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Soapbox Warning: On Jian Ghomeshi and the acceptability of sexualized violence against women

Soapbox

Trigger warning: rape, abuse, sexualized violence. 

One of my blogger-jokes is that I like to think about and write about the stuff we don’t usually discuss in polite company – things like marriage and religion and politics, for instance. But I have to say I’ve never in my life considered or entertained the idea of writing about a topic like this. To those of you who need to avoid this topic or to click away because it will violate your peace of mind or heart, please do so with my complete understanding.

But my conscience won’t allow me to remain silent, I’ve got a fire in my bones today.

I read it. Oh, yes, I read it. I read Jian Ghomeshi’s statement about his firing from the CBC. I have loved Q for years. My sister and I both listen to it and we swoon regularly over the opening essays, over the thoughtful and deep interviews, over the brilliance of the contributors and, of course, the host, Jian Ghomeshi.

So when Ghomeshi was fired from the CBC this weekend, we were stunned. And let’s be honest: it takes something incredibly horrific to be fired from the public broadcaster. Don Cherry has enjoyed immunity for 35 years even though he’s offended everyone at least twice on matters of race and politics and sexual identity. So for CBC Radio’s golden boy to be fired, well, this was a big deal. We all knew it.

I read Ghomeshi’s statement from the standpoint of a dedicated and long-time fan, someone who was inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. And the further I read, the more my heart sank: it reads entirely like abuser rhetoric and gas-lighting. It was raw and emotional, yes, but it was textbook justification. Of course an employer has no place in the private or sexual lives of its employees – this was clearly not that.

Then came the article in the Toronto Star this morning, detailing conversations with four separate women who allege that Ghomeshi did, in fact, abuse them without consent. So much for the “jilted ex-lover” defense. And they will likely never come forward to press charges or make public accusations because they fear Internet retaliation. A very real and very terrible reality, one I completely understand. I have experienced my own share of violent threats for being a woman online: one needn’t exercise much speculation to understand why these women would shy away from public court cases or lawsuits or accusations. It’s dangerous enough to be a woman these days, let alone a woman who dares to stand up publicly against abuse. Who among us doesn’t understand that fear? We can make the logical arguments about why we are obligated to report cases of abuse or rape and how victims names are shielded (tell that to the victims of Internet doxxing) but the truth is that most cases of abuse and rape go unreported for very real reasons, let alone the public interest component here. The lack of formal charges proves nothing, either way: it doesn’t prove it happened but it doesn’t prove that it didn’t either. And now come the women weighing in on the comment sections of the articles, claiming similar experiences.

So I’m left not knowing whether to cry or throw things. Instead, I’m sitting down to write this post – against my better judgement, if only for the spam comments I’ll receive alone, let alone the rest of the very real and rational reasons as both a Christian and a feminist to never write on this topic.

Because this isn’t really about Jian Ghomeshi right now. After all, we have no idea of the particulars or details or truth here, not yet anyway. He claims persecution for his sexual appetites, the victims are claiming abuse. It’s complex and I pray that the truth will come out and that justice will be done.

Really, this is about the acceptability of sexualized violence against women.

Feminists have long been split on these sex-related issues, from being anti-pornography to pro-pornography, pro-sex-work and anti-sex-work, anti-BDSM to pro-BDSM. There are scholarly arguments for all sides, I’ve read them and I understand how each side arrives at their conclusions on a purely academic basis. I also know why I land where I land on those issues for more reasons than simply my Christian convictions.

Consent always lies at the heart of the arguments: is there consent? If yes, then go for it. Mutual consent is the new moral arbitrator for our sexuality.

I understand that logic. It makes sense to me from an academic or secular standpoint, absolutely. I understand that if Ghomeshi is proven to have engaged in these acts with consent, that it falls within acceptable boundaries for most.

But that logic fails to take one thing into account for me: the whole “Jesus” part of being a Jesus feminist.

I’m a feminist because I follow Jesus, my feminism is shaped by my discipleship to Jesus. And so yes, I dare to have an opinion precisely because of that distinction.

