know why. I think now that I’m old, I’ve realized that in order for you to have a quieter mind, you have to also be able to get the answers you need. I think as a teacher, that’s who you are. I remember when I was very little, I was always very excited about having a notebook and a pencil. I also wanted to be able to communicate. There is so much to know! All the other kids thought I was a nerd because I wanted to read and I wanted to find out why things are the way they are. I guess that never changed, because when my kids went out of middle school, I realized that I wanted to do more than just be a classroom teacher. I wanted to break the stereotype that the only reason I was teaching Spanish was because I spoke Spanish.
SW: Why do you think breaking stereotypes is so important for you? GL So that people can see you and know who you are before they can judge you for being authentic, and not just judge you by what they have in the back of their mind. SW: Do you think you’re breaking stereotypes in the way you teach? GL: Right now? Absolutely. Right now I’m working in a place where I have a lot of leadership, ownership. I’m able to shape my own curriculum. Unfortunately, that’s one of the reasons I couldn’t keep working in the public school system, because there’s no room for growth. You have to follow their curriculum. There you have ownership of your classroom, but you don’t have ownership of your voice. SW: What message do you want to send with your life? GL: I just want to say… enjoy as much as you can of the present. Because yesterday is gone, and tomorrow may come and may not. I’ve learned in my life you should not waste the present over what you have done in the past or what you’re going to do in the future, because then you’re missing what’s happening right now. I want to live my best life in the present. Personally, I have come to know that life is very short. I am very grateful everyday that I have one more day to do the right thing. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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Gabby enjoys the company of her friend Tracy Garnett while they dine together at Havana Rumba, a Cuban restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, with a group of her students from 100% Spanish Language Center. “Look at this, it’s a rainbow of people,” Gabby said of her students eating together. “Different age groups, different backgrounds. That’s what I want to encourage.”
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Ever since she was a young girl, Liz Fentress has been enchanted by the theatre. She since dedicated her life and career to her passion, leading her to become an award-winning actress, playwright and director. In March of 2017, Liz’s first full-length production, Stages of Bloom, premiered in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
SW: How do you see the idea of womanhood connecting to your life? LF: Well, I didn’t get married till I was 45 and I don’t have kids. I feel quite strongly that a woman shouldn’t have to do either of those things. And sometimes I think, when I talk to friends who have kids, I was pretty darn smart! Cause there are parents who have a rough time with kids, you know. I mean, I love children and I’m not meaning to make light of parenting. Playing the role of a parent is the best role that anyone ever plays, it just wasn’t my thing and I don’t apologize for that. It just wasn’t my thing. So yeah, I didn’t get married until I was 45 and my attitude was “best single woman ever.” I actually just ran into a woman in her thirties – she’d like to get married, you know, and she’d like to raise a family but it’s not happening. And sometimes [women] even think that there’s something wrong with [them] because they’re not married or because they don’t have a boyfriend or a partner and I just I really fight that. I’m the best single woman ever and you’re lucky to know me. That was always my attitude. SW: You did choose to get married later on in life, though. So what changed? LF: You know, you get married for
different reasons when you’re 45. You get married because you want to spend your life with someone, not out of a need or because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do. By the time you’re 45, you can support yourself, you can pay your bills, you can make car payments – you’re not thinking, “oh my gosh who’s going to pay the mortgage?” You don’t get married because you think you need someone, you get married because you want to spend your life with someone. SW: What would you say was the focus of those 45 years prior to your marriage? LF: Pursuing what I wanted to pursue. I’ve always been interested in the theatre ever since I was a little girl. And I just wanted to pursue that – to explore my interests, to educate my interests, to research my interests, to challenge my interests. And I felt fulfilled in that. I’m still interested in it. I spent a lot of my time working as an actor, but I’ve almost gotten more interested in writing now. You could say I got tired of memorizing other people’s words and wanted to say what I wanted to say. At some point, I didn’t want to memorize other people’s words. I wanted to put my words out there. I’ve kind of transitioned a little bit. I still take acting work if I can get it. I’m a union actor. There’s only two
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Union theaters in Louisville, where I live. One of them is Actors’ Theatre of Louisville and they cast out of New York. That’s fine, they get to say where they cast out of, that’s their call. StageOne is a children’s theater, so I work with StageOne in Louisville when they need a mature woman. You know, I’m 64, so they don’t always need that. But that’s their call. SW: I’d love to touch on the topic of femininity and how that relates to you, if you see it connecting in any way. LF: Here’s how it works – I see myself as a human being before I see myself as a woman. I identify as a human being more than I do as a woman. And I assume that identity. I don’t fight to be a woman, not at all. I just am who I am and I assume that I can have anything, can go for anything that any human being can. I’ve never thought, “I can’t do that because only men do that.” I’ve never, ever thought that. I’ve always thought, “if it’s out there and I want it I can go for it.” One little regret that I have, only it was out of my control – I went to high school before Title IX, so that was before women competed in sports. In my high school, there was a football team and a basketball team and it was all guys. There were no school sports opportunities for young women. I
An annotated script of Liz’s play sits on the arm of a couch in the Pheonix Theatre in Bowling Green during a “Stages of Bloom” rehearsal.
