(Note: It was brought to my attention that some may not have realized last month’s post – unlike all prior ones — was a work of fiction. This one is the usual fare, and – as sometimes happens – a poem follows.)
People given to contemplating and discussing the existence of a creator deity will invariably tell you such a deity should not be thought of in anthropomorphic terms, should not have words applied that would denote male or female because it would be neither. A variation of that theme holds that such a deity would be both. Either way, we live in a world where words still matter, including pronouns. They not only matter, their use can have enormous consequences. Yet, there are some who will argue that the use of a particular word for a deity does not matter at all. Really? Well then, let’s see.
What if, in the beginning, Goddess created the heavens and the earth? What if the reason we “shall not want” is because the Lady is our Shepherdess? What if it is our Mother “who art in heaven,” and it is the Queendom we should be seeking? What if Abraham’s deity, in generation after generation for thousands of years, had been referred to in feminine terms? By now, there would have been women as the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, the Grand Mufti of Mecca, the Pope of Vatican City and the president of the Southern Baptist Convention (assuming these divisions would have arisen at all). Still think the use of “She” instead of “He” wouldn’t matter?
The extent to which gender differences have embedded gender discrimination into everything we are and do might be unfathomable. Yes, human males tend to be larger and stronger than females. Yes, human females sometimes can be temporarily sidelined by menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth and nursing. These two factors might have been what began the entrenched gender roles that have defined us since our prehistory, but something else sustains the status quo, leaving the march toward parity in the modern world unfinished.
We here in this country are now witnessing another leg of that march, and we are unable to use biology as an excuse for its laggardly pace. The slow advance appears to be completely cultural. How else to explain the nation’s first women nominee for the presidency? What other reason do we have? What is it about our vaunted American exceptionalism that tells us why we are decades behind Sri Lanka (1960); India (’66); Israel (’69); the Philippines (’86); Pakistan (’88); Germany (2005); and Liberia (’06)? England, the very country from which we sprang, had its first woman prime minister 37 years ago and now has its second – who won by defeating another woman. As for American women, Janet Rosenberg Jagan – born in the same hometown as Hillary Clinton – became president of Guyana in 1997.
To put our conundrum in perspective, consider a bit of our history many continue to experience first hand: the racial animosity felt by some whites toward blacks. We have some understanding of how deep and pervasive those feelings are and have been. Yet despite this, the right to vote was given to black men before white women. Of course, the franchise remained a dream rather than becoming reality for most black men, but it was written right there in the Constitution. It was another half century before the same was done for women.
So, does arriving late to only the possibility of a woman president point to something unique about our culture? No, ours shares a basic trait common to all others – past and present: male prerogative is predominant. This is true even in countries that have elected women leaders. What uniqueness we may have lies in our struggle to extricate ourselves from the consequences of a prerogative not simply male, but wealthy, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant male.
A worrisome thought is the likelihood that a woman’s advance to the White House will be accompanied by a measurable downturn in opportunities being offered to women, and an increase in both subtle and overt offenses directed at women – including incidents of domestic violence. A woman President will be seen by some to be as much an interloper as the current black one, and may have to contend with the same sort of obstruction.
Beyond our history of machismo, what keeps us bound to outdated thinking? Is it merely satisfaction with the familiar or fear of an unknown and therefore uncertain future? These are possible answers, but unlikely ones, although they may serve as contributing factors. One likely possibility we should consider is religiosity. Something so fundamental to someone as her or his religious faith has a profound influence on how she or he views life and navigates the world.
Writer Lyz Lenz, in a recent essay in The Washington Post, shines a light on how the advocacy of what is known as “purity culture” had adversely affected her thinking and that of a generation of young evangelicals. She writes “Purity culture taught me I should be passed down from father to husband, more an inheritance than a human. I was taught that men are my cover and my shield, when for the most part they have been the ones causing damage through molestation, rape and abuse.” She went on to write that she was taught “my holy calling in life was to open my legs for one and only one and bear him children,” furthering the lesson “that more than my mind and my talents, my body was my greatest gift.
We know collective faith shapes societies. We have seen how faith has moved some to challenge social injustice, and how faith has moved some to deny the very existence of the injustice others claim to see. After all, why should women have the same rights assumed by men if the Torah or the New Testament or the Koran says they should not? Would any of those texts say anything of that nature if Abraham had decided to swear fealty to one of the female deities from among the ancient Mesopotamian pantheon instead of one of the males?
The one he chose has been many things to many people – “many people” meaning every Jew, Christian and Muslim in the world. God, supposedly, has said some things that give some people pause. In the book Isaiah (45:7), He is quoted as having said He creates evil. Imagine. This does not appear to be a deity to whom one would want to pledge one’s loyalty, but some of us do, believing He has some attractive and redeeming qualities despite some of the other things He says and does.
This is much like the man now running to be our President, who said people would still vote for him even if he stood in the middle of New York City’s Fifth Avenue and shot someone. He’s right. Goddess help us.
I want to come to you.
Tell me where you are
and I will come,
you, whom he loved like no other,
you, whom he held close.
You could ask him anything,
things no other would ask,
and he would tell you
things he wanted only you to know,
and you held his confidence.
If you tell me where you are,
I will come to you.
You were with him
when they came and took him away.
You were the only one who stood
with the women at Golgotha,
where he told his mother
you were to be her son,
and she, your mother.
Only you were there,
watching with the women,
weeping with them
as the light left his eyes,
the life slipped from his body,
his love, lost,
leaving every part of you
Let me come to you,
and hear you speak of love,
you, who heard he was no longer where he had been lain,
and raced there to see for yourself,
hurrying so quickly
you outran everyone,
getting there first,
but only looking,
unable to make yourself go in,
finally having to.
You knew then that love was not lost.
Those who have been loved as you would understand.
I want to understand.
When he came to you and the others at the sea,
attracting more fish than anyone could ever catch,
only you could see it was he who had provided such bounty,
telling the others it was so,
so that they, too, might know.
Tell me where you are.
I want to come to you.
I want to see your eyes,
hear your voice
when you speak of him.
When others questioned your very presence,
he questioned them, asking
what was it to them
if he wanted you to be here
when he returns.
I want to learn about this love
that keeps you here, still. © 2016, g. r. adams