“I Am Woman” – Angry on this International Women’s Day

International Women's DayIn 1972, I was fifteen years old and the number one song on the radio was “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy. We sang it with such power and conviction because “I Am Woman” had become our anthem; the anthem for a generation of women. So, we sang determined to blaze trails for ourselves that would ensure that women all over the world would be counted as equal. The year that I graduated from high school (1975) the United Nations declared as “The Year of the Woman” and they chose our anthem, “I Am Woman” as the theme song and once again “I Am Woman” rose to the top of the charts.

As I grew into my womanhood  and explored the contours of feminism my sisters were “Doin It In the Streets,” marching for equality, demanding equal rights, and yes, we burned our bras. In the midst of the battle for equal rights for women and girls, the advertising industry announced proudly, “You’ve come a long way baby!” as they rolled out a cigarette designed just for woman (Virginia Slims); packaged and marketed just for women. “You’ve come a long way baby, so stop all your hooting and a hollerin. Settle down, it’ll happen! Don’t shout! Don’t be so angry you feminists! You don’t need to be a feminist. If you want to get ahead, just play the game.”  So, I bought a power suit and I learned to do it better, and smarter, and faster than the men did it. So that I could make half as much as the men did.

Later, much later, when I realized that the business that I was in wasn’t making me happy and I discovered my true vocation, I knew that if I was gong to be taken seriously as a “woman pastor” I would have to study very, very, hard. So, I read more books than my male classmates did, went to more lectures, took more classes, earned more credits, explored more possibilities and managed to graduate from seminary at the top of my class. When I graduated from seminary in 1998, my bishop out in British Columbia, told me that although there were vacancies in his Synod, “none of those vacancies would translate into a call for a woman.” The rest as they say, is history, not her-story, but his-story.

B.C.’s loss was my gain and thanks to the good folks of Holy Cross, I was called to the best place in the world and in the past sixteen years we have come a long way baby. So maybe there’s no need to write about International Women’s Day. After all, we’ve been there, most of us have bought the T-shirt all of the women in my life are strong and invincible and all of the men of are feminists. We’ve come a long way baby. So, let’s just cheer Jesus on as he turns the tables over in the Temple. It is tempting to give Women’s Day a miss. I have come a long way. Baby! But I am white and I am wealthy. I am a person of privilege; the privilege of my race and the privilege of my class, mean that I can say I’ve come a long way baby and mean it. But the world that I live in may be bought and paid for by the blood, and sweat, and tears, of the countless women who continue to suffer in the oppressive systems and structures that enslave more than half of the world’s population. Our wealth, class, and race, may insulate us from the pain of our sisters, but even we can fall victim to violence and economic hardships that generations of discrimination have enshrined in our society. Those of us who enjoy the privileges that enable us to insulate ourselves from the harsh reality of economic abuse are just moments away from the dangers of physical violence, domestic abuse, sexual assault, and poverty in our old-age. There are lots and lots of reasons not to bother preaching to the converted about International Women’s Day. Sadly, there are millions and millions of reasons to preach loudly, long, and passionately about the plight of women in the world.

Equal pay for equal work, most of us agree, a few continue to hesitate, despite the fact that there are countless economic studies that demonstrate the equal pay for equal work is good for men as well as women. In 2015, the United Nations communique declared that at the current rate it will take seventy years for women to reach pay equity and that includes Canada, the United States and Europe; seventy years! 

On any given day in Canada, more than 3,300 women along with their 3,000+ children are forced to sleep in emergency shelters in order to escape domestic violence. Most nights about 200 women are turned away because shelters are full.

Economic violence against women is a reality. Sadly, this reality is in many ways surpassed by the reality of physical and sexual violence against women. Half of all women in Canada have experienced at least one incidence of physical or sexual violence since they were sixteen; at least one incidence. So, gentlemen, and I do mean gentle men; I am not accusing you, but I do as you to pause for a moment and see us. Half of all the women in your life have experienced at least one incidence of physical or sexual abuse since we were sixteen. Half of us, and the experts say more than half of us, because when it happens to most of us, we don’t say anything because we know that, still even though we’ve come a long way, if we say anything at all, everything that we have gained will be put into jeopardy.

