Notice anything? The two democratic congresspersons noticed it as well. Those are men. One and all. Testifying on birth control. The argument went that they were testifying on religious freedom, and their conscience, not birth control. So where were the women religious leaders to testify to their religious freedom? Or the women doctors to testify to their conscience? Where were the women to point out that these men were imposing their religious beliefs on women's bodies in the name of "religious freedom?" They were no where to be seen. Instead we heard testimony comparing forcing a Roman Catholic organization to pay for health insurance that would allow non-Roman Catholic employees to obtain birth control to forcing a Jewish deli to serve pork.
Jezebel's article on the whole thing put it very well:
Unbeknownst to him, failure to take pork every day cannot lead to pregnancy, bacon does not regulate periods, and a ham sandwich cannot decrease the number of abortions or promote women's health. The comparison of birth control to cooked pig parts was effective in one way, though— it showed that the Church utterly devalues women, and views their health care as a recreational afterthought. Want to have some honey glazed ham? Wanna keep from getting pregnant? Same thing!Neither does it cost you money out of pocket if your local deli doesn't carry pork and you have to go to the one next door. It does cost you money out of pocket if your health insurance refuses to pay for your medication, that includes birth control.
If the all male panel treating women's health as a pawn in their religio-political power games were an isolated incident I might let it go. If the testimony hadn't been so blatantly flippant and degrading, and if I really believed that it were hard to find a woman religious leader or doctor then I might have let this go. But this isn't an isolated incident.
I wish I could say that the feminists of my mother's generation, those brave women who burned their bras had done all the work that needed to be done. But the women of the United States know that's not true. The picture above goes to the heart of the hidden misogyny and patriarchal power structures that are alive and well today. The truth is, they're still afraid of us. Not all men, hear me correctly, but many of them especially those in power; and those desperate to keep it.
You see, to a certain subset of men, most especially the sexually repressed/obsessed, women are scary. From the neck down, we're terrifying. Especially if we're comfortable in our own skin, in control of our lives and our bodies, and damn sure we have a right to be.
And don't you dare think it's just the Roman Catholics. After all, we liberal protestants, we ordain women. Obviously we value and listen to them, right? And yet I wonder. You see I've noticed something disturbing since I became a priest. It is impossible, and I mean impossible to buy a clergy shirt, made for a woman, that looks as if it were made for a woman. Let me show you:
These blouses are from Almy, as mainstream as it gets in clergy gear. Way to hide her body there. What you can't tell from the picture is that once you order these things (I own two) you realize they are square. That's right, square. They are cut perfectly square, with a round neck hole and two baggy sleeves added to make them "shirts." Even men's shirt's aren't square! What these shirts really are: bags for hiding the fact that underneath them is a female body!
Even the much touted Women's Spirit, which supposedly are clergy wear made by women, for women, are so poorly cut they too seem more concerned with hiding our body than anything else. I suspect it's because while we egg headed liberal Christians might say we're totally cool with women as spiritual leaders we're still so plugged in to the culture that considers a woman's body dirty, tempting, and tainted by "Eve" that we're can't entirely handle that our priest/pastor/minister has a female body.
We're still prey to the culture that attempts to solve the rape problem on college campuses by educating young women on how to avoid rape. Not aimed at expressing to young men how abhorrent and utterly unacceptable it is to rape a woman. Instead these campaigns reinforce the cultural bias that if she's dressed in a way that shows off her body, she's asking for it. And the wheel keeps turning.
What if women clergy dressed as women. As female humans comfortable with their gender, their sexuality, their sensuality, their generative power?
(Images from Casual Priest full size available through link)
Now there's a woman utterly at home in her body, unafraid of it, unafraid of her own beauty. And probably terrifying to a great many. This is not woman afraid of the fact that she reflects the feminine face of God, neither will she try to "blend in" with her male colleagues in the name of professionalism. And sadly she'll have a hard time finding a job.
Why? If we've come so far? Look no further than a congressional committee room where a table full of men supposedly testified about religious freedom. But we all know better. We know what it was really about. Two members of that committee walked out in protest, but the person with real power in that room, the committee chair had things just the way he liked them.
I recently stopped buying clergy shirts. Yes, those bags you see above. You see there are young women and girls in my congregation. Girls who are bombarded by bilboards and advertisements that encourage them to be perfect and beautiful, but at the same time teach them shame and fear about the bodies they hide under those expensive clothes. We tell them they are equal, but all they have to do is look at the percentage of women serving in Congress and the Senate to know that isn't true. We tell them they have choice, and power. But we allow old white men to make decisions about their health and bodies where only they and their doctors should have say. While they hope to not lose access to medications that will prevent pregnancy, regular menstruation, and more, those same men can choose viagra without talking to anyone but their doctor.
And so I dress as a woman, a mature, sensual, woman. A woman who has grown comfortable with the amazing home I was gifted with at my birth, a woman who looks in the mirror and sees beauty and power, a woman who knows she was created in the image of God, a woman who is not ashamed. I will not hide behind loose baggy clothes, I will not make myself neuter to "fit in" without upsetting this man's world. This world never belonged to men, anymore than it belongs to us women. It belongs to God, and together we were called to be stewards of it and partners to one another. And we must learn to honor, respect, and value male and female.
Yes, we've come a long way baby, but we have a long long way to go.