think Title IX might have passed when I was in high school or when I was in college, but now there’s women’s ski teams. I would have loved to have been on a women’s ski team growing up. At the time I didn’t resent it, that’s just the way the world was, but I’m a little green with envy at these women who are now competitive skiers when we didn’t get to do that. But that’s alright, and good for them. I don’t care. I’m still skiing now. But the idea of femininity, I don’t connect with it. I don’t wear makeup. I had no interest in being a mother. It just wasn’t my interest and I didn’t feel bad about that. I didn’t feel like I had to apologize for that. And I’m happy for
people who are mothers, it’s not like people shouldn’t want to be mothers. They should, it’s just not my interest.
“girl, girl, let me be a girl.” I like being a woman, it’s just not the first card that I play.
SW: Do you think that you cast off “womanhood” from yourself in your pursuit of other things?
SW: What is it about theatre that you’re so passionate about?
LF: No, I never thought that. It just wasn’t my thing. It’s not that “womanhood” wasn’t my thing - I’m happy to be a woman. I’m very happy to be a woman. Frankly, I think I prefer to be a woman. I think it’s tough times to be a guy right now, to be a white male right now is tough times. I think if I could have picked, you know, before I was created – if I could have chosen between girl or boy I would have said
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LF: The theatre is how I explore the world. I can’t put it any clearer. It’s how I explore the world, it’s how I study the world, it’s how I celebrate the world you know, celebrate life, explore life, try to understand life. I go to the theatre for answers. It’s my way into the world. And I consult with theatre groups all over the state of Kentucky, so that’s how I know Kentucky. I know where the good theatres are, I know where the community is.
Liz turns to make notes in her binder during a blocking rehearsal of “Stages of Bloom” in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The production involved an intimate cast of only six characters.
SW: Can you pinpoint what sparked your love for theatre to begin with? LF: I grew up in the north woods. You know, you can’t get any farther away. You’d have to drive 20 miles to see another house. But my grandmother lived in Minneapolis, and in Minneapolis in the early 1960’s was the beginning of the regional theatre movement in this country. That was when the national endowment for the arts was first formed. There was national leadership for the arts. So in Minneapolis they started a regional theatre, the Guthrie Theatre. It’s one of the most famous in the country.
down to visit my grandmother and she took us to see a play. She took us to see Volpone by Ben Jonson, arguably one of the top 100 plays in the english language. It was that theatre’s first season. Tyrone Guthrie had brought some of the best actors in the world to perform there, and it was magic. It was just magic. I said, “that’s what I want to do.” You know, you’re a little girl and you’re making your choices, you’re getting impressions. It was on that day I said “that’s what I want to do.” I mean, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn were in it. I can still see images from that play in my mind’s eye. SW: Have you been back to that theater?
