Like so many I am seeing the steady scroll of “me too” on my social media platforms. Woman after woman (and some who identify across genders) are making so many aware that their daily experience is rife with the common experience of the devaluing of their identity to a commodity for comment, caress, or worse. What I keep thinking as I read these is this – it is a very real shame that we have lost our conversance with the language of sin and evil.
It is easy to dismiss so much of this as locker-room antics by boys being boys – it is less easy to dismiss when we ask ourselves what level of verbal degradation, abuse, or humiliation that Christ would consider acceptable. Would he have tolerated the abuse of women who were too easy to ignore in his own time? We know that he would not. We know that the longest recorded conversation of his is with the woman at the well – a woman whose testimony is called “the word.” We know that he chastised stone throwers. We know that he drew near to him women of means and of none.
The problem with our culture – with misogyny and sexism – is that it is death dealing. How many dreams and hopes are smothered along with the self-worth of women who find themselves reduced to their look-value or use-value by men who dominate not by dint of their ability but by the inheritance of unearned privilege that their gender accords them?
One of the most poignant and painful memories from seminary was that of a classmate telling me that she was glad that her daughter was not in the chapel the day I told a harmless joke. Obviously it was not harmless – it was isolating and shaming in a way that I was utterly blind to. This is the devious nature of privilege – it gives us an excuse not to care. It gives us a fig leaf to cover our unexamined ignorance. It gives cheap cover for costly sin.
I cannot speak to the experience of my female friends, colleagues, and relatives. That is impossible and presumptuous. I can only offer silence as they tell their story. I cannot understand it – nor will I ever. I may, however, give space for the telling that I might find within their stories some part of my own salvation. If this sounds like too grand a claim then consider that we are to seek and serve Christ in all persons – this cannot mean that I see a fraction of that fullness of glory in the women around me. It cannot mean that I stop my ears when they tell the story of their abuse at the hands of a callous and corrosive patriarchy.
I used to get annoyed when I heard the word “patriarchy.” I got annoyed because I felt that it was the rampart of angry women who resented the world. Then I started to take confession seriously. I started to take sin seriously. I started to take the gospel seriously. Then I realized that I was the angry one – I was the one angry that the very thing that had so benefited me was being named as an agent – a power and a principality – of oppression.
I remain angry – but I am angrier that it is a system that seems to have no end. It is a system that robs not just the women I care about or whose identity is tied to my own of their dignity but robs human beings of the chance to be fully alive – aware of their promise and potential. I am angry at my complicity and complacency. There is a kind of anger that is holy – it is table-flipping and boundary destroying. I can only hope that this is the kind of anger that I can give voice to – an anger that sounds like voices found and hope renewed. An anger that sounds like a still small voice giving word to that very basic hope that in Christ all are one and One is all that we hope to find together.