Redefining Hero: Cheree

Cheree O’Shields is a registered nurse who works at Kateri Residence, a program of St. Stephen’s Human Services that serves Native American women and children. She has worked as a nurse and advocate for homeless youth in the Twin Cities since 2005. She is currently working on her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree in Public Health Nursing and Adolescent Health at the University of Minnesota School of Nursing.

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My Incompetence as a Farmer and Why I Blame Patriarchy

Okay, so some of you may think this is a stretch, but lemme give it a shot.

Here’s where I’ve thus proven myself incompetent on the farm (I’m interning on an 150-member organic Community Supported Agriculture farm; I’ve been here a month):

I lack hand and arm and core muscle.

I’m not drill savvy – I needed to get a screw into purling (for a hoop house we’re putting together) and I couldn’t tell forwards from backwards in terms of which way the screw was moving. I just struggled for a while and then assumed I didn’t have the arm strength to do it.

I didn’t know that for tractors and stick shift cars, you have to park them in a gear or they roll backwards. I failed at parking the tractor in the proper spot, after multiple tries, and I later almost caused the car to roll into a pond (I was able to save it with 2 meters to spare; it did take out the horse fence).

I didn’t and don’t know what to listen to in terms of an engine (i.e. how to tell when you’ve given it enough throttle).

I didn’t know how to hitch a trailer or a tractor accessory.

I can’t back up a trailer.

I am not very good at starting a fire.

I don’t know to look for plastic on or near a wood burning stove before lighting a fire. I just end up with a pool of melted plastic and a house full of fumes.

Here’s why I think some of these incompetencies wouldn’t exist if patriarchy weren’t shedding it’s lovely shadow over our existence: 

I didn’t have a dad around for much of my life to show me how to use tools. When he was around, tools weren’t something he could afford to buy, and there wasn’t the time or money to do things like camp or hunt. My mom, while quite skillful in a lot of areas, doesn’t usually fix things herself. It might be a lack of time, as she works a lot (blame other structures for that, such as academia and capitalism and the nonprofit industrial complex), but it could also be that her dad passed his fix it skills onto the boys in the family – all my mom’s brothers are pretty savvy – and not the girls. Similarly, my mom’s brother and other men in our lives who were handy didn’t pass their skills onto me. Sure, they tickled and teased me (and there was the time that our tree trimmer friend put me in the harness and let me go up into the elm, and he gave my barbie the name Tree Trimmer Barbie) but even when I got to go fishing, they didn’t put a hook on my line! And I’m convinced it was not because I was 3, but because I was a girl raised by a single mother and an immigrant dad.

Maybe this is a stretch.

The point is, I feel incompetent out here on the farm. I guess that’s what you get with a city girl goes to western Wisconsin. It is quite possible that programs such as Boy Scouts prepare guys for country living a little more than what’s available for girls. And men are told to train their bodies, be tough – women aren’t. Men are supposed to be the handy ones, so I’m guessing they’re more likely to seek out or, through social pressure, be exposed to tools and machines and mechanical skills. Leaving me in the dust.

The farmer I work for is a single woman and she is often defending her know how and her ability to do things herself – whether it’s carrying a heavy load, trouble shooting the new sand point well, or getting the water feature working on her antique transplanter. She tells stories of always being the minority, and perceiving certain attitudes when at a meeting or buying supplies. I am interested in interviewing her about her experience as a single woman farmer in rural Wisconsin. If anyone has interview question suggestions, please post them in the comments. 


I can, at least, bottle feed the calves.

Ideally, I would have done some research for this post to back up some of my claims about male handiness being socially constructed, but life on the farm means I need to be rushing outside right now. Wish us luck transplanting today!

Written by Magdalena Kaluza

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Don’t Worry About the Rest: ReThinking Heroism


