The Inherent Worth and Dignity of Every Woman

Quotes About Women’s Equality, various

Reading: Sexism is Hard to Explain, Kel Campbell

The Call for Gender Equality, Carol Marion

How Do We Get There? Marsha Howland


Quotes About Women’s Equality

First Reading Sunday, Sept. 3, 2017

First Reader

A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.
            Gloria Steinem

Second Reader

Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development and building good governance.
            Kofi Annan     

First Reader

I raise my voice – not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard

. . . . We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.
            Malala Yousafzai

Second Reader       

In the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. We believe that in this century the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for gender equality around the world.
            Nicholas D. Kristof    

First Reader

Men, their rights, and nothing more; women, their rights, and nothing less.
            Susan B. Anthony

Second Reader

I know of no industrial society where women are the economic equals of men. Of everything that economics measures, women get less.
            Ivan Illich       

First Reader

I do not wish women to have power over men; but over themselves.
            Mary Shelley

Second Reader       

Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, boys and girls. It is everyone’s responsibility.
            Ban Ki-moon

First Reader

As women, we must stand up for ourselves. As women, we must stand up for each other. As women, we must stand up for justice for all.
            Michelle Obama

Second Reader       

Women are not going to be equal outside the home until men are equal in it.
            Gloria Steinem

First Reader

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal.
            Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Second Reader

It’s time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are.
            Emma Watson

First Reader

We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons . . . but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.
            Gloria Steinem

Second Reader

Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.

            Hillary Clinton

First Reader

In order to gain gender equality, women and men must work together, equally, to teach our daughters and sons to embrace our differences, respect each others’ opinions, and remove stereotypes to what a girl or boy should aspire.
            Basia Christ

Second Reader

We must raise both the ceiling and the floor.
            Sheryl Sandberg

First Reader

Oh, if I could but live another century and see the fruition of all the work for women! There is so much left to be done.
            Susan B. Anthony

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Second Reading:

Sexism is Hard to Explain, by Kel Campbell
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The Call for Gender Equality

by Carol Marion

I am a child of the 50’s. Forced to wear scratchy crinolines under poufy skirts to school, not allowed to use the slide on the playground because someone might see our undies. Taught to be nice and ladylike and to never open a door for myself unless I had to. I am also a child of the 60’s and 70’s. Free love and bellbottoms and feminism. We were equal! We would rule the world! I entered the workforce with a belief that I could accomplish anything. And still men insisted on opening doors for me. Interrupted me in meetings, presented my ideas as their own and basked in the praise. Men got paid more, got more promotions, and called me honey, whistled at me in the streets. I took self-defense classes to protect myself at night. They told me to smile. Praised my work and then told me I wasn’t ready for that raise.

Yes, sexism is hard to explain. As Kel Campbell writes, “The door isn’t the thing. For me, the incident this morning was a bang-on metaphor for my experiences as a woman. The millions of small ways that I’ve been forced to surrender to men, who made me move or change or come to them because they felt like it. The ways that I’ve had to change my path in magnitudes great and small”.

Every woman lives with daily experiences of sexism. It’s such a common thing that many of us don’t even bother to consciously acknowledge it anymore. Or we swallow and carry on. Sexism is often described as gender-based prejudice. But sexism is much more.

Gender-based prejudice is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s sex or gender. Both women and men can experience gender-based prejudice. And it is not just men perpetuating this prejudice. Women perpetuate gender norms and discriminate against women too. When I was Training Manager at New Horizons in Oregon, Valerie, the president of the company, treated men and women quite differently. She was known to belittle, yell, and brow beat women employees. I never once witnessed that behavior towards a man. Studies have shown that women, as well as men, interrupt women 2-3 times more often than they interrupt men[i]. A 2013 study of hiring practices in STEM industries found that: “…when the hiring manager (both men and women) had no other information other than a candidate’s gender, they were twice as likely to hire a man than a woman, because they incorrectly believed that men are more talented in science and math…” [ii]

And yes, men do experience gender-based prejudice as well, but men don’t experience it quite the same way that women do.

That difference is privilege (or power). Men have a whole system of history, traditions, and assumptions giving their words a weight that women don’t have access to. And with that power, gender-based prejudice becomes sexism.

Sexism is ingrained into institutions like the education system, religious bodies, the legal system, the media, governments, and corporations. These institutions have power, and often – intentionally or not –uphold male privilege while oppressing women.[iii]

But we can say, “women now go to space, women run companies, go to war, men are stay-at-home dads. Women and men share family responsibilities like child care, cleaning, and bringing “home the bacon”.” Women today buy their own homes, spend their own money, determine their own careers.

So why do we still need to talk about sexism?

Because just like racism, sexism still permeates every social interaction we have and even influences our inner dialog. And it affects women’s earning power, physical health, and mental well-being.

I realized how oppressive this constant noise was when I first stepped on to “the land”. A fond term for the amazing space created by thousands of women coming together every August in Michigan for the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which sadly ended in 2015 after a 40-year run. There were no men. Anywhere. Women built three huge stages, laid pipes for water and electrified all the meeting tents. They chopped wood and tended huge cooking fires to help feed 5-8 thousand women. Women provided spaces and services to support mothers, differently-abled and aging women. The first time I attended, it took me several days to notice the blessed mental quiet and the relief from having to constantly check my surroundings for safety. It was a freedom I have never experienced anywhere else; a sense of safety I have never experienced anywhere else. Women helped women, women supported women. Women built and ran the whole thing with a ferocious competence. And there was a blessed silent space in my head to be myself.

