women’s rights

How the church silences women

shhh2I left the church, all churches, because of how the Christian religion views and treats women. I am just sharing this up front (if you haven’t read previous posts).

I have written many times about how the women in my church (and the pastor, who was a woman) used silencing behavior to shut me down, everything from intervening when I was trying to be honest with my husband in counseling sessions to handing me a list of Bible verses about “gossip” when I needed to talk to someone about my abusive husband.

There is something seriously wrong going on. It is common for women who are in bad marriages, some abusive, some not, to be pressured to remain in those marriages no matter what. It is a duty, marriage is sacred, it would be a sin to divorce.

Let’s first talk about the sacred institution of marriage. This is a doctrinal thing. Marriage is mentioned in the Bible, and it is likened to Christ’s relationship to the church. From that analogy, marriage has become primary while the people (and their children) in that marriage are secondary.

“God hates divorce!!!!!!!!”

God probably hates a lot of things, but I don’t think divorce is at the top of his list.

This is a symptom of a much bigger problem. People (individuals) come last in the Christian religion.

Yep. They do.

When duty, or doctrine, is more important than relationship, then you will end up with dysfunction of some kind. And those who put the marriage before the people in that marriage are being dysfunctional. They are encouraging dysfunction. They are perpetrating dysfunction.

I have declared to anyone who wants to listen that I reject the Pauline letters in the New Testament. I think they run contrary to the teachings of Yeshua (he was Jewish, and his name is NOT Jesus — I know, picking at gnats).

Women must remain silent in church. Women must obey their husbands in everything. Women must wear head coverings. Women must wear dresses. Women must…

This is all legalism. Paul was a legalist.

In all of the years that I tried to relate to and communicate with my husband, he often told me that I needed to submit: over and over and over again. He never quoted the verse that commands husbands to love their wives as Jeshua loves the church. He never quoted the verse about how a man who does not care for his family is worse than an infidel.

I was told that it wasn’t my place to discuss _____ (fill in the blank), how I should not do this or do that, how my prayer life was even under his purview.

But when spiritual leaders in a church use the same silencing behavior on their congregations, you end up with a bunch of unthinking, repressed people.

Do you know one of the leaders in my old church stood up and said how much she hated running into this one woman she knew because she was always so down and negative (this was the same person who shut me down with a sheet of scriptures on gossip when I needed to confide in someone).

Dysfunction is prevalent in Christian relationships because of the fear of truth. There is a fear of honesty. There is a fear of reality.

“Don’t interrupt my religious moment with your unpleasant reality, please!”

“Oh, your husband is abusing you? Your reward will be in heaven. You must do your best to submit to him anyway.”

“Shhh, women should be silent.”

The judicial system, encouraged by our Christian heritage (patriarchy in general), permitted husbands to rape their wives in the no-so-distant past.

A man who beat his wife was justified in the last century.

Hell, women didn’t even have the right to vote until 1920, and then civil rights, rights over their own bodies and personal life decisions, took many more decades.

Men rant about how unfair the judicial system is because they say it favors mothers in divorces. Have they not looked at history where a hundred years ago women had almost no rights at all? Children (and their mothers) belonged to fathers/husbands.

Women had to remain in bad marriages if they wanted to keep their children, not be homeless, and have any kind of financial support. There weren’t even many professions available where women could support themselves. Women still make a lot less than men today.

Inequality is ugly.

Why are men threatened by women’s rights? I do not understand why men are threatened by women who use their voices.

And religious men can be the worst. Actually, let me correct myself: religious women can be the worst. I wonder if there is some underlying fear that if a friend has justification for leaving her husband, she might question her own marriage. Things start to get shaky and undefinable when women have autonomy and self-determination. There is a loss of control.

Oh, and here we are: control.

Silencing women comes down to the need to control. And when the church (which is the corporate body and its individual members) silences women, it is exerting control over them, control that it should not have.

What if we let women speak and then decide for themselves? Would the world come to an end?

