I picked this because it’s one of my favourite girl-photos from my time in Uganda. I like the angle of her head and the clothes which add motion to the picture. I like that it seems like she’s about to fist bump me and can hear her laughing.
I chose this image of a girl because I was wondering today about how we need to fight the small battles as well as the big ones when it comes to speaking up for women and girls.
This uneasy nagging about whether we should focus on the big battles and let the little ones go or whether we tackle all regardless, recognising that they are the same beast began yesterday. Rahath asked me whether I thought a ‘career feminist’ could be a politician. Essentially, could someone so tied to a cause survive in the greasy compromise of the political area. I pondered as I replied, knowing my gut said yes but struggling to find the words.
Then Tony Campolo in the evening spoke at length about Wilberforce. He was a ‘one cause politician’ who saw it through to the end. I wish I’d thought of that! So yes, I decided the ‘big cause’ is the thing.
And then a turn of events which, slightly to my surprise, slowed my heartbeat. A friend who I know loves, respects and upholds women mentioned a fabulous restaurant that has two types of menu – a ‘male’ one which included prices, and a ‘female’ one which didn’t. The reason – go figure.
I can’t even begin to list all the things which are wrong with that concept. But it shocked me to my core that this would be accepted by people I know. I questioned it there and then – but was given the patented somewhat exasperated, somewhat bored, somewhat eager to get onto something less tiresome – it IS just an idiosyncrasy after all. I felt sillied into leaving it there – much like I did when told to ‘let the horse out of the stable’ when starting a conversation about what St Paul meant about women being quiet in church during a 1 Corinthians bible study, or like when – in a similar exasper-bore-some tone – Anna’s friend explained why he didn’t see the issue with men being Mr and Mr and women being Miss and Mrs when I asked.
I never know where the line is – whether we should press these points, small as they seem at the time – or whether they are completely inextricable from a broader narrative and as such if we’re in it at all, we cannot pick and choose.
I’m still not sure, but it feels fairly right in my heart that we should be discerning about which battles we pick, but that equally there is no such thing as ‘small’ or ‘big’. We are each perhaps called to fight different battles within the same field, and together this army – which God have mercy, includes women and men – will bring the walls tumbling down.
If we look at the staggering statistic that one in three women are sexually abused in their lifetime (there are four women in our flat), we really do have no choice, it seems, but to explore the crisis of masculinity and femininity which is causing this meltdown in a way more urgent, more united, and more creatively than ever before. As Jim Wallis says:
“It’s time for all people of faith to be outraged. It’s time for our Christian leaders to stand up and say that women, made in the very image of God, deserve better. And it’s time for us in the faith community to acknowledge our complicity in a culture that too often not only remains silent, but also can propagate a false theology of power and dominance.”
The scourge of sexual violence which shreds lives and rakes up the pieces is something I come across almost daily from another perspective – the perspective of the perpetrator. The vast majority of my clients are in prison for sexual offences ranging from incestuous rape to drunken sexual assault. Whichever end of the spectrum, the concept remains the same. A complete distortion of who are created to be, and utter brokenness in whichever direction I look – and the root of it all is based in the institutionalised ideas which give ‘men’ and ‘women’ such limited frameworks within which to operate – all of which perpetuate an instilled male dominance and power – that a crisis of identity begins and self spirals out of control.
As Donna Schaper, senior minister at Judson Memorial Church in New York City says rape is “about fear of powerlessness. It’s a crisis of masculinity and social control.”
This is such a huge issue that needs a galvanised response by women and male allies. And at the moment I’m convinced that sometimes this response does look like fighting the seemingly smaller battles, knowing that anything which at its heart resembles even a shadow of the more serious is serious enough to stand on.