It's All In Her GenesSusan Russell, Senior Associate at All Saints Church, Pasadena, posted this wee ditty on her blog, having been first alerted by Mary Glasspool, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of LA. Someone named "John" identified the author as a "female octogenarian" in the comment section of Susan's blog.
It's all in her genes
She likes to say
Won't go away.
Yes, look from behind
To see what she means
No doubt that you'll find
It's all in her JEANS.
- Anonymous Ancient Egyptian
Now, one might find this little poem vaguely amusing, considering the source. One might even be impressed by the somewhat clever interplay of "genes" and "jeans". One might be further impressed by the use of the word "avoirdupois" - unless, of course, one is a fan of Scrabble or the NY Times Crossword puzzle in particular or of wordsmithing in general.
One might expect such a poem to appear on the pages of the AARP or in a newsletter which features works by people of that generation.
One does not expect something like this to appear in a publication like The Anglican Digest which declares its mission as
"Our goal is to connect the Church by gathering articles that tell the vital story of our faith.TAD, whose "pocket-size pages are made up of some things old, some things new, most things borrowed, everything true," has been around since 1958. It is published bimonthly by SPEAK, the Society for Promoting and Encouraging the Arts and Knowledge (of the Church) at Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
The material in each issue is for a varied audience and includes ministry ideas for clergy and laity, devotional and historical material, as well as humor and news briefs from around the Anglican Communion."
The Editor is the Rev'd Dr. Kendall Harmon, Canon Theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina and well known across the broad spectrum of the church as an outspoken "orthodox" critic of The Episcopal Church and her "progressive" leadership. We have Dr. Harmon to thank for coining the now ubiquitous if not odious and annoying and essentially inaccurate terms "reasserter" ("conservative" or "orthodox") and "revisionist" ("liberal" or "progressive").
Its web page states that the "market" of TAD is "the entire Church, clergy and lay, those highly theologically educated and 'babes in Christ'."
So, as a somewhat highly theologically educated babe. . . in Christ, of course, I took laptop in hand and wrote to Dr. Harmon.
After quoting the offensive poem, I wrote
I don't know what I find more objectionable and offensive - the obvious sexism of the "poem" or the fact that the author is hiding behind a pseudonym.I have not received an apology. I'm not holding my breath.
We have had our theological and political differences in the past, Kendall, but I've always experienced you as a gentleman.
I rely on that personal experience as I anticipate a full apology.
As National Convener of The Episcopal Women's Caucus, I insist on one.
"Wait, what's the big deal?" someone is asking. "It's a little poem - perhaps in bad taste - but it's not like it's the end of the world."
Well, yes. Yes, in fact, it is. Some of us are trying to end of the world of the prominent social paradigm of patriarchy which is resisting its long-overdue but eventual death with every fiber of its still considerable muscle.
There's a word for this. It's called "micro-oppression."
Micro-oppression is subtle, not as obvious and therefore harder to point out or confront than oppression. Sexist micro-oppression occurs frequently and has a tendency to wear a person down over time. All micro-oppression tends to be “invisible” and we often experience the cumulative effect of it as tension between ourselves.
Micro-oppression is death by a thousand paper cuts.
This poem has a particular sting because the mis-education of a woman of a particular generation was published by an otherwise reputable Christian journal.
In December, 1987, in an essay entitled "Spirituality: An African View", Dr. Clarence Glover wrote:
"The greatest weapon that the oppressor has in his hand is the mind of the oppressed."Media often reduces women to objects of sexual desire and not much else. Women are still seen as the bearer of children and the home maker. Little girls are socialized at a young age to look pretty for men so they can fulfill the life long dream of finding that husband, having that wedding and making those babies.
Now, being a wife and a mother is a noble calling, to be sure, but one person's nobility can be another person's shackles.
When you have been brought up with shame and guilt because you are "the weaker sex," - when you are barraged daily by subtle and not-so-subtle messages and images about the shape and form of a "perfect" woman's body - even "innocent little poems" like this make it easy to give in to the despair and the daunting odds of reversing your negative civil rights and social situation.
Thomas Jefferson said, "The price of liberty is eternal vigilance".
It's the small, unexpected appearances of sexism which require vigilance - and persistence.
Yes, it's tedious, thankless work. Yes, it is work that is often misunderstood and criticized or minimized and dismissed as insignificant. It is especially painful when other women - knowingly or unknowingly - are the vehicles of micro-oppression.
The price of liberty is worth it. To quote that national hair care product for women: "Because you're worth it." And, so are our children - male and female - who are also being shaped and formed by a culture which is still deeply imbued with the sometimes indelible stains of oppression and micro-oppression.
We may be "babes in Christ" but our baptismal vows charge us to "grow into the full stature of Christ," and to "respect the dignity of every human being."
That journey can lead us, in the words of Martin Smith, to the "crucifyingly obscure boundaries of our faith."
So, put on your 'jeans' and allow the 'genes' of your faith to carry you forward into that journey - no matter the shape 'avoirdupois' lends to that which is behind you.