Thor: The Dark World 2013

Since before written language, humans have been basking in the residual glory of the hero archetype. The hero model of storytelling has been used across cultures from Greek mythology, to Roman kings, to religious characters depicted in Christianity.
Although the standard hero has evolved quite a bit over time, the core elements are still intact. A hero is self-sacrificing, 100% independent and courageous in the face of adversity. He, yes he, is predisposed to rescue the morally (and often physically) inferior (either a woman or common folk) and the less fortunate.
Nowadays, heroism appears to be a bit more removed from our world and reserved only for fantasy genre books or films. Prime examples are pictured: Thor and the Greek God, Hercules, if you’re into Disney. In reality, the hero worldview is just as culturally ingrained as it was 3000+ years ago.
Heros of recent history may not be as glamorous as kings or gods, but in many ways we still treat them as such. We use the same Imagestorytelling technique in high school history class as ancient kings used to selectively glorify and filter their legacy. They are framed as objective recounts, yet are both intentionally and subconsciously restricted.
One common example is Abraham Lincoln, the designated face of the Civil War. Particularly in grade school, a huge emphasis is placed on his moral righteousness (Honest Abe) and the abolishment of slavery is portrayed as solely his valiant act of joostice – involuntary reference sorry – as if others we’re joost watching from the bleachers. And of course everyone couldn’t be fully credited. The point is that we tend to choose a single man to mark the event and promote him to no end while skimming over the unpleasant details.
The consequences of hero-centered storytelling are particularly evident in the story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The traditional story is inaccurate for a number of reasons and not surprisingly is framed around the memorable, but limited hero model.
I don’t doubt that Ms. Parks was daring, ruthlessly moral and whatever else makes a hero; still, it doesn’t mean that she was not part of an existing network and plan. The inverse of a hero is the community, which has been all but screened out of history.

Sure they can…as long as there are other around to help out

The famous bus incident is portrayed as the first even though others, herself included, had already refused to give up their seats in the past. Likewise, those who made her training possible, prepared her for that moment, were already organizing in the community and setting the essential groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement are referred to as bandwagon supporters, if mentioned at all.

So, why does this matter? Omitting the social context from the story undermines the role of the black community along with the reason the act was ultimately successful. After all, it would be too risky for those in power to publicize the actions that actually lead to social change and shifts in power. Instead, students know Ms.Parks as a admirable, but unrelatable, special case who by sheer luck landed in the perfect circumstances.
As Herbert Spencer put it “You must admit that the genesis of the great man depends on the long series of complex influences which has produced the race in which he appears, and the social state into which that race has slowly grown….Before he can remake his society, his society must make him.”
In reality, social change takes careful planning, strategy, and a citizens that are not waiting around for a hero to save them. Rosa Parks was a key player in inciting the Civil Rights Movement, however we should not forget the rest. Not that we shouldn’t a quality hero conquest as needed – as long as it’s on Netflix instead of in our history textbooks.


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April Poetry Challenge–RLA Style

With April being poetry month, I thought it would be a perfect time for an RLA poetry post.  This past April, for the first time ever, I participated in the Poetry Month Challenge with a few poetic friends. The basis of the challenge is to write one poem every day for the entire month. I selected a few of my own and asked friends to contribute. The poems posted below were all written as part of this past April’s Poetry Month Challenge. They have been collected from multiple women, none have titles, and they have all been submitted anonymously. Enjoy!


I’m still waiting for it to begin.
Trying to find the anger within.
Grin and all, walking in.
A shine that follows.
Unwilling, he took that from you.
Leaving you with darkness.
Lost, trying to find the way back. 
To the day you felt comfortable in your own skin.
To the day you no longer have to lock every door behind you.
To the day you are no longer scared to live in your own house,
and able to leave your door open. 
Letting that shine that follows return again. 


Red heart beating life through my body
Orange sun reflecting in my eyes and staining my cheeks
Yellow sandy blond hair falling every which way but straight
Green grass stains are playful memories sweeping across worn jeans
Blue veins carrying precious life through delicate lines
Indigo mind taking in the fragrance of smiles passing by
Purple bruises lingering on olive skin building a tolerance for life
Coloring me in


Beautiful brown wrinkled skin
Aged with the wisdom of the world
Brave enough to be bold
Humble enough to still learn
Decades contained in her watering eyes
Mama Taejah is my new Superwoman


My vagina has a story too
It hasn’t told many
Because it gets confused
Labels get confused
Experiences are confusing
So it keeps its secrets

It has felt shame
Like a heart sprawled open
It wanted compassion
But it felt embarrassment
It has been broken
So it developed its own defense mechanisms 
It caved in like sand walls 
collapsing on a weak foundation
It signed contracts with the devil
It paid for that
It blamed itself 
It hurt 
It left
It feared 
It built up walls upon walls
To keep out the past
It cried until it couldn’t
It has felt and felt
It wanted to stop
But it still felt

But it has grown
It has learned to love itself in a way that nobody ever taught it to
Like a heart sprawled wide open
Giving and giving
Learning to accept
It has been shown love and that made all the difference
It needed to be pushed
To discover what it had not yet discovered on its own 
Now it is learning 
Learning independence 
Learning to trust
Learning empowerment