According to Stats Canada’s old statistics (the former Haper government stopped keep these statistics), every six days a woman in Canada is killed by her intimate partner. According to the Department of Justice, each year Canadians collectively spend 7.4 billion dollars to deal with the after-math of of spousal violence. This figure includes immediate costs such as emergency room visits and future costs such as loss of income. It also includes tangible costs such as funerals intangible costs of pain and suffering. Each year about 40,000 arrests result from domestic violence. That’s about 12% of all violent crime in Canada. Since only 22% of all incidents are reported to the police, the actual number is much higher.

We’ve come a long way, a long way, but the vision of equality we share is a long way off for us and even farther away for those who do not share our privileges. The travesty of missing and murdered indigenous women is a crime against humanity; a crime against humanity in which every single one of us is implicated. We know it’s happening. A recent report (March 2015) from international observers declared, “Aboriginal women and girls are more likely to be victims of violence than men or non-aboriginal women and they are more likely to die as a result. Yet despite the seriousness of the situation, the Canadian government has not sufficiently implemented measures to ensure that cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women are effectively investigated and prosecuted. At least 1200 indigenous women and girls have gone, murdered or missing in the past three decades. The long history of discriminatory Canadian laws and policies which disadvantage indigenous women and girls make them vulnerable. There is overt and systemic racism against indigenous peoples in every level of Canada’s justice system. Canada has ignored more than fifty studies which have made more than 700 recommendations on how to address murdered and missing indigenous women and girls.” The majority of Canadians, First Nations, provinces, and territories, and the United Nations all called for a national inquiry and an emergency action plan. It remains to be seen how and when the process will be completed by our new government.

Beyond our borders and within our borders, female gentile mutilation, honour killings, forced marriages of women and young girls, trafficking in female sex-slaves, and the exclusion of girls from schools continue to rob women and girls of their basic human rights. So, on this International Women’s Day, what are we to do?

Maybe it is time, time to take a page out of the gospel according to John (2:13-22) and do what Jesus did when he saw his own people enslaved by economic and religious systems of power, systems of empire that were persecuting his sisters and brothers. Maybe it’s time for us to let our anger rage. Maybe it’s time to turn over more than just a few tables in those temples of power which enable and foster the abuse of women. The idea that Jesus would have become so angry with religious authorities for cooperating with the violent and oppressive Roman Imperial system, that he would create such a scene in the Temple is so far from the image of Jesus as the meek and mild, long-haired peacenik that we have come to take for granted.

For generations biblical commentators have gone to great pains to ensure that any hint of Jesus’ humanity is scrubbed clean from interpretations of this particular story. Yet anger is a perfectly normal human emotion. Jesus was a human being and therefore he was subject to human emotions. But the institutional church frowns upon anger. Polite Canadian society frowns upon expressions of anger. “Don’t shout.” What do we do when we get angry…” excuse me, pardon me?”  Heck: say “excuse me” and “your welcome” even when abuse is raining down upon you and upon on the women you love.  Anger is, pardon the pun, the mortal enemy of institutions and most particularly hierarchal institutions like the church. Anger is the mortal enemy of institutions of power. So, it is easy to see why Jesus was stripped of his common and indeed real human emotions. Nowadays the most common word associated with anger is “management”.

We have become obsessed to controlling our anger and so we send offenders to anger management courses so that they will learn not to offend us with their anger. And yet, the most commonly diagnosed malady of our modern world is depression. Have we not learned that anger turned inward leads to depression?

Jesus who was so incensed by the marriage of religious officials and the power of the Roman Empire risked his own life. This angry Jesus is much more useful to the church hierarchy once his anger is managed, moderated by patience. After all a church full of patient followers is far easier to manage than a church full of folk who are likely to allow their anger to come into play when they come face to face with hypocrisy.  So the angry Jesus has faded into the recesses of Christian memory. The Jesus whose compassion for the poor coupled with his passion for justice who stormed into the temple and in an effort to turn things upside down in an effort to demonstrate the need for radical political change is too much of a trouble maker and so we have replaced him with a meek and mild Jesus who wanders around in the hills with a lamb draped over his shoulders exhibiting endless patience who chooses to sit idly by with a child on his lap.

