Today is the 8th of March, International Women’s Day. It is a day when the world pauses to honor the women in our midst. The origin traces back to the Women’s Suffrage Movement in the United States and the Women’s Suffrage movement worldwide. It is a hard reality that in our day, 1 out of every 3 women worldwide, have experienced physical and or sexual violence. As we celebrate International Women’s Day, it is important to recognize that a 1-day pause in the midst of a 365-day year, is not enough. Women’s bodies are literally on the line in our day and so it is a charge to learn what it truly means to honor women in our midst. True honoring will take more than flowers, more than a certificate of appreciation, and more than printed Women’s Day memorabilia. True honoring will require reflection on the realities for women today and a move to turn things around.
Judges 19 is the story of the rape and dismemberment of a concubine woman. It is not a story to turn to in the wee hours of the night, but if you wake in the middle of the night with the text on your mind, the reality of the connections to be made in this particular text to our present day begin to come more and more alive. A read of Judges from beginning to end reveals a repetitive phrase. It reads, these were the days when there was no king, when men did “what was right in their own eyes.” Winds of chaos can be seen to arise in the text as men in the story turn away from honoring life, all life. It is as if the chaos that surrounds the moment of this woman’s body being offered up for rape and later dismemberment can be seen to be another character in the story when men are doing, “what is right in their own eyes.” The chaos is almost like wind that begins to swirl about.
Another element alive in the Judges text is what South African theologian, Miranda Pillay, refers to as the “holy halo” or presence of Patriarchy hanging in the air in the culture of the day, making it seem like dishonoring others, offering a women’s body over a male body, is okay. Pillay, commenting on the existence of Patriarchy within the life of the Church, notes that “the fact that patriarchy is condoned, defended, perpetuated, and sustained by giving it a ‘holy halo’ explains why many women remain in abusive and violent relationships, defend their partners’ behavior and carry the blame-not only for the abuse they suffer but also for being the cause’ of their partners’ behavior.” Women will stay in situations because others believe and teach them to believe what they are enduring is okay, right even.
In the life of the Church, the existence of Patriarchy is so thick at times, it is like the chaos in Judges, a character alive in our life together. Patriarchy impacts the decisions of both men and women. In conversations with ordained Clergywomen serving within the Cape of Good Hope District in Cape Town, South Africa, the women shared stories of struggle with laywomen as well as struggles with men. Women formed and shaped under the ‘Holy Halo’ are formed and shaped to receive systems where men dominate and lead. So, our understanding of the phrase, “when men do what is right in their own eyes” needs to be expanded to capture the consequences of what happens when women, as well as men, turn from honoring life, all life. The impact of the ‘Holy Halo’ upon women, is that women can believe it is okay to discriminate against other women due to a formation that shapes them into receiving male dominated systems as being the natural way.
Sadly, the moral authority of leaders in our day and age that might lead us in these times is lacking. It is said all too often that there once was a day when there was a Mandela, a Martin Luther King Jr., and a Gandhi. Where there once was a day, those days are long gone. South Africa, the United States, and India all experienced some of “the greats” in terms of world leaders who were agents of change. In each of these countries today, stories of abuses against women, as horrific as the story contained within Judges 19 can be found. In 2012 there was a gang rape on a bus in Delhi India. A twenty-three-year-old woman was traveling with her friend when several other male passengers on the bus gang raped her and tortured her. She died two days later as a result of her injuries. Jacob Zuma, the former President of South Africa and Donald Trump, the current President of the United States, have had accusations of sexual harassment. Women are under threat in a very public way today.
If there once was a day when there was a Nelson Mandela, a Martin Luther King Jr., and a Gandhi, those days are no more. If we are looking for the leaders that will bring change, we must begin to look at ourselves. If we want to honor women, on this International Women’s Day, we must investigate all the ways we have been formed and shaped to believe the dishonoring of women in their person or in their bodies is okay. The final line in the Judges 19 text reads, “Such a thing has never been seen or done, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Just imagine! We must do something! So Speak Up!” In the Judges 19 text, when men “did what was right in their own eyes,” a rape happened. What I don’t think we take seriously enough is the reality that women are raped every day. Patriarchy is a rape of women’s rightful place as children of God and it happens every day. It is all about power and the manipulation of others to be underneath the power of an umbrella or “halo’ that does not honor individuals for who they are–holy, beautiful, equivalent creations of God. There are people beginning to “Speak up!” about this. We must be careful to listen.
The #METOO movement in the United States is a movement that actually started about ten years ago. It was started by a woman named, Tarana Burke. The inspiration of the movement was to leverage the voices of survivors of sexual harassment, so that, they might encourage others to speak out. It was not originally a Hollywood movement. The movement was actually on behalf of those the world did not care as much about. The other hard reality about Patriarchy alive in culture is that if you are on the wrong end of the power spectrum, there is almost always great consequences for using your voice. Women so often live in silence, not speaking out about the ways they have been violated, because the consequences for speaking are too great. There are rightful critiques to be made of the #METOO movement, but it is creating a tsunami of stories that the world is having to process, and the act of processing is giving woman after woman after woman after woman back their voice.
Instead of honoring women in your life this International Women’s Day with flowers, consider spending time with women exploring in conversation the way Patriarchy impacts them in their lives. Spend time reflecting on ways you might be shaped by Patriarchy. Instead of honoring the women in your life with a certificate of appreciation, make commitments on how you will work to empower women or live into your power if you are a woman. Instead of gifting Women’s Day Memorabilia, consider women in your sphere of influence and make sure there is space for them to share how they would like to be celebrated with their own voice. We are living in days when so many are doing “what is right in their own eyes.” The task is for us to humble ourselves enough to be caught up in the ways that lead to life–what is right in God’s eyes. Humanity is meant to be at work bridging every power and principality that seeks to divide. It will take men and women working together to turn things around.
With you on the Journey,
For Further Reading:
UN Facts & Figures on Ending Violence against Women
Thursdays in Black
General Commission on Status & Role of Women, United Methodist Church