It still fears 
that is a scar that may never fade
But it loves
And it waits
And it says what it means
Because it is learning self-worth
And it is finally starting to share its story


I looked down at my feet, 
admiring my new black leather sandals 
Admiring the fact that I got them for a deal second hand
My skin an olive dark tan 
My toes painted a deep red
I look down at my feet
and realize that they mirror my mother’s
Then I remember the olive tan woman who taught me to thrift shop

I pick through the garden weeds
The dirt under my nails and on my knees
The sun beating on my bare shoulders
I smile as I remind myself how lucky I am to have this place
To have the time, the tools, and the earth
To be gaining all this knowledge

I imagine myself older with a magnificent and crazy garden taking over my yard
A serene and tasty place 
A place to get away
A place to spend all my free days
Then I realize that this image is in fact the image of my mother
The woman who introduced me to dirt as a child
Who spent hours upon hours planting with me every summer

No wonder I’ve grown up to be just like her


She wears masculine clothing,
Predominately dates women
She identifies as female
I think she is beautiful

But there are places she wont go
Cruelty paves the streets on certain parts of town
She has grown accustom to dodging words that shoot at her like knives
The strangers who tell her “you need some dick in your life”
or boldly refer to her as a man with disgust in their eyes
But her ears are shields and she calmly deflects their words
Harassment has become a normalized part of her life
and she doesn’t want to step on a soap box every night
She shouldn’t have to

I might be lucky
Because my identity feels like it lies dormant ‘cause you can’t see it
Like a secret that I can keep if I need to
I don’t fear discrimination at job interviews
I do not get harassed on the streets
Well, at least not because of my dating preference
Nobody tells me that I need some dick in my life
I have the privilege of choosing when I want to out myself
I can pass as a heterosexual woman anywhere at any time
I can hide 
behind shields of feminine clothing, make up, and long hair
Sometimes out of convenience
Sometimes out of fear 

But events still occur that force me to become acutely aware of who I am
Confront it even
Some joyful and some difficult
But either way, these events make me who I am

Family Christmas reminds me every year what closeted feels like
I hide from this family out of fear
Because I count on them to love me and to be proud of me
So instead of share, I endure the questions every year 
They want to know which man I am dating now
I curl into myself as they describe the sexy husbands they can set me up with

I am reminded of my identity when I am dancing
A standard creeper asks us if he can join
Well, dude, my relationship is not here for your pleasure… so no
But if I want to be public, my gender and my sexuality collide and become fetishized
I wonder if that is something I will have to deal with for the rest of my life

Our last election was a time that filled me with so much hope and pride
Going door to door
Campaigning and debating and voting for my constitutional rights
“Vote No” plastered on stickers, t-shirts, and signs
Watching the TV screen that November as it counted the uncomfortably close race

When we won the campaign that night, tears welled up in my eyes
For this possibility that we may actually be creating a society that is more tolerant and loving and accepting
For my future 
For my friends
For my children
It was a moment I will recall to them as a mile stone in our history
And all I could feel was pride

I don’t want to hide behind shields my whole life
I shouldn’t have to
We shouldn’t have to
Events happen and feelings surface
They string together and get twisted up in how I identify
Sometimes I can hide, sometime I don’t want to, sometimes I can’t
But it always makes me who I am

Why Did Mellie Say She “Fought” When Talking About Her Experience of Rape?

Trigger Warning: Content regarding sexual assault.



It has been a really busy past couple of weeks so only today did I get around to watching the season finale of Scandal. Throughout this season we have found out more about Mellie including that her father-in-law, “Big Jerry” raped her. Several times throughout the season Mellie alluded to the rape, saying things to her husband President Fitz, along the lines of “You have no idea what I’ve been through for you.” In the season finale, Olivia Pope told Fitz that Mellie had been raped.

When Fitz approaches Mellie after finding this out, he kisses her on the head and she says, “I fought him.” Why did she say this? Would this trauma have been less real or valid if she had not fought him? What does this say about how we teach survivors/victims/experiencers* of sexual assault how to feel about trauma that occurred to them?

We live in a society that overwhelmingly does not believe individuals who have experienced sexual assault or trauma. When Mellie said, “I fought him”, it sounded to me as if she did not see her trauma as valid without taking a physical action against the perpetrator of rape. This expression appears to confirm this notion that rape is always easy to identify and notice. When I say rape in a noticeable way, I mean extreme violence and often an inclusion of yelling, pushing or screaming. Rape is inherently violent though; all sexual assault is violence.