I’ve grappled with writing about sexuality on several occasions – mainly because I think the Church has often gotten it so wrong. Over the years, I’ve taken issue with everything from purity culture to modesty rules to how we treat those of us who not only engaged in premarital sex but dared to enjoy it as “damaged goods.” I’m never one to argue for repression or shaming as healthy sexuality, let alone someone who places one individual in the relationship (typically the man) as the sun around which our mutual sexuality should orbit. I rarely fall neatly on any one “side” – I’m often too conservative for liberals and too liberal for conservatives.

Christians rarely hear a healthy and freeing message about their sexuality, about the importance of consent and mutuality, about being in charge of our own bodies, about the realities of sex right alongside of the delights and desires, let alone a sexual ethic that tenderly cares for victims of abuse. We tend to take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to sexuality, painting with broad brushes across complex people, ignoring nuance and making up a new law, one that – let’s be honest – usually puts women at risk of abuse or shame-based rhetoric.

I remain wary and yet here I am with a broad brush and a soapbox: this way of treating each other – violence, dominance, bondage, abuse, exploitation – is wrong. WRONG.

We who claim to follow Jesus know that there isn’t really any corner of our lives that is exempt from our discipleship. We are a people who are meant to be a glimpse of life the way that God intended it to be, we’re to be about the business of living prophetically into the Kingdom of God right now. We are people of shalom.

This means seeing the humanity in one another, justice, mercy, faithfulness, loving one another well, peace-making, even purity (a much misunderstood word) and mutual honour. And that commitment includes our sexuality and our most intimate partners.

These kinds of sexual acts are dehumanizing, period. Full stop.

Even if there is consent, it is dehumanizing to fantasize about and enact sexual violence against women. It’s a short walk from fantasizing about violence and rape to becoming someone who commits violence and rape – and even with consent, it is wrong to do so. These acts are dehumanizing and soul-sucking for all participants.

As we think in our heart, so we are, according to Proverbs. Or as Marshall McLuhan wrote, beholding is becoming.

So here, this theologically and socially progressive Christian feminist will say it:

These sexual acts have simply become a socially acceptable way of excusing dehumanizing each other, of abuse, abuse grooming, oppression, language of hate, rape, and violence. Even with consent, it’s exploitative, evil, and wrong. 

All of those acts of sexualized violence run completely counter to the way we are to treat one another, according to the Church and to the Spirit. We are called in Scripture to honour God with our bodies – these acts are not honour. And even apart from the specifics in Scripture about sex in particular, we have a whole ethic for how we treat one another now in the Kingdom of God – with love.

Christian relationships are meant to be characterized by mutuality, not dominance.

Our sexuality isn’t exempt from our identity in Christ.

Scripturally, sex is intrinsically connected to love. And the one who is Love is described in 1 Corinthians 13 among other beautiful qualities as patient and kind, not boastful or rude, it doesn’t demand its own way, our example is to be a people who are faithful and hopeful. We’re made in the image of Love. We are to treat each other in this way.

People are sacred. Women are sacred. Men are sacred. Our bodies are not separate from our spirituality – our bodies matter, our words matter, the way we treat each other sexually matters, the way we believe we should be treated sexually matters.

Then there is this….

In a world where women are repeatedly and consistently raped and abused, how dare we?

Oh, I’m angry. How dare we?

How dare we make light of the very real terror and horror that women have endured and are enduring? You talk to a woman who has been raped or sexually violated or beaten or abused and then try to tell me that it’s okay to be turned on by that. It is NOT okay. It is never okay, it never will be okay. Violence against women is epidemic and evil, it’s not to be mined for sexual pleasure. How dare we forget our sisters? How dare we make light of or sexualize for our own pleasures the unmitigated horror that is endured by women even at this moment? Whether in the context of a classroom power dynamic or a war torn refugee camp, women are preyed upon, groomed for abuse and abused in horrifying numbers in this way from the youngest to the oldest. There are women who believe they deserve to be treated in this way – think about that for a second.

From the account of creation in Scripture, we see that we are all made in the image of God. These acts are part of the Curse in the garden, right along with patriarchy: dominance and an absence of mutuality is not our identity in Christ.  Calling these acts by pithy acronyms or pontificating about consent don’t remove the inherent violence and evil of them.

