Yes, All Women. All the Time.
emilie m. townes taught me the importance of lament. Well before we can envision solutions to whatever the it is, we have to know what the it is. We have to let ourselves grieve the broken. We have to name the wrong. We have to specify, testify and willingly dwell in the real of the pain.
This isn’t morbid. It’s deeply practical. If we don’t really know what’s wrong, if we don’t announce it in clarity and detail, we’ll rush to solutions that fall short.
It’s also soul work. Laying bare what hurts is the only way healing and growth come. The part of the christian tradition that admits that even god can die? a truth so many of us living these very human lives already know too well and which so few of us will admit aloud? That is the part of the christian tradition that always feels most truthful to me.
And truth is the only ground from which life can grow.
So, I’m drawn to lament. This isn’t morbid. It’s practical and it’s soul work. And any week that finds us reeling from yet another mass shooting in a country where our “leaders” don’t have the will to make it stop is a week in which we must allow ourselves to ache and lament.
It’s for these reasons I was so moved by this powerful post by Katie Russell and wanted to share it with you.
I invite you to lament. -Jen
In the spirit of the #yesallwomen campaign, I’d like to share a bit of my own experience. Because–regardless of the complicated web of factors that resulted in violence on the campus of UCSB–the threats misogynistic culture poses to women and the fears we face daily are real.
In college I had a job and friends and family off-campus, so I often found myself driving home to my on-campus dorm late at night. These are all thoughts that I regularly had in the 15-minute car ride and 5-minute walk home:
1. Walking to my car, better do a check first: is there anyone around my car? Under my car? In the backseat?
2. Get in quickly. Lock the doors, first. Start the car, second. Seatbelt, third. Drive the car away quickly, fourth. Don’t waste time…it just gives someone a chance to approach the vehicle.
3. Red light. Ugh. Is that man just walking on the sidewalk or is he approaching my car? Whew, just walking by.
4. If someone tries to pull me over, can I be certain that person is actually a law enforcement officer? Is there a safe, well-lit, high-traffic place along my route that I could pull into, just to be sure?
5. If I have car troubles, what are some safe places along my route where I might be able to get help?
6. Should I park in the parking lot that’s farther away from my building but has good lighting and is on a busy street…or should I park in the darker, more secluded lot closest to my dorm so I don’t have to walk so far by myself?
7. I wonder which is the safer walk: the one down a busy street where I’m more likely to be seen by someone who would hurt me, but where I’m also more likely to be seen by someone who would help…or the one down a secluded street where I’m less likely to meet someone who might cause me harm, but where I’m also less likely to get help if I need it?
8. Ok. Getting out of my car now. Better have purse and all my bags in hand when I get out. It’s not safe to stand in the parking lot pulling things out of the trunk and backseat.
9. Keep the keys out…I can use them to scratch and jab, if I need to.
10. Oh, take the hair down! A self-defense teacher once told me that a ponytail makes it easier for someone to grab you from behind.
11. Ok. Walk quickly. I should keep my head up and be aware of what’s going on around me. Look confident. But not too confident…don’t want to draw attention to myself.
12. It’s ridiculous that a woman acting confidently is likely to draw attention. Sigh.
13. Ok…a group of guys approaching on the sidewalk. Do they look like they’ve been drinking? Yes. That makes me super nervous. Don’t make eye contact.
14. Only one lewd comment from them. Not too bad, actually.
15. I wonder if I should have called campus security to walk with me. I hate doing that. Why can’t I just walk by myself?
16. Uh-oh. I forgot to get my ID out of my wallet…I need it to get into the building. It’s not a good idea to pull a wallet out. It’s not a good idea to stop, either. Better blindly fish for it in my purse while I keep moving.
17. Success! Made it into the building. Almost there. Just go up the stairs. I really hate being alone in stairwells at night…I can’t see who is above or below me and that is scary.
18. In the room! First thing’s first: Lock the door. Stat.
19. Text a friend: “Made it home safe!”
20. I have to use an exclamation point for that. Because making it safely home is actually a huge accomplishment.
On a typical 20-minute journey, I would have at least 20 thoughts (conscious and unconscious) about my personal safety. Some of these were explicit pieces of advice people gave me to help keep me safe; some were just the things women intuitively pick-up in a culture like ours.
20 of these thoughts in 20 minutes.
This means that every minute, women must question whether we are safe in our world.
Yes, I realize that not all men are dangerous. Yes, I realize that men are victims of violence, too. Yes, I realize that I’m not always in harm’s way. But when women speak up about our experiences–like we have been with this #yesallwomen hashtag campaign–it’s not helpful to get defensive, or to point out exceptions, or to tell us that our fears are unfounded. It IS helpful to listen and then to create change: to pushback on how we think and talk about women in our culture, to change how we investigate and prosecute violence in ways that do not demean or cause further trauma, to teach our children what is appropriate and affirming and respectful and what is not.
Because I don’t want my little sister or my hoped-for-daughter to live in a world where she must learn to think like I did. And for that matter, I don’t want my hoped-for-son to live in a world where he will be automatically viewed with suspicion or seen as a potential threat. I don’t want this kind of world. And I hope you, dear reader, don’t want this kind of world, either.
Katie Russell is a graduate of Drake University and Vanderbilt Divinity School. She is also an ordained minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and is currently serving a church in northern Virginia. In ministry she is passionate about preaching, teaching, social justice, and nurturing the spiritual lives of children. In life she likes to make music, cook and eat good food, pet furry animals, and laugh as much as possible.