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The Ghosts of Our Past

I just finished reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved part of my commitment this year to read more books by women authors, authors from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and authors of different ethnicities and races. Morrison weaves a devastating tale of African Americans trying desperately to find freedom from slavery. Her main character Sethe is beaten when she is pregnant to the point that she will wear scars on her back for the rest of her life. In a pivotal moment, Sethe’s old owner finds her in Ohio and intends to claim his property back: her and all four of her kids. What is she supposed to do? That moment of decision plagues her for the rest of the book. Ghosts from her past keep her up at night, make her question who she is, and make her wonder whether she is a good mother.

I’ve often said I wish I could go back to the community of faith I grew up in now that I have found my voice and speak into the sexism and spiritual abuse I encountered. I wish I could stand up to that power and privilege protecting the hierarchy and often times missing opportunities to meet the desperate needs of the community. These ghosts of my past keep me up at night, make me question who I am, and make me wonder whether I am a good mother as the theology I grew up in taught that a woman’s most important role was to raise her children, not share God’s word, especially from a pulpit.

This weekend, we saw the ghosts of our past as a country in broad daylight in the violent protests of Charlottesville, VA. We saw the hatred and enmity as one woman was killed and nineteen others were injured. We saw the racism, sexism, and elitism that are usually subtexts and passive aggressive comments broadcast in public. We were confronted with the reality that our country was founded on the backs of treating people like property and animals. We discovered there are still some who believe that the past is not only ok but the way things should be.

The thing about ghosts of our past is that we don’t want to seem them. In fact, most of convince ourselves that ghosts don’t exist brushing aside the missed opportunities to offer a helping hand to someone in need, excusing the privilege we have enjoyed with defenses of why we deserve what we have (forgetting this means others don’t and can’t have what we have), and forgetting that what we saw this weekend, we helped create.

But being confronted with the ghosts of our past reminds us of where we have been and challenges us to ask the question who do we want to be. Do we want to be the kind of people who try to ignore the racism, sexism, and elitism that abounds in our country limiting the possibilities of other people? Are we going to brush aside people’s stories of racism, sexism, and elitism when we hear them blaming the victim? Or are we going to be the community that surrounds these ghosts of the past and exposes them?

At the end of Morrison’s book, there is a beautiful scene of the community gathering at the edge of the property where Sethe lives. They sing, they pray, they stay until she comes out of the house and they stop her from repeating her past. This is the power of community.

We can’t face the ghosts of our past alone. We need the power of community to help keep us accountable and courageous to become something more than who we used to be.

Spiritual Abuse and Failure to Follow Up

Last week I wrote about another story of spiritual abuse. This story involved the woman being told to keep quiet and to let the men handle things. It’s not an uncommon story. I know it’s happened to many people who have experienced spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse, but this isn’t the only thing that happens to victims of spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, and physical abuse.

In many cases, victims are strong and resilience. They don’t listen to the people telling them to keep things quiet and to not report what has happened to them. In many cases, these courageous and brave victims report their experiences. They share the abuse they have been through even though it’s painful and traumatic to recount. They overcome their fears and their shame in order to make it better for someone else.

Even though they show incredible courage and bravery, these victims are often met with people who fail to follow up. Over the past couple of weeks, the tech industry has been reeling from story after story of  women entrepreneurs who have sought advice and investment from men. The story for these women was that they had to endure sexual harassment, groping, and unwanted sexual advances in the midst of trying to grow their businesses and procure funding to make their ideas become reality. When they reported these investor’s and advisor’s behavior to their businesses or firms more often than not, the business didn’t take their accusations seriously or follow up at all. Years of reporting, bravery, and courage on the part of these victims has finally brought to light the engrained sexism and privilege that exists in the tech industry.

But it’s not just the tech industry.

Women who are in fundamentalist and conservative communities of faith often are counseled and encouraged to stay in abusive marriages in order to protect the sanctity of marriage and avoid divorce. Women who are beaten, raped, and told they are worthless again and again are told to remain with their abusers because it is “God’s will.” This is spiritual abuse. There is never, never a reason to tell a victim of abuse to stay in an abusive relationship. There is never, never a reason to blame God for the abuse a woman is experiencing. It is not an exaggeration to say this is a matter of life and death:

 More than half of female homicide victims were killed in connection to intimate partner violence — and in 10 percent of those cases, violence shortly before the killing might have provided an opportunity for intervention.

It would be easier if we just continued on our way without worrying about these deep issues and how deeply engrained sexism, sexual harassment, and spiritual abuse are in our churches, in our business, and in our country. It would be easier, but it would be failing to follow up and we’ve had enough of that, haven’t we?

