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Monday, March 18, 2024: For today, rest in the arms of our Mother God. Let her help you heal the wounds of patriarchy and teach us the ways of justice.

Monday, March 18, 2024: For today, rest in the arms of our Mother God. Let her help you heal the wounds of patriarchy and teach us the ways of justice.

Spiritus Christi Church

The Harmful Consequences of Male Power


Reflection by Mike Boucher

 March 18


“I like a lot of things about being a woman, but there are times and days it’s a prison and sometimes I daydream about being out of that prison.” (Rebecca Solnit)


We have two readings today that directly deal with male power over women and the very real consequences of that power differential in their lives.


In our first reading, we hear the story of two elder male leaders who lust after Susanna, and when their plans to assault her are interrupted, they make up a lie that will condemn her to death (they, ultimately, are put to death for their lies).


In the second story, a “woman caught in adultery” is brought before Jesus by the religious authorities, and he is asked to pronounce judgment. The fact that she is “caught in adultery” lets us know that this was a set-up, and the religious authorities have no concern for her life. They care only about Jesus’ response. She is a pawn in their power play.


It is good that scriptures like these are included in our daily readings, because they direct our attention back to the reality of the daily continuum of violence happening against women (as well as queer, non-binary, gender non-conforming and trans people). This was true a long time ago and it remains true today. All around the world and here in our backyard - women (as well as queer, non-binary, gender non-confrming and trans people) bear the weight of this harm in their bodies and psyches..


Gender-based violence is any form of violence (physical, sexual, psychological/emotional or economic) that is directed at women (or people with identities in those categories mentioned above) - whether private or public. It can include inappropriate jokes and crude comments, gaslighting, unequal pay, put downs, unwanted touching, denying opportunity, physical assault, etc. The list, sadly, goes on and on, and much of it has been "normailzed" because it is so prevalent and has been practiced by men for so long.


And it is likely that many of you reading this know this reality all too well.


I remember a few years back in 2017 when many women were posting on social media the words #MeToo to indicate that they, too, had suffered some form of sexual harassment or victimization. I wept as I scrolled through my feed seeing woman after woman that I knew and loved saying #MeToo.


The issue of toxic male behavior and the use of power over women (individually and collectively) has existed for a long time and has caused a tremendous amount of harm. It is in our families, our communities, our social institutions and in our faith communities. And while women (as well as nonbinary and LGBTQ+ communities) resist patriarchy and sexism everyday for their own survival, it is the men who must take even greater responsibility for it.


In today’s readings, thankfully, we have examples of two men, Daniel and Jesus, who show up as vocal allies for women - putting themselves at odds with the power systems around them. Daniel, who witnesses to the truth of what he saw, and Jesus, who refuses to go along with the power games, offer us models of what it might look like to do this work in the midst of everyday situations. They are not meant to be "exceptional" models, by the way. This is what men SHOULD be doing all the time.


Kat Fotovat, Principal Deputy Director of the Office of Global Women’s Issues for the U.S. Department of State, spoke at a UN gathering related to Women, Peace and Security last October. She, along with many others, name patriarchy as “vast and insidious, replicated and made invisible by the nature of having existed for centuries.”

Just because it has existed for centuries, however, does not mean we let it keep operating. Part of our work as people of faith is to make the invisible visible - especially in the case of patriarchy, sexism and the many forms of violence against women and to align our words and actions with gender-based justice efforts.


In order to do this, we will need to pay more attention to the experiences of women and REALLY listen.


We can also keep asking questions that might help us reveal underlying power dynamics in any situation. We might ask questions like:


How does gender show itself in this situation?


Would I say the same thing or believe the same thing (or tolerate the same thing) if it were a person were of another gender (or nonbinary or queer)?


Who speaks, how often do they speak and whom do they speak for? Who is included in decision making? Who is not even in the room?


Who is in leadership?


Whose experience or perspective is being centered?


Who gets the credit, thanks or recognition and for what?


Who takes responsibility for structural violence or injustices?


Do we pause and address harms we witness (for example, in meetings, in conversation and at the dinner table) or do we breeze past them?


What are we willing to speak about publicly?


(Directed to men) What did you do today to undermine or challenge sexism and/or patriarchy? Where did you notice it today?


Obviously there are so many more questions we could (and should) ask to help us make undoing patriarchy a daily practice. Also it must be said that no one lives a “single issue life” (Audre Lorde) and that we all have multiple identities that we’re living out every day.  Sexism and patriarchy intersect with race, ability/disability, sexual orientation and so many other variables to produce many different levels of harm. So while we are all harmed by patriarchy to some degree or another, certain groups of people bear disproportionate amounts of that harm.


One simple thing that we can do to begin shifting things is to stop using “He” to describe God. As often as possible, say “She”  or “They” and notice how this changes our prayer life, our image of God, how we interact with this God, etc. What we will likely notice, however, is the prevalence of masculine (and often toxic masculine) imagery, language and words in our religious spaces, our schools, our civic organizations, our workplaces, our songs, etc. There is much work to be done everywhere.


For today, rest in the arms of our Mother God. Let her help you heal the wounds of patriarchy and teach us the ways of justice. Ask for her guidance and courage to speak out and act in favor of gender justice.

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