Brothers, Are You With Us?


You wouldn’t know it from this blog, but I’m a huge football fan. I’m one of those who get the shakes right after the Superbowl because of withdrawal. I was angry when they moved the Probowl because it meant the Superbowl really was the “end” of the season (and it no longer fell on my birthday weekend). The preseason for me is like that first swig of wine you take after a long day at work. All of that excitement has been muted this season.

I haven’t been able to reconcile my love of the game with the message the NFL has sent to women in its two-game suspension of Ray Rice, after it came to light that he knocked his then-fiance unconscious. Yesterday new video of the incident from inside the elevator surfaced, and confronted with the brutality of it, the Ravens have cut Rice and the NFL has suspended him indefinitely.

From the beginning, many of us decried the two game suspension as a slap on the wrist, especially compared with longer suspensions that have been handed down for everything from substance abuse, DUIs, and dog fighting. Knocking a woman unconscious apparently isn’t as egregious an offense. I hope you hear my sarcasm.

Coupled with that paltry penalty had been the re-victimization of Rice’s now wife. Many male friends and colleagues (and, to a lesser extent, female ones) were asking what she could have possibly done to have provoked her own abuse. Speculation abounded as to what happened before, even though we had Rice’s own confession of what happened, as well as the video from outside the elevator showing him carrying her unconscious body. Even that wasn’t enough for a unilateral rebuke of what he did or a tougher sanction from his employer. We had to ask what she said to “make” him do it. We had to ask why she stayed. We had to make her guilty, too.

I’m tired of fighting this fight. I’m tired of explaining why victims shouldn’t be victimized. I’m tired of explaining why it isn’t their fault. I’m tired of having to rationalize why a young black teen shouldn’t have to pay with his life for walking in the middle of a street. I’m tired of having to explain why it’s not okay for a group of boys to sexually assault an inebriated teen girl at a party (and to document the whole thing on social media). I’m tired of having to explain that under no circumstances is it ever okay to knock your loved one unconscious.

Brothers, what is it going to take for you to be on our side?

What is it going to take for you to understand how frustrating it is for us to have to relive these stories of women in the overbearing shadows of their abusers time and time again? Where is the widespread outcry among the fraternal organizations on issues of domestic violence? When will you educate others on the 40-years-worth of research we’ve had on battered person syndrome instead of using this woman’s allegiance to this man as an excuse for his violence toward her? When will I see male support of these issues the way I see the sisters rally around the families and communities of young black men who are killed simply for being young black men?

Christian brothers, when will you start challenging the Bible’s assertion that you are to have dominion over my body — that it is yours? When are you going to be sensitized to the patriarchal Sitz im Leben from which these texts came and hold them to the light of spiritual revelation and good ol’ common sense? I know you can do it, because you’ve done it when the Bible seemed to condone slavery. When is that same scrutiny going to apply to us?

Brothers, are you with us? Because right now, it sure doesn’t feel like it.

Why I Need Feminism… and Womanism, and Civil Rights, and…

“Struggle is a never ending process. Freedom is never really won, you earn it and win it in every generation.” – Coretta Scott King

I was very saddened to learn from a recent Buzzfeed article that there is a Tumblr/Facebook page called “Women Against Feminism.”

I’m not sad that anyone (women in particular) would critique feminism. Plenty have, and have done so cogently and thoughtfully. My issue with such a page is that it doesn’t actually offer critiques of feminism. It instead critiques a distortion of feminism. It critiques what are in actuality the stereotypes associated with feminism as if they are feminism itself. For example:

“I don’t need feminism because… I respect men and don’t need to belittle them to empower myself.”

You’ve just played into the biggest misconception and distortion of feminism, because for centuries — millennia, even — the empowerment of men was built on the belittling and subjugation of women. So any movement that seeks to counter that must inherently employ the same tactics in reverse, right? Wrong. Feminism advocates for the equality of women and an egalitarian society in which neither men nor women are subjugated.

“I don’t need feminism because… I respect all humans, not just one gender.”

So does feminism. In fact, that is the very definition of feminism. Again, feminism is… let me just let bell hooks tell it: “Simply put, feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression. This was a definition of feminism I offered in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center more than 10 years ago. It was my hope at the time that it would become a common definition everyone would use. I liked this definition because it did not imply that men were the enemy.” I emphasized the last part myself because it’s important.

“I don’t need feminism because… I am equal in America.”

Because one day, American patriarchy magically woke up, realized it was doing the women folk dirty, and corrected itself. Do you know how many of those feminists who you don’t need — women and men — had to speak up before you had the right to vote? Or the right to run for office? Or even the ability to obtain a driver’s license? And in 2014, women are still paid less than men for doing the same work. What strides we’ve made in gender equality are thanks in no small part to those feminists, so this point is moot. If you are equal in any regard, you have feminism to thank. And you still need feminism if the last bastions of inequality are to ever be breached.

The “Women Against Feminism” page highlights what I’ve observed as the disconnection between many of today’s young adults and the struggles of the past that have afforded them every opportunity they currently enjoy. They believe in the Utopian society that their forebearers dreamed and fought for, but they also believe we’ve already achieved that end. They are either ignorant of how we have made our current strides or seem to believe that things have always been this way (which, considering their age, is actually true for them). Furthermore, they’ve bought into the idea that anyone who continues to point out lingering inequalities is somehow perpetuating the problem or keeping alive the contentions of the past.

This happens whenever we talk about feminism, womanism, racism, LGBT rights, immigration, or have any other discussion in which hegemony is called to the carpet. Since blacks and whites don’t have to drink from separate water fountains anymore, somehow race relations have sufficiently improved. Well, they’ve certainly improved, but sufficiently? It’s hard to think so when racial disparity still occurs in hiring, college admissions, and incarcerations.

I don’t know if this mentality exists because these young adults genuinely want to believe they live in a better world than that of their parents, or if acknowledging that we still have work to do would endow them with a responsibility they don’t want. Previous generations have fought, been jailed, and even died for what they believe in. Many of them have never had to take such a stand for the greater good. Their lives have for the most part been about what they want and aspire to be and have.

Whatever the reasons are for this aversion, let me go on record saying that I need feminism. Especially and preeminently in the Church, I need feminism. Whereas many churches conduct purity balls for their teen girls with no correlating event for boys, I need feminism. Whereas the Church  heavily depends on and benefits from the dedicated service of women in every area of the church except its leadership, I need feminism. Whereas the Church’s empowerment of women includes helping  them be good wives and mothers (or patiently single) but excludes advocating for their equal treatment under the laws of the land and the Church, I need feminism. Whereas the Church has been loud about sexual health and behavior, but silent on sexual violence, I need feminism.

I need feminism because if there truly is no male or female and we are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28), I need Christ’s church to act like it. I need feminism and womanism and civil rights so that justice can really roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24). I need them until I don’t need them anymore — and if such a day even exists, I know all too well that today is not it.