So I’m in the fourth grade and we go
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LF: Absolutely. That was where I had my first job after drama school. I worked at that theatre for four years, yeah. It’s an amazing theatre. Now the Guthrie Theater is known for its thrust stage, where audiences sit on three sides of the stage, and also for producing good dramatic literature, like Ben Jonson. But I’m from a small town, and what audiences see in big cities is as important for me as what audiences see in small towns. So that’s why I loved working in Horse Cave in southern Kentucky. They had a thrust stage just like the Guthrie and they did good literature, so that became my theatre. I wanted people in small towns to be able to see good plays.
SW: And you’re still doing a lot of work in small towns all over Kentucky, aren’t you? LF: Yes, yes, schedule permitting. That’s where my passion is. I’ll do any theatre work for money any place, we all like money. But my passion is for people in small towns and rural areas to get to see quality theatre programming. SW: So following your interests and chasing your dreams has led you here. What’s the project you’re working on right now? LF: Yes, of course! Stages of Bloom. Let’s see, this play… the central character is an older woman, she’s 90 years old, and she’s had a bad experience at church. The pastor at her church played a game at coffee hour and because of the game she was singled out as being different from the other people in the congregation at church. SW: Different, how? LF: Maybe you’ve played this game. It’s a question-based game, a kind of ice breaker where they say, “if you’re from Louisville stand on this side of the room,” or “if you’re a Cardinals fan stand on that side of the room, and if you’re a Wildcats fan stay over here,” so people are always crossing back and forth. And this woman - this character, Edith - is not from this town, so the questions in the game keep leaving her out of the group. Finally they say, “if you believe Christ is the Son of God, go to this side of the room.” And she’s gone to church for many years, she prays for people... but she’s just not sure that she, you know, in her deepest darkest part of herself believes that Christ is the son of God. She has questions. So, she ends up on the wrong side of the room. Then she walks out of the door. So this play is set in a small town where everybody knows everybody and Edith is 90. I’m only 64, but my understanding is that as you age, those beliefs become more important to you, you know. What do I really believe is going to happen to me? I guess my philosophy would be that our spiritual lives are private. If you want to share it with somebody, that’s
fine, but it’s my call as to whether or not I need to tell you or want to tell you about my spiritual beliefs. It’s somewhat a play about stages of religious belief and how we develop our beliefs. Now at the same time, this woman, Edith, she grows roses and she’s entering a rose show, so that’s the “stages of bloom.” Stages of bloom is a specific category if you enter rose competitions. SW: What influenced you to write Stages of Bloom? LF: I grew roses. When I started growing roses, I had four rose plants. I ordered them from a catalog. I went through and I chose four that I wanted and I put them in my yard. You know, you think four roses will all be the same, but they were so different I couldn’t believe it. One was so thorny you could not get near it. I mean, it was just solid thorns. Another one – I think it was La France – it worked all summer to produce one bloom. It worked all summer! And it produced this beautiful silver-pink flower, it was incredible! And then the whole plant died. Another one bloomed everyday, just bloom, bloom, bloom. It was called Old Blush. So I thought, “How can this be that these four roses are so different?” That just blew my mind. Then I thought, “Someday I’m going to write a play with different characters based on those different roses.” SW: And the topic of exploring your spiritual standing, finding your faith, has that been something important in your own life? LF: I suppose so, yes. I suppose so. But it’s interesting – if you ask people what the play is about, that’s not necessarily what they identify. It’s especially interesting since I know for sure what it’s about when I ask people what they think it’s about. I’ve got Fowler’s book Stages of Faith in my car. I’m just curious, though. But no one ever says that. So a lot of people I guess think it’s a play about a woman growing roses, which is great. That’s still great. You can’t control what other people get out of your work. I wrote a play once about a character that was depressed, but nobody got
Props for “Stages of Bloom” sit on a shelf in a backstage dressing room before the production’s opening night.