But stepping off the land after a week of living that freedom meant re-integrating into a world permeated with a constant loud barrage of sexist microaggressions. It was always a shock.

What are microaggressions? Microaggressions are defined as “small, subtle, often unconscious actions that marginalize people in oppressed groups”. It was coined in the ‘70s to discuss the subtle acts of racism that were prominent in society. Since then, it has been used to describe the unconscious ways we further marginalize people. They are the little things you do or say every day that are harmful, and oppressive, to women. That hurt. That make us feel less valued. That put us in our place.

They are the jokes “I was just trying to be funny”; the backhanded compliments “You are so strong for a woman”; the unwanted chivalry “let me wrestle this armload of stuff out of your arms and carry it for you”; the unwanted advice about everything, i.e.: mansplaining; the constant interruptions or not even being allowed to speak at a meeting; the co-opting of a meeting by the one man present; the constant coercion to say yes after I’ve said no, and NO; being asked to smile because “you are so much prettier when you smile”.

It’s also the defensiveness and dismissiveness, and sometimes anger, we are faced with when trying to confront a man on his sexist remarks or behaviors.

And we are not immune to these microaggressions here at UUS:E. I witnessed this interaction between an older boy and a younger girl downstairs after RE. “Ah, come on, join in. I know you want to do it.” The girl shakes her head no. “What, are you scared? It will be fun. Come on.” The girl shakes her head and she is now looking down, cowering out of the way. Another girl defends her and says, “she doesn’t want to, leave her alone”. But, the boy keeps pressing, badgering the child for a “yes”. I stopped it with a “That’s enough, she said no”.

Sexism is everywhere and it is learned early.

We as a society, as a community, as people, need to work towards Gender Equality. In education, business, media, simple personal interactions. We must strive daily towards the goal of “The inherent worth and dignity of every person”.

Gender equality was defined by the United Nations in 2001 this way:

“Equality between women and men (gender equality): refers to the equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities of women and men and girls and boys. Equality does not mean that women and men will become the same but that women’s and men’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities will not depend on whether they are born male or female (and I will add here – or “other”). Gender equality implies that the interests, needs and priorities of both women and men are taken into consideration – recognizing the diversity of different groups of women and men. Gender equality is not a ‘women’s issue’ but should concern and fully engage men as well as women. Equality between women and men is seen both as a human rights issue and as a precondition for, and indicator of, sustainable people-centered development.”[iv]

Just as with racism, ageism or any other ism, we need to examine our own day-to-day interactions. We need to listen to ourselves, notice our responses. Call ourselves on our own stuff.

So, where do we start?[v]

  1. Educate yourself about systemic sexism and microaggressions in society today. Examine policies, practices and procedures for hidden discriminatory language and actions. Examine your own automatic beliefs and responses. Advocate for change.
  2. Speak out when you witness a remark or action that is inherently sexist. Apologize when you make the same mistake. Defend a friend.
  3. Don’t interrupt. Listen more; talk less. Refrain from offering unwanted or off topic advice.

This one is one of my biggest irritations…

  1. Accept that no, means no. Quit badgering me.
  2. Stop pretending you aren’t sexist.

In the works of Kel Campbell, “I cannot tell a man about the endless parade of minor indecencies, artful put-downs, implicit shushes, subtle dismissals, or friendly coercions under the cover of niceness. Without the experiences to go with it, he simply cannot understand what it’s like to be a woman.”

Thank you,

[i] http://www.thedebrief.co.uk/news/real-life/women-are-more-likely-to-be-interrupted-than-men-says-new-study-20140511293

[ii] http://www.bizcoachinfo.com/archives/18618 and http://www.pnas.org/content/111/12/4403.abstract

[iii] http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/01/sexism-vs-prejudice/

[iv] Gender Mainstreaming: Strategy for Promoting Gender Equality, Office of the Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women rev. August 2001. http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/factsheet1.pdf, http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/conceptsandefinitions.htm

[v] Adapted from https://sojo.net/articles/our-white-friends-desiring-be-allies


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How Do We Get There?

by Marsha Howland

A week ago Saturday, August 26, was Women’s Equality Day in the United States, as established by a joint resolution of Congress in 1971. Show of hands – How many of you knew that before I mentioned it?

I’m not surprised. This is hardly a Hallmark holiday.

August 26 wasn’t chosen at random to be Women’s Equality Day. On that day in 1920, the Constitutional amendment that granted women the right to vote went into effect, having been ratified by the states just eight days earlier. (By the way, women of color didn’t have the right to vote until legislation was passed in the 1960s. A topic, perhaps, for another day.)

August 26 was also International Dog Day. I received a handful of emails and Facebook posts about Women’s Equality Day and dozens about Dog Day – and I’m a feminist cat person. Maybe that says something about our priorities.