The justification for Paul’s letter, the historical context — at least what I was taught — was that women would just stand up and speak when gathered in the early church.

Gasp! Choke!!! Oh no!

Some kind of directive was necessary to keep them under “control.”

And today, the church silences women by insisting that they wear dresses, defer to their husbands, defer to their pastors, defer to… well, everyone. Heck, women should speak quietly and not make trouble. Women should…

Silencing behavior. Control.

How long will women put up with such ridiculousness? How long?

For those who are still skeptical, I challenge you to explore gender equality in the Christian religion. The Junia Project is a lovely place to begin.

I challenge you. What do you have to lose? Control?

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Women against women

I was reading a CNN op-ed on Jill Abramson’s firing. I agreed with the basic conclusion the poster made that Abramson was fired for being a woman who got things done, was abrasive, a ball-buster, so to speak, and that if she had been a man, would probably still have her job. It is really easy to claim sexism in a situation like this. I’m guessing that the truth is a lot more complicated than that. And in reading the latest about the cause of the firing, it most likely is NOT gender related.

Listening to a discussion about the firing on NPR last week, there was mention of Abramson’s disagreement with some of the directions that other upper management wanted to take NYTimes.com.

When I heard details on some of the disputed changes, they were practices on other news sites that I despised: my respect for Abramson soared.

I don’t want to sit through a video on a newspaper’s online version. I want to skim articles, looking for key phrases and vital information, deciding on my own whether I want to read an entire article.

I do NOT want to watch a 30-second commercial before being subjected to a poorly-produced video clip comprised of a sound-bite. I refuse to be held captive so that I can watch some Barbie doll anchor give me meaningless, biased information. (Yikes, that was snarky — I despise the hiring of only attractive women for on-camera jobs — it offends me. The same standards are obviously not applied to hiring attractive men for their jobs.)

I want facts so that I can determine on my own what they mean using the critical thinking skills that I possess.

When I visit a news website, I never, ever click on the links with the little video camera icon beside them. Never.

Back to women against women.

After reading about Abramson’s firing, some of the many varied responses to the news, and considering whether she would have still had her job if she had been a man, I wondered what really happened to result in termination. Women are judged differently than men in this world.

I recall occasions when I evoked a less-than-positive response from other women. Most men have no problem dealing with me, at least outside of my own family and the religious community.

Maybe it is because I sort of speak their language (not fluent, though) and respect their rituals: I enter a room, make eye contact and extend my hand in the male ritual of the handshake. I will offer a real handshake, not one of those limp things that I get even from some men these days. The handshake is designed to test the strength of men. It is observed every day, at least in America.

I don’t mind. I am a visitor to the male-dominated world of business, education, and bureaucracy. All women are. Our presence is fairly recent, really. Most young women don’t realize this.

100 years ago women were fairly excluded from any kind of meaningful contribution to the “real” world outside the home. Yes, there were some women who attended college, made contributions to science, medicine, education, politics, religion, literature and business. But they were anomalies. They were treated badly. They were not taken seriously, usually, during their time. We learn about them now because, in college, diversity is a required component in college courses.

I have realized something: women are harder on women than men, even. And I have some ideas about why this is the case.

I recall one situation about 13 years ago. It was the annual Christmas party hosted by my husband’s employer. I was a stay-at-home mom of many young children at the time.

One of the wives, a successful working woman in her own right (she is a brilliant woman), kept her back turned to me the entire time. She would not make eye contact, would not speak to me, and physically kept her back turned to me the entire night (it was a sit-down dinner in a room that did not allow much movement).

I recently experienced the same treatment from someone from the other end of the spectrum, an ultra-conservative who kept her back to me in a meeting a couple of weeks ago. Her body language was obvious.

I offend women regularly because I refuse to adhere to any particular standard of womanhood. I am in school, kicked my husband out of the house and refuse to reconcile, left my church, and am very honest about what I think of many biblical teachings.

I refuse, however, to pick up the banner of liberalism (because it feels too much like religious dogma to me). I refuse to return to the world of conservatism (because conservatives are completely out of touch on the real issues concerning Americans). I address issues individually and am all over the map when it comes to political opinion and beliefs.