All sexual assault is violent but we are not taught a full explanation of what consent, assault and violence looks like. As I write this, Sexual Assault Awareness Month is ending, the White House just released this PSA regarding men intervening and standing up against sexual assault. When it comes to this work, I see men as absolutely vital and central to ending sexual assault. I also understand that our work needs to start at much younger ages; we cannot expect to have a thorough understanding of assault if we do not begin until the adult age. This teaching also needs to go beyond simply “no means no” and into discussing what we often call “gray areas”, what we often do not categorize as assault.

Since I do not believe that our society overwhelmingly understands what consent means or how to label assault; I also believe this can impact the psyche of victims/survivors/experiencers. If we do not teach what can be considered assault, this lacking is impacting both perpetrators and those who experienced assault.

When our understanding of consent is limited to acts of extreme violence, it makes sense that Mellie felt the need to say she fought Big Jerry. Individuals might find it more difficult to blame themselves (not saying blame does not still occur) when they put in as much physical effort as possible; this however disregards the shock, trauma, numbness and confusion that overcome individuals in times of panic. After the experience I had, I told a friend about what happened, I shamed myself for not being more firm and physical. She said so poignantly that when in situations of panic we often do not want to be too dramatic. We do what we need to do to get through that moment.

On television though, there is seldom time and space for this type of nuance and coping. Scandal is not a perfect television show, however it does bring up topics along the lines of sexual assault, racism, homophobia, image and sexism that mainstream media often does not. In the case of Mellie and the trauma she experienced, this was an example of something we can fairly easily identify as rape. I am glad we are having these conversations about sexual violence in dominant spaces. I hope that our understanding of the widespread impact of sexual assault expands and that we can create a society where sex is not so often connected to violence and trauma.

*I use all three of these labels as some individuals do not like the term victim or survivor and some individuals like myself, hesitate to label their experience in any specific way.

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Rethinking My Own History


“Power is the combined force of a multitude of voices joined together…”


Junior year in my high school US History class we held a presidential-election-tournament-deal, where everyone represented at least one US president whom has ever existed. I drew Ronald Reagan.

That was five years ago now, so the exact details are fuzzy, but when it was my turn to debate with the quieter, more reserved student portraying Franklin D. Roosevelt, I won. Method of victory: slander.

Years of viewing politics from only  an outsiders’ perspective, it seemed to be the correct way. Louder, more boisterous and arguably funnier than my opponent, I barraged  him with unfavorable facts about FDR; facts that were totally irrelevant to the true meaning of politics, but would nonetheless allow me to win (as many actual presidents before me) in a landslide.

At the time, my teacher was completely shocked that I, Reagan, had won the class vote—especially over FDR. While we were learning the politics of campaign work, we were not learning how to ‘do’ effective politics.

It was not until four years later when I decided to take part in the Inequality in America off-campus study program here in the Twin Cities that I truly learned what ‘doing politics’ meant. I was interning as a community organizer for Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, while in the class was learning about organizing people to create social change. Not only did my course delve into community organizing through labor movements, but we also learned how to lobby for policies, and what that entails. This was a very transformative and empowering experience because I had never been told that my voice as a citizen and community member could create change—that my voice could, should and would be heard.

In Ken Burns PBS series Wynton Marsalis likens democracy to jazz, “In American life, you have all these different agendas. You have conflict. And we’re attempting to achieve harmony through conflict…that’s what jazz music is. It’s exactly like democracy… The real power of jazz is that a group of people can come together and improvise…negotiate their agendas with each other” (Boyte 2001).

I like this definition of politics. It represents how  as a democracy our collective voices are heard and harmonize to create effective policies. Unfortunately, in our day and age I feel that this view of our democracy has been lost. The only voices heard, are those loud enough to speak over others, usually with their dollars.

In high school I perpetuated this skewed political paradigm and took on the role of the only voice heard by trampling over my quieter opponent. If anything this victory could be likened to the victory of Reagan himself; a rich television actor who “fit” the role of president to a tee. How could he not win? His voice was extremely loud as a wealthy celebrity. But did his popular voice mean he was politically experienced and knowledgeable? Not exactly. Did it mean he knew what the people of this country wanted or needed? I’m not sold. But like in my high school, the silent masses simply went with my overpowering singular voice.