Priorities – when I was growing up in the 1950s, my priority was having as much fun as possible with my two older brothers and the other kids in the neighborhood, most of whom were boys. I turned into what was called a tomboy. Oh, like Carol I wore dresses and skirts to school and had to behave like a “little lady.” But I was more comfortable in my corduroys, a jersey and my red Keds. I climbed trees, did somersaults jumping off the garage roof, and played sports. My father taught me to swing a bat and throw a baseball, and I got pretty good at the game. My mother taught me to manipulate the boys into fighting over me when they were bucking up for sides.

My parents encouraged me to do anything I wanted to do, and my brothers were with the program, too. In junior high I decided I wanted to be the first female governor of Massachusetts; then I decided that wasn’t good enough, and I wanted to be the first woman president. (Clearly, I got sidetracked.)

In high school I decided I’d had enough of boys running and dominating everything. My varsity basketball team had to fight for practice time; the boys’ varsity and junior varsity teams had the gym all the time. When we threatened not to play unless we got the same practice time, we were bused to a tiny elementary school gym after classes. We won a statewide invitational tournament that year, my senior year; the boys did so badly their won-loss record wasn’t included in the yearbook sports roundup.

And a male classmate of mine – a member of the boys’ basketball team – was adamant that girls shouldn’t play sports.

Boys also ran student government, dominated class offices (and classrooms) and headed most extracurricular activities.

I had had enough. I applied to only one college, Wellesley, which was and still is a college for women only. Women ran every student organization. Everywhere I looked, women were in charge. It was exhilarating.

I took advantage of the education and experiences Wellesley had to offer, and then went out into the world. My first real job was as a sports reporter. A rarity in 1974. You imagine the responses I often – but not always – received. More than once men came to my defense. I wish they hadn’t had to.

In my other jobs I encountered all the sexist stuff you’re familiar with. Men taking credit for my ideas or my work. Sexual harassment. Pay inequality. Being laughed at or sneered at in meetings.

Many would say our society is very different, now. They would be wrong. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris can tell you about being interrupted or denied the right to speak. Women at all levels can attest to pay inequality; according to Business Insider, in this country, white women are paid 75 cents on the dollar compared to men; black women are paid 60 cents on the dollar; Hispanic women, 55.

What do we do about all of this, and the many micro aggressions Carol talked about?

We change hearts. And we begin that by changing minds.

Yes, women must call out the men who tell sexist jokes, commit sexual harassment – or worse – and demand that it stop.

This won’t be easy. Women will get the usual responses like “boys will be boys” and “it’s just locker room talk.” They’ll be subjected to workplace retribution. They will face worse in courtrooms, where they will be bullied and blamed for the assaults that are on trial. Women need to have the strength to stand up to these things, stand up for themselves. We will not always be successful, but more and more successes will happen, making it better for the next generations of women and girls.

Our male allies will have to stand up, too. Women and men will have to work together. We are, after all, seeking equality – not the dominance of one gender over the other.

The most important thing we can do to reach hearts, by reaching minds first, is to raise our children in ways that encourage equality. So far, this effort has mostly focused on girls, many of whom are now told they can do and be anything they want to. Girls are encouraged to play sports, run for – and win – school leadership positions. Real progress is being made.

But what about boys? How do we raise feminist sons?

In a June 1st story of a similar title in The New York Times – one that I recommend ­– Claire Cain Miller argues, rightly I believe, that “boys’ worlds are still confined.” The advice she gleaned from a wide range of experts, she writes, “applied broadly: to anyone who wants to raise children who are kind, confident and free to pursue their dreams.”

In several nutshells, this is what she advises:

Let him cry

(And express all of his emotions, even, and perhaps especially, the “girlie” ones.)

Give him role models

(Strong male AND female role models. Do the same for girls.)

Let him be himself

(Children aren’t born with preferences for dolls or trucks, pink or blue. Until the mid-20th century, pink was the color for boys; blue was the color for girls. So go ahead – put pink parkas on your toddler sons. One of my nephews and his wife did exactly that with their son.)

Teach him to take care of himself

(The author quotes Anne-Marie Slaughter, chief executive of the think tank New America: “Teach our sons to cook, clean and look after themselves – to be equally competent in the home as we would expect our daughters to be in the office.”)

Teach him to take care of others

(The author also writes, “Enlist boys’ help making soup for a sick friend or visiting a relative in the hospital. Give them responsibilities caring for pets and younger siblings.”)

Share the work

(Probably a no-brainer. Men can cook; women can mow the lawn.)

Encourage friendships with girls

Teach ‘no means no’

Speak up when others are intolerant

(Miller writes: “ ‘Boys will be boys’ is not an excuse for bad behavior” – at any age, I would add.)

Never use ‘girl’ as an insult

Read a lot, including about girls and women

(As Miller says, “Read about a wide variety of people, and stories that break the mold, not just those about boys saving the world and girls needing to be saved.”

Celebrate boyhood

The author writes: “Teach boys to show strength ­– the strength to acknowledge their emotions. Teach them to provide for their families – by caring for them. Show them how to be tough – tough enough to stand up to intolerance. Give them confidence – to pursue whatever they’re passionate about.”)

Good advice all around.

I believe that we, as Unitarian Universalists, are uniquely prepared to do all of these things. Our first principle, “To affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person,” is a very deeply held belief. The word “affirm” conveys that belief; the word “promote” requires us to take action on it.

