women & girls
Clergy have long been expected to be paragons of piety and purity. As public religious figures, we’re assumed to represent the moral ideal — an example for others to follow — and as a result, we become archetypes rather than human beings. We are measured up against an image of what a perfect Christian pastor should look like.
When I was 15, I stepped into a warm bath on my church's sanctuary stage. I was a bit of an outsider - the occasionally bullied Chinese-American kid in the white suburb - and I had found a place of belonging at this Chinese immigrant church. I made a joke about how I felt the same way about my new faith as my 16-year-old friend felt about her new driver's license: I had no idea how I ever lived without this. Even my pastor chuckled as he clasped my hands, preparing to dunk me.
In 1851, attendees of a feminist convention gathered in a packed hall in Akron, Ohio. It was a time when — even in the midst of a fight for women's rights — mostly men spoke. They talked of dainty women — delicate and deserving of special protection.
Sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is a public health emergency devastating its victims and their families physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Sexual violence is a horrific act that the perpetrator forgets, but the survivor does not, with the consequences continuing – from the posttraumatic stress, to compromised health to the lower survival rates of her children. And these crimes are not just occurring in areas of war and civil unrest. Rather, they are a part of deeply ingrained behavior in all levels society the entire world over. This year, the World Health Organization reported that 1 in 3 women globally will experience SGBV in her lifetime. Studies in the United States produced similar findings.
Rape is a war crime and can be an act of genocide. Yet we often do not respond adequately to it as a global society. For example, in my country, women impregnated by rape may pass HIV to their babies. Children born from rape may also suffer community rejection because of the atrocities of their conception. SGBV programs must take this dynamic into account.
SGBV requires a holistic response that does not forget the indirect victims of rape, the spouses and children of the victims and the community at large. We must remember that rape tears at the social fabric of communities because victims and their families often “lose” themselves. This is why the faith community is so important to this effort.
The faith community is a powerful agent of social change and possesses a founding principle of love and spirituality as well as the power and influence to lead individuals and communities to respond appropriately and effectively to SGBV. Faith leaders and their communities have immense power to reach all levels of society as well as a proven track record of leadership on such issues as poverty alleviation, HIV/AIDS and malaria.
Yet despite sexual violence’s being endemic the world over, leaving massive destruction in its wake, the faith community has remained virtually silent on this issue and sometimes has even perpetuated the stigma and discrimination of SGBV survivors.
By official estimates, 26,000 people are sexually assaulted in the U.S. military each year. That comes out to 71 people every day. It’s an epidemic that’s been widely reported in the news.
As if that weren’t bad enough, most of the assaults go unreported – only 11 percent of assault victims ended up filing reports last year (3,374). Studies show that those who do not report the assault cite fears of retaliation and a concern that nothing will be done.
Leaders in Congress are trying to change that this week with the Military Justice Improvement Act.
Right now, if a woman is sexually assaulted in the military, her case is evaluated by a commanding officer. This officer decides whether to bring the case to trial. Once it has been tried, the same commanding officer is responsible for enforcing the consequences. That’s called “convening authority.”
Christian women are a hot topic these days.
Over the past year, more and more Christian women have spoken out about what it means to be a woman in the public square. From the debate over Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood and whether the Bible prescribes specific roles for women to the fascinating discussions about spirituality and sexuality in Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, women of faith are wrestling with how to transcend sexism and patriarchy to cultivate their God-given gifts in the pulpit, at home, and in their daily lives.
To further this conversation, the good people at Q Ideas recently sponsored a Women & Calling event. In Christian TED talk fashion, 12 phenomenal speakers shared their thoughts on what it means for women to live in response to God’s call, to discern their vocations, to navigate the tension between family and work, to embrace their fears and ambitions, and to follow after God with abundant hope.
Unlike other Christian conferences where female representation remains the exception and not the norm, Q flipped the script by featuring the voices of 11 women and one man. Together, these 12 disciples described the fullness and joy of the kingdom of God when we are all empowered to live into our gifts.
