It has been a busy few days since I wrote about my own middle-aged single lady experience with rape culture. I have had a huge number of responses from clergy colleagues who have written to express their solidarity, share their own stories and ask, “Why aren’t we talking about this in our churches?” And you can see the many comments from other readers at the post itself.
I feel curiously lighter after having published my thoughts on the matter. Like many women, I know and take to heart the feminist adage, “The personal is political!” I believe that to be true. And when I was in my 20’s, ALL my personal anger was political. Ask my old boyfriend. Boy, did he hear about it all the time! It was the era of my feminist awakening and every example of sexism in society felt deeply personal to me, while every sexist insult to me personally felt huge in its cultural resonance.
But after some years, I got over my constant rage and became a happy, busy professional woman working in ways (teaching and ministry) that fed my spirit and gave me a sense of meaning, hope and shalom in a broken world.
I think I actually forgot that my personal experiences as a woman were part of the social justice work I was doing. How in the world did that happen? Two reasons, I think: First,it is hard to integrate our own “personal” with the political when other oppressions seem so much more urgent. The second factor is denial. I’m a strong, feisty chick. I don’t want to see myself as a victim even when men’s abusive behavior has crossed the line from creepy to criminal. It’s easier to move on and re-direct my rage toward what’s happening to other bodies than to remember that my own body is part of the society I’m working to change.
I think we’re all much more comfortable when religious leaders live in their heads and preach, teach and write from that place. Me, too. I much prefer to ignore my incarnate reality in my ministry. I want to show up looking bright and shiny and ready to go, but I don’t really want to bring the Vicki who experiences all that gross misogynist stuff to the work. I keep her experiences for days off with friends, to laugh and weep and fume over while we talk a walk or have a glass of wine.
And that’s kind of weird. I have worked for years to evolve popular perception of clergy past the 19th century “pious young man of good prospects” model. You would think I would have done a better job integrating my own life experience with the social justice concerns of my denomination and my congregations. Go figure. I think good boundaries and privacy are important. But concern for appropriate boundaries should not lead to self-silencing about one’s own experience with the “isms” my own faith community is combating.
We’re all a work in progress.
Thank you all for sharing your stories and contributing to the conversation. Let’s keep having it in our communities.