Other Unitarian Universalist principles support this principle. “Justice, equity and compassion in human relations” and “The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all” are also deeply held beliefs that we bring to life with our actions.

There are many feminists in this room, both female and male. We are more than strong allies; we are sister and brother believers – and we are committed to living our beliefs, to bringing them into the wider world, to modeling what our beliefs can accomplish.

When it comes to women’s equality, we still have a long way go. Let us lead the way.

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Living Principles

Public Witness In my sermon following the election of Donald Trump as United States President, I said “the church is not serving you fully if it is not sending you forth into the world to live your principles proudly, resolutely, urgently, lovingly.” But I offered only a very general suggestion of what that might mean in this historical moment. The more I spoke with members and friends of the congregation, the more it felt important to continue this morning exploring what this means, rather than preaching on the sources of rage in American culture and society as I had originally planned. I think this is important. I think the post-election narrative about rage in the nation is far too simple. It ignores many sources of rage, many longstanding grievances that continue to go unaddressed. I’ll preach that sermon on January 15th.  For now, what does it mean that our congregation sends us forth to live our Unitarian Universalist principles proudly, resolutely, urgently, lovingly?

Rehearsing the Beloved Community[1]

I don’t expect any of us, myself included, to know how to live our principles just because we say they are our principles. As we read through the Unitarian Universalist principles on the back of the order of service, we say, “yes, these are my principles, they speak to me, they resonate with me.” But that doesn’t mean we automatically know how to apply them to our lives. We certainly aren’t born knowing how to live them. We have to learn how to live them. And, in fact, we have to constantly relearn how to live them as the world changes. How do we learn and relearn? We practice. We practice here at church. This is, in fact, one of the purposes of church. Rehearsal. Heaven may not have come to earth, but we can rehearse for its arrival here. We may not experience beloved community out in the wider world, but we can rehearse it here. Practice, practice, practice.

Practice respect here. That’s our first principle. Practice acceptance here. That’s our third principle. Practice respect for and acceptance of people who are different from you in some way: people who believe differently than you; people with religious, cultural or geographical backgrounds different from yours; people whose age, ability, gender or sexual orientation is different from yours. Learn another’s perspective, then practice encountering the world from that perspective.

Practice compassion here—that’s part of our second principle. Practice approaching and being present to people who are suffering or in pain. Practice being attentive. Practice listening. Practice caring. Practice empathizing. Practice being supportive and nonjudgmental as others share their vulnerabilities in your presence. And, while you’re at it, practice asking for help from others. Practice accepting help from others. Practice being vulnerable, sharing your fears, your concerns, your anxieties in the presence of others who love and support you.

Practice democracy here. That’s our fourth principle. If you know the congregation is holding a meeting and taking a vote, learn what the vote is about, and then vote. But democracy is more than voting. Practice finding common ground. Practice building consensus. Practice letting everyone speak who wants to. If someone expresses a concern, practice pausing to address the concern, even if it means we might not finish everything on the agenda. If you’re typically quiet and reserved, practice speaking up. If you’re typically vocal and always offer ideas, practice waiting until everyone else has spoken. And if you are a person of privilege, practice making room for those with less privilege.

Practice justice-making here. That’s the heart of our second and sixth principles. Practice being fair. Practice peace-making. Let’s practice together not perpetuating sexism here, not perpetuating racism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism and classism here. We’ve made some wonderful strides in recent years, so let’s also practice not taking our success for granted. If we want to move the wider world toward more justice, equity and compassion, then let’s practice moving ourselves toward more justice, equity and compassion.

Practice earth stewardship and sustainable living here, our seventh principle. Practice searching for truth and meaning here, our fourth principle.

Learn what living these principles feel like in practice here. Let the visceral experience of them here seep into your consciousness, your psyche, your heart, your bones. Let the experience capture your imagination for what your community, your town, the nation, the world can be. Begin looking for such experiences in other parts of your life. Begin to notice where they are present in the wider world, and where they are absent. Where they are present, name them, celebrate them, encourage them, build on them. Where they are absent, begin to introduce them, just like you’ve been practicing at church. Let church be rehearsal space for beloved community.

Don’t Take the Bait: Thoughts on the Second Unitarian Universalist Principle

Injustice and inequality don’t happen because individuals hold and profess extreme views. Injustice and inequality happen because those views operate in institutional structures and culture. Here’s an example of what I am talking about. If a company with a sexist culture fires a sexist boss, will that make sexism go away? No. A company with a sexist culture can’t make sexism go away simply by firing a sexist boss. A company with a sexist culture can reduce the impact of sexism by changing institutional structures and culture, by mandating equal pay for equal work, a fair and transparent path to promotion for all employees regardless of gender, a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment, a trustworthy reporting process for victims of sexual harassment, and so on. Firing the sexist boss is relatively easy. But changing structures and culture takes time, education, organizing. It takes endurance, resilience and creativity. Firing a sexist boss might feel good—it might feel like a triumph for our values—and it might be the right thing to do, but there’s no guarantee anything will be different afterwards. Changing sexist structures and culture will reduce sexism in the company regardless of any individual’s personal views and behaviors. For me, living our second principle has rarely meant focusing on the things extremist individuals or groups do and say. It has always meant working to change structures and culture.