In the early morning of Saturday, Nov. 2, Renisha McBride, 19-year-old black woman from Detroit, crashed her car in Dearborn, a predominantly white Detroit suburb. Lacking battery power for her cellphone, she approached a nearby home to ask for help. Theodore Paul Wafer, a white man, answered the door. He responded to her knock by shooting a firearm through a locked screen door, striking Renisha in the face and killing her. Police initially said that the white man mistook her for an intruder and shot her in self-defense, even though Renisha was unarmed and there is no evidence of her attempting to enter the house uninvited. Two weeks passed before the Wafer was charged with second-degree murder and arrested. Wafer maintains that he acted in self-defense. If the recent George Zimmerman acquittal is any indication, it is entirely possible that justice will not come to pass.
A black woman is dead because a white man decided that she should die. A black woman is dead and there is no guarantee, that in 21st-century America, justice will be done.
This is America and this is not new.
I’d never heard of Renisha McBride until her death became a national news story a little more than two weeks ago. But in a way, I’ve known Renisha my whole life. Renisha’s story echoes the stories of black women across the arc of American history.
Jesus, please be with Marissa Alexander today.
You know Marissa, the 32-year-old mother who fired a warning shot in the air to ward off her then-husband who was threatening to abuse her. You know that she tried to claim stand your ground and was denied by State Attorney Angela Corey who said Alexander fired her shot out of anger, not fear. You know that Corey’s office prosecuted George Zimmerman and did not block Zimmerman’s lawyers from embedding the language of the stand your ground statute in his jury’s instructions. You know that Zimmerman was declared not guilty based on that language, while Alexander was sentenced to 20 years in prison because of 10- to-20-year mandatory minimum sentencing requirements in Florida.
Using a strong scriptural and historical foundation, self-described “happy-clappy Jesus lover” Sarah Bessey relates in her book, Jesus Feminist,how the church has responded “to the movement of the Spirit throughout the centuries, and [how] gender inequality is only one more example of justice seeking in progress.” Bessey tells of God’s redemptive love through the ages, and how women have served and are serving their homes, churches, communities, and the world at large to bring forth that love. The power of women coming together — or acting alone — for God is clear: Women, she writes, can move mountains, even if one stone at a time.
If a world devalues half its members, for every woman who moves a mountain, there will be another woman suffering. Bessey notes the disturbing fact that “Many of the seminal social issues of our time — poverty, lack of education, human trafficking, war and torture, domestic abuse — can track their way to our theology of, or beliefs about, women, which has its roots in what we believe about the nature, purposes, and character of God.” And with that sentence, conviction begins.
In the United States, more than 1 in 3 women (and 1 in 4 men) havereportedly experienced sexual assault, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime.
These are not numbers that disappears when you walk in to a church. Christian women are subject to sexual and gender-based violence, too – but when is the last time you heard about this issue in a church?
Talking about the pain and fear of intimate partner abuse can seem daunting, but there are resources to help faith communities get started. On Sunday, Nov. 24, faith communities have an opportunity to speak out against sexual and gender-based violence in the aptly named Speak Out Sunday.
In this age of third-wave feminism, many Americans may not realize that Christian women continue to struggle with what many would deem outdated gendered notions. This includes things such as a woman’s calling being second to her husband’s, women as unwitting temptresses who therefore must hide their bodies, and that women may not lead (or sometimes even speak) in church. Both external and internal pressures and fears have historically kept women silent on these matters.
In the recently released Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, 40 women under 40 address head-on many of the taboos remaining at the intersection of faith and gender, and how they are stepping out of historical oppression to make real change within the church.
In her book Lean In, author Sheryl Sandberg notes that while women are outpacing men in colleges and graduate schools, one cannot see this translate to positions of power within corporations. For this imbalance to be righted, Sandberg asserts that women must take charge of their circumstances: “The shift to a more equal world will happen person by person. We move closer to the larger goal of true equality with each woman who leans in.”
This is no less true of women in the church, and leaning in is exactly what the essayists of Talking Taboo are doing.
While Sandberg focuses on issues such as long work hours, daycare, and more flexibility for working moms, the common, though not exclusive, themes of Talking Taboo are sexuality and biblical interpretation.
A group of female senators came to the rescue in Washington last week, helping forge a bipartisan compromise that ended the budget crisis. How did they do it? “We like each other,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar told Time. “We work well together and we look for common ground."
Last week I found out about the unfolding cases of sexual harassment by a respected science blogger and the head of Scientific American’s blog, Bora Zivkovic. It shocked me because I’ve met the man, though I don’t know him well. And so I read the accounts of the three women science bloggers who exposed him. Thefirst one shocked me and made me angry. And the second one shocked me further, because she wrote of the harassment continuing at a conference I attended. It happened right under my nose.
Women are an important part of the science community, but there’s a group of powerful men who are gatekeepers, and some of them use this power as a tool to be overtly sexual with female bloggers looking to advance their writing careers in the science community. The allegations regarding Bora Zivkovic seem to be hard for many in the science community to swallow because he has been a vocal supporter of women’s importance in the field and has actively nurtured the careers of many bloggers.
Gender inequality is an international issue. Striving to empower women and call attention to the sexism of popular opinions worldwide, U.N. Women released a series of ads using text from Google real searches. The ads show women's face with their mouths obscured by the text of the searches, visually silencing their voices.
“When we came across these searches, we were shocked by how negative they were and decided we had to do something with them,” says Christopher Hunt, Art Director of the creative team. The idea developed places the text of the Google searches over the mouths of women portraits, as if to silence their voices.
“The ads are shocking because they show just how far we still have to go to achieve gender equality. They are a wake up call, and we hope that the message will travel far,” adds Kareem Shuhaibar, copy writer.
I had a chance to play the role of Bad Pastor Phil last week.
The occasion was a conference at St. Mary’s Hospital in Madison, Wis. called “Your Congregation: A Port in the Storm for a Victim of Domestic Violence.” Bad Pastor Phil did not provide a very good port in the storm.
The group of people from some 25 parishes and congregations in the greater Madison area had just witnessed a squirm-inducing scene where Sam came home from work the day after he had hit his wife, Mary. She had prepared his favorite meal, hoping she could make him happy.
Nothing could make Sam happy, of course, other than feeling that he was totally in control of Mary. So he demeaned her, ordered her around, threw the drink of imaginary Scotch and water she had prepared for him across the room, and finally stomped out of the house.
Sam was played by Darald Hanusa of the Midwest Domestic Violence Resource Center, a social work therapist with three decades of experience treating men who batter women. Mary was played by Terry Hoffman, who earlier in the day told a gripping story of the real-life abuse she experienced at the hands of her now former husband.
So now Sam and Mary were on their way to see their pastor. We have a problem communicating, they told me. Sam said it was all Mary’s fault. Mary tried to explain that she was trying to do the best she could, but I asked her what she was doing that was pushing Sam’s anger buttons. She tried to reply, but I kept turning the conversation back to Sam.
I reminded Mary that in the New Testament of the Bible, there were two letters from Paul that said a wife should be submissive to her husband. I ignored the fear that was all over her face.
I was acting out the role that all too often churches have played in real life. Perhaps they are not as crude as I portrayed it, but getting faith-based communities to focus on domestic violence is a growing theme these days.
Just as she left the world speechless when she addressed the United Nations in July, Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani advocate for women’s rights and access to education, rendered America's jester Jon Stewart tongue tied when he hosted her this week on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Her new book I Am Malala is just released.
"Education is the power of women. That's why the terrorists are afraid of education. They do not want women to get education because then women would become more powerful," said Malala, who is nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced this week.
The Taliban first targeted Malala on "Googlenet" in 2012, she said. But she decided that it was better to not respond to the threats with violence, even in self-defense.
"If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then you will be no better than the Talib," she told a star-struck Stewart.
"Can I adopt you?" Stewart asked.
Considering a move? Think twice if you are female, single, and headed toward any of the states below. According to data recently released by the Violence Policy Center, these are the states that have the highest murder rates of women by men.
What’s being used to murder us? Take a guess.
A 2002 study from researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that although the United States represented only 32 percent of the female population among 25 high-income countries, it accounted for 84 percent of all female firearm homicides.
The study’s lead author, Dr. David Hemenway, concluded that “the difference in female homicide victimization rates between the U.S. and these other industrialized nations is very large and is closely tied to levels of gun ownership. The relationship cannot be explained by differences in urbanization or income inequality.”