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There was a women’s march last weekend. Then, there was a backlash. (Of course there was a backlash.) Most of the content of that backlash centered on the marchers themselves — specifically, their looks. Certain male politicians characterized these women as “ugly” — a word often consigned to feminists — or “fat.” These men know how to push buttons. They know exactly how to hurt us.

And yet: To look at these naysayers objectively, it is clear that we are not dealing with young Paul Newman lookalikes. There is nothing beautiful, graceful or aesthetically pleasing about them. They are, as my mother would say, “as homely as a mud fence.” You could tell these men that, but they wouldn’t care. Because it doesn’t matter. A man doesn’t have to be beautiful. His entire worth to society — to the world — isn’t bound up in his looks.

But ours (as women) is.

Why? Why? The question keeps ringing in my head like a plaint. Because you see, I know women who marched — in D.C. and other areas. They are beautiful inside and out. More importantly, they are smart. Most importantly — and I use this adjective with the gravity it deserves — they are holy. Which is a darned sight more important than beautiful. Which is, in fact, much harder to obtain.

I vacillate between gentle, head-shaking wonder and furious rage when I examine the dichotomy between what we say we are as a nation and what we do. Politicians, especially conservative ones, like to call us a Christian country. But what would God think of building a wall to keep people out? I’m talking about the God who sent his son to say, “What you do unto the least of these, you do unto me.” What would God think about denigrating whole swaths of people, trying — quite calculatedly — to shut them up and shut them down?

I have been told a hundred times to “accept” what is happening politically. To smile and accentuate the positive. But this isn’t about policy differences. It’s about opposing what I see as evil. I will never back down from opposing evil. It is my moral right — my moral imperative — to oppose it.

It is also my imperative to disabuse the notion that a woman’s looks define her. Until we are all judged by the content of our souls, no one here — or anywhere — is free.

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holding-hands-858005_1920As I typed my response to Lori’s post, I typed and I typed and then I typed some more.  I went back and rewrote and it got even longer.  I realized that I was actually writing my post for today.  I wasn’t going to write about the Terrifying Cheeto (aka he who shall not be named) since Lori had already written about him in her post. After all, this isn’t a blog about politics. It is a blog about prayer and faith and God’s love.

But Faith and Love have a lot to do with politics. What we are seeing in politics now is a backlash.  It isn’t just a backlash against women who speak out against assault.  Yes, that’s been the loudest portion of the backlash this week thanks to the Cheeto and his talk about forcing himself on women.

This political season we are seeing a backlash against the modern civil rights movement.  Such a backlash happens whenever progress has been made.

The slaves were freed.  Then we had the KKK and Jim Crow laws.

The Civil Rights movement helped minorities and women.  Then we had redlining, white flight and Phyllis Schlafly.

Black Lives Matter and progress by women in society and we have the current backlash which includes none other than the Terrifying Cheeto. But it isn’t just him.  This all took root when Nixon told Southern voters that if they supported him (vs the Democratic Party), he wouldn’t push civil rights. It has grown from there but that was to be expected.

Every time there is progress, the ripples disturb something dark and rotten.  It has floated to the surface.  Ugly as it is, it isn’t new.  It is the response that follows a shift in power when one side loses this power to the other.

So, as Christians, what do we do? We hope and we act as Christ’s hands on this Earth.  We hold up those who are hurting and worried because they’ve already been impacted by the kind of hate that is screaming down the air waves.  We look for other helpers, people in office and out, running and not, who are working for civil rights and for empowerment.  We catch stones.  We hold people up.  And we look to God the source of power and Love and all that is truly Good.

Amen.

–SueBE

Dear Scott Baio,

This is not the letter I thought I’d be writing you when I was 15 and my girlfriends were betting their first-born children over the color of the shirt you’d worn on the previous night’s “Happy Days” episode. Funny how things turn out, huh?

I saw you recently on television defending your friend’s observations about women. (Move over, Voldemort — there’s a new “He Who Must Not Be Named”!) What you said essentially (and verbatim) is that this is simply the way men talk, and that we women should “grow up” and get over it.

Hey! Isn’t this like the time Jesus told the grieving widow of Nain, “Your son’s dead. Grow up and deal with it”? Or the famous Sermon on the Mount, when he told the peacemakers, “You’re never going to achieve world peace. Grow up”? Wait a second. That never happened! That’s because Jesus couldn’t stay quiet in the face of injustice. He stands for the marginalized and abused. And that’s why I can’t take your advice either, I’m afraid.

My faith compels me to speak out — and act out — against injustice, just as Jesus did. When women are treated as things, as commodities for the use of men — that is unjust. You say that all men talk this way. You also believe that women talk about men this way, maybe over a glass of white wine. Maybe some do. I’ve just never met them. Oh sure, my friends and I kept a “Sexy Men” list in college. But with entries as varied as John Taylor from Duran Duran and Shaggy from Scooby Doo (my friend Kathy was so besotted, she claimed she’d never make him shave his peach fuzz or change his green T-shirt), it was largely played for laughs. And we never, ever spoke about violating anyone’s space, let alone assaulting them. Maybe I’ve always hung out with prudes. But I don’t think so.