That’s become a very difficult line to parse recently. Throughout the presidential campaign Donald Trump would offer controversial, hateful statements into the crowd, then sit back with a smirk as the nation spun like a pinwheel around his words. We reacted. We took the bait. He would let it go on for a few days then walk the statement back. “No, we won’t punish women who get abortions.” “No, we won’t commit war crimes.” Later he would criticize the media for continuously replaying the first thing he said but not the second thing. “That’s unfair. You’re being biased.” The end result was nobody knew what he was proposing. The pinwheel ride continues. He’s still using this technique. And now some of his extremist supporters are using it too—provoking, testing, discerning what hateful words and actions they can get away with. Liberals are living in a state of constant reaction. Of course, some of this hate is more than mere provocation. Some of it poses a real threat and we need to respond. But we also need to learn how to recognize the difference between a real threat and an action intended just to get a reaction. The line is admittedly blurry, but we need to stop taking the bait.

Since November 8th I’ve never heard so many people—here and elsewhere—say “I want to get involved” or “I want to crawl out from under my rock and work for a more just society.” I think it’s great that people want to live our second principle more forthrightly. (I hope many of you who feel newly motivated will join our Social Justice / Anti-Oppression Committee at its next meeting on December 6th at 7:00.) But a word of caution: The principle is “justice, equity and compassion in human relations,” not “earnest reaction to Trump’s latest tweet.” We’re not taking the bait.

The church sends us forth to dismantle the structures and culture that hold injustice and inequality in place. For more than a decade we’ve been advocating for more humane treatment of undocumented immigrants, civil rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, health care reform, criminal justice and drug policy reform, an end to mass incarceration of people of color, and a reversal of the policies and practices that drive income inequality. More recently we’ve committed ourselves to the Black Lives Matter movement and refugee resettlement work.  Let’s stay focused on these issues that have defined us, rather than reacting to the provocations of extremists. We sought justice, equity and compassion in human relations throughout the Obama presidency. We would be doing it throughout a Hillary Clinton presidency. We will do it throughout the Trump presidency. In the words of the old civil rights song, “keep your eyes on the prize!” Don’t take the bait.

Loving the Haters: Thoughts on the First Unitarian Universalist Principle

Love yourself fiercely. I say this because it truly is difficult to extend love outward if you cannot extend love inward. If you struggle with self-doubt, if you carry feelings of guilt or shame, if your confidence and esteem are low, if you feel you don’t deserve the love of others, if you’re wrestling with your privilege, if you’re angry, frightened, immobilized, lost, remember: the inherent worth and dignity of every person applies to you too. I know it can be incredibly difficult to move from self-doubt to self-love. It’s not a straightforward path. There may be wounds that run deep, that have never healed, that still hurt. It may be easy for me to say, but I feel I must say it: Love yourself fiercely. That is the foundation upon which we can offer genuine love to others.

Our first principle has been—and still is—for me, the starting-place for a liberating, anti-oppressive vision of the world. It focuses our attention on the oppressed, the impoverished, the most vulnerable. It calls us to love and support undocumented people, not because we all agree that it’s OK they entered the country illegally, but because they are our fellow human beings, the vast majority of whom are seeking to fulfill the same promises in life so many of us seek—honest work, a chance to succeed, safety for their families, education for their children, peace. It calls us to love and support the transgender teenager before they feel so hopeless that the only path they can imagine is suicide; to love and support Black lives before another young man lies dying in the street or incarcerated for nonviolent crimes; to love and support Muslim women who face the excruciating decision whether or not to wear the hijab and invite ridicule and violence, or to take it off and deprive themselves of a source of spiritual strength; to love and support the combat veteran struggling with PTSD; to love and support the Standing Rock water protectors; to love and support the opioid addict, the person living with AIDS, the homeless person; to love and support everyone now living in fear that their life-sustaining health care coverage is going to vanish.  

This vision of love and support for the oppressed and the vulnerable is the right vision; and it is difficult enough to make real. But it does not exhaust the scope of our first principle. It actually gets more difficult. Respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person requires us, also, to love and support the neighbor or the family member with the political lawn sign that disagrees with our political lawn sign; to love and support the person who wrote that insensitive letter to the editor, not to mention the troll comments further down the page; to love and support those White working class voters who feel not only forgotten and neglected but full of rage; to love and support the police officer who fired the fatal shot; to love and support the people who propose policies that threaten your rights or your well-being; the gun manufacturer who just produced a weapon that will be used to murder; the prison guard who abuses the prisoners; the drug dealer who peddles death in shiny little bags; the oil driller, the pipeline worker, the coal miner, the factory farmer, the rain forest logger—all those people whose livelihoods depend on industries and practices that destroy the earth; the 1% who hoard the wealth of the nations. And yes, it calls us to love the haters, the people who suddenly feel they have license to spread hate and division, to harass and bully—the avowed racists, the homophobes, the sexists. Love them. Love their families. Love their children.

So many have said, “No, I will not do this. I will not love people who hate. I’m sick and tired of the appeal to understand their perspective when they have never respected my perspective. I’m sick and tired of being asked to make nice with racism.” I keep saying some version of “When you hate I have no obligation to love you.  You don’t even want my love. You mock my love. So why should I bother?”

