Sexist Talk reformed
Man’s seemingly boundless capacity for inhumanity to his fellow man
is one of history’s indelible lessons.It is typical male-centered language, using “man” to mean “also women.” For centuries women have been expected to accept this without minding it. I mind it. So I revised it:
Humanity’s seemingly boundless capacity for inhumanity to fellow humans
is one of history’s indelible lessons.
I’m pleased that the StarTribune published my letter with this revision and publishes my other feminist letters. I thank them and other media for helping to correct what I call sexist language.
The following comes from a book I find thoughtful and nourishing, but irritatingly full of he-man language. I changed it from male-centered to woman-centered language:
Important data comes to woman from the inner self.
What happened, however,
is that woman was taught to accept only data from the outside world.
This denies her full strength;
it cuts her off from important sources of her being.
Her inner self forms and cushions her living
and brings her extraordinary information.
I challenge men to include themselves in these sentences.
And here are more challenges. All of us, women and men, need to do some adjusting when we take in these words:All women are created equal.
One small step for woman; one giant step for womankind.
All men are created equal.
One small step for man; one giant step for mankind.
In The Varieties of Religious Experience (73), William James quotes people who say they know God exists. I changed the pronouns:
God surrounds me like the physical atmosphere.
She is closer to me than my own breath.
In her literally I live and move and have my being.
There are times when I seem to stand in her very presence,
to talk with her.
Answers to prayer have come,
sometimes direct and overwhelming in their revelation
of her presence and powers.
There are times when she seems far off,
but this is always my fault.”
Here are more passages to test your ability to adjust to feminine God-talk. I adapted these from a novel by Lorraine Snelling:
Lady, I give up. This is too much.
If you have a plan for my life, let me know it.
Our Heavenly Mother knows our needs. She is protecting us.
I believe She is opening my eyes to Her plan for me.
Lady, give me the wisdom to know what’s right in this challenging situation.
Spirit has amazing ways of working everything out for the best, doesn’t She?
Spirit, help thou my unbelief.
I hope these examples are ways for readers to retrain their minds. My purposes are to raise awareness of sexist talk and awareness of the damage it causes.
*** I should have seen it coming and explained the following immediately. An email comment tells me I'm misunderstood as advocating a female image of what is called "God" to replace the male image.
I do not pray to or think of the Source/Creator as having a gender. My purpose here is to raise awareness of male-dominant God-talk, to provoke understanding of how minds are trained.
In Beyond Parochial Faith, I give this list of
possible synonyms for the word “God.” My list includes Energy, Source, Transcendence, Divinity, Infinity, Vastness, Creator, Force, Mystery, and Consciousness.
None of these alone completely satisfies me. Lao Tzu said, “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.”
October 15, 2019 Apathy over sexist God-talk
When I was growing up, we drove to Sauk Centre for the Stearns County fair where we exhibited as 4-H members. As I grew a little older, I learned that on the other side of town was a reformatory for girl juvenile delinquents. I had no idea.
A book review in the StarTribune on Sunday was written by someone whose grandmother was born in the Minnesota Home School for Girls in Sauk Centre. Girls were committed there until age 21 because they were pregnant or ran away from home or were “incorrigible.” Girls as young as 8 were in the Home to be “reformed.”
School officials bragged that the girls were happy to be learning domestic arts. The high number of escapes put the lie to this boast. One resident’s poem began, “I live in a house called torture and pain, it’s made of material called sorrow and shame.”
Lisa Pasko, a criminology professor at the University of Denver, said about two-thirds of girls sent to juvenile facilities had experienced sexual violence. From other studies I suspect the figure is higher. In starkest terms, girls and women are punished for being raped. Carol Jacobsen, in “When Justice Is Battered,” writes:
Most, if not all, women in prison come from abusive backgrounds, including incest, domestic violence, emotional and/or physical abuse.What does this have to do with my abiding theme of denouncing what I call sexist God-talk? The Lord Father and Son reigning supreme over the universe with no feminine divinity? Gender imbalance in the God-image creates gender-imbalance in human relationships. Male domination in church leads to male domination outside of church. Female submission follows naturally when divinity—the highest value imaginable—is imaged solely male.
In biblical times, men who raped women committed the crime of theft against the husband or father who owned the female. If a man raped a girl and was discovered, “he shall pay the girl’s father fifty silver shekels and take her as his wife” (Deuteronomy 22:29). It was the law. The Lord God commanded females to marry their rapists, and women submitted.
In the New Testament we find this verse:
Wives should be submissive to their husbands as if to the Lord (Ephesians 5:22).Today Ephesians 5:25 is more often quoted:
Husbands, love your wives,As if this justified the power imbalance of the previous verse.
Fathers who raped their little daughters, putting them in the Sauk Centre Home School, were formed by the patriarchal mindset—female bodies exist for sexual use.
The constant drumbeat of Lord/He/Him/His—never She or Her—carves a deep mark on our minds without our awareness. The effect is unconscious, and that makes it powerful. Our minds are structured to view males always on top.