Spiritual Abuse and Keeping Things Quiet

I heard another story of a young woman sexually harassed by a minister of her church who brought the sexual harassment to the leadership of the church and was told, “Just keep this quiet. We’ll take care of it internally.”

This is spiritual abuse.

This is what perpetuates a culture of sexual harassment, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse. Churches and communities of faith should not operate as if they can handle clergy misconduct internally, especially when a law has been broken. This thinking is how communities of faith become hotbeds for sexual abuse and spiritual abuse.

There have been more and more people interested in the clergy misconduct and the sexual abuse and child abuse that has taken place in evangelical churches, but these stories unfortunately are not getting the press and attention that the Catholic church received as they did the hard work of uncovering decades of sexual abuse and child abuse.

This is something we must expose. We must be willing to share our stories. We must be willing to end our silence. We must be willing to listen to the stories of the number of people who have been impacted by a culture of silence and shaming and spiritual abuse. We must be willing to confront the hard truth of uncovering just how many people have been impacted by spiritual abuse and sexual abuse in our churches.

We must read the stories of child sex abuse and the resulting cover up. We must read the reports of task forces seeking to find best practices. We must read the stories of young women and men who were brought into sexual awareness in an abusive situation by a man of God. We must come to terms with the fact that by keeping things quiet and “handling it internally,” we have created a place for abusers to keep abusing again and again and again.

This is spiritual abuse.

This must stop for the sake of our communities of faith and for the sake of our children.

Why it’s hard for me to talk about my spiritual abuse…

“Some people have called me a rebel-rouser..” I explained to a colleague recently.

She couldn’t contain her laughter at this statement.

I may come across with comfortable with this identification, but you have to understand, I came from a background of striving furtively and desperately to obtain the label of “good Christian girl.” My conservative background asked me to be someone who I was not and taught me to deny parts of who I was. And I chose to follow.

There is no doubt within me that I, like many millennials raised at the height of the evangelical movement and the purity culture, experienced spiritual abuse. While I am sure this is true, I shy away from identifying myself as one who experienced spiritual abuse and instead take up my sword and shield in attempts to protect others from practices that lead to spiritual abuse…or in other terms rebel rousing.

And in the moments when I shy away again from myself and my story wanting and wishing away my experiences, I understand that this is just another way of masking my true self striving furtively and desperately to obtain the label of “thoughtful progressive Christian.” It’s hard to admit that I would shed one false pursuit just to take on another one repackaged and renamed.

Instead of creating yet another presented identity, this Lenten season, I am giving up all those masks and instead am striving furtively and desperately for wholeness and healing. 

I know there are others of you out there, trying to process through what you’ve experienced. Trying to reflect and analyze the triggers you experience that send you into the spiral of uncertainty and doubt, those spirals so familiar and so frustrating because you thought you had overcome. I know it feels like a riptide that pulls you out to the deep water of fear and shame and humiliation. I know at times you are too tired, too overwhelmed, and too lonely to fight anymore. Me too.

I know that when you do share your story, more often than not you experience another helping of shame and guilt on top of what you have always experienced. I know people come to you and tell you to stop telling your story because you are making churches or pastors or families look bad. I know there are times when you feel so lonely and out of place, the same sort of lonely and out of place you felt in your community of faith knowing instinctively all the way to your core, that there was something just not right about what you were being told about God, about scripture, and about faith. Me too.

I know you get accused of making a big deal out of nothing or trying to make a name for yourself of causing a fuss, of asking too many questions, of hoping for too much. But I also know that even now in communities of faith across America in places of worships, in homes where small groups gather, and in coffee shops were people are being mentored, spiritual abuse is still happening.

Spiritual abuse is happening in conservative communities of faith. Spiritual abuse is happening in moderate communities of faith. Spiritual abuse is happening in progressive communities of faith. Spiritual abuse is happening.

For those of us who have wrestled through the understanding and realization that we experienced spiritual abuse, now more than ever we need to tell our stories. We need to question. We need to challenge. We need to struggle with our own stories and experiences. We need to rebel rouse, not so that we can try to obtain another false identity, but so that we can heal and become whole.

And so that others like us can do the same.

 

What We’re Reading with Our Girls

As we were traveling to see family, Sam and I were listening to a NPR interview with the author of Lab Girl. She was talking about the difficulty she has had as a woman in a male-dominated profession.
Tom Ashbrook asked if she would thought that she would ever be able to operate in her profession, after the many discoveries and awards she has been given, without gender being an issue. She laughed and laughed again and then responded, “No, I think gender politics will always be an issue.”

And I wondered about our girls. How are we going to raise girls who are resilient and independent? How are we going to teach our girls that they can pursue and succeed in any profession and field they feel passionate about?

