Sexual Harassment for International Women’s Day

It may be a failing of mine that I don’t like to feel as though I’m on a bandwagon; so I’m not always keen on celebrating things that hardly seemed to exist before social media, like International Women’s Day. A certain amount of naivete, too, has in the past made me wonder how much we still really need to celebrate women, at least in the developed world. I thought, a year or two ago, that “feminist” wasn’t such a radical label.

Today, though, I was followed by a man in a car for two blocks on my walk. “Be my friend,” he said. “I like that. You’re cute. Princess. I like that.”
“I’m married,” I said.
“You sure?” he replied. He knew it didn’t really matter. He knew it was a calculation, the way of saying please go away that usually seems least likely to incite physical violence.
“I’m sure,” I said. If you don’t respect the demands of civility, of humanity, please at least follow property law.

Last week my neighbor was suspended from her high school for reporting sexual harassment.

Our president has bragged about sexual assault.

I wish that feminism were just a matter of working for equal pay, or for the rights of transgender people to exist.

Instead, feminism is still fighting for women’s physical safety in broad daylight. At school. In the office. Women are still waiting for the day we do not go outside expecting to be demeaned, intimidated, or attacked for sport or spite.

The book of Luke passes the Bechdel test* right away.  I’ve been reading and rereading the beginning of this book for a few days now, enthralled most by its celebration of the rich and joyful friendship between Mary and Elizabeth. The two women are prophets before they are mothers, secret bearers of a wide and deep vision of the future. They have been faithful where Zechariah, the priest, was unfaithful, and they see now beyond a doubt that the Lord lifts up the humble. I can’t stop thinking about them, the older woman and the younger, preparing together for the births of their new boys, marveling at the work of God.

We are not allowed to forget, in this gospel, that every moment of Jesus’s ministry is borne up by women, women who bear and maintain life, women who offer financial assistance, women who do not abandon him at the cross and women, again, who are the first to believe in his new birth out of death. He insists on naming those unnoticed roles that sustain all of us with their everyday faithfulness: they who cook, clean, tend, mend, and bury, holding up the world in these tasks we deem small only because they are so ubiquitous. So necessary and precious.

The Christian doctrine of creation tells us that God is the sustainer of the universe, in some sense recreating us all at every moment. Creation is not an event about which we must decide whether it happened thousands or millions or billions of years ago. It is an intimate, involved embrace of all that is at once beautiful, mundane, and yucky in this world. It is a recurring yes, an ongoing artwork—and, perhaps, a tedious, exacting, unappreciated one. God is at work in the splashy sunsets and the wild-eyed desert prophet. God is also at work in the clouds drifting overhead at night, and through the prophet’s ungloried mother. Women and servants meet this humble God in our own work. She sees us and we see Her, different than do the powerful and celebrated.

*The Bechdel test is a cultural barometer asking whether two female characters in a work talk to each other about something other than a man.

We say that feminism is the belief that women are equal to men. This has come to be parsed in many ways, but I think one that is often overlooked is the belief that traditionally feminine ways of being in the world are equal to traditionally masculine ones. I think we fear putting women on a pedestal; the pedestal doesn’t have to be so high, after all, before it becomes a prison of its own. But launching certain women into the C-suite shouldn’t come at the expense of the women who will never have the money for childcare, the education, or the social clout to climb the corporate ladder. Or, for that matter, the expense of men who want to go into caring professions, but fear losing prestige. Moreover, we must recognize that many women who succeed in the C-suite do so precisely because they lead distinctively: seeking consensus, drawing connections, and caring for whole people, rather than defaulting to a top-down model or convincing employees to ram their way to success by sheer willpower.

Christian feminism, in particular, should recognize that part of our duty is to follow our servant-leader, Jesus, in a way that leads downward. Many men have worked hard to pull the heart of our faith away from service, humility, simplicity, and sharing; but they are ultimately inescapable. To celebrate International Women’s Day, for me, is to celebrate these virtues, not to mirror the patriarchy’s contempt of them. Some of us, it’s true, have lost ourselves in them, and have not much reflected Christ until we recovered other virtues like rest, self-love (dignity), confidence. Still, I do not think women’s safety or equality will be achieved until society recognizes, not only that women can be as stoic, as strategic, as strong and unflagging and dogged as men, but also that emotion, intuition, and human connection are themselves sources of strength worthy of reverence. Let us not rest until men have begun to learn, too, from us.

May we assert our rights to live without fear, to take up space without reprisal, to have our gifts and talents not only used but recognized, and may we do so for the sake of the world. May we make a place that is better for caretakers and maintainers, for the weak and the vulnerable, for bodies and babies; and may we do so for the sake of the God who is incompletely imagined until we see her laboring in their midst.


I’ve got 21 days of meditations on bodies coming out this month, and I’d love to share it with you for free! I’m really into the title—Bread, Sex, and Other Devotions: making friends with my body and God. Get it as soon as it’s out by signing up here.

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