I think I just piss people off because I say what I mean. People that know me know that I might be clueless on occasion and say something that I maybe should have left unsaid, but I am rarely mean. What is offensive to most people is that I will speak up when my bullshit alarm goes off.

For example, when someone is stating that arranged marriages must be good because the divorce rates in such marriages are low I will challenge that statement.

Arranged marriages take away a woman’s right to self-determination. That is NEVER good. Consider cultures where arranged marriages are practiced: Hindu cultures where women are treated like property and widows are discarded when their husbands die, or girl infants are killed because they don’t have boy parts; Muslim cultures where women are treated like property, are often held captive in their own homes, and prohibited an education equal to males; Christian cultures where strict adherence to certain practices silence women’s voices or they are rejected and shunned.

Arranged marriages rarely result in divorce because in such cultures women do not have the right to divorce their husbands. They are slaves. How in the world could this ever be good?

Women who have strong opinions and determined belief systems are criticized harshly by other women — I was emphatic in my disagreement with the issue of arranged marriage. Apparently, I can be quite offensive because of my strong opinions. I even think my re-examination of core beliefs is offensive to women. Why is this? Why must women be one thing? Why must we choose a camp and plant a flag?

A woman in business is labeled a ball-buster if she is a good manager: objective, definitive and determined. She is ineffective or a wimp if she tries to be feminine in the same job.

Then I think about how the Republican and Democratic parties treat women: the Democrats don’t think two women can run for president and vice president because it will alienate men. Huh? Republican women who are moderate, believe in a woman’s right to choose, and the validity of social programs just won’t get anywhere. Shame on both parties. We want to blame most of this on men, and we can certainly find reason to do so, but I think women are just as responsible for the challenges women face in this world.

When will women stop being so hard on other women? Probably never. In writing this post, I realize that I am very hard on other women myself. This is a dilemma for which I have no answers.

Then again, maybe this isn’t a gender issue at all. Maybe it is all about the human need for conformity. Hmmm . . .

Choices: Self-Determination for Women

For a woman, self-determination is a subconscious desire. When men identify, acknowledge and validate this primal need, everyone is happier. Wise men acknowledge this basic need and work it into their relationships with women. Not controllers. Controllers end up driving away the women in their lives, or killing them, sometimes emotionally and sometimes physically. When one person needs to exert control over the life of another, the end result will be either subjection or rejection.
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Subjecting another to one’s will might seem desirous if one feels he or she is correctly oriented and the object of subjection is incorrectly oriented. What right does any person have to determine another person’s life? More importantly, how does a man earn the superior position of “head” or relational boss over a woman? Because the Bible says it’s so? I reject that position. It doesn’t fit my right to equality and my desire for freedom from oppression. That doctrine does not fit my belief that I have a right to self-determination.

Rejection is my final choice. If I refuse a life of subjection to the will of a man, then I must reject his doctrine. I have stated previously that a controller cannot function within a relationship in which he does not have control. He flounders, struggles, becomes completely depressed and eventually lost. Without external control over others, he cannot find any kind of internal control over himself. In my case, I must reject the man. He cannot love; he can only control. I do not need to be controlled; I need to be loved. With no understanding of this basic concept, there is no viable relationship. So I must choose.

Choices . . . I have made many of my life choices based on ideological concepts. Although living this way often causes hardship for me and my children, I cannot live any other way. I chose to keep my first pregnancy (against the sage advice of some resulting in judgment and rejection of me), lived as a single mom for nine years before remarrying, and then chose someone that I felt would share my life goals. I look back, as only those who have reached my age can, and see many mistakes I have made. I do not, however, regret any of my choices. I am who I am today because of every one of those choices.
dothisMy choices have, however, unwittingly caused my family emotional difficulty. My family cannot understand why I choose as I do because I am not in possession of their experiences and their values, ones that are more calculated to the results than the perceived right and wrong of the situation. Again, I tend to be an idealist. It is hard being an idealist. Oh, that is an entirely different post, one which I must explore separately. I have made many choices based on wrongly idealistic concepts. But they were mine. I believed thus and acted on that belief. I own those choices.