I am distressed by apathy over sexist God-talk, particularly the male pronouns—He/Him/His—in reference to the Creator/Source of all that is or could be. If we're aware that these pronouns favor one gender in God-talk, we may be resigned—that’s just the way it is. It’s tradition.
But sexist God-talk is not harmless.
Out of sexist God-talk flows gender violence of all kinds, including female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, and clergy sex abuse. But also legal bias against people with less power—men or women—and bias against sexual diversity. Male-on-top power even contributes to racism, wars, pollution, and climate change, but these more distant consequences are harder to see and may be the subject of subsequent posts.
The exposure of sexual misconduct by men like Harvey Weinstein is starting to throw light on violence against women, but for exposure of daily, casual, widespread violence in thousands of less celebrated relationships, we need the light of the #MeToo movement. Some argue that the movement for redress of sexual violence has gone too far. Certainly not. We are still far from sexual equality.
Most distressing to me is lack of awareness that the Christian Father/Son divinity supports structures of power imbalance. I am committed to the effort of raising such awareness. Without it, Christians inadvertently help to perpetuate sexism. Theologian Mary Daly had it right:
If God is male, male is God.
I never watch the Super Bowl, biased as I am against pro sports, which I hold responsible for many problems in our country. I still can’t say who won because I don’t remember names of teams. They mean nothing to me. But “everybody” was talking about the half time program, so I went online to see what the fuss was about.
The Super Bowl Halftime Show drew praise for its exuberant, “electric energy,” its sexy Latin women. Franklin Graham objected that the show violated moral decency, and many thousands agree. Viewers criticized the NFL for lowering decency standards on primetime TV by allowing young people to view “soft porn.”
I have more serious objections than moralistic preaching.
I believe the show’s female stars set back advances of the women’s movement more devastatingly than sexual violence committed by Weinstein, Epstein, and other sex offenders like the one in the White House. They lowered the status of women.
They told the world that women function primarily as sex objects. They justified keeping women in their place as bodies to lure men. They told girls to admire sexual behavior. They said it’s the way to get ahead and hid its real effect of inviting gender violence.
A woman who gyrates sexually and gestures suggestively to her crotch area in front of over 100 million viewers demeans women as surely as any man who beats a woman. The show’s efforts at solidarity with Puerto Rico, and resistance to current immigration policy do not redeem it.
Religion with its supreme male gods does nothing to affirm the dignity and worth of women despite its fine words about cherishing women. And that is why Christianity needs to take responsibility for contributing to gender abuse with its male-only god.
October 24, 2019
I’m not done writing about sexist God-talk—“He Him His Father Son Lord”—because its damage to people disturbs me. I aim to raise awareness of it so that more Christians resist praying to lords in church and replace the word “Lord” with inclusive terms. I replace “Lord” with “God” because I can think “God-She,” but a lord is always male and always authoritarian.
The constant drumbeat of “Lord Lord Lord” in churches has a subtle effect. It conditions churchgoers to assume that male top-down power is natural, normal, proper, and right.
During funerals in my home-town parish I cringe when I hear intercessions end with “we pray to the Lord,” and the congregation immediately answers, “Lord, hear our prayer.” I feel like shouting, “Get that damn lord out of our prayers.”
Although that repetitious “Lord” lording over every prayer and song spoils church for me, I don’t want to stop participating in church services because I value my ties with church people.
The issue is not only fairness—the idea that women should get equal billing—it’s that sexist God-talk does psychic damage to the entire human race. That this is not recognized adds to its power. The bias works unconsciously.
Imagine the effect on the mind of a teen trained in Christian prayers to god-lords and then trafficked for sex. Imagine her facing human lords—her pimp or her abuser, the buyer of sex. Lords in church make it harder for her to defy her human abusers.
And imagine a wife dealing with her macho, alcoholic husband, one also trained in church, male-on-top power.
Docile compliance of church-goers is not healthy. Christians inadvertently help to perpetuate sexism by reciting and singing sexist God-talk prescribed by the patriarchal hierarchy.
Repetition of “He Him His Father Son Lord” is not harmless. We’ve got to stop accepting the exclusively-male God-image because it leads to unquestioned acceptance of male authority in human affairs. Which leads to barring women from power.
When women get power, things improve. Dr, Muhammad Yunus, who introduced the concept of microfinance to transform poor communities, prefers loaning to women because, he says, they almost always use it to benefit their families.
Men are less likely to do so. I have heard other microfinance philanthropists say that women use money to raise the whole community, while men spend money on themselves. Melinda Gates says,
One of the most astonishing statistics I’ve seen is that when a mother has control over her family’s money, her children are 20% more likely to survive.Women in Congress demonstrate more bipartisanship than their male counterparts. Women legislators are more likely to author bills benefiting families. And I don’t think it’s an accident that the rising status of women happens as Christian churches are losing members while the number of “nones” unaffiliated with religion is rising.
How we think about Divinity makes a difference.