February 06, 2009

Speaking for Equality, Holding One's Place

At yesterday's lecture on "Women in Religious History" about 100 people attended:  10 or 12 were men and the rest women.  The mean age was about 80, except for a scattering of about 8 or 10 young women in their 20's who may have accompanied their grand or great-grandparents.  Someone saw an elevator full of women alight on the auditorium level and commented:  "An elevator load of feminists!"  Simply looking at the group, you would not think this, as they appeared quite conservative.  I trembled slightly to think of what I was about to say by way of patriarchy and self-authorization, but as the talk went on, heads began to nod in agreement and the way was quite smooth and receptive.  It was very clear in the lecture that patriarchy is a system we have learned but is a system that causes suffering.  Men and women need one another and we need equality.

At one point, I commented that I had seen the acclaimed "John Adams" docudrama and mentioned how strongly Abigail Adams had supported her husband, researching and writing for him when needed, along with keeping the household and raising the children.  At one point in their story but not in the video, John Adams is called away, yet again, to participate in writing important legislation and he and Abigail maintain their correspondence.  The legislators are taking up the matter of slavery, and Adams, who was an abolitionist, tries to find language in support of the humanity of slaves.  Abigail writes back to him saying that she knows he will find the right language, but she also hopes he will find a way to speak on behalf of the rights of women, particularly because of the gross mistreatment of women by their tyrannical husbands.  Adams finds this terribly amusing and dismisses her entirely saying, "Depend on it, we know better than to repeal our Masculine system."  So, another 100 years goes by before the Woman's Suffrage Movement finds its voice.

At another talk recently, I said that I thought the current writing of the John Adams script missed a great chance to bring Abigail Adam's feminist attitudes into focus by including this incident in the video.  It would have taken only a few moments to do so in the script and it would have served to point out issues of oppression that extended beyond the obvious.  Afterward, a young woman came up to me and said that she had not heard anyone talk about women's rights in such a long time, she thought perhaps the public discussion was finished.  It reminded that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. taught that matters of oppression must be addressed by every generation.  We cannot hide from them, nor forget them, ever.  

I say that each one must be willing to stand for equality on her or his own ground and save that much of the world from the tyranny of privilege, power and oppression.  If we speak for just the space under our own feet, we speak for the whole world.  Rosa Parks spoke quietly but firmly for only one seat on the bus and she brought the nation to change.  Look out today for one small, gentle, life-changing opportunity.