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Liz conducts a creativity exercise while teaching a playwriting course for freshman students at Floyd Central High School in Floyds Knobs, Indiana. - 116 -
that he was depressed. People said he had Alzheimer’s. They just didn’t get it. So, I carefully put the term “depression” in that play, you know, I don’t know how many times. And then when it was read at a reading, an old old friend came up to me and said, “My dad is just like that guy. He’s got Alzheimer’s too.” It can be exhausting, but I realized it’s not about the specific ailment, it’s about how you relate to the characters and their experiences. So I gave up on that at that point. SW: What is it that you get out of teaching that is different from performing, or more traditional theatre involvement? LF: I like teaching! Now I don’t want to be teaching all the time and I don’t have an education degree, but I teach to learn. When you teach, you learn. And I’m teaching playwriting, which is what I’m most interested in - how to write a play. SW: What is it about writing that appeals to you above all else right now? LF: It’s a way that I can continue to create theatre. Otherwise you’ve got to be in rehearsal or onstage, and that means you’ve got to work with other people. Someone has to give you a job. If someone gives you a job, that’s great, but if they don’t then you’re not creating theatre. So ultimately, writing lets me keep the theater alive in my mind. It lets me still create theatre without having to audition or get a part. I didn’t want to be victimized by the profession, always waiting for the phone to ring. I wanted to take charge of it. This way, I’m in charge because I’m writing the play. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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“I didn’t want to be victimized by the profession. This way, I’m in charge because
I’m writing the play.”
Before the opening night of “Stages of Bloom,” Liz runs lines with her cast in the seats of the Phoenix Theatre to put finishing touches on the actors’ portrayals of her characters.
sixty-two years old sixty-three years old sixty-four years old
Jean Wegert A woman of integrity and family values, Jean Wegert has stayed true to her principles all her life. She has been married for 65 years to her husband, Erwin â€œErvâ€? Wegert, and together they raised four sons in the small town of Elmore, Ohio. Now a grandmother and great-grandmother to a family of nearly onehundred, Jean plays the role of matriarch - always selfless in caring for those she loves.
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sixty-five years old sixty-six years old sixty-seven years old sixty-eight years old sixty-nine years old seventy years old seventy-one years old seventy-two years old seventy-three years old seventy-four years old seventy-five years old seventy-six years old seventy-seven years old seventy-eight years old seventy-nine years old eighty years old eighty-one years old eighty-two years old eighty-three years old eighty-four years old eighty-five years old eighty-six years old eighty-seven years old
eighty-eight years old eighty-nine years old ninety years old ninety-one years old ninety-two years old ninety-three years old ninety-seven years old ninety-four years old ninety-five years old ninety-six years old
Jean and Erv have lived in the same house on Portage Road in Elmore, Ohio for over fifty years. Photo is from April 1990.
SW: I’d love to hear how you see the idea of womanhood manifested in your own life. What does being a woman to you? JW: Well, after I got married it was to be the best wife and take care of Erv. Then when I had kids, they were my main thing. They were everything to both of us. Together we looked out for anything we could do for them, which was not always material things. We made sure that they’d come home and that their homework was done and that they would go to college and always do their best. And it paid off. I think they’re happy and where they want to be. As a woman, my biggest role was being a mother. It didn’t bother me that I
didn’t have a career. That was the last thing that I ever thought about when I left high school. I worked just to keep myself going because I didn’t really have a place to go. Getting married then, that was all that came around. I didn’t have a chance to go to college, my mother wouldn’t let me. So womanhood, to me, was being a good wife and a good mother. I think the kids all turned out great. And they’re a family - that’s what I wanted for my kids, to stay together as a family. Even though now we’re spread all over the place. SW: Why is family so important to you? JW: Family is the whole center of your life, really. Once you’re married and having kids, nothing else
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matters. A home has to be a good, safe environment. We wanted our boys to be safe and to always have the opportunities that we hoped they would have. And they’re gone now, but we still want to stay close to them. But now my effort goes into being the best wife I can and staying with him instead of the kids. It isn’t something you don’t want to do, it’s something you do want to do. I think that’s what makes women different. There are some women who compete with their husbands, but I don’t ever want to do that. I wouldn’t enjoy doing that. I want him to be the boss. I want him to make sure he lets me know about any problems, or say what we should do or what we shouldn’t. That’s
my idea of womanhood. I think that God made us different. He made men stronger and able to work and support a family, and he made women to be good wives and to be good mothers. The man is the head of the house, and the woman is the heart. I think that was God’s plan - that’s why he made us so different.
or they were in high school. And Dad would stay home to help. He took a job working nights so that when he came home, I would go to work, and our kids were never “latch key” kids, kids who come home to an empty house. I didn’t want that. So there was always one of the parents in the home. And that made me comfortable.
