#MeToo

I am heartbroken.  I cannot bear the weight of my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook feed… and yet, I must. We all must.  We must look full in the face of the parade of #MeToo posts.

We must see, and be changed.

We must listen to the women and girls, and some men, telling their truths, bravely drawing aside the curtain to reveal their scars.

Almost all the women I know have a story of abuse, from the brutish and violent to the excused “boys will be boys” or the laughed-off workplace violation. There are no socioeconomic barriers to the systemic nature of these stories, they have happened in schools, bars, churches and locker rooms, at universities, bus stops, internships, doctor’s offices, and workplaces around the globe.  The common denominator? The devaluation of women, of her right to ownership of her body. The systematic shaming that forces her into silence until something so egregious happens that she is forced to tell her story out loud.

We’ve all heard it:

“It’s a compliment, love!”,

“You’re a tease, what did you expect?”

“Don’t make mountain out of a molehill.”

“This is how you get ahead in this biz.”

“You were asking for it… by drinking / flirting / wearing a short skirt / wearing makeup”

How do we make sense of this, how do we answer the competing voices with clarity, bravery and compassion?

This morning I had reached a point in my memoir manuscript which I had merely placed in parentheses “… (X kiss…/ att’d rape.. / rescue).

I couldn’t bring myself to write That Story.  It was too hard, too real.  “No one wants to read that much truth”, my inner voice said. But the flood of #metoo posts gave me courage. Courage to tell this story;

This story, I had been conditioned to believe, was my fault.  Because, in a world quietly dedicated to the comfort and happiness of men, the very fact of being sixteen and at a party, gave a boy two years my senior permission to use his hormone-fueled strength to force himself on me. This story that, but for the care of another boy, who remains a friend to this day, could have ended with me being yet another girl raped at a party.  It is a little over 26 years ago, and yet I can still feel the adrenaline and panic cutting through the wine in my blood stream, I can still feel the bruises blooming on my thighs and abdomen, marks left as he tried to force me into submission. I remember being embarrassed in front of my savior, like I had caused him an inconvenience. I remember being grateful that I wouldn’t have to reveal to my parents what really went on at those “safe” house parties with trusted friends. But, most of all, I remember the shame that I had allowed myself to be in this position.

It was not the first time someone had violated me.  I had already absorbed the message that girls are for boys’ enjoyment, that our primary function was to look pretty, be amenable and available. To disagree with any of the above was to make yourself outcast – a fate worse than death. My erstwhile rapist however, suffered no sanction, he continued to be invited to parties and seeing him would send me straight for the door, or the bar, whichever were closest. I was in the wrong, I had asked for it. So I hid.

I look back over the years and silently chronicle the occasions along with my sisters; from groping in bars and bus queues, to men three times my age ogling and chatting me up while on work experience in a Crown Court, to the almost daily struggle to be seen as a thoughtful, capable, serious human and not just a set of parts to be admired or sexualized.

The most difficult and redeeming thing about writing a memoir is examining our story with clear eyes and thoughtful judgement.  Our history impacts our future, and unless brought into the light and seen, really seen, can haunt our present with its ghosts.  I had, until really recently, internalized a sense of shame and fear around sex, shame that has its genesis on that hot July night in 1991. I was constantly conflicted about being seen as attractive, a simultaneous blessing and curse, especially in Christian ministry. I have carried this baggage well into my walk with Jesus, into my marriage, and as I sit here writing I have to fight the internalized conditioning; the voice shouting at me that I’m making a fuss about nothing.

It ends here. I will tell my stories, and I will fight for women and girls to be protected from experiencing the same. I will raise men who hold their fellow men to a higher standard, and who will believe the women in their lives when they have the courage to tell their story.

My sweet husband sent me this text this morning, and I had to pull over when Siri read it to me:

“You never know how strong you truly are until being strong is your only choice.”

Bob Marley

I am so proud to be part of a community of women who are willing to brave the glare of public scrutiny and tell their stories. Together we are strong. Together we will change the world.

#MeToo

Fight on, sisters. You are seen!

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A “Nasty Woman” and the Enneagram

“What a Nasty Woman!”

This is what we get called when our need for truth-telling outweighs our need for approval.  When the anger, passion and injustice flood over the dam of societal convention that dictates women are to be small, quiet, uncomplicated and, above all, pleasant.

Why is that the first insult leveled at a woman who dares to step out in front and call a spade a spade, or, as in the case of a Mayor Cruz of San Juan, Puerto Rico, a disaster a disaster?   If the Mayor of San Juan were a man, you know the narrative would be different. Just that one word, nasty, has the power to denigrate both a woman’s character and physicality. It is a uniquely misogynistic insult and an unlikely feminist rallying cry.

But a rallying cry it has become.  Embracing your inner “Nasty woman” has been for a while the preserve of the third-wave feminist. Worn with a pink knitted hat, the nasty woman T-shirt is practically a 21st century feminist uniform, declaring opposition to the patriarchal put down in the most elemental way. But what if we, women who don’t fully identify with all the causes of a secular feminist movement, and yet full of vim and vinegar as many of us are, embrace it too?  What does it mean to let the world fully see us? How much better will the world, and yes, even the church, be served when we use our voices and our gifts to full effect.