I celebrate that I can make tough decisions separate from the expressed desires of my extended family. On the other hand, I mourn that I haven’t received more respect and support from my family–do I have a right to expect this when I reject their advice? We all do this to some degree, I think. Some more boldly than others. I am lucky that I don’t care what people think as much as some. Not caring gives me a certain amount of freedom. Deep down inside, though, is that little girl still waiting for someone to notice her, delight in her, and celebrate her as their precious little girl. I never felt this and mourn this lack. This (lacking approval) has been a motivator for many of my choices. It has given me much freedom to make choices apart from a desire for approval and acceptance while deep down yearning for approval and acceptance. Oh, the conflict.

Choices . . . I will continue to make them based on my value system even as that system shifts. I do try very hard to understand the motivations and values of others in dealing with them. I cannot allow myself to be subjected to the values and beliefs of others, though. I am struggling with the age-old need for self-determination. I have given up a lot to gain this right. A lot. When I am 85 years old, I wonder if I will think it was worth it all. For now, it is what I must do. I can live no other way.

Self-Determination

According to Self-Determination Theory, the following is believed to be true:

“Within SDT, the nutriments for healthy development and functioning are specified using the concept of basic psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness. To the extent that the needs are ongoingly satisfied people will develop and function effectively and experience wellness, but to the extent that they are thwarted, people more likely evidence ill-being and non-optimal functioning. The darker sides of human behavior and experience, such as certain types of psychopathology, prejudice, and aggression are understood in terms of reactions to basic needs having been thwarted, either developmentally or proximally.”
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In a system where self-determination is disallowed, I believe moral and behavioral standards are threatened and personalities become twisted to some degree. We all acknowledge that overly controlling parents often raise a rebellious child. A man who attempts to control his wife often ends up with a wife who runs away or sneaks around. If the controllers had been less controlling, would the children and wife have developed differently, been able to be true to a moral standard of obedience for the children and faithfulness in the wife? Can we blame the wrong behavior of one person on the oppressive behavior of another? In some cases I believe we can.

What happens when a people are faced with a dictatorial ruler? A black market emerges. A resistance is formed. Lawbreakers are created either way. When prohibition was in effect in the United States, we all agree that it was a factor in the development of organized crime. Many believe the same situation has emerged because of the war on drugs. And now we have hundreds of thousands of new felons in Connecticut because of their refusal to register their legally-purchased and possessed long guns and high-capacity magazines. We can see what Stalin did in Russia when he declared the private ownership of land void and that the product of personal effort belonged to the state. Riots, rebellion and millions of deaths as Stalin endeavored to eliminate any threats to his plan for collectivism and Communism.

On a personal level, when one person oppresses or controls another, the results are often perceived immorality. For myself, I had to reject my church, my husband, and my extended family to some degree in my quest to be free from an emotionally-abusive marriage. I had to do what is considered taboo in America. Women just don’t leave their faithful husbands here. He didn’t deserve that. I have been told over and over again that he loves me and wants me back. Control is not love.

selfdetermination
And yet, in my quest for self-determination, freedom from oppression and rejection of subjection, I am true to myself. I suffer a lot for this choice as any woman does who fights to escape an abusive marriage. I risk financial devastation, potential loss of my children, and even death for standing up to a controlling, abusive husband. A woman is most at risk when she is fleeing an abusive husband. I know women who had to leave their children behind with an abusive husband to preserve their own lives. What horrible choices abused women face.

The good news is that here in America, a woman is free to seek escape from an abusive marriage. The courts support her right to be free from emotional and physical abuse. The police will enforce orders of protection, and when necessary, a woman can protect herself legally by owning a gun. I don’t care what you believe about gun control, a woman does not stand a chance physically against a man in hand-to-hand battle; a gun equalizes her chances of survival in many cases. I chose not to purchase a gun for protection when I was fearful but appreciate that I had the choice.