SW: Did you ever wish you could have pursued a career?
I was glad to have the job and I was glad to have opportunities to grow in that job, but it wasn’t the job that was important. I think at the time, we needed the money because the kids were all going to college and we wanted to make sure they went. So I had a little bit of each. I feel very fortunate that I got to do both. I got to be a good mother and I got to have a career.
JW: I don’t know… it was nice, after the kids were all in school, when I did have that opportunity. It worked out beautifully and I did have a career. It was worth waiting for. I didn’t have to worry about the kids, they were all taken care of - they were in college
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SW: What do you think shaped your idea of what a woman should be? I think it was more of what kind of woman I didn’t want to be. Everybody in my family was divorced, and I really didn’t have a central home. My mother was always gone working or with my step-father. I would stay with my grandmother and when she got tired of me, I stayed with my aunt. Off and on I would go stay with my mother and my stepfather, but that was not pleasant. He did not like me there. So I knew in my mind what I wanted for my family, and it was nothing like that. When I got married, I knew I was going to be a good wife and the best
mother I could possibly be because I didn’t want my kids to ever feel the way I did. And I think if I would’ve had a good family, a good home, I still would have made the same choices. But that made me more sure of what I would not do, and what I wanted for my kids. I think that shaped my life, shaped everything. SW: Can you describe the different roles your mother and grandmother had in your life? In what ways do you think those two women affected you?
what we showed her. I thought that was kind of a compliment. She said, “I finally got it, Jean. I finally got it.” That was neat. My grandmother had so much responsibility for an older person. She took care of four kids that weren’t hers when she was already in her sixties. How she did it, I don’t know. She made sure we were fed, that we were housed, that we went to sleep at the times that we were supposed to. But that was it. She didn’t have any time in her life to show affection. I
“The man is the head of the house and the woman is the heart. I think that was God’s plan - that’s why he made us so different.” JW: My mother and I were never close until my stepfather died, and then she became the grandma that our kids never had. Boy, once he died she became a different person. She said to me, “The only things I’ve ever loved in my life are your boys.” And I thought, “Wow, that leaves out my sister and me both!” But it was nice to hear that she finally loved somebody. She didn’t love my dad, she didn’t love her first or second husband, and she always said she didn’t know me at all. My sister had a little more opportunity with her, but she married real early because she wanted to get out of the house. She had kind of the same idea I did. She always says that when she got married, her idea of a home was
thanked her, you know, because she actually gave me a place to stay. I was taken care of. And what else could you ask for from a grandmother who has four kids there? For that I owe her a lot. My grandmother showed me what a real person could do. She gave up a lot for us! And she worked constantly - always washing our clothes, taking care of us when we were sick. I mean, what kind of grandmother would do that for four kids? I don’t know, but she did. She worked day and night for other people’s kids. SW: Describe the home environment you wanted to create. What was your intention for your family and living space?
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JW: I wanted to make a home that everybody felt good coming back to, being in. I wanted my kids to be happy and I wanted my husband to be perfectly content. We kind of shared the responsibilities with the kids, and we’d talk things over so we were always in agreement on what we did. I think that helped. Nothing was too hard that we couldn’t get together and decide what to do about it. I wanted my kids to be well-educated, and we helped them. When they came home, I would go over any problems in English, grammar, literature and math. But any of the sciences would be his, because he loved science. So when they came home with homework they didn’t understand, one of us would help. I really like to write, and of course the kids had a whole bunch of things they had to write about, so I would go over what they did and tell them the way I thought it should be. I guess that’s the way we decided to raise our family. When they came home from school, the things they had to do were just as important as anything we had to do. We didn’t believe in babysitters. We went out a lot, but the boys went with us. It didn’t bother us, we liked it. No matter what we did, we took them. We used to take square dance lessons, and the kids would all climb in the car and go too. It was family time. That’s the type of home I wanted - where everyone loved each other and looked out for each other and enjoyed each other’s company. I wasn’t the best cook in the world, but nobody ever complained, so I guess that’s a good thing too. [laughing] It was fun raising the boys. They were good kids - never got in any trouble that I know of.
