I am angry.
I have been looking forward to wearing this particular outfit this week. My role in worship today required me to wear a robe. So I said to myself, “If they can’t see my outfit, my shoes will be fabulous.” I have been waiting anxiously to wear these hot pink shoes as I processed down the aisle with incense and read the intercessions. This morning, Chelsey and I had the 8:30 service off, while Mathew had responsibilities, so she and I went to get some coffee. Mathew and I found this coffee shop last week—good atmosphere, good coffee, close to church. Last week, a group of 8 or so retired men were sitting in the shop. This week, when Chelsey and I walked in, the same men sat there, in their same spot, regulars apparently.
We stood in line, talking. I was in my collar, Chelsey was not. I noticed the men all looking at me, talking, hearing one say, “I gotta get a picture of this.”
I was uncomfortable. One man approached me, the other man holding up his phone. He says, “So what are you, a nun?!” I want to engage him in conversation, yet I notice is friend is beside him taking pictures.
Distracted, I said, “I am actually in seminary to become a Lutheran pastor.”
I hear, “Can I get a picture?”
Hearing another one’s phone camera shutter and shout, “Welp! Too late!”
They walked back to their table, laughed, continued to talk about me, continued to take pictures of me. My initial thoughts were:
I can’t believe this just happened.
Maybe if I was wearing something a little more toned down, this wouldn’t have happened.
Maybe they meant it as a compliment.
I am so mad. This wasn’t a conversation; this was me being objectified by a group of men.
I want to say something, but I don’t even know what to say.
Maybe my anger isn’t justified; maybe I’m overreacting.
Chelsey and I went to sit outside, clear from this group of men. We talked a lot about what happened, around our own responses to this encounter. I am deeply frustrated with myself. I deeply believe that sexism is wrong, that men have no right to objectify women. I believe that how those men behaved is wrong, mostly because of how it made me feel, and that no one, man or any other person, has the right to tell me that my feelings from that encounter are not real, or that I should not feel angry. Yet, in that moment, with those men, I was silent. I said nothing to them that indicated any of this. I am angry with myself that I did not speak up for myself, that I did not point out to these men that how they interacted with me was harassment. I am angry that just last week, Mathew and I sat right next to those men, Mathew was wearing a collar, I was wearing regular clothes, and those men didn’t blink an eye at Mathew. I am mad at feeling that if a man had been with me, those men probably would not have spoken to me or taken pictures of me in the same way.
Yet I think there is a larger reason for why those men acted as they did, and why I responded as I did, and that is the sexism that is embedded deeply in our culture. I will speak mostly for myself, because I think, or I hope, that we can see how these men’s behavior was sexist, especially when put in contrast with their engagement (or lack of) with Mathew last week. As for myself, I am coming to learn that I have deeply internalized sexism. It is why I didn’t speak up. I have been conditioned by our society and culture to not trust any “bad” feelings that arise in myself; I have been conditioned to be nice to everyone always, even if that comes at a personal cost. I have been taught that anger is bad, and I should not use or acknowledge it. I have been taught that I need a man to speak up for me and protect me.
Y’all these are lies. This simply is not true. Living in this way actually continues a cycle where men can speak and act as they want, and where women are expected to allow it, perhaps even encourage it, and take ownership of their actions as being "our fault". I “should” myself a lot. I should have spoken up. I should have worn something different. I should have just not gotten coffee. I should just see this as a compliment, laugh it off. But actually, the only thing I should do is expect others to treat me with respect and dignity of an equal human being. And the feelings that emerge when that does not happen are justified, not to be buried.
So I walked from that coffee shop to church. I walked into the sanctuary as the choir was practicing. I noticed today the variety of people in this choir—people of all genders, people with tattoos and piercings, people wearing jeans, people wearing suits and dresses, old people and young people. From there, I went to robe up for worship. In that room, those of us serving were all women, three young girls, myself, a female assisting minister, and a female pastor. We named and celebrated that it was an all-women group. In the worship, the music, the liturgy, I reflected on the understanding in Lutheran theology of this time we live in now, the already and the not yet. Christ has already come to the world, but we are still living in a time of waiting for Christ to return. This means that the world as it is now is not perfect, but we have a vision of what the world will be when Christ comes again. I think we get a glimpse of the world as it should be most clearly when we worship. When we gather at a table for all God’s people, in rich celebration of the variety of people God calls to that table, we see the world as it should be.
Gathering with my siblings today gave me strength to continue to fight, to use this anger for change, to remember that there is an alternate way of living possible. Gathering today gave me the courage to continue to wear whatever shoes I want, confident that the person in those shoes is supposed to be here, that she is not less than, that she has a voice. My prayer for all of us is that we use our anger, that we stand up for what is right, that we speak up when we can, and have grace for ourselves when we cannot.