That’s how I feel. It’s an impasse. But I also know that if someone else’s hate has the power to define the scope of my principles, then hate wins. And that cannot happen. The impasse is real, but the power of love is greater. Someone else’s hate may be frightening, saddening, demoralizing, infuriating, anxiety-producing, but that doesn’t mean it has to weaken your capacity to love yourself, your neighbor, a stranger or your enemy. That doesn’t mean you must reduce the scope of our first principle from ‘every person’ to ‘only some people.’ I confess I don’t know how to love people who hate. I know I don’t have to accept hate. I know I still have to hold people accountable for their hateful words and deeds. I may have to forgive, but that does not mean I have to forget. So what do I have to do? I’m not sure yet. This dimension of our first principle requires an examination most of us haven’t done. But right now there is an abundance of hate, so it’s time to relearn how we live this principle. It’s time to come to church to practice loving the haters. That may sound elitist and arrogant to some listeners, but I’m not sure what choice we have. I principles require it.

In the very least I know this: as I am sent forth into the world, I will not let hate determine how I live my principles. Abundant love will determine how I live my principles. And abundant love has no limits.

Earlier I read to you Annette Marquis, “Deliver Us to Evil.” I’ll conclude my remarks this morning by sharing her re-working of the Lord’s prayer, a reminder to let love guide us in how we live our principles. She prays:  “Spirit of Life, which exists wherever there is love, / Blessed be all Your names. / Strengthen our will / To create heaven on earth, / And help us embody a peace-filled world. / Give us all our daily bread. / Teach us to forgive ourselves for our failings, / And to forgive those who have failed us. / Deliver us to evil / And give us the courage to transform it with Love. / For Love is the power, and the glory, / For ever and ever. / Amen.”[2]

Blessed be.

[1] This language of “rehearsing the beloved community” is not original to me, though I am not sure who to credit. I first encountered it at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City. Since then, I have heard numerous clergy around the country use this language to describe the purpose of the church.

[2] Marquis, Annette, “Deliver Us to Evil” in Montgomery, Kathleen, ed., Bless the Imperfect (Boston: Skinner House Books, 2014) pp. 75-76.

Sexism: Still Way Too Normal

Rev. Josh Pawelek

feministTwo phenomena—women’s basic economic inequality and widespread sexual violence against women—should surprise nobody. They are well-documented and receive considerable media attention. For every dollar men earn in the United States, women on average earn 79 cents.[1] In 2012 18.3% of women reported having experienced rape at some point in their lives and 19% of female college students reported an experience of rape or attempted rape since entering college. [2] Yet huge swaths of American society at best pay no attention or pay attention but don’t care and, at worst, affirm the data as consistent with a conservative, patriarchal world-view—often articulated as God’s will—that assigns women a subordinate status to men and, while claiming to honor women, imagines them not as legitimate wage-earners, not as in control of their own bodies, not as self-determining, moral decision-makers, not as heads of families, but rather as, essentially, the property, the play-things, the servants of men. This may sound overstated, but the persistence of the wage gap, sexual violence, behavioral double standards for women in the workplace and politics, inequities in funding for sports programs, inequities in funding for health research, the hyper-sexualization of women throughout society, multi-billion dollar industries causing and then preying on women’s insecurities about body image, weight, and beauty, increasing rates of sex trafficking and other forms of slavery in every state in the union, and a constant wave of smaller, daily anti-woman indignities suggest to me that the old view of women as fundamentally less human than men remains inordinately powerful in society.

I searched for “feminism” on YouTube. For every solidly, pro-feminist video in the queue there were at least ten misinformed, misogynistic, Make America Great Again, anti-feminist rants. I’m not sure what that says about my algorithms, but I have no hesitancy in stating there is a war on women.

This sermon is about sexism, and I’m somewhat embarrassed to say it was not my idea. A large group of bidders who wanted me to preach on women’s issues won this sermon at last year’s goods and services auction. Rhiannon Smith and Linda Duncan led this group and have been forwarding articles and statistics to me for the past 6 months. Rhiannon said, “We applaud the recent attention given in Sunday services to racial injustices in light of current events. We think that gender injustices have received less attention but also are central to our social justice advocacy as UUs. Specifically, we would like for the service to focus on the marginalization of women in the workforce, politics, and other arenas of power. For example, the service might address the wage gap, the underrepresentation of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and politics, micro-aggressions against women, the disproportionate amount of attention paid to female politicians’ clothing and appearance rather than their ideas, [and] demeaning female politicians in the media….  We had 26 contributors in support of this service, so clearly this is a topic of importance to many people.”

I have preached on racism many, many times. I have preached on homophobia, on transphobia, Islamophobia, antisemitism and on the experiences of people with disabilities. But I don’t remember ever preaching a straight up, let’s talk about sexism sermon. I have preached on issues understood historically as “women’s issues” such as abortion and sexual abuse. I’ve preached about violence against women, the plight of incarcerated women, the challenges facing the primarily female personal care assistant workforce, and the need for paid sick days, family medical leave, a higher minimum wage and gun control which can all be framed as women’s issues. But I cannot remember ever preaching a sermon with the word sexism in its title. I’m embarrassed to say this sermon was not my idea because it should have been—and it should have been a long time ago. I identify as a feminist. I believe sexism is real. I believe I understand sexism well for one who doesn’t experience it. I believe sexism must be confronted. I believe our Unitarian Universalist principles call us to confront it. I am grateful for being challenged to confront sexism in this way.

