“We’re not what books and plays say we are. We’re not what advertisements say we are. We’re not in the movies and we’re not on the radio. We’re not what you’re all told and what you think we are: We’re ourselves. And if any man can find one of us he’ll learn why the whole universe was set in motion. And if any man harm any of us, his soul–the only should he’s got–had better be at the bottom of that ocean–and that’s the only way to put it.” Mrs. Antrobus from The Skin Of Our Teeth, by Thornton Wilder
Does this happen to you? I start to read a book, and the stars align or something, and the ideas in the book that grasp me the most start to pop up everywhere. At present I’m reading a long essay, which is based on a series of lectures delivered by Virginia Woolf. The compiled essay is titled “A Room of One’s Own”. It’s our book club selection for this month. The thing that appalled me, but shouldn’t have, were some of the things Ms. Woolf discovered about women’s rights while preparing to deliver the lectures on “Women and Fiction”.
In 1928 women had little access to education. They were considered property by their fathers, and husbands. Only a few years before the lectures, women had won the right to vote in England, and to keep the wages they earned. What appalled me was how little things have changed in eighty-six years. I began comparing what’s happening now, with all the fracas about equal pay for women, women’s health issues, the way women are portrayed in the media, and I felt really sad. We haven’t gained much ground. This was confirmed when I talked with my sister a few days ago.
She was telling me about the Palm Sunday service at her church. They had a guest speaker, who happened to be a woman. In her talk, the guest speaker told of the difficulties she faces from time to time, because she’s a woman, and she’s a minister. I thought surely things would have changed, since I was harassed for declaring myself a religious studies major in 1976, but not so. She often gets the same kind of reaction that I got thirty-eight years ago, which makes me sad. Things haven’t changed much for women.
Thirty-eight years ago, I was attending a small Christian college, and the only woman in the small group of religious studies students. Women were just beginning to be ordained as ministers at the time. When word got around that I’d changed my major to religion, I was the target of harassment by a conservative group at the college. Each day, at meal times, a group of three or four young men would quote scripture at me, and challenged me to see the error of my ways, and change my major to something more appropriate for a woman. Needless to say, it was a very difficult time for me. They assumed that my plan was to become a minister in our church, which wasn’t even a possibility at that time.
My reason for studying religion, was because I’ve always been interested in the relationship between humans, and the Divine. Over time I became deeply angry at these young men. No matter what I said, or did, they were undeterred from challenging my life choice. In my mind, it was MY choice, not theirs. I didn’t think they had any right to tell me how to live my life. They needed to take care of their own life choices. Eventually they gave up, assuring me that I was going to hell for breaking God’s laws. I became an angry feminist.
In 1979, I graduated with my degree in Religious Studies. It has set me on a path of lifelong learning about all things spiritual, for which I’m eternally grateful, because through my studies I’ve realized that men are just as stuck in their gender roles as are we women. It’s difficult to break out of social patterns, and long held beliefs.
Looking back, I realize I was able to stand up for myself, because I had supportive parents. Both parents. My mom worked outside the home, and I had a great dad who encouraged me to find my own path, and live up to my full potential. We need more dads like that. I think my dad was so supportive, because he’d been misunderstood by his teachers. He was told he was lazy, stupid, he was a trouble maker, and he’d never amount to anything, all because he had dyslexia. I’m not sure doctors were even aware what dyslexia was in the 1940s. Thankfully, my dad was strong and wise. He dropped out of school, learned to be a machinist, taught himself how to read, and became a lay minister in our church. Reading was one of his favorite things to do. He didn’t read light stuff either. He loved to read biographies, and non-fiction scholarly books, like Carl Jung.
My dad could be a good dad, because he had a good dad, and because he studied human nature. He was vulnerable, kind, and open to new ideas. He wasn’t like some of the male writers that Virginia Woolf found who stated in their books that women were inferior to men, mentally, physically, and morally. My dad didn’t think he was superior to anybody else. He thought that EVERYONE has a purpose, and should look for, and pursue that purpose.
You may not have had a dad like mine, but I say to all women, don’t give up. We’re rising. We’ve got to continue exploring who we are, and what we can offer humanity. Don’t blame men for what’s gone before. That’s not helpful. Men have been trapped by their gender roles, and ways of thinking too. What we need to do is educate them about who we are. We possess much depth of understanding about what it means to be human. We are peacemakers, healers, thinkers, creators, and teachers. We’re good at all the same things men are good at. The best thing is, we have genius even we haven’t tapped into yet.
Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2014