My teacher instincts tell me that introducing them to books that question and challenge gender stereotypes is really important. Here are some of the ones we are reading and we read and read with our girls:

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Stephanie’s Ponytail is a brilliant book that shows how having your own style despite what other people think about you is empowering and often leads to people following you. It also cautions about the power you have when you are a leader and have people who are looking up to you. Powerful message for independence and responsibility.

 

 

Paper Bag Princess falls into the category of fractured fairy tale because while it has the elements of a fairy tale, it changes the roles. The princess is the one who rescues the prince in this story and she does it without batting an eye. The questions and conclusions that have come from our reading this book are certainly worth rereading at every opportunity!

 

MH just got this book and she loves it. It is chock full of nonfiction stories of powerful women who were successful. It also included instructions for knot-tying, camping, and other outdoor activities that some would say were for boys. The content area reading strategies she is developing is an added bonus!

 

The story of a girl who doesn’t judge a giant for just being a giant and who travels to giant country and defeats the giants eating other children? Yes, this is one of our favorites for sure!

 

This one. Matilda harnesses her powers to help those who have been oppressed by an evil headmistresses while also defying and overcoming her family of origin. Wow, just wow. I need this one as much as my girls!

 

The hardest aspect of parenting is that you don’t know how your kids will turn out. You can’t be certain that what you hope you are teaching them settles down into their hearts and souls and becomes a very part of who they are, but we can try. We can read them stories with strong female characters who challenge powerful people and beings. We can reread these stories telling them that their style, who they are, is unique and special. We can talk after these stories about how we can use our power and leadership to do good and to be kind to others.

And we can hope that in reading and talking, we too learn these lessons.

#IAmWithAllTheHers

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I didn’t #PantsSuitUp yesterday on Tuesday to go and vote, but I did yesterday.

I did because #Iamwithallthehers.

I am with the hers who are shocked and disappointed because their candidate lost.

I am with the hers in the LGTBQ community.

I am with the hers of all races, nationalities, and ethnicities.

I am with the hers who are worried about their children, especially their daughters.

I am with the hers for whom the results of this election trigger painful memories of abusive relationships, sexual assault encounters, rape, and spiritual abuse.

I am with the hers who have been silenced, oppressed, and threatened to not share their stories of abuse, sexual assault, rape, and spiritual abuse.

I am with the hers who are in conservative communities of faith.

I am with the hers who are not in communities of faith.

I am with the hers who have endured sexual harrassments, unwanted sexual advances, and sexual assault in the wake of this election.

I am with the hers who are single.

I am with the hers who are stepparents.

I am with the hers who are thanking God because He heard their prayers and allowed their candidate to win.

#Iamwithallthehers

“Thank you, sweetheart…I mean, pastor”

“This is the body of Christ broken for you. And Christ blood shed for you.”

“Thank you, sweetheart…I mean pastor. Thank you, pastor.”

As the older gentleman put the bread soaked in juice in his mouth, I smiled.

This is what we need: self-correction, self-awareness. We need the simple acknowledgement that language that demeans and oppresses women creeps into our conversation and our interactions because language patterns are learned. Learned patterns that quickly and often unconsciously become habits. Habits that create a toxic culture of sexual assault, spiritual abuse, and violence against women.

Habits that can change without defenses or arguments, but simple acts like this one of self-awareness and self-correction. Self-awareness and self-correction that leads to hope and healing in those of us who have lived and swallowed these language patterns as we have pushed and strived to become who we are created to be.

This is the body of Christ broken for you. And Christ blood shed for you.

Thanks be to God.

Enough is Enough

I have followed and read almost every story, comment, and response following the release of the video capturing the toxic culture of sexual assault, misogyny, and violence against women that plagues our society. I have written why we don’t share out stories in the midst of the this peak into the justification and defense of participating in this culture. I have written and wrestled with the truth that spiritual abuse lives and thrives in our communities of faith because we are afraid to talk about sexuality and sexual assault in our communities of faith.

I have cried and mourned that my reality as a girl who grew up in a fundamentalist community of faith may also be my daughters’ reality. I have hoped and prayed that the allegations and spread of this video would ignite a fervor, a revelation, a revival among those who are fighting for the equality of women only to be disappointed and disheartened by the defense and endorsement of the pastors, ministers, and fellow women of this behavior. And in my disappointment, I have fallen into the same mindset of fear and shame over who I am and moved to the shadows of silence and oppression because it is where I am comfortable and what is most familiar.

And then I listened to Michelle Obama voicing her hurt, her outrage, and her commitment to keep fighting. I listened and was reminded of the women who are standing strong and standing up, even though they are being criticizes, intimidated, and condemned by those whose power is threatened because their shadow lives and beliefs are being brought to the light. I listened and quieted the monsters of shame and vulnerability that told me to disengage from conversation because my voice didn’t matter and wouldn’t make a difference.

