Arundhati Roy, Indian author and activist once said:
‘Another world is not only possible, she’s on her way …. On a quiet day, if I listen very carefully I can hear her breathing.’ (Roy 2004:xii)
Arundhati Roy was speaking at the 2003 World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil.
I have been looking for this new world ever since I first heard about Arundhati’s speech and writings; and, during these last few weeks I have been thinking about Arundhati Roy and her profound work of witnessing and standing in solidarity with the outcasts in India over decades. I have been thinking about her and her work while reciting my Lenten prayers in the Daily Offices, which include the following sentences:
In these forty days you lead us into the desert of repentance that in this pilgrimage of prayer we might learn to be your people once more….Be with us in these journey days for without you we are lost and will perish…(APBA 1995:436)
My grief is vast and my tears keep coming as I reflect on the experience of women around the world. I feel lost and I am perishing. I am being disappeared and gaslighted along with half the human race. It is being done with kindness and patriarchy, with vindictiveness and excoriating resentment, with wilful blindness and privileged arrogance, with entitled carelessness and deliberation.
I am overwhelmed with the endless examples, stories, experiences and painful truths about the endemic, rampant, unconcealed misogyny, sexism, violence and patriarchy exercised freely and without apology throughout our world, in Australia, in our church and in our families and lives. It is evident everywhere as it is being lived by half the human race upon the other half without a second thought.
I have learned in articles on the struggle for justice for women, this decades, this millennial struggle is the equivalent of living with the trauma of war. I was horrified as I absorbed this piece of information in the last few weeks. The obscenity of finding myself comparing the unimaginable horror of war either as a veteran or as a refugee with my life as a privileged white woman living in a white male-centric democracy has left me stunned and angry.
The journalist went on to explain: so often the violence we experience is done by an intimate partner, someone we know, a neighbour, work colleague or family friend. The knowledge and experience of knowing the person whom we have trusted who would behave so dreadfully towards us adds another layer of awareness and terror to the repeated experiences from both friend and stranger alike.
Like women around the world, I have been catcalled in the street, I have walked to my car or my front door with my keys in my hand clenched through my white knuckles. I have looked over my shoulder at where the footsteps are coming from and crossed the road. I have been discriminated against in job hunting and in career moves; and I am one of the lucky privileged ones, which tells me how awful and dreadful a world it is for those less privileged than me.
I have been assaulted and shocked as I name for the first time what happened to me many years ago as a young woman and acknowledge the grief arising from the experience. I have been stalked and harassed and unable to take action. I know my age and the wrinkles which I am accumulating with some rapidity these days are no protection. My tears flow as I look around the world and my community with sad, grieving eyes and heart and wonder when it might ever end.
As I talk to concerned men who genuinely seek to be and do this differently, I don’t yet hear loudly enough or see their outrage or anger at what is happening to women. I hear them acknowledging what has happened as they try to make sense of the changes around them but I don’t yet hear their deep commitment to change other men and boys around them or their own thinking and behaviour in any meaningful way. Kind and generous men without insight and understanding are paving the way to hell for each of us.
Our politicians are indescribable and their refusal to engage reminds me once again, the other world I used to hear breathing when I was listening very carefully, may not be alive anymore as she has gone silent, probably disappeared, and her whereabouts remains unknown in these uncertain, angry, saddened days.
It is still women doing the heavy lifting in our society, bearing the burden of the violence and discrimination while they are seeking to change the culture the men don’t want changed.
I wonder repeatedly why we haven’t been able to change the world to embrace equity and justice and peace. Why and how is it possible men still continue to control governments, companies, churches, systems, structures, economics, politics, education, health, housing, welfare and culture? How might women and men change these for the better for everyone?
I want to find a way forward that is fit for purpose for all of us around the world and in this country, in our homes, churches and communities. We are better than this. And God, our own God of love is left weeping in the kitchen as she is dragged out and hung out to die.
Simone de Beauvoir commented over 70 years ago in the Second Sex on the realisation women had never learned to gather together to resist actively, rather they gathered around their men to support them in their lives on whatever battlefront they were engaged. Women did not know how to do this for themselves with other women.
This has changed. This is what I saw in the March4Justice. I believe we need to continue our marches together, young and old, black and white, trans, disabled, rich and poor, in all our languages, within all our cultures and across all faiths, and show our determination not to be silent so we may together change the lives of everyone in the world. God came for the whole world as we are all beloved of God. We need to acknowledge our intersectional lives defined and understood through our lived experience of race, class, gender, education, sexuality, language, culture as we work through this issue of justice for women and another world to come into view.
In the meantime, we’re living in a graveyard of women’s lives. The unnamed tombstones litter our memories for each act of violence as a little bit more of us dies. They bear witness to our suffering. The rate of femicide is bordering on the genocidal.
For women who are black, their level of pain and suffering is beyond anything I can imagine as they are othered into oblivion through humiliation, shame, contempt and punishment. I cannot write for them, I can only listen and learn and witness in solidarity wherever I may.
I am poured out like water in my shameful nakedness, humiliated as my flesh is objectified; and all my bones are out of joint. My heart within my breast is like melting wax. My mouth is dried up like a desert and my tongue clings to my gums as my throat is strangled so I am silenced and suffocated. My hands and my feet are tied, and you lay me in the dust of death. For many men are come about me: a band of evildoers hem me in. I can count all my bones, as they stand staring and gazing upon me. (Based on Psalm 22:14-18):
Our humanity is denied, hollowed out, objectified, numbered, catalogued and dissected. We are reduced, silenced, disappeared and treated with the utmost contempt. We are vilified, discriminated, judged, always found wanting and cast out; we are put out with the trash for collection to the rubbish tip.
But in these days and times, I want to thank the women who answered the call to March4Justice, the call for #BlackLivesMatter, the call to #MeToo. There will be more, and we will be there, and we will not go away.
And the next time a woman makes a complaint, pushes back and resists being silenced by those who enable perpetrators to continue and remain among us, let us make sure you and I are standing there beside this strong, brave woman who is being denigrated or harassed, let us be with her when she asks for justice, for action, let us add our voices to hers as she demands change, as she’s asking for herself and for all of us; and when there is no response, bring in others alongside us and her, to demand change. Let us not be silent until this is done!
The Prayer of Confession:
O Christ, in whose body was named all the violence of the world, and in whose memory is contained our profoundest grief, we lay open to you: the violence done to us in time before memory; the unremembered wounds that have misshaped our lives; the injuries we cannot forget and have not forgiven. The remembrance of them is grievous to us; the burden of them is intolerable.
We lay open to you: the violence done in our name in time before memory; the unremembered wounds we have inflicted; the injuries we cannot forget and for which we have not been forgiven. The remembrance of them is grievous to us; the burden of them is intolerable.
We lay open to you: those who have pursued a violent knowledge the world cannot forget; those caught up in violence they have refused to name; those who have enacted violence which they have not repented. The remembrance of them is grievous to us; the burden of them is intolerable.
We lay open to you: the victims of violence whose only memorial is our anger; those whose suffering was sustained on our behalf; those whose continued oppression provides the ground we stand on. The remembrance of them is grievous to us; the burden of them is intolerable.
We turn to you, O God; we renounce evil; we claim your love; we choose to be made whole. (APBA 1995:200-201)
The Lord be with you.
Anglican Prayer Book of Australia. 1995. Broughton Publishing, Victoria, Australia.
De Beauvoir, S. 1988: The Second Sex. Picador Classics, London
Roy, A. 2004: The Chequebook and the Cruise-Missile. Harper Perennial, London.