At WIT we are conscious that our theological reflection is shaped by our experiences–as humans, as Christians, as women. Our identities as women have been shaped by violence. Becoming a woman in our society inevitably entails coming to an acute awareness of bodily vulnerability. One of the most insidious characteristics of systems of social control like racism, sexism, and heterosexism is the power to cover up this violence which is done to the minds, bodies, and souls of real human beings. In response, we have decided to come out with a collection of our own concrete experiences of sexism. In doing so, we express solidarity with those women who are afraid to come out, or who do so and feel alone.
Some of what follows may be triggering for women and men recovering from abuse or sexual trauma.
- I am regularly heckled on the street.
- I have been grabbed by men who were angry at me.
- I have had employers comment on my body, clothing, and attractiveness. I was once asked my dress size in an interview.
- I have been told to shave my pubic hair by someone I was dating because it isn’t “clean” to have it all grown out.
- I was harassed by a cop while trying to report another crime.
- I have had to repeatedly ask a repair man to leave my house after 11pm before he finally agreed to go home. I lived alone at the time.
- I ran into my elementary-school best friend, whom I had not seen in years. She tearfully asked me if I thought it was OK that she had changed denominations: she is a single mother and a waitress, but her pastor told her that if she didn’t contribute to the church more regularly — to show her dedication to her faith — he wouldn’t think it appropriate to baptize her son.
- I was repeatedly told by an employer in the non-profit sector that I was the best employee in the office — but that I needed to work on my body if I ever wanted to accomplish anything, because no one likes to promote fat girls. I was 16.
- I have been repeatedly asked what the point is in a woman studying theology.
- I have been told by many people, including many who are neither female nor queer, that one day I will “wake up,” realize how my current denomination treats women and LGBT people, and leave — as though I were not already intimately aware of this.
- I accompanied my girlfriend to the gynecologist’s office when her parents told her she would be beaten to death if her hymen were not still intact.
- When I am out in public with my girlfriend, I am often afraid to hold her hand or otherwise make it obvious that we are a couple for fear that we will be harassed or physically attacked.
- I can tell you from personal experience that the “he was just drunk” line works to excuse repeated harassment and threats against female students, even with university police. Even after multiple complaints.
- When I was in high school, an intoxicated uncle refused to allow me to work on a major assignment due the Monday after Thanksgiving. He forcibly took my books from me and told me to get into the kitchen with the other women, since I was only going to “get knocked up and live off some man,” and therefore didn’t need to study.
- I listened to my boyfriend tell me he would never hit me, even though he was angry enough to. I hadn’t known that was even an option.
- When I was ten, I was playing with two male neighbors and a male family member. One of the boys was three or four years older than me while the other neighbor and my family member were a couple of years younger than me. The older boy thought it would be funny for my younger neighbor to touch my breasts, which had just started developing, and he bullied my younger neighbor until he did. I ran home crying, and hid in a closet in my mother’s bedroom until she came home hours later.
- I’ve been told that my academic applications would be jeopardized if I reported that I had been harassed by a peer.
- I am afraid to walk alone at night–even in my own neighborhood–for fear that I will be sexually assaulted.
- A “friend” once grabbed me from behind in a dark street and put his hand over my mouth so I couldn’t scream in order to “teach me a lesson” about walking alone at night.
- When I was in a high school, a male coach pinned me against a locker-room wall during halftime of a game, and, in front of the entire team, screamed into my face, “I swear, I’m going to hit you, I’m going to hit you if you don’t play better.” My male principal did not think my coach had done anything wrong.
- I have had a boyfriend emotionally and verbally abuse me, threatening that if he ever hit me, my face would no longer be recognizable
- I have had a boyfriend shove me into a brick wall.
- I was told it would hurt my job prospects if I complained about loud anti-LGBT conversations (“Homosexuals are all trying to destroy Christianity”) in a department lunchroom.
- I’ve had a man throw broken glass all over my floor.
- I have had men at bars harass me for attention. Some have my violated my bodily integrity, putting their hands on my body when I do not pay attention. One verbally assaulted me, saying “You’re an uptight bitch, but that’s nothing that two fingers and some lube can’t fix,” when I have stood up for myself and asked (for several hours) for him to leave me and friends alone.
- I’ve been dismissed as “hysterical” when I tried to confront a man about his aggressive behavior towards me and others.
- I have had a man at a bar shove his hand up my skirt to grab my inner thigh, despite already having been told several times loudly to move away from me and stop talking to me.
- I once spent a week trying to convince my 13-year-old study-abroad host sister not to accept a stranger’s offer to smuggle her into Western Europe “to work as a waitress.” When I told her about the high risk that she would be forced into prostitution, she replied that even with the risk, she had to take the one chance she saw to live in a country where revealing her sexuality would not mean certain death.
- I’ve had my property vandalized repeatedly by a man living nearby.