Having learned more of the political and everyday context around Reagan over time, I now see why my teacher was so shocked that I beat FDR. Personally, I am ashamed of my own pride in winning this debate. Looking back on this experience, I wonder how my teacher could have ever let that happen.

Now, don’t think that it was my history teachers fault that I was not an active citizen at that time—it was a variety of aspects made up by my entire environment growing up. If anything, I would consider this teacher one of the most influential women I had met up until that point in my life. She was my first glimpse at feminism and the level of inequality in our political system. Every day my actions and beliefs are shaped by the classes I took with her in high school. At that time though, my 16-year-old self could not grasp the ubiquitous concept of ‘isms’ because I was too wrapped up in my sports, volunteer work, school work, and student clubs to fully confront my own perceptions of inequality in our world.

This Rethink History project is important to me because I believe everyone should be empowered to use their voice in creation of a more equitable world. Especially in our world today where wealth influences our government and major power structures in place, not all voices are heard. Youth are taught not to value our place in this democracy as much we are pushed to get the best test scores. There is no way around the conflict of interest in our political world today, but at least through a rise of cohesive improvisation of all ideas brought to the table we can create a more inclusive view of our countries history and present tense.


Boyte, H. (2001). A tale of two playgrounds: Young people and politics. Retrieved from

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3 Reasons To Attend “Unspoken” on 4/26

Real Life Athena: A Women’s Collective will be hosting our first ever live event on 4/26 from 2-10pm. It will be a day filled with workshops, performances, art, good people and great music.

RSVP right now!

Facebook Event

Here are three reasons you need to be there:

1. Our workshops. Join us beginning at 2:00pm on April 26 for workshops that align and advance our mission. Workshop topics include creative expression of identity, a conversation for male-identified individuals on healthy masculinity, a workshop led by Adam Harris from Penumbra Theater on using art for social change and an important conversation on sex positivity.

2. Performances. Here are videos of a few artists who will be performing on April 26 in the evening aspect of our event.

B Dot Croc 

Nik Martell

Lyriq Lashay

3. Art on Display

We will have art on display all day, some artists will have pieces for sale as well.

Check out one of our incredible artists. (We’ll continue to feature artists, musicians, etc… as the event approaches!)



What’s in a Hero? Wendy. Davis.

Wendy Hero ReThink History: Hero Project

If you don’t know Wendy Davis, here’s the scoop. In my opinion she’s about as BA as it gets. She’s a democratic politician running for governor in the most notoriously red state in the country – Texas. Not to mention, she’s a woman. That alone takes an enormous amount of moxie (new fav word) and determination, and still it doesn’t even scratch the surface.

To her supporters and fans she may be a lot of things: a rags to riches success story, a ray of hope for Texas democrats, an abortion clinic guardian, a Harvard alumni lawyer and, of course, mom. The list could go on, however, what tends to be missing is the title Hero. So, what’s in a Hero?

☑ People who become heroes tend to be concerned with the well-being of others.

☑ Heroes are good at seeing things from the perspective of others.

☑ Heroes are competent and confident.

☑ Heroes have a strong moral compass.

☑ Having the right skills and training can make a difference.

☑ Heroes persist, even in the face of fear.


She more than fulfills every requirement on typical qualities of a hero (spare you the details) except for the tacit and most basic of them all. Everyone knows a hero is a man. And not just any man, a strong, self-sacrificing man with a furrowed brow and a disciplined mind, ready to rescue the helpless, the unfortunate and the women.

Our image of who should be powerful and heroic extends beyond conceptual ideas and has very real consequences for Wendy and her campaign. For example, the majority of the oppositions attacks are not on her political stance, but her personal life and backstory. She’s not traditional enough, she didn’t even struggle that much, she abandoned her family, she didn’t dedicate every waking moment to her children while she was at Harvard law school… and so on.

A man going pursuing a degree in another state while the wife stays back with the kids is seen as a necessary sacrifice. A woman doing the same is seen as a unjustifiable atrocity. A male politician’s home life is barely acknowledged in most cases, while a female politician must be prepared to reveal and defend even the most irrelevant, personal details of her life.

Anyway, the election will be this November and I have no idea what to expect. I do know that the republican candidate Greg Abbott is outrageous and of course wants to cut pre-K education for only minorities, plans to vote against the equal pay act, continue the abortion clinic destruction and the usual. I 100% support Wendy in doing just the opposite.

#TeamWendy 4life

Check out the website:


and tell your friends!

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