There is a significant, seismic shift in the behaviour of many people in the English speaking world, with access to social media who have taken advantage of their capacity to shed the common courtesies when speaking ‘invisibly’. The ability to ‘shout’ in writing and texting at some faceless, hidden opponent who has no apparent power or capacity to respond has spilled over, time and again, into the public domain in recent months and years, in ways that are unpleasant, terrifying, malevolent, violent and cruel. The increasingly public nature of such abuse is disconcerting and breathtaking in its turbo-charged, insistent, hammering of a particular style of hate and misogyny, which continues to escalate exponentially. The shock of such behaviour catches people off balance repeatedly, particularly if they choose not to respond in kind. The repetitive impact of such abuse and bullying is traumatic and causes long term spiritual, emotional and mental health damage.
The shift in standards of what is acceptable has changed how people write, speak and behave in measurable, discernible ways, in public and private and anything goes in the marketplace.
The recent sexualised verbal abuse and the verbal and physical misconduct by politicians in recent days and months, online, face-to-face, in the reporting and the stories being told, fit solidly within this description. It feels like raw sewage has spilled out of the gutters and is running freely down the street and no-one is paying attention as we become accustomed and inured to it all.
I have also been reflecting on the way kind, generous, thoughtful men continue to be contentedly privileged and wilfully, deliberately blind and deaf to the nuances of their own behaviour which feeds the general tone and character of the debate and leaves women nowhere to go in responding other than always being the one who waits, listens, tries to speak, find the right time and is consequently ignored, criticised, critiqued, patronised, loved and isolated, excluded.
In recent days and weeks, I have been told repeatedly how good it is to have male leaders – ‘thank God’ I am told, with relief and asked to share in the relief and celebration. All will be well. This has been said by men who prefer men in positions of authority and who are unable to accept and tolerate female leaders without discomfort, pushback, discourtesies, subtle rudeness and ignorance, jokes in bad taste, exclusion, and the constant put-downs which speak to their inability to imagine a world with women as equals.
I have recently been re-reading Martin Luther King and other writers of the Third Way, the non-violent activist way of living as a Christian and I wondered what it would be like to apply such principles to those who still see gender as a defining characteristic that overrides all other considerations of merit, capacity, intellect and love.
I am weary of being treated as a second-class citizen in a world which sees all women through patriarchal, sexist eyes and ears. The privileged view of gender drives our understanding of poverty and economics, education, employment, health, parenting, housing, the legal systems and the acceptance of all forms of violence, child abuse, family violence, gun control, and our defence strategies. Gender determines Government budgets and priorities. Gender sets Government policies, and the increasing loss of control by people with such thinking and this worldview, is fuelling the lack of humanity in our treatment of others who are different such as with our First Nation peoples, our asylum seeker and refugee policies which are so vindictive and cruel, our slavery and human trafficking laws, our woeful foreign aid spending, and in our inability to see we are continuing to entrench patriarchal, sexist behaviour around the world which props up and feeds such an abuse of power.
It feels like such behaviours have become worse and more entrenched in recent years, rather than better. For every achievement and celebrations when we break new ground, there is constant undermining and pullback reinforcing the gender divide. It highlights our work as Christians, we who have not been able to see all people as unique and special in the eyes of God, created equally by God, let alone been able to take this message to the rest of the world. There is a deep sadness to such a reflection, and in plain sight of such powerlessness is my own commitment to continue to work where I can, with whatever I can, to shift, change, educate, listen, learn and try again. This is a place of activism and the shared pain with other women; and a demand that we work together on the issues I have named in defiance of such naming and categorising, working together on the long list of social injustices that take my breath away as with those in our asylum seeker concentration camps; until we see with such eyes the shared, equal humanity which brings us altogether, the larger, inclusive kingdom of God will be elusive. God’s kingdom has no passports or gender, race or wealth as the entry requirements. However, it is elusive because it is not on this ground, this issue where we should linger or be distracted as the good news is much bigger. It is open to all humanity and all of God’s creation. Disrespecting God’s creation whether from a gender perspective or simply from a lack of care and concern for our world and for all people comes from the same fear and withdrawal from a relationship with God. Let us stand and witness to the Kingdom where all are welcome.