Yes. All women.

May 26, 2014

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.

nomeansnoAnd 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.

UPDATE: there is a great article on Slate right now that talks about why men don’t see the misogyny women experience – it is brilliant.

*”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.

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4 Responses to Yes. All women.

  1. Cathy on May 26, 2014 at 2:57 pm

    Thanks for sharing this. I am a UU and have been following the hashtag closely and contributing as well. It has been painful, and cathartic and scary. But it has been really powerful to see so many women talking about the big and little challenges that they face Every. Single. Day. I have some pretty blatant examples to share, but also have considered myself “lucky” to have gotten off as easily as I have. I am beginning to realize that is part of the problem. I am programmed to minimize my truth and my experience because it happens so often that I, that we, get numb to it. In fact, watching the hashtag has brought back memories of lots of stuff that I have just stuffed away and not dealt with. I think that it would be great for SSL to make this a focus. There is obviously a thirst for women to have a voice, and I do not think that I am the only woman who is beginning to come out of the daze so to speak as a result of shared pain and experience.

  2. […] Kimberley Debus names the struggles women face in Unitarian Universalist ministry. […]

  3. Cynthia Landrum on May 30, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    Thank you for calling on Standing on the Side of Love to stand up for women. We haven’t been vocally focusing on the subject lately as a movement, and we should.

    Everything you say of women in the ministry is true, including the fact that it ALREADY has become financially devalued as a “helping profession” as it’s become increasingly feminized. We tend to forget this since we’ve come so much further as a movement about women in the ministry than, say, Roman Catholicism. (And don’t get me started about that…)

    We mirror the larger culture in this way. A couple of months ago I tried, in vain, to convince a class of college students that women really do make less in comparable professions than men. They just wouldn’t believe it. There’s a false sense of equality, and of course anyone who says differently is a man-hating feminist.

    I hope this is our culture, and our movement, waking up. Things ARE much better. But there’s a lot left to be done.

  4. Kimberley on May 30, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    Your comment makes me wonder if anyone has done a study recently on ministerial pay with gender as one of the variables (along with size, budget, and adjustments for inflation). So much to examine!