I’ve been reflecting on why preaching on sexism has felt less urgent to me than preaching on other oppressions. One reason is that Unitarian Universalism had made enormous strides in confronting its own sexism by the time I entered the ministry. Such confrontation began in earnest in 1977 when the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly passed the Women and Religion resolution.[3] One of the more immediate results of that resolution was the removal of sexist and male-centered language from our institutional life. One of its long-term results was the achievement of gender parity in the professional ministry by the late 1990s.[4] That achievement has fundamentally transformed Unitarian Universalism. As a man coming into a profession in 1999 where half my colleagues were women, I had to be attentive to sexist stereotypes and power imbalances in a way I wouldn’t have been if the ministry had continued as a primarily male profession. I know this because I hear my elder male colleagues talk about what it was like in the 60s and 70s. There was no expectation that they would pay attention to sexism, let alone pay attention to it in their ministries and in our faith. And as women started coming into the ministry, there was enormous tension. How do you include women in a club that has heretofore been vastly male?

A major, visible milestone we haven’t achieved in Unitarian Universalism is the election of a woman as UUA president. That glass ceiling will be shattered at the June, 2017 General Assembly when one of three women running for the position will be elected. Will we be a post-sexist religion at that point? No. In fact, once we’ve elected a woman president, we may very quickly become more aware of how deeply our sexism runs.

Another reason the struggle against sexism has felt less urgent to me is that in Unitarian Universalism I have always been surrounded by strong, outspoken, talented, insightful women. I’m not looking for points. I’m stating a fact. In the congregations I’ve served there have been women doctors, lawyers, athletes, writers, poets, politicians, policy-makers, activists, mathematicians, engineers, psychotherapists, college professors, soldiers, research scientists, marketers, computer programmers, IT specialists, ministers, business owners, photographers, sculptors, biologists, chemists and corporate leaders, not to mention many women working in more traditionally female roles as teachers, nurses, social workers, homeschoolers, and secretaries—and the vast majority of these women, while pursuing these careers, have been raising children, running households and volunteering at church in every role from Sunday morning greeter to congregation president. I’ve been surrounded by strong women, and I am clear that the success of my ministry has depended on their presence.

1960s and 70s second wave feminism envisioned women living, learning, working and earning in all the ways men were accustomed to living, learning, working and earning. While that vision certainly has not become a concrete reality for all women, I see evidence of it having come to fruition in the lives of many Unitarian Universalist women—in their education, careers, earning power relative to women of earlier generations, the life choices they’ve been able to make and their leadership roles in society. But it is precisely the success of that vision in the lives of many UU women that has dulled my sense of urgency around addressing sexism directly. The problem of sexism is slightly less visible here.

But it’s real, and I take it as a truth that regardless of any woman’s education, career, family planning decisions, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability or age, all women encounter a bedrock sexism in our society. The more privileged a woman is, perhaps the more she is able to withstand sexism’s most pernicious effects—though even that isn’t a given—but I’m convinced no woman avoids it entirely. Sexism is still way too normal.

It’s not only in those big statistics: 79 cents to the man’s dollar; 1 in 5 women sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Sexism also resides in day-to-day experiences, little slights that add up to a gendered burden men don’t carry. Linda Duncan referred to this as the “social inequality” that comes with being a woman. She talked about micro-aggressions: harassment on the street and in the office; the assumption that women are overly emotional; the strong, decisive woman perceived as bitchy while her male counterpart is praised for the same behavior; the experience of offering a good idea, only to have it ignored until a man offers it a few minutes later; the hyper-focus on looks, clothes and weight; and the ubiquitous, “give me a smile, honey.”

Brooklyn-based artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s public art series, “Stop Telling Women to Smile,” is an effort to combat street harassment. “Starting in her Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood,” quotes a 2013 Ms. Magazine article, “Fazlalizadeh has peppered walls with black-and-white drawings of brazenfaced women accompanied by bold slogans such as, ‘Women are not outside for your entertainment.’ When a man tells a woman to smile,” says Fazlalizadeh, “he’s expecting her to entertain him. ‘It’s the same as saying, Dance for me; jump for me. Smile is never really a question; it’s a command.’”[5] Even if the man who asks a woman to smile believes he’s just being friendly, he is still telling her what to do with her body.

I found a video on You Tube by a young women named Whitney Way Thore telling the story of trying to buy a pack of gum at a convenient store. The clerk told her to smile. She was angry. People suggested he was just trying to be helpful. She pointed out that helping typically doesn’t require the one being helped to do something for the helper. “I want to help you, so let me tell you what to do with your body.” Thore calls it a “manipulative power play.”[6]

It’s a manifestation of that old, patriarchal world-view that says women are property, playthings, servants. The man may not even realize he’s acting out of that world-view, but he doesn’t need to know. It’s still operating. For women it is exhausting.

