Monday, July 9, 2012

Modern-day Sex Slavery & High Profile Predators

When a link is created between social status and ideas of familiarity, persons who attain to levels of social status based on positions of authority held in a society are considered as safer and less dangerous than persons of lower social status.  The elite and persons of authority in any society or community are as capable of violence against women and girls as are any other members of a society.  In the story of the brutal rape of the Levite's concubine in chapter 17 of the biblical book of Judges, the dissonance between the concubine and the Levite’s social status are clear.  Although both the Levite and his concubine are anonymous, their social class is foregrounded.  God consecrated the Levites to serve as priests (Num 1:48-54), but concubines are sex slaves used in the service of men and women (Gen 16; 25:6; 35:22; Ex 21:7-11). The foregrounding of the Levite’s social position within Israel in the story is similarly achieved in the preceding story of the unnamed Levite (Judges 17-18) and the unnamed Levite in the “Good Samaritan” story at Luke 10:32.  Perhaps, like the Levite in the story of the “Good Samaritan,” the Levite in our story is unnamed because he might represent anyone within established religious circles and leadership.  The fact that this unnamed man is identified as a Levite might prejudice some readers in favor of the Levite so that they are willing to overlook or mitigate any questionable behavior attributed to him.  Or the Levite’s status may motivate some readers to view the concubine as the guilty party in the marriage because she is of lower class status. The narrative and textual ambiguity as to precisely why she left her husband might contribute to such a reading.

Familiarity based on social position fosters the notion that persons holding authoritative and respected positions in a community (neighborhood, church or parish) can be trusted more so than persons of lower social position or class.  According to David Batstone, “we do not expect to find [modern-day slavery] in ‘respectable’ settings.  To learn that slave holders press children into forced labor in the cacao plantations of the Ivory Coast may not surprise us.  But we regard it as unthinkable that an otherwise upstanding citizen might be a slaveholder.”[i] (We believe we are far removed from the time when a country such as the U.S. or South Africa deemed it legally and morally acceptable for “respectable” citizens to own slaves.)  A prime example is Kim Meston who, wishes that she had not been so invisible to her New England community.  In a rural town near Worcester, Massachusetts, the minister of the local church used her as his domestic sex slave for five years without raising the slightest suspicion in the community.  At the age of sixteen, Kim began a double life in America.  Everything would have appeared normal to the casual observer—she attended the local high school, ran on the track team, and attended church on Sundays.  The minister even had a wife and a stepdaughter living in his home.  But behind closed doors, she became the household servant, doing nearly all the cooking, housecleaning, ironing, and even tending the church grounds.  Moreover, the minister sexually abused Kim frequently over a five-year period.[ii]

We have all heard of or know of high profile predators. We must stop making excuses for and relaxing the boundaries that would protect our children
from people (of high and/or low social standing) who might physically or verbally abuse them. We should not make assumptions about their safety based on social status. We have to be proactive in setting up boundaries, asking for background checks, and taking primary responsibility for their safety and well-being. And we must be vigilant keeping our eyes open for all God's children.

[i] Batstone, Not for Sale,7.

[ii] Batstone, Not for Sale, 7-8.  Kim was brought to the U.S. by a church minister visiting southern India from the U.S..  Her parents were Tibetan exiles living in a refugee camp when the minister offered to bring Kim to America  and provide a better life and education for her, promising to treat her like his own daughter.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Feminist and Feminism are not double four letter words!

Not all feminists think or act the same.  But very simply understood, a feminist is a woman or man (yes, male feminists exist) who believes that women are human beings too. And as human beings, women or females deserve to be treat with the same consideration, freedoms, privileges, and benefits as their male human counterparts.  Feminism is a political and human rights movement that seeks to raise the consciousness of men and women about systems of domination that oppress people because of their gender, race or class (and other categories of oppression). The system of domination that oppresses persons based on their female gender is generally called patriarchy.  Feminism is a movement to end sexism and sexist exploitation. It is a movement to end violence against women and all forms of violence.  
It was the feminist movement that fought for and won the right for women to vote.  It is because of the feminist movement that women can work outside of their homes and earn a wage. (Of course, black women have had to work outside of the “home” as slaves long before the women’s suffrage movement of the nineteenth century.)  Many two parent homes benefit from two incomes and are able to provide for their families in ways that one income might not permit.  A man does not have to bear total responsibility for the welfare of his family, particularly in a bad economy or in a system in which some men are underemployed, underpaid, last hired, and first fired.  I remember visiting a church with my then husband in Chattanooga. This particular denomination of the church we visited that day generally has a strong patriarchal theo/ideologies about women and men’s roles in church and society. This was the denomination my now ex husband grew up in. That Sunday the pastor preached that men as heads of the household should bear sole responsibility for the household; that if his wife works, she should be able to do whatever she wants with her money (shop it away, regardless of bills that need paying). As quick as we sat down, my now ex said, “let’s go.” 
Anyone raised in a single-parent, female-headed household should be grateful that his or her parent could work and earn a decent wage.  It is because of the feminist movement that families have legal access to birth control of many forms and can therefore generally plan when and how many children they will conceive. It is because of the feminist movement and the courage of individual women that women can enroll in colleges and universities and pursue dreams and degrees that tradition, fueled by patriarchal ideology and not divine ordination, had reserved for men.  As bell hooks writes “Feminist politics aims to end domination to free us to be who we are. . . . Feminism is for everybody.”
God did not create two unequal human beings: Male and female created God them. God gave them the responsibility of taking care of the earth that God entrusted to them.  To point primarily to the story of God taking a rib from the Adam (the human being) as a sign of women’s subordination or submissiveness to men or to the story of the curse after the “fall” in the garden of Eden is to dismiss the rest of the story.  God did not consider God’s self a suitable partner for Adam.  It was about being of the same species or kind; it was not a matter of subordination or an inferior flesh. Why not take a rib? Why “reinvent the wheel” when all God had to do was put the “wheel” to sleep? God created them in the image of God! And the feminist or womanist [see Alice Walker's In Our Mother's Gardens where she defines womanist/womanish] movement is about existentially, socially (and soul-cially) and politically reaffirming that image in women and minorities despite operative patriarchal ideologies and constructed theologies to the contrary. Women deserve equal pay for equal work.  Feminists/womanists are not about emasculating men (which I might add is only possible if a man’s masculinity resides outside of himself in the form of traditional roles constructed on women’s backs). We are about empowering women to live and freely express their full God-given humanity.  We are about engendering the wholeness and health of the entire community.