Your buddy’s comments got women talking, though…mostly about their first sexual assaults. One of my friends was six years old the first time a man put his hands on her. Is that normal? I’m asking. Because I guess I don’t know what “normal” people do “all the time.”

I was tempted to talk about my own experiences here. But I saw the backlash in the Twitterverse toward women who came forward. Some people said they should just “grow up and get over it.” That talking about it doesn’t help. That it should be kept quiet. I’m pretty sure every woman has heard that before, from male police officers, deans of students, campus security guards, even family members. So I’ll keep my example “light.” Those lewd phone calls didn’t hurt me, after all. It’s just that…how did he know my name? And which dorm I lived in and on what floor? Didn’t he have to be someone I knew? Why did he make it a point to call every Valentine’s Day? Why did he stop when I told him I had a boyfriend who would find him? Again, I’m asking.

If “growing up” means accepting that it’s okay for one person to assault, intimidate, humiliate or hurt someone else, I guess I’ll never grow up. But you know, I think that’s okay. I can name a great number of people, saints and otherwise, who take after Peter Pan in this regard. They won’t grow up and accept racism, bigotry, poverty, unequal opportunity, war, violence…any number of things. I look up to them for this.

Because the other thing my faith gives me is hope. It’s a rare and beautiful thing, hope. It’s hope that keeps a person from “growing up” and growing accustomed to things that are not right. And it’s hope that makes me believe — wrongly or not — that the way your friend talks is not the way all men (or all women) talk. That the world is a better place than that.

I guess that makes me a wide-eyed kid, huh? Maybe I haven’t changed that much since I was 15.

I’m cool with that.

What’s a girl or woman worth? Not much, even in these “enlightened” times. In Pakistan, a 16-year-old girl was burned alive for the crime of choosing her own husband, the third “honor killing” of this sort in the past few months. And here in these United States, a white, privileged rapist was handed a three-month sentence for destroying a woman’s life, and there are folks (including his parents) who think that’s too great a punishment. Reading what the survivor of this attack had to go through to effect this small punishment is like reading something out of Kafka. The presumption of innocence is a wonderful thing, but in what other crime is it the defense’s entire strategy to imply that the victim wanted the crime to happen? Imagine, if you will:

Defense attorney: So you claim you were mugged.

Victim: Yes. He took my wallet at gunpoint.

Defense: Yet not three minutes earlier, you were seen removing your wallet from your pocket.

Victim: Yes, I was paying for a purchase. I bought dog food.

Defense: So you took out your nice, fat wallet and just waved it around?

Victim: I took it out of my pocket so I could pay for the dog food.

Defense: You showed your wallet, knowing that any normal, red-blooded man would see it and want your money, isn’t that right?

Victim: No, I —

Defense: You indicated loud and clear that you wanted someone to take your wallet. You were wearing an expensive suit! You wanted someone to mug you. You enjoyed it! You smiled when my client asked politely for your money.

Victim: I didn’t want him to kill me! I was placating him!

Defense: You smiled. You gave him the wallet. And you cried “mug” once before, in 2006 —

Victim: Because I was mugged!

Defense: Yet your so-called attacker was never found. You have a history of wantonly waving your wallet around, so what did you expect? Especially since you knew my client was high at the time. Your honor, I move that we drop all charges. This scumbag clearly asked for it.

Judge: I agree.

Am I alone in seeing the absurdity of this? In what world is this okay?

I’m sure some of you are wondering what this rant is doing on a blog devoted to God and spirituality. If how you treat other people isn’t a key component — possibly the key component — of your spiritual life, then I am unsure how to apprehend your vision of God. Jesus clearly tells us that “love your neighbor as yourself” is not enough: We must love our neighbor as God loves him. Or her. We have to do better than mere human love. We are called to higher things than that.

If your faith or conscience or morality tells you that women are somehow less than men, that they are not made “in the image and likeness of God” because God is clearly a dude, it is up to you to challenge this. “Male and female, God made them.” Until all people under God’s blue sky are treated as equals, we are standing in defiance of our maker. God help us.

 

 

 

I recently saw a bit from a late night talk show: An interviewer asked children why it was that women make less money than men for doing the same work. The boys’ answers were varied, but often supportive of women (especially their moms), but the girls — almost every one — went negative. Women were dumb or lazy. They hadn’t been taught things that men had been taught. They didn’t take their work seriously. They liked to shop too much.

Couple that with this figure: 91% of women don’t like their bodies and want to change them. What is wrong with us? Why don’t girls and women think themselves capable, beautiful or strong? Why are we convinced — apparently from an early age — that we are failures?