Michelle is right, enough is enough.

If you think the follow up to this video’s release that the system is rigged is not carefully, calculated political divergence, it’s time to open your eyes. The system is rigged, but not because it is exposing powerful men who use their power against women. The system is rigged because a conversation about sexual assault, sexual abuse, spiritual abuse, and violence against women is way overdue and because women who venture to stand up and speak out are still met with skepticism, intimidation, and mansplaining. If you don’t think these responses aren’t carefully thought out to keep power in the hands of the powerful because there is a viable threat to that power being overturned, it’s time to open your eyes.

I know the pain and humiliation that comes from opening your eyes to the realization that you have been played, manipulated, and tricked. I know it causes you to doubt yourself, your instincts, and the very core of who are, but it’s time to get over ourselves, our own insecurities, our own self-doubt in order to create something more for our children.

Our oldest just turned nine.

I remember turning nine.

There is no way I want her to remember this.

Let’s keep fighting.

Why We Don’t Share Our Stories

The release of the video on Friday that reveals the rape culture in America and the reason there are so many women who have stories of sexual assault, sexual violence, and rape was appalling to many. And in light of this video, there were many, many brave women who shared their stories. Stories of being raped, of being groped, and of being intimidated, threatened, and bullied by men. But there are many more women who haven’t shared their stories. Women who can’t share their stories because the abuse they experienced were in churches, were by deacons, were by ministers. These women who experienced not only sexual abuse, but spiritual abuse were forced to sign clauses and agreements that prevent them from sharing their stories in order to preserve a facade of holiness and righteousness that doesn’t exist. These women were shamed into this silence in order to preserve the institution of church and the hierarchy of power that excludes and oppresses them. These women were told that if their stories got out the church would split, contributions would drop, and it would be their fault.

What the evangelical response to this video has revealed is that they have contributed to this rape culture, this spiritual abuse and in standing by someone who has participated in this culture and has risen to the power and influence of being a presidential candidate, they hope that their secrets and positions are protected and preserved.

If these stories can’t be shared because of threats and bullying, then it up to us as the people of God to create space for healing and hope for those who have not only experienced sexual abuse, but had spiritual abuse heaped on top of those experiences. We have to be willing to ask tough questions of our leaders and practices. We have to be willing to say no to religious leaders who have histories and pasts of sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment. We have to be willing to be brave for those who can’t share their stories.

Thanks be to God for those who are already standing up for the oppressed, the silenced, and the abused.

Spiritual Abuse and Name Calling in the Purity Culture

I didn’t know I grew up in the Purity Culture. I didn’t realize that my age corresponded to a growing movement called True Love Waits that reached national attention right as I entered a conservative, evangelical youth group. I didn’t realize that for years and years the church governed mostly by men had been determining and deciding what was best for women’s bodies. I didn’t understand that the message of the Purity Culture often led to women who were guilty and ashamed and prime targets for rape.

All I knew is I didn’t want to be called any names.

I didn’t want to be called “whore,” “slut,” or “easy:” all names that heaped shame on the head of girls in my youth group who were considered to be “on the wrong path” and “unequally yoked” to bad influences. More than anything I didn’t want to be one of the girls who fell into this category. I’m not sure I knew what any of those names meant, but I knew what they implied: a girl who was living for herself and not living for God.

This is spiritual abuse.

This fear of being labeled of being shamed has been difficult to overcome. It’s why hearing a presidential nominee use name calling and guilt and shame as motivators to action sounds a little too familiar. But the labeling in the Purity Culture and in evangelical circles is so important to eliciting the type of behavior desired from congregants that is hard for many spiritual leaders to rid themselves of this practice, even spiritual leaders who wish to engage in healthy and whole practices of ministry.

The implementation of the Purity Culture is inundated with spiritual abuse practices like name calling that distract and defer from the message and intent of the gospel. These practices and the Purity Culture have left many, many millennials who were raised in the midst of the rise of the Purity Culture lost, shamed, and broken after years and years of faithful attendance to church.

The future of the church is in the midst of this brokenness. This brokenness caused by the institution of church. This brokenness caused by good intentions and failed implementation. This brokenness that has left scars and bruises in the next generation of church goers.

To minister now is to minister in the midst of this hurt and brokenness. It will take minister who are vulnerable. Ministers who openly and honestly address their privilege. Ministers who have advisory teams to determine whether they are engaging in spiritual abuse. Ministers who meet people where they are.

And ministers who are mobile because these who have been hurt and broken are going to have trouble returning to the place where they were abused, shamed, and broken.