A friend and I were sitting on a bench on a busy street one evening, eating ice cream, laughing and enjoying the people watching. The bench was elevated, and my friend’s sandaled foot was at chest-level to the people walking past. Suddenly, a young man – clearly drunk, clearly college-aged – grabbed at her foot and started cooing after her brightly painted toenails. She said no and pulled her foot away. He chased after it. I stood up to intervene, and his friends pulled him away. One of them apologized. My friend was shaken, but more, she added this to the very long list of inappropriate touches and harassment she’s suffered in her life.
The next day, when we processed it, I made the stupid observation that I have never been the victim of inappropriate touch and harassment and while I could sympathize I could not truly empathize.
I call it stupid, because first and foremost, it was insensitive to separate myself from other women* and spread my own insecurities on a friend who had been harassed, but also because while I have not experienced the explicit harassment I witnessed that evening, I have been implicitly harmed because of the rampant misogyny that exists in our culture:
I have been excluded from certain committees, jobs, projects because I am a woman.
I am questioned – often with scorn – about being a single, child-free woman.
I carry my keys like a weapon when walking alone.
I know basic self-defense moves.
I keep an eye on other women I see walking alone to make sure they stay safe, and am on high alert when I hear a man and woman arguing.
I know many women who have suffered some sort of sexual abuse.
I cover up low-cut tops when going outside.
I have had medical concerns dismissed by medical professionals because I was making it up/overdramatizing/clearly seeking attention.
I know women who have been denied contraceptives.
I have been mansplained to by men. So has every woman I know.
I have been insulted for calling myself a feminist.
I am entering a profession where women are not always allowed the same access and position as men.
I have been called a bitch for turning a man down.
I have been called a bitch for asserting my position.
I have been called a bitch for simply existing.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The hashtag #YesAllWomen has made significant waves in the last day or so, in reaction to a tragic mass murder in California where the suspect made his disdain for women clear…and men, appropriately shocked by his actions, started to assert their concern with #NotAllMen. It was a good effort, and women are so grateful that not all men are misogynistic. Yet even that does not speak to the reality of #YesAllWomen.
Yes, all women experience abuse, discrimination, and condemnation. Yes, all women are affected by an unreasonable measure of beauty and womanhood. Yes, all women are affected by the institutionalizing of rape culture. Yes, all women are harmed by troubling religious texts and practices. No, not all men do these things, but yes, all women are hurt by them.
As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every person. EVERY person. We cannot stay silent in this war against women. I know that many of our congregations open their doors to Planned Parenthood and NOW meetings, when no one else will. I know that many of our members fight for reproductive rights. I know that our sexuality education program, Our Whole Lives, promotes healthy boundaries and sexual behaviors.
Yet women ministers struggle in Unitarian Universalist pulpits. They face criticism over their clothing, their hair, their accents, their child-bearing responsibilities. They struggle with challenges to their ministerial authority. They bring the same truths that #YesAllWomen speaks to their pulpits, but if they talk about women’s issues more than three times in a year, they are condemned for being one-issue preachers. And frankly, as a woman going into ordained ministry, I fear that the shift of ministry into a “helping” profession will allow boards to reduce pay, lumping them into the same category as teachers and nurses, whose work is vital and whose pay is consistently too low.
I could go on and on, and on and on. Frankly, the more I write, the angrier I get. But that won’t solve anything. Instead, I am calling on our denomination – primarily the Standing on the Side of Love campaign – to take up the cause of women. We are fighting a scary, dangerous war, that compromises half the planet. We speak there of fighting vitriolic rhetoric – now is the time to speak out and say Yes, All Women are bullied when one is bullied. Yes, All Women are harmed when one is harmed. Yes, All Women deserve our full support as we erase the hate that perpetuates rape culture and misogyny.
We must take up this fight. For all women. For all people.
*”Women” in this post includes ALL people on the gender spectrum who identify on the female side – be they cis-gendered, femmes, genderqueer, trans, or other. We here on the Far Fringe recognize the complexity of gender identity and gender expression.