The other day, I was walking down the street in my clergy collar and dress slacks, when a man with a white beard drove up. He was yelling something at me and so I turned to listen better, thinking he may need directions. “That’s a nice ass you’ve got,” he hollered. “Why don’t you get in my truck? I am going to pull over, up there at the corner, and you get in my truck.” I was walking into the Jewish History Museum, in a converted synagogue in south Tucson, and I knew that there was a small crowd of Jewish leaders watching. Not wanting to be disrespectful to them, all I could muster in response to him was, “Do you have any idea how inappropriate that is?” I walked inside the gate, only to see him continue to drive back and forth like a circling shark until I went inside the building.
I need you to know that there is nothing you wore or said or did or went that caused this. It happens to women in clergy collars, nuns in habits, and mothers wearing the hijab. It happens to lawyers, and teachers, and stay-at-home moms. It happens to the most famous people you know, and those closest to your heart. It happens on sidewalks, and schoolyards, and our own homes. It happens in offices, and Starbucks, and church sanctuaries.
I need you to know it’s not your fault. I need you to know that this is not about our behavior, it’s about their behavior. I need you to know that when this passes as a trending topic, and ‘woke’ men return to avoiding the discussion and demanding the exchange of flirtation in order for us to gain their collaboration, we will all still be here. You are not alone.
It’s been a while since I’ve written to you, I know. The better part of the year. The last blog I wrote was after that white supremacist in Texas was physically assaulting me at the airport, whipping my body back and forth like a rag doll until a woman with a baby in her arms tore me from his grasp. It’s always the women. Thank God for us. Thank God for you. You are so valuable.
In a couple weeks, I’ll be 35 years old. That makes it 23 years since the first time my mother told me that she did not like how the man at the store was looking at me. 23 years of being woman. 23 years of bearing the gaze of man. 23 years of having my male friends do that thing where they hug you really hard and pick you up without your consent and swing you around so that they can simultaneously assert their strength over you and at the same time squeeze your breasts against their chest. They think they are getting away with something. (Newsflash: we totally know what you are doing. It pisses us off. Stop.)
Going to college did not change things. Nor seminary. Nor the pulpit. I was 23 the first time I helped lead a funeral, and realized how uncomfortable I was with how the retired clergyman in attendance was gripping my waist. A little too low. It was a feeling I would grow accustomed to as men always felt the need to hug me tight after I preached. They never did that when the men preached. I learned, as women pastors have to do, how to put one hand out to shake the person’s hand and the other to place on their shoulder to hold them back from encountering my body.
It was always I who had to move out of the way, or out of the state. I had to leave North Carolina when my stalker walked into church and sat behind me. I was told my safety “could no longer be guaranteed.” I did not want to be a danger to those I cared about, either physically or mentally. I did not want them to know what I was experiencing. I left so silently and quickly, as if it was I who should be ashamed.
It was always like that. Men like my stalker wanting to own me as a possession. As if we should be grateful that they offer us the attention we so clearly do not want. Believing the myth that it is only they and not us who can give us value; only they and not us who are supposed to realize we are powerful and beautiful. That it is a virtue when they see our power, and a flaw when we see our own power.
I see our power now, and I am unashamed. We have every right to relish it. I celebrate us. I celebrate you. You are at the heart of everything I do.
I had a conversation with a colleague during seminary that I will never forget. He told me that there were men who would want to possess us, and if they could not possess us, they would want to destroy us. It seemed a little dramatic of him at the time, that is until I spent a decade living it.
Until I was told when seeking help in later years:
“Have you forgiven yourself yet?”
“I hear relationships often start with violence.”
“Maybe its good this happened, maybe this experience will help loosen you up.”
“You can never ever tell anyone, or they’ll say, ‘this is why we can’t let women be pastors.’”
When I got inside the gate at the Jewish History Museum, the people inside told me it would have been fine with them if I had cussed the man in the truck out.
I’ve had over 30 years to practice, and I still have not learned how to properly cuss someone out. When I was being driven out of San Pedro, by a stranger trying to kidnap me in a taxi, the best I could muster in response to his “Te gusto sexo” was, “Por favor, estoy una Pastora. Estoy una Pastora.”
This world has taught us that what is more offensive than the behavior of men like Weinstein is our response, our scream, our outcry, our fury. They have opened the door for him, while pushing us out it.
Lord, deliver us from polite society that would prefer us to be silent so that dinner is not interrupted by our screams. Lord, deliver us from liberal society that is all too happy to point the finger at Trump while shielding Weinstein. Lord, deliver us from institutions that see our rights as more of a liability than their wrongs. Lord, deliver us from those who will only listen for as long as this trends.
I set about to write tonight because I wanted to let you know that if in a week it is no longer trendy to listen to and believe us… if in a week the world has gone back to the way it was… if in a week institutions would still rather protect themselves than us… I want you to remember you are still not alone. I want you to remember that we can do something to change this. I want you to remember that if it happens to women in clergy collars walking into synagogues, there is nothing you wore or did and nowhere you went that caused what happened to you.
I need you to know that you are never alone. I need you to know that you are loved. I need you to know that you are valuable. I need you to know that I need you. Not a one of us can do this on our own.