- My father has called me “a fucking cunt.”
- I am continually talked down to and told what to do by men.
- I internalized a desire for objectifying sexual attention from men.
- While casually flirting with a guy at a bar, he put his hand up my skirt, sexually assaulting me.
- In between the ages of ten and twelve, a male friend of my father’s would greet me by what he presumed to be my bra size. “32 B,” he would call me. He thought it was funny for some reason.
- I’ve been pushed by a male coworker during an argument.
- My high school friends and I were once served coffee by a waitress with a fresh black eye. She was one of our classmates, and she told us her boyfriend had done it during an argument.
- I am uncomfortable going to my favorite spot in the library because I feel violated due to the constant staring from a man who is often there.
- I have listened to my mother describe the sexual abuse she suffered from her father, and heard the pain in her voice at her sibling’s refusal to believe her.
- I have had older men on public transportation force me to talk to them, even when I’m listening to music and reading a book. Whenever this happens I am afraid of being hurt in some way.
- As a child, I used to accompany my mom regularly to the police station where she would file reports that our next door neighbor, who was too frightened to tell anyone, was being beaten by her husband nearly every day. The whole neighborhood could hear it, but nobody else said anything. In college, I found out that the woman’s husband had also repeatedly threatened to kill me and my mom because he’d found out that she’d been filing the reports.
- A friend told me she keeps lifting weights because it was her physical strength that once enabled her to immobilize a rapist for hours, until he tired of trying to force himself on her.
- My father has tried to punch me–he missed only because he was too drunk to land the blow. He also used to chase me all throughout my house with the intention of beating me.
- My uncle once put a shotgun in my cousin’s mouth and said he would kill her if she didn’t stop making so much noise. She was four or five.
- A man was walking towards me on an unlit sidewalk in a remote part of campus, and he moved closer and closer until I was sure he was either going to run into me or attack me. I rammed my shoulder into him as best as I could while I kept walking, and I got a death stare from him in return that lasted several seconds. I still don’t know if what I did was right.
- I have been told that I should have “put out” as the proper response to being taken on a nice date.
- Last night, my only transportation option was to take a late bus alone. A man sat next to me and began talking to me. I was polite at first, but he asked increasingly more personal questions — “Are you married? Where do you live?” When I refused to answer and looked out the window, he began “asking” me, repeatedly, to “suck [his] dick.” Eventually, a group of his friends came from the back of the bus. One of them stood over me and said, “Maybe she doesn’t understand. Tell her to lick it. Maybe she needs instruction. Maybe we should help.”
- Growing up, especially in adolescence, I was told by the parents of several different friends that I was fat.
- A girl I once knew broke up with her boyfriend in high school because he was using drugs. She also told the school about his addiction. The school did nothing except alert him to the fact that this girl had “told on” him. He then systematically harassed this girl, and persuaded all of their mutual friends to do the same, until she went into a deep depression and killed herself.
These experiences have shaped our commitment to social and theological reform. We believe that something needs to change. And in our efforts to work for that change we answer the call of the Madeleva Manifesto, put to us by those women theologians who have come before us:
To the young women of the church we say: carry forward the cause of gospel feminism. We will be with you along the way, sharing what we have learned about the freedom, joy and power of contemplative intimacy with God. We ask you to join us in a commitment to far-reaching transformation of church and society in non-violent ways. We deplore, and hold ourselves morally bound, to protest and resist, in church and society, all actions, customs, laws and structures that treat women or men as less than fully human. We pledge ourselves to carry forth the heritage of biblical justice which mandates that all persons share in right relationship with each other, with the cosmos, and with the Creator.
I love you all and I’m so proud of you!
Thank you. That’s all.
This is so powerful. I can’t thank you enough for sharing it with us.
Thank you for sharing such personal things! This is a really powerful post that we can relate to in some ways, even encouraging us to look at some of our own experiences in different ways and recognizing what we did not see before. Thank you!
Thanks for these; I have unfortunately also experienced some of these – can I add one? “I’ve been told I couldn’t possibly read ‘that’ difficult text” (as a professor! argh). Sexism definitely still reigns in the academy.
What courage you have all shown. Thank you for speaking for the many who cannot speak.
Thank you for sharing these difficult reflections. Your post is something that needs to be read by others, particularly men: http://datinggod.org/2010/11/24/powerful-reflection-by-the-women-of-wit/
What a moving and powerful post this is.
Whenever I am confronted by a list like this, I am forced to acknowledge what I know to be true, but what I think most women have to block to a certain extent in order to function: that large numbers of people out there hate us because we are women. Truly, it is amazing that any of us make it through life with our souls more or less intact. Peace, serenity, and righteous anger to you. May we all move forward with as much strength and grace as possible.
The list of things described there is hideous… none of that should be normative, for anybody.
I feel a little less alone right now.