Jean as an infant with her father, August Bitzenauer, who she lost touch with after her parents divorced.
1969 Jean and her grandmother, who took care of her as a child.
at age 9
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The school teachers always remarked about the boys. I remember one teacher said, when Bill was there, that he was outstanding. And he thought, “That’s pretty good, with four boys.” And then along came Steve, and he was great too! And he said, “Well how many boys can do this? One of them’s got to do something that’s not too good!” Then Matt went to high school and got straight A’s. Then they said, “Here comes the last one. He’s probably spoiled, he’s not going to be very good.” But that was Ted, and he was outstanding. He surprised everybody. They said, “All four boys can’t be this good!” But they were! And we’re really proud of them. They did great. SW: Why do you think motherhood was so fulfilling for you? JW: Well it would be fulfilling for anybody I think, not just me. Having a child, having a baby, it’s wonderful. Thinking of having to go to work or having a career, that doesn’t fulfill you in any way. But being a mother sure does. It’s a responsibility, but what great love. It’s just overwhelming. I can’t see where anything could be more fulfilling than being a mother. Working was fun and the promotions and all were great, but still the biggest part of my life was raising the kids. I look at them and I’m so proud of what they’ve done and who they are.
SW: Earlier you said that the man is the head of the house and the woman is the heart. What do you mean by that? JW: Well as the head of the house, my husband is the provider. He’s responsible for everything - making sure we have food and clothing and all that kind of stuff. It’s a big responsibility. I think the woman is the heart because, you know, it’s women who make sure love is shown and that the kids feel protected and loved and needed and wanted. That’s my job. Then when dad comes home from work, he kind of takes over. Since they were all boys, he would take them and do things that I couldn’t do with them. I think a husband and wife have to share what they do with the kids. Being all boys, he had a lot of responsibility. He taught them how to do things. And of course, we camped like crazy in tents. It was good for them. We were outdoors. They learned how to make fires and set up tents and all that kind of stuff. I think they still like to do that. It was kind of a divided responsibility. We both knew what we wanted to do. I felt like I was the heart, the love my kids felt all day long. But he was the head of the home, and anytime we came to a disagreement - well, we’d talk it over like crazy, but his opinion was the one that we respected the most. That’s the way God intended it. And it worked out good.
Jean makes her daily call to her son Steve, who now lives in Colorado. After living in the same home in Elmore, Ohio for fifty years, her kitchen doorframe is marked with growing heights of her children and grandchildren.
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SW: When you and Erv began your lives together, you started out with next to nothing, financially. What was that experience like? Were finances a struggle throughout your marriage? JW: Everything Erv and I did, we did together. Whatever one of us got, you both get it. It’s fun, you know - you start with nothing, but you make it together. I think it makes a cement or something. Money isn’t important to us. It never was, it never will be. I guess that makes a closer bond. We always made sure the kids had everything, but when our kids were growing up - well, we always made use out of what we had. Bill would wear a shirt and when it got too small, it went to Steve and then it went to Matt. And poor Ted, sometimes they were pretty well worn! But we were in that kind of a neighborhood where everyone had about the same, working. And the kids didn’t care at all. Of course, Bill was pretty lucky. But I can’t see where any one of them was embarrassed because
of the clothes they had. They always looked nice, and I think it taught them how to be a little more thrifty. SW: Do you think lessons you learned during that part of your life affect how you handle your money today? JW: Oh, you bet. I started working when I was a sophomore in high school because my grandma had to be paid. Every dime counted, every single dime counted. Then after my grandma died and I was on my own, I really had to watch my money! I would buy a pound of hamburger meat and buns every week and that was it. I think I passed that on to the kids. If there ever was a sale on something, we’d go together and get whatever’s on sale. And it didn’t bother anybody, not at all. It was kind of fun to do. We didn’t have new things, but they were decent things. Erv didn’t like debts. He couldn’t stand it. If we didn’t have the money, we didn’t get a car. If we didn’t have the money, we wouldn’t get a couch either. The boys picked that up, I think.