What a tactic of the enemy – to take the very thing that is a curse upon us and twisting it to make it seem acceptable.

I don’t care if it’s soft patriarchy or BDSM, this is an example of the enemy twisting the very thing that enslaves us, the curse, a consequence of the Fall, and making us think it’s not only acceptable but sexy and desirable. We have been set free from walking in that oppression.

This post isn’t about Ghomeshi. Not really. We don’t know enough to make claims yet and it might very well be none of our business. We can only pray for true justice to be done now, however that shakes down.

But it is about the larger question – how do we view women? how do we treat women? how do we think about women? what is an acceptable way to treat another human being who is made in the image of God? and what do those things say about not only us but the God whom we claim to know? what does this say to the women among us who are abused and sexually violated?

We should be part of redemption, not part of promoting the acceptability of oppression.

 image source, used with permission

Continue Reading · Jesus Feminist, social justice, women · 234

Women in Bikinis

I had my annual girls’ weekend this past month. It always seems like an indulgence for me to go (it is) and a bit of a hardship on my little family (it is) but every time I come home so refreshed, so renewed, so full, that we now think of it almost as a necessity. Few of us live near each other so we rely on social media and the phone for our daily connections but once a year, we gather at a lake to reconnect, tell stories, laugh until we weep and cry until we laugh. Female friendships are so dear to me – I can’t fathom going through my life without women alongside of me and ahead of me.

I was pretty worn out this year, I don’t mind admitting. I had a red-eye flight heading into the weekend, I was four months pregnant at the time, our life is still a bit too full for my liking, and so hello uninterrupted nap time, you’re a priority. When I woke up late on the Saturday, I wandered outside to sit on the porch overlooking the lake with my cuppa tea and I saw one of the most beautiful sights: women in bikinis.

We range in age from late twenties to late forties. We just look like regular women you’d see working at the bank or in the pews at church or handling school pick up. We have our own hang-ups about our bodies: one might complain about her size, another about her boobs, another about her thighs, another about how things have changed as she got older. A lot of us are mothers and that marks a body, you know.

But here they were out in public in bikinis, unashamed and having a great time.

I said it out loud, “I’m so thankful that I have friends who wear bikinis.”

There wasn’t any hiding behind oversized t-shirts or cover-ups. No posing on the dock or the sand with a perfectly bent arm on our hip to reduce arm-fat with an elevated smart phone for a filtered selfie. Just a group of women in the water, wearing bikinis like their bodies were nothing to be ashamed of. Imagine that.

I know that for some segments of the Church the thought of good-Christian-women-in-bikinis jumps your fence because of a lifetime spent labouring under strict modesty rules. Young women were often subjected to horrendous and humiliating practices about their clothing, even being told that their bodies are wrong or evil. Heaven help the young lady who dared to bring a two-piece bathing suit to youth group camp. Strict rules complete with diagrams and assumptions of motives, what started as likely a well-meaning experience to encourage modesty turned into a witch hunt and a theological confusion about responsibility.

Instead of treating women and girls as persons with full minds, hearts, souls AND bodies, they were treated as essentially physical stumbling blocks to men. And I think that dehumanizes women – in the minds of men and in their own souls. In a way, these modesty rules are a version of the tired and terrible questions asked about victims of rape: “What was she wearing?” meaning “Was she asking for it?” Answer: never.

(My other issue with the modesty rules stuff is that it paints men as unable to control their urges or bear responsibility for their own attractions and thought life – and that’s crap.)

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a pretty modest person by natural style and inclination. I hope I’m teaching my tinies how to choose clothing well AND how to bear responsibility for their own thoughts and choices. But I don’t think you can determine some else’s motives or spiritual life simply by how tight her yoga pants are on a given day. A woman’s spiritual depth or intelligence – let alone her value – isn’t indicated by how high her neckline or low her hemline.

Regardless, growing up in a shame-based culture around one’s body is crippling and hard to release. It leaves one feeling disjointed and separated, unconnected and even ashamed about one’s body. It can take a lifetime to unlearn those lies.

But for me, it’s not the modesty culture stuff that makes me rejoice over the sight of normal women in bikinis.

No, as I wrote for Glennon Melton at Momastery a few months ago for her Sacred Scared series, my battle is much more mainstream: my weight. 

As I wrote for Glennon’s site, “I battle with resenting my own body and the way it has changed over the years.  I feel so achingly and painfully average, a stereotype, like the chubby misfit mama. And it’s so much worse when I am around other Christian women leaders because they are so well put together, so beautiful, so seemingly effortlessly thin, so motivated, and I want to hide.   I know better – I do!  But apparently sometimes I don’t. I know I’m overweight – trust me – but for me, it’s not really about the weight, it’s about how I am often awash in shame and self-loathing about it. Our culture tells me that I am only loveable or sexy if I look like a thin movie star, there is no room for my softness, and sometimes, God forgive me, I believe them. I elevate popular culture’s opinion of me over what I know about being fearfully and wonderfully made, over my husband’s love and desire for me, over my logic, over my own convictions, over my beliefs about who I am in Christ.  I’m still overcoming the lies and some days, let me be honest, some days I am not an overcomer.”

Like a lot of women, I think my battle started when I hit puberty. It turned out that my grown-up body was much more curvy and full – even at my thinnest – than what was in fashion or even what was considered “normal” within my family. I have been battling the feeling of “not enough” ever since then. I was very easily wounded by comments about my weight or size, carrying them and never forgetting the words.

I think that’s part of the reason why I write so often about body image – half the time, I’m preaching to myself. I need to hear the truth still. I need to have good boundaries about what I say about myself.

Overall, I consider myself remarkably healthy at this point in my life – both physically and emotionally – as it pertains to my relationship with my body. And I’m proud of this.

I have made my peace with my body and I even write love letters to my own body as a radical act of faith. I rebel against my own social conditioning about my body by choosing to not only accept myself, but celebrate my body.

But make no mistake: it’s been a hard-won freedom with occasional stumbles.

So I never thought I deserved a bikini. I thought those sorts of things were for thin women, for women without my breasts and my hips and my little pooch-y belly. I was meant for full-piece miracle suits and oversized cover-ups and quick dashes to the change rooms.

I thought bikinis had to earned. I never wore bikinis. Even in my teens and my twenties when I still had a belly unmarked by bearing children, I thought I wasn’t in the bikini class. The thought of wearing a bikini now was unthought by me. It never would have even entered my brain to choose a bikini.

Seeing my group of friends having a great time out on the lake – paddle boarding, laying out on floating rafts, swimming, jumping off the dock with abandon, unashamed – changed me.

Their hair was wet, there was no make-up, no self-consciousness. They were without shame about their bodies. It was stunning. I mean, yes, they were beautiful, absolutely. But it was stunning more because in our culture that constantly tells us that we aren’t enough or we’re too much, these women simply didn’t care and went out for a swim in a bikini. Each body was different from the other and yet each one was beautiful. Turns out you don’t earn a bikini by having a “bikini ready body” – you “earn” a bikini by putting one on your body as it is. Done.

I’m so thankful that I have friends who wear bikinis.

These women set me a bit more free with the glorious sight of their own freedom.

There is something about seeing women who walk in a freedom that we don’t yet enjoy that ignites us. I’ve had the same feeling when I saw women doing something I longed to do myself and hadn’t yet gathered the courage or conviction to step into.

When I see women enjoying a freedom that I can’t yet imagine, I think: I’m going to get there. I have a vision now for a new area of freedom and wholeness in my life. Whether it’s in my vocation and calling, my opinions and daily life, my priorities or whatever, I want to get there.

This is what I love about my friends. They challenge me simply by living their lives. I could tell you the dozens of ways I came home from our weekend together challenged.

And this seems like a silly one perhaps – women in bikinis, good gracious – but it was really a challenge about my body and how I view my body, about shame and freedom, about the goodness of our bodies before God, pushing back against my own prejudices and cultural conditionings.

It wasn’t really about the bikinis. Not really. (And we’re heading into the fall and winter so we’re past bikini season anyway. But wouldn’t it be awesome if more normal women in the middle of their years wore bikinis? I think so.) Really, my thankfulness was more about the presence of women in my life who extend to me a glimpse of wholeness and freedom.

There were other moments of challenge regarding calling and vocation, mothering and marriage, sex and Scripture, hospitality and theology, you name it over the course of our couple days together. All of those conversations arose in the context and safety of long friendship.

Far-away women on stage or writers from the pages of a book teaching me or preaching at me are great and I love that. I receive a lot of life from women of influence, I do. But I also need women in my real walking-around life teaching me with their own lives, living as testimonies to freedom and wholeness, as invitations for my own life.

Next year, I’ll be bringing a brand new little nursing baby with me – and hopefully a bikini.

 

Continue Reading · fearless, friends, women · 115

Propel: for women who lead

from Propel Magazine

from Propel Magazine

Sometimes we spend so much time helping women understand that they CAN lead that we forget how to empower them once they’re already there.

This is something that came up in a conversation I had with Christine Caine a few months ago. We are from related faith traditions that have fully affirmed women in ministry and leadership for years now –  indeed, we know nothing else! So for us, the conversations about “should women do this?” or “should women do that?” are over and done … and often feel disingenuous at times.

In fact, I told her that that very thing was a big part of my heart as I was writing Jesus Feminist – I wanted to give a glimpse of what life looked like on the other side of the gender debates that have gripped our churches for far too long. I wanted to show the beauty and freedom and hope that exists within egalitarianism – for marriages, for mothering, for the Church, for the world. For those of us who have had these issues settled in our families and churches for generations now, we know that it’s time to simply live into the other side of God’s “YES.”

That’s when Chris graciously gave me a peek into a new dream of her heart: to create a leadership network for women who are already leading – and not just in the church or in full-time vocational ministry, oh, no. This network would be for high capacity women in every area of life, not just the ones who write books or preach on stages. Propel is for women who lead, period. As soon as I heard about this, I knew that it was going to be good.

First, because it’s Chris, right? I mean, the woman is a powerful leader with contagious passion and purpose. But secondly, there are too few resources and communities for Jesus-centered women who are already leading. And yet there is such a powerful grassroots rising-up happening across denominational and geographical lines. Women are leading in business, in tech, in science, in global humanitarian work and so on. And so as the generation of women alive today, we better be ready to lead and lead well, too. This is the time, I believe, for more networks like this. We would be well-served by clear visions of leadership from the women who are a bit ahead of us on the path and a community of women to travel that path alongside of us as peers. I’m excited about Propel because it’s another indicator that things are changing and will change and have changed for God’s daughters.

Christine partnered with the powerhouse duo of Bianca Juarez-Olthoff and Alli Worthington to launch this network. It will open officially in 2015 but you can subscribe here now and receive the inspiring magazine as a free download. It features articles, stories, and personal wisdom all from women who are already leading. I can’t wait to learn from these women.

If you are a woman who leads or a woman who feels called to leadership, these are your people.

We aren’t interested in justifying our place in the room anymore: we are simply getting on with it.

 You can also follow Propel on Twitter.

Continue Reading · women, work · 15

You are Not Powerless: One Way to be a Beloved Warrior This Week

beloved warriors

Sometimes I feel quite powerless and small. I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling. The heart of the world is breaking wide open, particularly during this summer of sorrow, and we feel powerless to help. We pray and we weep, we listen and we pay attention but it never feels like quite enough.

But let me settle one thing: We are never powerless. 

I believe with my whole heart is that the daughters of God were called to be Beloved Warriors. That calling might look different for each of us – some are called to the front lines, others of us are called to beautiful obscurity. But as a Jesus Feminist – someone whose feminism was birthed in and is now shaped by Jesus Christ – I want to engage with the fullness of that calling and the wonder-working power.

I want to pray with my voice and heart, absolutely,  but you better believe I’m also going to pray with my wallet and with my mind and with my feet and my hands. 

We’ve not been called to the people-pleasing life, to the approval seeking life, to the bow-down-and-give-up life or the sit-down-and-shut-up life. We’ve been called to the peace-making life, the truth-telling life, the she-who-the-Son-sets-free-is-free-indeed life.

We’ve been called to the spirit-filled and God-breathed life, living out the ways of the Kingdom and the life in Christ to every corner of our humanity. We are, what N.T. Wright calls, parables of hope.

We’ve been called to the life of the beloved. We’ve been called to the life of the disciple. We are not powerless.

So, I’ve decided to start highlighting simple ways for us to engage as beloved warriors on behalf of the daughters of the world. I hope to feature one way to engage with God in peace-making every week – a simple and from-home way to help write a better story for God’s girls in many locations and contexts around the world.

These are simple things, maybe you’d say they aren’t that big of a deal, really.

But we serve a God who takes the smallest seed of peace and justice that we can plant and then….watch….watch….watch….the mighty oak that will appear. These seeds are seeds of faith.

As I wrote last week about how to have hope that God is transforming the world, sometimes, absolutely, mountains move in a great sweep, picked up and cast out into the sea.

But these days I find that God often asks us to move a mountain one small stone a time.

Faithfulness is picking up my small stones, instead of screwing my eyes shut and denying the existence of the mountain.

***

This week, we’re going to send new and gently used books to the women of Joe’s Addiction Community in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA.

I received a beautiful message from Jamie Z. on my Facebook page a few days ago. As soon as I read it, I cried. I emailed her and asked for permission to share this idea with our community here. I knew you would love this. Jamie and her team have been leading the ladies in their community in a study of Jesus Feminist.

But one night, their book discussion didn’t go so well….check out what Jamie had to say:

We encountered a sad and sobering reality, as we read a chapter called Patron Saints, Spiritual Midwives and Biblical Womanhood. In this chapter, Sarah talks about the many women who have been heroes in her life. Bible characters, such as Deborah, Esther, Mary Magdalene, historical figures, like Corrie ten Boom and Florence Nightingale, Harriet Tubman, Amy Carmichael, Dorothy Day, Gladys Aylward.

As I read out loud to our precious ladies, the tension in the room built. It was tangible. I wasn’t sure what was happening. After reading the chapter, I simply asked one of the Discussion Questions that the author has for the chapter: Who are some of the women heroes in your life, in your history?

There was silence. Total silence. Everyone looked around the room at one another. Finally one of the ladies (an incredibly strong woman who has survived a lifetime of unspeakable abuse), spoke through closed throat and tear-filled eyes. She said, “I’m so far behind. I don’t know if I’ll ever catch up. I don’t even know who any of these women are that you read about.” Another woman said, “I have no one. No women in my history that I could look up to.” The others in the room nodded.

No mothers, no grandmothers, no female community leaders, no role models, NO HEROES at all.

So many of us have grown up in the comfort of Sunday School, of Christian schools or home schooling. Many of these ladies have not even graduated high school. They are the FIRST in their family line to lift their heads from the dust and look to a possibility of a better future for themselves and for their daughters.

So Jamie Z. has decided to create a library for her friends. She wants to create a REAL bookshelf full of biographies and Bible stories about women of our history and legacy – missionaries, women of valour, faithful women, kingdom women, women who have changed the world.  The women who can read can check them out, but they’ll also be available to do read-alouds for women who are still learning to read. Biography, autobiography, essays, children’s books, young adult books, and audio books, whatever – they want to begin to create spiritual midwives and patron saints for each other.

I believe in the work that Jamie is doing, absolutely, but I also believe in each woman who is there. They are women of valour! This is kingdom work.

Beloved Warriors, here is what we will do: let’s build the  library for these precious women.

If you have these kinds of books just sitting on your shelf, please consider mailing them to Jamie! Walk around your house or your local bookstore or your church library, toss a few books into a box, write a note of encouragement, and pop it in the mail.

Send new or gently used to 1806B SE 59th St. Oklahoma City, OK 73129. 

For instance, you could send books about Corrie ten Boom, Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Harriet Tubman, Amy Carmichael, Evangeline Booth, Gladys Aylward, the women of the Bible, or even current heroes like Malala Yousafi.

And Jamie, to you and all the women – eshet chayil! Woman of valour! We are all cheering you on. 

 

 

Continue Reading · Beloved Warrior, Jesus Feminist, women · 46