Self-determination is a basic human right, one that has been denied to women for thousands of years; it is a right that continues to be threatened by religious doctrines and controlling men even today. I celebrate my right to make choices for my life. I celebrate that I am free to make good and bad choices, and acknowledge that I will live with the consequences. Someday, maybe, women will feel even more empowered to reject male domination in our culture (entertainment, advertising, consumerism, career choices, politics, education). Controlling men are weak men (another blog post). Women who shake off control are strong women who pay a high price for their freedom and for their right to self-determination.

May we all be free to make choices about our own lives!

Men telling women what to do — Stop it!

The Bold Italic's article on artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's series of posters

The Bold Italic’s article on artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s series of posters


What a brilliant ad campaign: “Stop Telling Women to Smile!”

At the Betti Ono Gallery in Oakland, California through April 19th, the exhibit at the end of February included workshops and discussions on ending street harrassment for women. March and April features new artwork by and about local Oakland women.

If you are not a woman or have never had some random, strange man tell you to smile, you just won’t understand why this could be even remotely important to women. Well, I think most of us are just plain tired of men telling us what to do. Really, we are.

The Bold Italic’s article features three of Fazlalizadeh’s posters that compliment the theme aimed at stopping street harrassment, telling men to leave women alone: “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” “My Outfit is Not an Invitation,” and “Women are Not Outside for Your Entertainment.” Brilliant, all three.

In my 53 years I have had men touch me inappropriately, invite me to sit on their laps, want to keep me (as in mistress), expose their genitals to me in public, received many, many sexually inappropriately compliments, been hit, shoved, told I should wear my hair short, should wear my hair long, dress differently, get a job, not work, not to smoke cigars, not to drink, that I should drink more, that I speak too loudly, that I should speak up, and so much more. Oh, so much more. And then there are the oh so many times I have been told to smile by men. Never by a woman. Just men.

I had never really considered the implications of that seemingly innocent request before now. I know that it really irritates me when a man says that to me. I know that, depending on my mood, I might smile (like a good girl) or give him a scowl that makes his testicles shrivel up. It could go either way.

As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let us consider how and when, as women who have the right to self-determination, we want to smile. When we damn well feel like it!

Grieving and Domestic Violence

escape-teal-smallContrary to what some people might think, escaping from an abusive relationship does not result in an euphoric state with a celebration of freedom.  It results in self-condemnation, fear, self-doubt, fear, depression, fear, anxiety, fear, guilt and more fear.  As awful as that relationship was, it was a knowable state and is a loss even if it is the loss of the idea of what a marriage or partnership should have been.

When I found the courage to separate from my husband I continued to wear my wedding ring.  For a long, long time.  I was still married, right?  Somehow he was going to realize that I meant business and finally get that professional help that I insisted he get years ago if we were to continue together.  I had hope that he would want to change because he loved his family so much.  Denial.

Then I would cry every time I heard the song “Stupid Boy” by Keith Urban because it so completely described my situation where I was required to be something that I am not and discouraged from being ME. Music became a great method of finding and dealing with the many different emotions that were hiding. Pain and acknowledgement.

 
A big part of abuse is the hiding. We learn to hide our real selves away to keep them safe. We hide until we find that seed of strength that grows into determination that branches into action and eventually resolution and soars toward the sky.
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So I grieve the loss of my marriage.

I grieve for what should have been:  a healthy, loving marriage.

I grieve what what will never be:  a safe home for me and our children that includes HIM.

I grieve over the loss of my identity: I am no longer someone’s wife.

I grieve over the loss of what should have been:  a relationship where I could be myself without criticism and condemnation.

I grieve over the idea of having no one loving by my side as I navigate through life’s difficulties.

I spent a long, long time in denial.  I then spent a long time very, very angry.  Oh, was I angry.  I then spent a lot of time depressed, shut off from the world.  I then spent time looking for answers for myself.  I began to wake up.  I began to care about myself beyond eating, sleeping and caring for my kids.  I started school, finally.  I called lawyers and found one.   I visited the county courthouse library and researched divorce.

