Dear All of Us,
I’m not the first woman to write this, nor will I be the last.
Foot to pavement, I gallop clumsily along Downing Street, passing the greasy, tantalizing taco truck and the curbs and corners of Denver’s Historic Five Points. Once a shotty part of town, sprinkles of gentrification are in the air, and the rumors are true: Five Points “has arrived.” Hipsters drink chem-exed coffee for $5.00 on wood-brimmed porches while stark shadows of government-housed families live along the purple-flower-adorned paths across the street. We live in a weird, strange world.
With hints of spring enveloping my spirit (I’m literally obsessed with 75-degree weather), I skip onto my coffee date. I’m meeting an urban farmer to chat about bread and the universal potency it has for social change at Purple Door Coffee. Ahem, talk about hipster. (Takes one to know one..?)
The hum of passing vehicles drowns the stillness of the day’s clarity, but fails to be loud enough to drown the cat-call of whistling and hooting from the left side of the road.
“I like that…come over here baby…I’ll smack that ass…”
Whistles and laughs continue from this particular man and his pals, as their ford truck drives off abruptly. I look up, but forward. I’m annoyed because this is the fourth time this has happened this week. And, y’all, it’s Tuesday.
Flashes of those looks, those calls, those words, those whistles rush back uncontrollably into my mind. I don’t want to be angry. I really, really don’t. But, it’s hard not to feel bothered when other people have the power to not only speak at you a certain way – but look at you a certain way. It’s been happening since….well. Forever.
Last month, on a lone, run-down street in Montgomery, Alabama, a man in a beat-up white Taurus cut-off part of the road so that he could speak directly at me as he veered to the side. He slurred, “hey BAE…give me your number. I need to show you a good time…”
First things first. What the heck is BAE? In that moment, I knew that I’d either been living under a rock or worse yet, I’m getting old. Then, in reference to his demand, I was terrified to say “no.” Here I was – the privileged, strong, empowered woman that I am and I couldn’t stand up to this man boldly. I was afraid. I feared that perhaps he had something in his car. Worse yet, I was afraid he would get out of his car if I didn’t oblige. These unsaid, unspoken experiences of voicelessness are the roots of so many barriers for women around the world. Race, socioeconomic situation, and geography don’t necessarily make the voicelessness of women go away. It can happen to any of us.
I’m tired of this. I’m tired of holding high expectations of men, and too often being disappointed. I’m tired of watching women that I care about – all over the world – remain subjugated and without opportunity because “that’s what we do.”
The moment my world changed – perhaps the moment I became a “feminist” if you so wish to use that word – was when in one week I was made aware of a sexually abusive situation for a female student and two other female students being harassed by their father at home and yet another female student dropping out of school because the family’s son needed the allocated money for education – not her.
I’ve also had dear friends open up about rape; I’ve born witness to stories of disenfranchisement; an older family member recently discussed the oppression she felt when she was barred from having a job to support her family; and I’ve watched subservient expectations for women affect the leadership roles afforded to them. These might be extreme examples – but they aren’t uncommon. Voicelessness is an issue we face each day. We just might not name it because we’ve accepted this as normal.
This isn’t only a man/woman issue. It’s an human issue. As in – you. As in – me. All of us. There are far too many good men in the world for this to remain. Voicelessness requires the empowerment of women, certainly, but the support and advocacy of men too. It asks us to take a step back, to reflect on our own assumptions, and understand how our behaviors are affected.
God did create men and guess what? He created women too. Before that though, he created the context for humanity. The context for us to live together. If Jesus can value the least of these – why can’t we understand that all of his teachings point to loving God, loving others? Men, women – all of us. We are all uniquely created, designed to do inherently different things, but we do not have to place unequal value on this. We don’t have to let biological diversity create boundaries for social, political, and personal rights. We should all be able to speak. We should all be respected.
I’m not asking you to wave a flag of girl power. I’m asking for you to not say nasty things to me when I’m walking outside. I’m asking for you to see my heart – not only my sex. I’m asking for a recognition of the beautiful capabilities of both men and women.
Call me a feminist, call me a hippie, I don’t really care. But as I keep walking these streets I remain undeterred in my faith and in my hopes. It can be better than this.
It definitely can.