Let’s Talk About Sex….
…..as in gender. I know, that was delightfully misleading but it got your attention and I want your attention for about five minutes or however long it takes you to read this rant. And, there’s your warning. It’s likely to be a little bit of a rant because even though I’ve slept on it and even though I’ve polled my vast pool of different-thinking friends and colleagues to make sure that I’m not blowing something way out of proportion, I’m still in a pretty big tiff about this and so, I’m going to work that out here.
There’s a photo circulating on social media. Really with my pool of 900-or-so friends, I didn’t expect to ever see it but, as it turns out, it popped up in my newsfeed. I like good photography and am always interested in a good photographer if I see one. I have a photographer that I like to use and would never really go to anyone but W. June Photography, but (as a momma who’s always behind a camera myself), I still look at professional photographers as they make their way around. All of this being said (and much more to come), here’s the photo that I’m citing.
There it is with its neon-green focal points and three words on a chalkboard in an attempt to convey a particular message — a message that, for me, has become deeply ironic and the counter-message, deeply disturbing. The mother and two female children are bound with strings of Christmas lights and unhappy looking — they are gagged with duct-tape. They are bound and gagged. They are restrained and silenced. The father and son, who are elevated in the photo higher than the females, are happy. They have conquered the photo. They are the winners.
At first glance I thought, “Oh! Family picture!” Then I thought, “Oh! It’s Christmas-themed!” Then I thought, “Oh, it’s not traditional…….Oh, they’re trying to be funny…….Oh………That’s not funny AT ALL.”
And it’s not. If it’s funny to you, I really want to challenge that perception. If you don’t think it’s a “big deal” then I really, REALLY want to challenge THAT perception. This. Is. Not. Funny. And, this IS a BIG DEAL.
I’m going to start with why it’s not funny to me personally and get that out of the way. I’m a 30-year-old female pastor. In my denomination (United Methodism), we’ve been ordaining women for almost 70 years. In the broader history of organized religion, that isn’t very long. But for modern Protestantism, that’s a good while. One would think that the tug-of-war that’s grounded in surface-level readings of texts from some of the letters of Paul that have been interpreted (and misinterpreted) as God’s decree that women have nothing worthwhile to offer to men in the sphere of theology, would be long gone. Six short years in ‘professional’ ministry have proven otherwise to me from experiences I’ve had encountering faith communities of other denominations, to churches that weren’t quite ready to welcome a female pastor, to (most regrettably) colleagues in this same journey in my own denomination that aren’t “there.”
So this photo……..This photo that not only silences women but binds them and glorifies the silence — not only does it disturb me, the ideology infuriates me and, in the end, my soul hurts a bit. It doesn’t hurt as much because this is how this particular family chose to convey its’ family Christmas cheer. I doubt they meant ill-will. It hurts me that anyone would consider it funny and that so many would choose to minimize these other messages that it sends because “it’s funny.” Again, it’s not.
But that’s me. It’s easy for me to take this personally. But there are a lot of other women in this world….
Amnesty International reports that 1 in 3 women in this world “has been beaten, coerced into sex, and otherwise abused in her lifetime.” That is a maddening statistic. From the abuse of women who are brought into custody (particularly in the Third World but the U.S. isn’t off the hook), to “honor killings” (women who are killed because they’ve been raped and the culture blames her for what’s happened), to acid burnings when a woman doesn’t “get along with her in-laws,” to continual passive attitudes toward domestic violence against women around the globe — the statistic becomes less maddening. This photo IS. NOT. FUNNY.
Subjugation means “to bring under someone’s control,” or, “to enslave.” In this sense, 1 in 3 women around the globe are subjugated. I have to break that down theologically because there is no way that the God I have come to know as all-loving, who’s grace is all-encompassing, and who’s passion for Her (let’s face it, the feminine pronoun usage for God just works in this post…….go with it), children cares not for gender differences, would ever choose for half the planet to be subjugated to the other. I don’t see it. I just cannot fathom that a reality.
In Genesis 1:26-28, God creates humankind.
26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” 27 So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” (NRSV)
In the likeness of God we were created. We were told to be fruitful and multiply. The implication there is that according to Genesis 1, woman and man were created. The rest of the created order, for all intents and purposes, was subjugated to humanity.
In Genesis 2 we get a closer look at the creation of woman.
20 The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.” 24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (NRSV)
Man and woman were created to be of one flesh — to live as partners and helpmates in life. At least, that’s the implication of Genesis 2.
In the wedding liturgy we use, in the United Methodist Church, we signify that as the two come back together as one flesh, they come closer to God. Or that they do so (come closer together) by coming closer to God. It’s a beautiful perspective and one that comes directly from scripture — the idea that the two becoming one again means that we come closer to God.
Where’s the subjugation? Where’s the call for discrimination? Where does it say that God created Eve “less” than Adam? To be his slave? Without a voice? To be treated as inferior? I don’t see it and you know why? I don’t see it because it’s not there.
One of the biggest places that we miss out — that we lose — in this world is by assuming that women are less than men — are incapable — cannot be used, called, or qualified by God (that also implies that there is something God is incapable of doing). The world that thinks this photo is funny only works, inadvertently albeit, to make little the plight of subjugated women around the world. Something as small as laughing at this further perpetuates the problem. Thinking this is funny means that you are a part of the problem.
Don’t. Just don’t. Do not be a part of the problem. Loose the tongue of women. Unbind them. Quit blaming them. Stop accusing them. Quit belittling them, minimizing them, limiting them. Stop abusing them and thinking that it’s ok. Look at that statistic (1 in 3), and don’t stand for it. Don’t pray because of it unless you are praying for guidance to change it.
The subjugation of women is a worldwide pandemic. It spreads like a rampant wildfire across the globe with every laugh — with every passive thought — with the snap of a camera. Be of one flesh. Be a part of the solution. Stop thinking this is ok.
Do as the writer of 1 Peter suggests: Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. (3:8)