Well out of the way of our public discourse over the plight of the poor, that’s were we want Jesus and far away from the rattle of sabers as the rumors of war begin to permeate the air. But there is just one problem with the popular image of Jesus and that’s the crucified Jesus. Jesus was executed by the state not because of his patience with those in power but because of his impatience with those in power. Jesus impatience was born out of his anger at injustice. Anger is a powerful human emotion. Anger is a useful human emotion. Anger lies at the heart of human evolution. Our anger at the way things are can be just the impetus we need to compel us to change the way things are. When anger moves us to reject the status quo our protest can become the means by which we effect change. Anger is not the opposite of love. Anger is a very vivid from of caring. Anger is not to be feared nearly as much as we ought to fear indifference.

Our anger means we care about what is happening to our fellow human beings. Back in the 80s when women were being chastised for being angry at a time when people began to believe that women should be more patient in their approach for female liberation, the feminist theologian Beverly Weldung Harrison wrote what has become an important essay for those of us who seek justice in the world. The essay was entitled, “The Power of Anger in the Work of Love”. Harrison insists that rather than controlling or managing our anger we need to harness the power of our anger so that we might be about the work of love in the world.

Now as Canadians we tend to shy away from anger.  We are quiet peace loving people with a preoccupation for being polite. Canadians are not known for our public displays of anger. But lately our patience has turned to apathy. We have become indifferent to the plight of our sisters. We polite Canadians are more than willing to grumble and complain, or at the very least the most we do is we share a Rick Mercier rant on Facebook. But as for tapping into our anger about the injustices in our world, we’ve got places to go, we’re busy, there’s people to see and besides, what’s the use of protesting.  I confess that I too suffer from this kind of justice fatigue. I’m all too often simplify tired of hearing about the injustices in the world. I’ve become apathetic and those moments when I’m able to muster a little righteous indignation, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do with my anger, so I just kind of forget about it and mind my own business. I tend to think my days of marching in the streets are over. In the face of so much injustice what can I hope to accomplish?

But what if we tapped into our anger? What if we began to express our anger? What if we began to protest not only the plight of women in our society but the plight of children? What if we used the power of our anger in the work of love. These days I am barely able to watch YouTube video of Helen Reddy singing “I Am Woman” without weeping. Tears stream down my face and I weep and I weep. Tears of sadness yes. But tears of anger as well. It makes me so angry. Gentlemen…and I do mean gentle-men, each one of you has directly benefited from the privileges of your gender. To you much has been given and now more than ever much is expected. For years now, the world has turned to women and encouraged us to fight for our rights and many of us have been and are doing just that. But our efforts will not be enough. Gentlemen you need to do more than to expect us to be grateful that you are allies in this struggle. Men need to do more than agree that equality is a good thing. Gentlemen its time for you to feel real anger and to begin to express that anger with actions that are necessary to end discrimination. Gentlemen it is time for you to do more than to agree. It is time for you to be accountable and challenge the very systems that empower you with the very privileges that you enjoy.

Sisters, we’ve come a long way but there are miles to go before we can rest.

I am woman, hear me roar

In numbers too big to ignore

And I know too much to go back an’ pretend

’cause I’ve heard it all before

And I’ve been down there on the floor

No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Oh yes I am wise

But it’s wisdom born of pain

Yes, I’ve paid the price

But look how much I gained

If I have to, I can do anything

I am strong (strong)

I am invincible

I am woman

I am invincible. I am strong. And I am mad as hell! I am angry! I have also gained the wisdom born of pain. the wisdom that is screaming at me to put my anger to good use in the work of love. We are all strong. We are all invincible. We are also privileged, both women and men. We are wealthy, every last one of us. We are among the top 5% of the wealthiest people on the planet. So what are we waiting for? Jesus will not save us from ourselves. But Christ can rise up using our hands and our feet, Christ can rise up and turn this world upside down. So let us be Christ in the world. Let us be love in the world. Let Love parade around this world of ours as justice, justice for women, justice for girls, justice for men, and justice for boys. Let us use our anger in the work of love.

You can bend but never break me

’cause it only serves to make me

More determined to achieve my final goal

And I come back even stronger

Not a novice any longer

’cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul

I am woman watch me grow

See me standing toe to toe

As I spread my lovin’ arms across the land

But I’m still an embryo

With a long long way to go

Until I make my brother understand

Oh yes I am wise

But it’s wisdom born of pain

Yes, I’ve paid the price

But look how much I gained

If I have to I can face anything

I am strong (strong)

I am invincible (invincible)

I am woman

Oh, I am woman

I am invincible

I am strong

Listen to  a version of this preached on International Women’s Day at Holy Cross  here

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