I went through the phases of grief.  The Kubler-Ross model has five stages:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

There is another model that has seven phases:

  1. Shock and denial
  2. Pain and guilt
  3. Anger and bargaining
  4. Depression, reflection, loneliness
  5. Upward turn
  6. Reconstruction and working through
  7. Acceptance and hope

I like the second model as it includes “pain and guilt,” a time of turning, creating a new life, dealing with issues, and finding hope for the future.  Yep, I really like the second model of grieving and believe it more accurately describes the phases I went through, and am still going through.
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I have several friends who have been through hell due to loss.  Some have lost both parents and a sibling, some a spouse through divorce then a child, or a child and a grandchild, or a marriage and then a grandchild.  All of these people have one thing in common:  they are grieving.  This process cannot be rushed, ignored, swept under the rug, pushed to completion, or skipped.  Grief must take its course.

The tendency is for friends and family to create some kind of criteria for acceptable grieving.  They think you should be getting back to your old self after 6 months or a year and definitely not more than two years.  Any longer and there is something seriously wrong with you.  I have been separated for years and just the past few months am ready to move on.  It took me a long, long time to work through the stages of grief.  And you know what?  I still have days when it hits me all over again, usually after some kind of contact or not knowing how I am going to buy food that week or shoes for the youngest or . . . lots of things can trigger the fear, denial, anger, pain, reflection, then hope. It feels like the grief process in fast motion, like a grief flashback.
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Allowing myself to grieve was the kindest thing I could have done.  I had the added issue of grieving over the loss of my health due to Lyme disease, a horrible loss. I had left my church.  That is a loss.

Grieving happens whether we let it or not.  The difference is that when we acknowledge grief, we allow ourselves our feelings, the bad days, the awful days: the days when we don’t answer the phone, the weeks when we don’t go out. Then there are the lost relationships.  Most people won’t hang around for a grieving friend.  So when we are grieving we discover who our real friends are.  And if you have family like mine, you mostly get a lot of criticism for “choices.”   Just add a little more grieving to the pile.

There is no pretty way to grieve.  It just happens.  If we try to pretend like we aren’t grieving it possesses us and takes over our bodies and lives.  It will not be ignored.
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There is an end to grieving, at least an end to the worst parts of grieving.  Loss stays with us forever.  But there is living.  Living is what I am doing now after years of grieving.  Although I am thankful for where I am now, I still have a long way to go, much of my life to figure out.  I occasionally have really bad days where it seems like I am feeling much of the powerlessness and fear that I felt when HE was still here.  But I get through those days, get a good night’s sleep and wake up the next morning in a better mood with hope renewed.

And I step outside the door to face this new day . . .

Celebrating Women

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Today is International Women’s Day.  For thousands of years women’s contributions were not celebrated equally to those of men.  Even today, it is an exercise, not a natural phenomenon.  That’s okay.  I want to challenge all women to celebrate our contributions not just today but every day.

Validate one another.  Listen to one another.  Hug one another.  Embrace the commonalities while celebrating the differences.  Women of all races, nationalities, economic and social backgrounds should be celebrated every single day.

Madame Curie

Madame Curie

Thank your librarians, childrens’ teachers, school administrators, police officers, mayors, and legislators.  Thank your doctors, dentists, and mail carriers.  Thank your hair stylists, auto mechanics (okay, I do not know one single female auto mechanic), plow truck drivers, and pilots.  Thank your professors, road crew workers, and engineers.  Thank the journalists, thinkers, and psychologists, school bus drivers, and lunch ladies.

Support one another even if you don’t agree politically.  Be there for one another even if you embrace a different religion (or none at all).  Women supporting women is empowering to all.

And men, modeling support for your wives, mothers, girlfriends, co-workers, and friends teaches the next generation of men and women to celebrate all humanity!

Celebrating International Women’s Day today!

For more information: