IN THE COURSE of a few months in the past year, I learned that three women and men close to me had been sexually assaulted—as children and as adults. Hearing their stories broke me out of many of the lies surrounding rape that I had fallen into without even realizing it.
Kate Harding’s Asking for It attacks the same lies and misconceptions. She explores how we, as a culture, embrace myths surrounding rape and sexual assault. Theoretically, we think of rape as a terrible crime that takes away people’s right to choose what to do with their bodies—but practically we have trouble believing that it actually happens, or if it does that it is really that bad. We joke about rape, we believe it is caused by women acting like “sluts,” or act like the only kinds of rape that really matter are those in which a white woman is attacked by a brown man. We normalize assault and minimize it.
We have built a society and criminal justice system that protect abusers and place the responsibility on women to avoid being assaulted rather than on men to not attack.
Sadly, none of this is surprising, but Harding’s exploration of these familiar truths is biting and unrelenting.
She is offensive at times, but about things we should be offended about. When I recoil at her describing a rape by saying he “put his dick in her,” I realize how much I should be disgusted by the assault itself. We can numb ourselves by using clinical language to talk about rape and sexual assault, but Harding refuses to give us distance from the violence of these attacks.
Harding suggests practical changes that we can make—such as educating our kids, reforming our criminal justice system, and changing our language. These practical measures consist of the minimum on which we all ought to agree: My conservative friends, together with my progressive ones, can agree that rape jokes are offensive, hurt people, and contribute to a society in which people are more easily hurt. As Harding notes, even when we have radically different ideas about the proper scope of sexual activity, we should all agree that clear consent is necessary for a healthy sexual relationship.
Prosecutors noted a tendency to target women whose credibility would be questioned by both law enforcement and society in general. During the trial, defense attorneys tried to challenge the victims’ credibility by emphasizing their criminal records to the jury and asking about their past drug use. Holtzclaw’s family also accused the victims of fabricating their stories.
More than half of churchgoers who have had an abortion (52 percent) say no one at church knows it. Nearly half of women who have had an abortion (49 percent) say pastors’ teachings on forgiveness don’t seem to apply to terminated pregnancies.
“That tells you the environment of the church,” [Scott] McConnell [of LifeWay Reseach] said. “You can’t say you’ve had an abortion, you can’t say you’re considering one — it’s completely taboo to discuss.
“But when a woman is willing to publicly acknowledge she’s had an abortion in the past, she will sometimes be approached by several other women in the church who’ve never been willing to share with anybody that they too have had an abortion. It’s incredibly freeing for them.”
“In cities and towns across the country, women will walk for one mile on the 11th of each month for 11 months. Together we’ll walk another 100 miles for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.”
My daughter is in seventh grade, next year she will be in eighth. She tells me this means she will be “the king of middle school.” She will go to a leadership camp and learn what it means to cultivate leadership qualities in order to be a good king for the underlings in sixth and seventh grade.
And then she will graduate middle school and it’s back to the bottom of the pecking order — one minute a king, the next, a lowly high school freshman. Just when you think you’ve learned everything there is to know comes the swift reminder you are only just beginning.
Out here in the real world, things operate similarly. Motherhood certainly took me through the same cruel pattern. After floundering sleeplessly, aimlessly, in a constant panicked state through the first few newborn months, I thought I’d mastered this parenting thing. I could interpret my newborn’s cries, predict when she would go down for her nap within a half hour margin of error, and change a diaper by rote.
“One of the things that most saddens me in conversations with criminalized and marginalized women is the absence of any sort of philosophy or theology – what I call cultural scripts — for making sense out of their suffering,” sociologist Dr. Susan Sered explained to my church earlier this year. “And these women have suffered rape, loss of their children, chronic pain, solitary confinement, and social stigma.”
Sered, a professor of sociology at Suffolk University and co-author of Can’t Catch a Break: Gender, Jail, Drugs, and the Limits of Personal Responsibility, spent the last eight years conducting research with Boston-area women caught in the binds of poverty, violence, illness, and the prison system. As co-warden of a small, Episcopal church outside of Boston, I invited Sered to share her research and explain what members of our parish could do to make a difference in the lives of women like those in her study.
Divorce, cohabitation, and gay relationships are just some of the issues up for discussion at the Vatican synod, which continues through Oct. 24. It follows a questionnaire consultation with Catholic groups after a meeting on family issues a year ago.
Some critics say that more women should have been included in the process. Only bishops can vote at a synod, but about 30 women have been invited as auditors.
Mary McAleese, former president of Ireland, said she was skeptical that any real change would come from the synod. “If I wanted expertise on the family, I honestly cannot say that the first thing that would come into my mind would be to call together 300 celibate males, who between them, that we know of, have never raised a child,” she said on Saturday, speaking at an event hosted by gay Catholics.
In the past six days, I’ve walked 75 miles alongside 100 other women. We have 25 miles left to go.
We are 100 women who hail from all four corners of the earth. There are women from Uganda, China, Mexico, Haiti, the Philippines, Mexico, El Salvador, Argentina, Brazil, Vietnam, Peru, the Bahamas, and more. But we all call this country home.
Several grandmothers joined us on this journey, and their perseverance is an example for all of us. Our youngest walker is Jocelyn — she is four years old, and her joy is contagious. We all ask to take turns pushing her stroller. As we walk, we share our stories, our suffering, and our dreams. We sing, we pray, and we also walk in silence — reflecting on our faith, the meaning of compassion, dignity, and hope.
We are all here because we have been inspired by Pope Francis’ message of love and compassion towards migrants and refugees. We hope that he will pray for the 11 million undocumented immigrants who endure daily hardship, living in fear of deportation and family separation. We hope that he can touch the hearts of Americans across the nation to treat migrants with compassion and not cruelty.
While the celebrity comedian’s great love for the Catholic Church is well documented, Stephen Colbert has always pushed the boundaries of his faith.
In his latest interview with Salt and Light, Colbert shared a powerful story about the importance of female priests.
FOR NON-WHITES born in post-apartheid South Africa, the country promised equal rights and legal freedom. But the first generation of “born frees,” as they are called, also entered a world where HIV/AIDS was destroying their families and communities. Many children and teens were left largely fending for themselves in townships plagued by poverty, disease, and violence.
Author Kimberly Burge, a Sojourners contributing writer, entered this world not as an aid or social worker, but rather on a Fulbright scholarship, to form a writing group for adolescent girls in the township of Gugulethu. Too old for the child-centered programs and too young for adult assistance, the girls were falling through the cracks of established programs. The writing club offered them the opportunity to creatively express their fears, frustrations, and dreams.
To Burge’s credit, the book is not primarily about her or her experiences. She keeps the focus on the girls themselves and the often breathtaking words and thoughts they express in their writing. Burge is not there to rescue them, but rather to help them find their voices. She acts less as a teacher than a peer, encouraging girls to lead the group themselves and prompting them to write about such topics as “I wish I could ...” or “I need to find a place ...”
AN IRAQ WAR VETERAN passes the offering plate after listening to a sermon on Christian persecution in the early church—tales of torture and execution. A 19-year-old student—home for the summer from college, where her first experience at a fraternity party turned violent—listens to her childhood pastor recite the story of David and Bathsheba and David’s subsequent path to redemption. A mother placates her two children with Cheerios and raisins as she struggles through the exhortations to spousal submission, hiding bruised arms under long sleeves in the middle of July.
The Christian story is littered with trauma—from slavery (the Israelites in Egypt) to sexual assault and abuse (Dinah, Tamar, Bathsheba) to the trauma of war (see: much of the Old Testament) to, of course, the crucifixion of Jesus and martyrdom of his disciples.
There is possibly no better resource for understanding the implications of and need for healing from trauma than faith communities pointing to the cross and Jesus’ answer to violence. Both the need and the opportunity are great. But perhaps too often Christians proclaim the message of Easter—victory and restoration—while skipping past the violence and trauma of Good Friday. Some theologies explain away that violence as a necessary component of ultimate salvation—but let’s get to the salvation part, okay?—leaving survivors of trauma who fill our Sunday pews without a touchstone for healing within the very communities that purport to be safe spaces.
“BLACK WOMEN AND GIRLS are killed by the police, too.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received a blank stare when I made this statement, even in activist spaces. Occasionally I’ll see a few affirmative nods, but overwhelmingly there is apathy. I leave with a sick feeling, wondering, “Where is the rage and protest for my sisters?” and “Who will fight for my life?”
In May, Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100, and Ferguson Action came together for a national day of action for black women and girls. We wanted to shed light on the fact that black women and girls, in all our complexities, have been erased from the broader narrative of police terrorism and modern-day lynching in this country. Cities such as Oakland, Calif., New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Miami all participated in powerful acts of public resistance that involved reading the names of women who have been killed by police and using the hashtag #SayHerName as an awareness tool on social media.
Speaking our sisters’, daughters’, and mothers’ names at a vigil on a day set aside to acknowledge our humanity is powerful, because it says: When the world has forgotten Mya, Aiyana, Tanisha, Rekia (and so many others), we will not forget.
Erika Totten is a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement in the greater Washington, D.C. Metro area, and an activist for the black liberation movement at large. She stresses the importance of self-care for activists and radical healing for black people through emotional emancipation circles.
I love the story of Shirley. Her family was struggling to survive in the Philippines—a nation plagued with poverty and modern-day slavery. Her husband Ramir took whatever small jobs he could to help the family, but without land, his only options were to work helping on a rice farm or a fishing boat. The pay was irregular and unsustainable, so he made the tough choice to look for work in a bigger city and send money back to Shirley and their three kids. Shirley applied to work at Dignity. She was skeptical as she had never worked with a team and doubted her abilities. When Dignity hired her, it changed her life and her family. Shirley was able to make a consistent income from Dignity. The cycle of poverty and human trafficking was stopped in its tracks.
Controversial American author Ayaan Hirsi Ali has been a regular fixture on major news networks lately, discussing her most recent book, Heretic, as well as her views on various issues that include violence in Islam and the treatment of Muslim women.
An ex-Muslim, Hirsi Ali began her rise to fame with her book Infidel, which documented her hardships growing up as a Muslim woman in her native Somalia. In light of her turbulent past, Hirsi Ali has gained strong following in the West. Prominent atheist author Richard Dawkins has called her a “hero for rationalism and feminism.” Now, after the release of Heretic, some are again cheering her as a brave champion for women’s rights, especially for Muslim women.
While many in the West have been receptive to her case, Hirsi Ali’s vicious attacks on Islam and her support for the war on terror, fought mainly in Muslim countries , have left her with few friends among Muslims, including women. Hirsi Ali once famously called Islam a “nihilistic cult of death,” and she has advocated for a war with Islam.
Many examples of brave Muslim women exist in the Muslim world, yet it is not surprising that Hirsi Ali, regardless of her dangerous assertions, has stolen the limelight. As the American government continues to indulge in the war on terror, Hirsi Ali’s story makes her the perfect candidate to provide validation for the atrocities committed by the U.S., from Somalia to Pakistan.
The war on terror is largely a bipartisan issue. But media personalities, especially neoconservatives, have rushed to Hirsi Ali’s defense . Seemingly ever ready for war in the post-9/11 era, they look to Hirsi Ali’s views to help legitimize their own anti-Islam bias and imperialist ambitions.
It is no surprise, then, that she is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which has consistently tried to foster antagonistic relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world.
The liberal media, which have provided a more balanced view on Islam, also sympathize with Hirsi Ali’s detrimental views, especially in its simplistic portrayals of women in the Islamic world.
From impossible standards of beauty generated by the fashion and make-up industry to the disproportionate number of women who are elected to political office, women and girls in America face a variety of obstacles in their journey of empowerment. But what also warrants attention are some of the less noticeable consequences when gender norms are so narrowly defined across the board. For instance, if we characterize women as submissive, emotional, or alluring beings, then what does it mean to be a man? And how might damaging myths and stereotypes about masculinity produce its own host of social ills?
These questions remain central to The Representation Project’s latest documentary The Mask You Live In, a film that ambitiously seeks to re-evaluate how masculinity is defined and expressed in America. According to director Jennifer Siebel Newsom, when mainstream culture views masculinity as a rejection of everything feminine, traits like kindness, healthy emotions, and constructive resolution of conflict become undervalued if not wholly disregarded for most men. Instead, the prevailing norms that young boys receive from their homes—as well as in movies, sports, and video games—push them to equate masculinity with domination, violence, stoicism, financial success, or sexual conquest.
There is room and need for men’s stories in the narrative of ending violence against women.
In blending our separate and shared experiences we find common ground. Together they lead us to what Dr. King described as "the fierce urgency of now." Every action we take today will save others the pain and suffering that is in our collective past. We need to add male voices and stories to those of women who have been speaking out about violence for decades.
Today I work as a co-coordinator in Oregon for the We Will Speak Out campaign. Our goal is to bring faith communities into the movement to end domestic and gender-based violence. This not a women’s movement. It is a movement of all people of faith to speak up and speak out to end the use of power over women and children. It is a movement that walks with survivors in their healing journey. It is a movement that strives to live into Jesus’ commandment to “Love one another as I have loved you.”
The "Broken Silence" report commissioned by Sojourners and IMA World Health indicates that the main issue in keeping pastors from speaking out about sexual and gender-based violence is a lack of knowledge on the issue. By speaking our truth and sharing our history we provide both the common ground and urgency to take action—together and now.
Sitting in Prajwala's small conference room adjacent to a chaotic market, I asked Sunitha where the strength came from to charge ahead into danger, violence, and sometimes even rejection by the women Prajwala served. I don't remember her exact words - but the gist was that the strength came not from herself, but from faith in her own experience of God. Not a God owned by some religious denomination, but the real One. That One who never let Sunitha down when it was time to pay the staff, deal with the mob, handle corrupt police, or remain resolute in the face of failure.
I have been blessed and humbled to have met these three women and remain inspired by what they do, particularly their commitment to empowering other women and girls. Sunitha told me to not just show up and feel sorry. Send money if you are inclined, but most importantly, speak about sexual slavery and trafficking to everyone you know. Don't allow anyone to pretend it isn't going on in your own community. Only when all men are vocal about this and intolerant of any abuse of women will things improve.
I pray that I may develop a sliver of the courage Anna, Anna, and Sunitha model.