Why, because in all these situations women have to make a calculation. Am I safe? Should I say something? Should I ignore it? Should I confront it? Is it me? That’s the gendered burden men don’t carry—the stress of having to calculate. Often the easiest, safest path is non-confrontation, finding some way to de-escalate the situation, but that takes a toll too. In an article for Huffpost Women entitled “That Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About,” blogger Gretchen Kelly says, “We have all learned, either by instinct or by trial and error, how to minimize a situation that makes us uncomfortable. How to avoid angering a man or endangering ourselves. We have all, on many occasions, ignored an offensive comment. We’ve all laughed off an inappropriate come-on. We’ve all swallowed our anger when being belittled or condescended to. It doesn’t feel good. It feels icky. Dirty. But we do it because to not do it could put us in danger or get us fired or labeled a bitch. So we usually take the path of least precariousness.”[7] In an article in The Guardian Thursday entitled “The Struggle to Speak Up: How Women Are Pushed to De-escalate Sexist Incidents,” Rose Hackman says “To the initial weight of having to deal with … acts of dominance is the added mental drain of having to evaluate how best to deal with it and not risk a violent backlash. De-escalating is just another form of the “emotional work” women provide with little recognition of its ongoing exertion and toll.”[8]

Earlier we heard Jenn Richard sing Ani DiFranco’s “Not a Pretty Girl.” This is a resistance song—a declaration of non-compliance with sexism, a proclamation that she refuses to play the roles society assigns to women. “I am not a pretty girl, / That is not what I do. / I ain’t no damsel in distress, / And I don’t need to be rescued.”[9] Taking a cue from this song, why not as individuals and as a congregation adopt an attitude and a posture and a program of resistance to sexism? Many of us already resist in big and small ways. Why not be more explicit, more intentional? Why not proclaim and celebrate our resistance? Why not say, “anti-sexism is central to who we are?”

Unitarian Universalism has made great strides in addressing its own sexism. But knowing that our past achievements can dull our sense of urgency, let’s take a bold new look at ourselves, a deeper look: how might sexism be operating in our collective life? Let’s commit to being a place where women don’t have to calculate, aren’t responsible for the emotional work of de-escalating sexism, and can name it not only without fear of repercussion, but with the expectation that people will want to learn more. And let’s be a place where men are encouraged to take on the gendered burden, where men are skilled in anti-sexist language and behavior and know strategies for resistance as allies to women. And let’s be a place where we have those nuanced conversations, where we understand how different women experience sexism differently—how sexism is different for white women than it is for women of color, different for straight women than it is for lesbians, different for trans women, poor women, rich women, developing nation women, women with disabilities, women with and without children, married women, unmarried women, divorced women, elder women, young women, girls, fat women, skinny women—let’s strive to understand the many ways different women experience sexism.

And let’s develop a women’s social justice platform. We have platforms for racial justice, GLBT justice, environmental justice. We ought to have a  women’s justice platform including equal pay for equal work, an end to sexual and other forms of violence, paid sick days and family medical leave, a living wage, an end to the taxation of menstrual products and diapers, reproductive choice and full access to reproductive health services and information and—relevant to CT politics during the recent legislative session—knowing that a woman is five times more likely to be murdered by a partner when the partner owns a gun, a women’s justice platform must include removal of all guns from the partner’s possession if a judge grants a woman a restraining order, even if that restraining order is temporary.

Let’s look out into the wider community at the organizations that are doing anti-sexist and women’s justice work and figure out ways to partner with them. And if we find that there are many different organizations working on many different women’s issues, let’s be part of the effort to unite them, so that we can resist together, transform together—so that there is a clear, unmistakable, unapologetic social justice movement for women. Let’s be fully in the movement to end sexism here and everywhere.

Amen and blessed be.

[1] Hill, Catherine, “The Simple Truth About the Gender Pay Gap”  (The American Association of University Women, Spring, 2016) p. 7. See: http://www.aauw.org/files/2016/02/SimpleTruth_Spring2016.pdf.

[2] “Sexual Violence: Facts as a Glance,” Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention, 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/sv-datasheet-a.pdf.

[3] See the text of the 1977 UUA business resolution, “Women and Religion” at http://www.uua.org/statements/women-and-religion.

[4]For more on the long-term impact of the Women and Religion resolution, see French, Kimberly, “Thirty years of feminist transformation: The 1977 Women and Religion resolution transformed the Unitarian Universalist Association” UU World (Summer, 2007): http://www.uuworld.org/articles/thirty-years-feminist-transformation.

[5] Little, Anita, “If These Walls Could Talk: Fighting Harassment With Street Art,” Ms. Magazine, Fall, 2013. See: http://www.msmagazine.com/Fall2013/national.html.

[6] Thore, Whitney Way, “Stop Telling Me to Smile.” See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5RWz9D0166k.

[7] Kelly, Gretchen, “That Thing All Women Do That You Don’t Know About,” Huffpost Women, November 23, 2015. See: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gretchen-kelly/the-thing-all-women-do-you-dont-know-about_b_8630416.html#sthashSvFmyyeWdpuf.

[8] Hackman, Rose, “The Struggle to Speak Up: How Women Are Pushed to De-escalate Sexist Incidents,” The Guardian, May 12, 2016. See: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/12/women-sexual-harrassment-sexism-deescalation?CMP=Share_AndroidApp_Gmail.

[9] DiFranco, Annie, “Not a Pretty Girl.” See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cZ-nAfSkW4&list=RD3cZ-nAfSkW4#t=50.