Thursday, May 29, 2014

#YesAllWomen by Jacqueline Hope Derby

In the hours following the killings in California the hashtag #YesAllWomen went viral in response to the “manifesto” of Elliot Rodger who committed these murders. No matter how we frame his mental health issues (and I for one am sick and tired of calling anyone who does something unthinkable “crazy”) and access to guns, we must also look deeply at the ways in which he spoke about women and his desire to annihilate us. As Sasha Weiss in the New Yorker points out, “reading his manifesto, you can make out, through the distortions of his raging mind, the outlines of mainstream American cultural values: Beauty and strength are rewarded. Women are prizes to be won, reflections of a man’s social capital.”

#YesAllWomen is a response to the ways ALL WOMEN are subjected to living in a rape culture. I have to be honest…I don’t want to live in a rape culture. I don’t even want to ADMIT that I live in a rape culture because having already been assaulted, I want to believe that it is in the past not in the present. That is my own denial. But we do, and I think the terrifying rise of bullying—including cyber bullying, publishing erotic photos of ex-girlfriends without their permission, taking photos up women’s skirts (which is not something the law protects us from), homophobia, hate mongering, teen suicide after social media bullying, etc.—speaks to this fact.

I also believe that shifting our language and understanding of God from male-centered to female-centered is part of how we create a cultural shift. As long as God is a man, then inherently what men do to participate in this rape culture is “blessed” by this male god. However, when we worship a female god—the Divine Feminine or Mother God—we begin to take away the ultimate power differential from men, i.e. that whatever they are doing they are doing at the behest of this male god. “It is God’s will.” “It is His will.” are banished from the lexicon and the praxis.

Some argue for a god who is simply neither male nor female, but a neutered god is still male in the minds and hearts of most. As Ntozake Shange writes, “we need a god who bleeds now whose wounds are not the end of anything.” In the Feminine Divine we find this god. A Mother who is giving birth, creating, sustaining at her very breast, and correcting her children so they might live fuller happier lives. We cannot change the course of history—and truly challenge violence against women and our culture of rape—without first changing how we speak about God and how we speak about God’s daughters in our houses of worship. #YesAllWomen is not enough. If you are attending a place of worship and women are denied full participation and leadership for any reason, even your house of worship is participating in this rape culture—and it is doing it with the full weight of “It is God’s will.”

I can hear some of you screaming at me right here, “But Jacqueline! Can’t we just agree to disagree? It is just how some people translate their holy texts and understand their religion. Should we not be tolerant of religious difference?”

Sure, we could get into all sorts of hermeneutical conversations about our holy texts. I would talk about how slavery is in the Bible and blessed. “Slaves obey your masters.” is an actual commandment. I would ask you if you would sit through a sermon calling upon good Christians to have slaves? I would ponder if you would tell the young women and children in sexual slavery to “obey?” I would ask you if that is why you do not participate in abolitionist activities, even though there are approximately 27 million slaves worldwide right this very minute?

And you would get uncomfortable and tell me it is just not the same thing.

But it is exactly the same thing. You cannot have male dominated spiritual practices and leadership without the subjugation of women. And the subjugation of women equals a rape culture. A rape culture equals women and children being used and seen as objects to possess. As former President Jimmy Carter put it: “The truth is that male religious leaders have had—and still have—an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter.”*

But let’s have a different conversation. Think of the woman you most love in the world. Imagine her at the age of ten. Take her by the hand and lead her to the sofa. Look her in the eyes. Tell her how much you love her and want what is best for her. Now tell her that she deserves to be raped if she looks the “wrong” way. Now tell her that she deserves to grow up, go to college and graduate school, but that no matter what she does on the whole she will never earn as much as her male counterparts. Tell her that if she is murdered it will most likely be by someone she knows. Tell her that god loves her equally but, not really, because god favors boys over girls, penises over vaginas. Tell her that her contributions will always go through the filter of “for a girl.” Tell her god is really a man, and that she is not really made in his image. Tell her that in order to keep deserving to be loved she must be skinny, white, rich, submissive, and married.

Can you do that?

Yeah. Me neither.

#YesAllWomen points to the ramifications of the subjugation of women, but it does not get at the religious root cause. Women must stand up and refuse to participate in any spiritual or religious expression that requires their submission and spiritual authority to the men around them. Instead we must demand that our houses of worship be places of both respect and full participation for all persons. And the men who agree must renounce their own places of privilege and domination. We need to welcome Mother God into our worship. We need to venerate the feminine expressions of God. We need to proclaim from our pulpits and our pews that ALL women—skinny women, curvy women, white women, black women, brown women, straight women, gay women, bisexual women, rich women, middle class women, poor women, educated women, and uneducated women—are holy. And when we do, we raise up not only the Woman but her children as well.

And who of us is not Her child?

Read the full essay on The Sophia Collective

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