It is not Godly, this lack of self-esteem. We all start off the same way, as happy, little embryos. More male fetuses than female fail to make it to birth. More male infants die within the first year than do female babies. Women live longer, have higher tolerances to pain than men do. And yet we spend our lives thinking, by and large, that we are not good enough.

Why? Tradition? Culture? Law? All of these? Yes, and the Bible doesn’t help much either, written as it was for men by men, with its dearth of female heroines. It is the male bloodline that counts in the Bible. And yet, the most important figure in all of biblical literature — Jesus Christ — has a human mother…and no human father. Joseph, while mentioned, doesn’t have much dialogue in the New Testament. Neither does Mary, but at least she has some. And not one line of it is, “Do I look fat in this?”

Remember, too, that Mary is the only non-divine human being to be born without sin.

Remember, too, the women who remain at the foot of the cross. Only one man, in all of the gospels (his own) does the same.

Remember, too, that Jesus was often seen “in the company of women.” This, in a time when women were basically chattel. It is akin to being seen in the company of cows. But Jesus does it, time and again. He speaks to non-Jewish women, divorced women, prostitutes — acts so radical for their time, they make equal pay for equal work seem elementary.

Any faith practice that puts women down or places them as mere secondaries to men should be reexamined, as I hope Pope Francis will reexamine the Catholic Church, providing more opportunities for women to lead and be heard.

God created all of us. God stands with all of us. God loves us equally. Isn’t it time we did too?

It reads like something out Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale: Women being imprisoned because they suffered a miscarriage. But in cases that are stranger than fiction, this is actually happening. Right now. In 2015. Since the year 2000, at least 129 women in El Salvador have been put in prison for aggravated homicide due to miscarriage or stillbirth. In El Salvador, this is tantamount to abortion, which is against the law. Not only have these women had to suffer the loss of a child (at grave peril to their own health, in many cases) but separation from their families and other children, all in the name of something completely unlike justice in any guise. Of course, whether or not they even wanted to have a child is a luxury so beyond their choosing as to be ludicrous.

Fortunately, these women have allies. My hat goes off to The Citizen’s Group and Amnesty International (among others), who are working to correct these injustices. They are my new heroes.

But for every new hero, it seems an old one develops feet of clay. Take the case of musician Chrissie Hynde, a woman I used to think of as nothing short of fierce; a strong woman who stood for strong women. Her new autobiography describes how she was assaulted in the 1970s by a biker gang, a trauma that she blames entirely on herself. She is, of course, allowed to feel any way she wants about her own rape, but to then go on to victim-blame (as she does in no uncertain terms) goes against everything I ever thought she was.

It’s been said and said and said: Until there is social justice for all women, everywhere, there is no justice at all. Fortunately, God blesses us with true heroes. And if we cannot find one, we can be one. I have no problem sticking an “F” on my chest (for “feminist”) and striking a championing pose. But what will prove my mettle is how I treat women — and men — on a daily basis. When the going gets tough, may I be made of the sternest stuff on God’s green earth.

Women are riding a brief tide of empowerment. In the aftermath of the Elliot Rodgers murders (and other world events), people are talking openly about sexism, misogyny and the plight of women around the world. This is a good thing.

But why am I bringing this up on a blog reserved for spiritual matters? Because God is a feminist. (Yup, you read that right.) Ignore the sexist stuff in the Old Testament (which was written by and for men alone). And don’t be fooled by what years of editing have done to the apostle Paul’s letters — I, for one (and I’m not alone), can’t believe that the same Paul who praises several female apostles as being superior to him could be the same Paul who turns around and tells women to be more like plants. Forget that stuff. And forget, while you’re at it, what you think of when you hear the word “feminist.”

Feminists have been figuratively tarred and feathered, defamed as being man-haters; hairy, angry, rude. That’s not what feminism is about. Feminism (and listen up here, especially you millennials), merely asserts that women should have the same rights that men do. Feminism is about the fact that a woman will make almost half a million dollars less in her lifetime than a man doing the same job would. It’s about women in countries around the world who aren’t permitted to vote, or drive a car, or choose the person they wish to marry. It’s about girls being abducted and tortured for the crime of getting an education.

God doesn’t want anyone to be “less than,” to be hurt or subjugated. God is about love. God hurts in response to the things discussed on #yesallwomen. God does not want anyone to be victim-shamed, to grow up afraid, to worry that they have no say over their own bodies. Anyone who loves women — as God surely does — is a feminist.

So now that we’re talking about the problem, what next? Do something about it. Here are a few suggestions: Don’t vote for male politicians who think they know what’s best for a woman’s body. Think about sponsoring a girl in a third-world country through a reliable charity, as I am thinking of doing. (Surprise, honey!) Most of all, don’t let the conversation stop. Just like all conversations about inequality and social injustice, this one needs to continue if we’re going to take steps to really change it.

God loves men and women. And until we stand together as equals, love cannot flourish.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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