Words || Anonymous
Let me chronicle my experience as a woman for you.
I grew up in a conservative church where, by the age of 17, I was already looking for prospective husbands because I was afraid of being left on the shelf. As my friends began to get married, I was so worried that I would run out of options, that deep down I was simply looking for the best choice. I wasn’t looking for qualities that I liked, I was just looking for the nicest looking goldfish in a very small pond (you see, it was taboo to marry outside the church). I felt like my existence was solely predicated on the value I could add as a wife and mother.
Growing up, I was naturally inquisitive and grappled with the concept of feminism, attempting to marry it to the beliefs of my church. I would ask: “Why can’t women preach?” over and over and over, to different men and women, and got answers ranging from, “It’s not their place” to “God hasn’t given them the ability,” to the real kicker – “They’re too emotional.” All of this I accepted with teary eyes and something stuck in my throat. I didn’t want to question what I was being told, I wanted to submit to a god and future husband. But I just didn’t know why. Then one day, in the back of the car, I was arguing at the age of 13 or 14 about the rights of women. I don’t remember how the argument started but I do know that it was recurring, especially on the way to church. This particular event stands out in my memory because this statement still rattles around in my mind from time to time, bobbing up when I am confronted with barriers set up only for women. My stepfather turned to me and said, “Women are important, but men are vital.” That closed the argument because how can you come back from that? When the man in power tells you outright that you truly are lesser than, how can you argue?
My church would go out into the streets and hand out flyers. I remember the wife of a Pastor once mentioning that not a lot of women had been responsive to the marketing. “Oh well,” she remarked, “I guess it’s more important to have more men in church anyway.” WHY? I thought. At the time, I believed this outreaching to be a matter of life and death, the choice between Heaven and Hell. Why was she so flippant about the lack of women going to Heaven? I asked my stepfather on our way home, and while I can’t remember his words, I remember the sentiment, “Men are more important.”
The church would often hold male-only events. Once a month, a men’s night was held to which women were openly not welcome and the running joke was that when wives asked their husbands what had been done that night, the answer was “Nothing interesting.” Over quarantine, these events were held online. Before beginning the message, the preacher made an announcement to ensure that women weren’t watching. Upon checking the statistics after the video was posted, he remarked that 2-3% of viewers were women (shock horror), to which one woman blushed and admitted it was her who had sat in on the secret men’s business. When I enquired as to why women couldn’t sit in on these talks and seminars, the preacher replied with “Aww, probably 1 out of 100 meetings would just not be appropriate for women.” Women, on the other hand, were afforded few womens-only meetings a year, and these were not periodically scheduled, but individually organised events for specific purposes. During high school, when I wanted to organise more events for women, I was told that I would be organising it myself and when I wanted to know why women didn’t have the same access to events, I was met with 2 answers, “They don’t need it” or “They’re too busy for it, with kids and stuff.”
Pastors would preach on Mother’s Day about the hope single mothers have in finding a husband. “It’s not too late for you!” they’d claim as they point out other women in the crowd who found themselves in similar positions and got married to men who accepted their kids, my mother included. These men were dashing heroes, portrayed as Josephs, champions of faith and family.
Feminists were sidelined along with witches and gays. They were dangerous, heathens, and spiteful. Why would you want to be bitter when you could sit happily in submission to the man that a male god chose for you. God told him he had to love you – aren’t you happy with that?
When I asked some of the men in church why and how women came to be in these positions, I was met with notions of God’s plan and the importance of different roles. But when I asked women, the resounding response was that we are too emotional, and we should trust men more than we do ourselves.
Since leaving the church, my mindset and attitude towards other women and being a woman has changed more than I could have anticipated, and at times with shocking force. As I moved away from religion and leaned into questions I had been asking for years, I found myself being ripped from a place where I didn’t expect answers and sat in tepid waters of mediocrity, soundproofing my life from possibilities outside of what was known. It was dangerously comfortable, and hard to escape. My experience as a woman in the past is nobody’s fault. It is not the fault of ignorant men, nor of ignorant women. But my salvation can be accredited to men and women who encouraged my questions and helped me find answers to the best of their ability. “What am I doing here?” I bristled at my Pastor’s wife a few years ago. “There’s no need to be nasty,” she retorted. Well actually, there is, because being nasty gets shit done.