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I think today when kids get married, they already want all that their mom and dad have worked for. It’s kind of sad. They aren’t starting out the right way. Our first apartment was furnished - we didn’t own a thing except for paying the rent. But that was a way of saving money before the kids were born. I worked, he worked, and money was saved. That’s how we got things. But even when we bought this house, I thought Erv was going to go nuts because he owed money. He couldn’t even sleep nights because it was bothering him that he had a debt he couldn’t pay for. It took us three or four years to pay it off, and then he was happy. I think it’s nice to know that I have a husband who wants to do things right. When you look back it’s always fun to see what we started out with and what we’ve got. When we got married, he had a car and I had a tv. That was it. And the tv was so small, you had to sit right in front of it to see it! But it was OK.
SW: You’ve been at the Hayes’ house for quite a few years now. What is it about that job you enjoy? JW: I just love history! His history specifically - President Hayes. It’s easy to talk about someone you really think was good. He always maintained his family values, I mean, that was his family home. He also refused to run for his second term. He said he didn’t think any president should run for two terms because they would spend their first four years trying to get elected to their second. He always wanted to do what was best for the party, not him personally. He was a really exceptional man, very patriotic. SW: What is it about working in historical preservation that appeals to you? JW: It reminds us of the past, and the past was beautiful. You know, most of it. People struggle like crazy to keep it that way, to even survive. At the Hayes’ house, they preserved everything - his family must have had such a great sense of history. Everything’s original, everything they saved.
If you don’t know the history of the country, how can you build on it? You have to know the history of your country - what people died for, what people stood for. I think things are changing so fast right now. I don’t like it. The values aren’t there. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see the values there in today’s world. Even family values. That wasextremely important.
with my kids. I think that’s changed, and it’s a bad influence on kids growing up. I don’t see that changing at all unless parents are more selective on what their kids can do. It bothers me because most of the young people I know say the same thing - they don’t want their kids to go to this show, but they do because
“The past was beautiful... People struggle like crazy to keep it that way.” The Hayes’ house was a family house. His kids were home all the time, grandkids too. He made it a fun place to be. This country was built on family values and morals - Christian attitudes. I am so ashamed at the way TV is. And kids these days sometimes sit there and watch TV from morning ‘til night. And the TV isn’t any good! The new programs are awful. I don’t even like the commercials. I wouldn’t sit there and watch some of those things
Jean works as a tour guide at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio. - 133 -
all their friends do, or they don’t like to watch TV because of the commercials. And people don’t talk anymore. They don’t sit together and watch good shows, they all have these little things in their hands and they’re texting and what not on their phones. That’s not family life! It’s a shame to see that disappear.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
While drinking their coffee on a snowy Monday morning, Jean and Erv watch birds feed on the corn nailed to their front yard tree.
what does being a woman mean to you?
I have always been amazed by women — their elegance, their grace, their intelligence, their risilience, their seemingly limitless capacity to love. To me, womanliness is an art form. Women bring beauty and cultivate life wherever they go. I wear my femininity proudly — I embrace it. As I’ve matured in my own womanhood, I’ve come to see a massive disparity between society’s depiction of femininity and the artful manner of existence I so admire. Today’s culture percieves the feminine as lesser-than — as a sign of weakness. While women have made incredible strides in the area of gender equality, good-natured efforts to free women from sexism have produced a destructive, untrue mentality — the idea that women must shed their femininity to be strong. I believe it’s the responsibility of modern women to pursue empowered femininity. I choose a femininity that celebrates intimacy and softness of heart. I choose gentleness over docility, sensitivity over weakness, beauty over vanity and love over all. I am so honored to have been able to document these women’s lives in this way. Each of them are an inspiration in their own way. I am grateful to each of them for trusting me with their stories and opening their lives and homes to a scatterbrained college student with a big idea. I hope you enjoyed this project for all it was intended to be — a celebration of womanhood and of life itself. It’s not all sunshine and roses, but a good amount of it actually is.
www.sallywegert.com firstname.lastname@example.org 502-641-8889
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