This is part of my journey in rediscovering my identity. The inner work of shaking off outer conformity requires me to look full into the face of the nasty woman inside. The woman who is loud, opinionated, and often angry in a culture that idolizes the quiet, submissive and gentle woman.  The woman who comes out as a 7 and 8 on the Enneagram; Types exclusively reserved for my Brothers in Christ.  The woman who is ENTJ on Myers Briggs, and DI on the DISC test.

For almost a decade, I have lived in the heart of Bible Belt society, I have learned the ways, tried to conform (mostly unsuccessfully), have thrown myself into “approved” activities and groups, but at every turn, I find that nasty woman rising up and challenging. Not challenging Jesus, but challenging a culture that many small ways (and some large ways) seems to say;

” A good woman would be quiet. An excellent woman would prefer caring for her family over speaking out over injustice. A woman is for the home, for the family, for her husband.  The men don’t need your voice.  Quiet, dear, the men are talking! Isn’t it enough for you to raise Godly children? Be satisfied with your lot. Don’t complicate it, the system is for your good. Be pleasant, that is how you win influence”

And herein lies the rub, most of those things aren’t inherently bad… and if you are reading this, you don’t need me to point out the egregiously misogynistic ones.  But what those voices say, over and over to me is that I am not good, or excellent, or satisfied!

These voices declare that the very nature of me, which, to quote the Enneagram “exemplifies the desire for freedom and variety and for exploring the many rich experiences that life offers. Thus, they are probably the most enthusiastic, extroverted, and outgoing type of the Enneagram….Eights are assertive and passionate about life, meeting it head on with self-confidence and strength. They have learned to stand up for themselves and have a resourceful, “can-do” attitude. They are determined to be self-reliant and free to pursue their own destiny. ” … is unacceptable, is nasty.

I know I am not alone in this.  I also know that this is not everyone’s experience, but in the interest of being a truth-teller, I will risk the inevitable censure of my peers to offer a hand of solidarity to the younger ones coming after me and to say, “Here I am.”

To you, my sweet younger sisters, I say,

“Come, let’s be whole together. Let’s battle and explore and fight injustice. Let’s discover and share and teach, because the world needs you. The world needs your voice, your passion, your creativity and your compassion.  The world is not served by your shrinking but by your blooming into the fullness of the fierce warrior you are created to be!”

Join me

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To the women I met at coffee today…

My favourite coffee shop is always busy on Friday mornings. The quiet self-absorbed hum of weekdays is replaced by laptop-toting high-schoolers, mother and toddler pairings and friends catching up over a hot tea or craft coffee.  The upshot, for this writer, being the requirement to sit in the performance space couches, or the communal table and give up the retreat into my mind for something better, for connection.

As I folded myself into the couch in the corner today, next to a pair of women catching up on their love lives, I tried to mind my own business.  I opened my copy of Love Warrior, by the inimitable Glennon Doyle and started to read.  Reading Glennon is like reading the inside of my own head, my reflections upon which will take up another post (or two).  Reading Love Warrior in a crowded Friday-morning coffee shop is not conducive to quiet reflection, or, for that matter, even to dry eyes.

While my eyes were absorbing my inner teenage life narrative laid bare on the page for all to see, the sounds of my companions’ conversations washed over me… “I just want to get married” … “I’m 30, will I ever find someone?” … “Dating is THE WORST”…”Men just want to have sex, they don’t seem to want me!”.  At this point, I am openly weeping, let it be known that I am an ugly crier, no single tear gently coursing down unwrinkled cheek here.  No! I am the full works; swollen eyes, snot, and flushed snuffling frowning… hardly Friday-morning coffee shop material!

I meet my communal table-mate’s eye, and from I know not where, say,

I just can’t sit here and listen to this, you are worth so much more than you think! I know I don’t know you, but please hear me! You don’t want to get married! You want to be seen!  Marriage doesn’t necessarily mean being loved, but it can be the seal placed on a relationship of two who are fully seen and fully loved.

Our conversation was brief. We don’t know each other. We didn’t arrange to meet up again, but the encounter stayed with me. It raised more questions than it answered.  The stories of dates where within minutes, both parties have shuttered themselves up behind their own insecurities, the revelation that life is short following a cancer scare, the fear of being “left on the shelf”, while simultaneously seeing friends become increasingly trapped in controlling marriages, it was all too familiar.  In five minutes of vulnerability, we three strangers connected more deeply than many long-term boyfriends had, so afraid are women to show their true selves for fear of rejection.

I wish I could have had a day to love on these young women, to share how much they are undervaluing themselves, to chip away at the years of hiding and insecurities and let them glimpse the other side of the curtain of expectations that demand we follow the rules, that we be small, quiet and uncomplicated.  The Other Side, where women live large, loud, complex lives of abandon, where they follow their passions, serve their communities and the world is better because of them.

Dear Sisters,

I want for you, lives lived out loud, lives of consuming passion for your world and for people who SEE you, and love you in all your wild, broken complexity. I hope we meet again, but in the meantime, I hope you seek out voices that free you, that give you wings. Voices like Glennon, and the incomparable Brené Brown, wonderful, flawed, gracious women like Jen Hatmaker, and artists with the gift of honesty and self-compassion like Amena Brown and Nichole Nordeman. I hope we meet again and share our stories, to encourage one another to live boldly in a world that wants us small but needs us to be large.

Grace and Peace, 

Your Sister, Ally.