Image by Yoram Raanan
"The painting began as a beautiful abstract landscape. Wanting to find something greater, the artist painted over the previous painting and a huge wave emerged, like a wall of water. This opened a new pathway through the sea. As a gentle light seeps in, illuminating the pathway, it parts and forms walls of water. Much depended on the artist’s willingness to reach deeper and break through the barrier of mere prettiness. The way it was painted reflects what it is. Every day is a spiritual crossing, searching for the gifts hidden within the sea. Even though the Israelites crossed the sea thousands of years ago, the parting of the sea remains a timeless metaphor for taking a leap of faith, forging forward to discover hidden treasures."
The Problem of Women in America
by Sande Hart
Years ago I sat in the audience of Melissa Harris Perry as she was promoting her book Sister Citizen; Shame, Stereotype and Black Women in America. She framed her talk by telling us she was speaking about the "Problem of black people in America." Ms. Perry is a Professor of Political Science, radio host and former MSNBC anchor.
A problem is something to solve, something that requires reckoning and is usually an irritant. A problem does not go away easily, or without extraneous efforts. That is, until we remember the classic, "We cannot solve problems with the same thinking that created them." (A. Einstein) Unless we change our belief systems, behaviors, and find new solutions to old problems, we are going to spin in generational circles over and over and over....
We are stepping out of that cycle, thanks to Black Lives Matters and books like Caste and White Fragility; earthquakes upon our psyches. Classics that are as relevant today, four decades later like Riane Eisler's The Chalice and The Blade laid an undeniable and unavoidable foundation of knowledge and research at our feet, and demanding of another look. The day I started to remember what Riane introduced to us; the patterns of human history, coupled with learning about my white privilege and my white fragility (paper-thin-crispy-fragility) I understood what that word, "Problem" meant and I was contributing to it.
As I was preparing for a panel on Women's Interfaith Leadership hosted by the United Religions Initiative, I started to journal thoughts. I have been at this for a couple of decades, feeling well prepared and slightly over confident, but wanted to be sure to hit certain points. That is, until something started to emerge out of my ball point pen I had never realized before. Then I remembered Ms. Perry's statement and wrote, "Women are a Problem to solve."
The fact that we are still having this conversation about women's equality, or celebrating the fact that we get one entire day dedicated to Women (UN 1975), and an entire month (Obama 2011) are important to remind us, but take another look. Why is celebrating women's accomplishments after 150 years of pumping firsts, pounding pavement, climbing corporate ladders, winning Congressional, Senate, Supreme Court seats, and becoming Vice Present of the United States, not a Problem?
The fact that the URI is only recently dedicating a page to women on their global website, and only now considering a post for a women's organizer is a Problem. It's necessary, and good, and we should be delighted, but it's still a big Problem.
The UN Women's efforts and strides are enormous, but who knows that if we don't go looking? That's a Problem.
While the (organization to go un-called-out) generously gave me the privilege to create a space for women and girls, after a couple of years of making huge strides, bringing tons of traffic and programs to the organization, empowering more than a hundred into creative leadership, the title of Director was reduced to "Lead", and at one heart wrenching Board retreat, I was invited to spin the sector out of the organization. We literally took up zero space, and even got our own Zoom account gifted to us. We were too powerful. We needed to calm down. We were a Problem.
Women are still seen as "the other", as if we are now deserving of a corner in the room or more, our own office in a high-rise multi-block building.
If we follow the root of this "Problem", we will find the all too familiar term we overuse unapologetically at SARAH; patriarchy, which has always been supported by most of the major world's religions. Women are still the "Other", not unlike the environment. We have yet to heal that wound of division that was created when we first created dominion over Earth. She was seen as something to be commoditized, used for our pleasure.
The fact that women are the providers, protectors and sustainers of culture and life itself has been socialized out of us and it's a Problem when we scream it from the mountain tops as if it's not common knowledge and needs reminding.
Clearly, the thinking that got us here today is not sustainable, and we need a new solution to this old Problem.
Here's the transcript for my talk..
I happen to think that we, interfaith women leaders have more power in impacting change than any other sector of society because we are impacting culture and belief systems at a grassroots level. We are givers, protectors and sustainers of life by virtue of our biological innate imperatives. We are only going to improve conditions and advance solutions because it’s wired into us and because we are the ones disportionately impacted.
It’s not too difficult to recognize the patterns that exist in the crises that we all face on a global scale. Wether it’s the climate crisis, nuclear nonproliferation, violence against women, war and conflict, each one of these are the most important thing to give our attention to and that’s just daunting, overwhelming and impossible to put on a scale of “most important/ most life threatening".
We also asked the question- why are people working so hard for so long and we are still having this conversation, decades later?
We started looking at the patterns of each of these areas and because it’s imperative that we are effective as possible with our work and time, we started working at the root systems which lead us to the cultural and societal patriarchy. And we know that patriarchy is kept thriving in 2 major pillars of society, the corporate world, manifesting in greed, and religion manifested by belief systems and behaviors, stories and narratives- which by the way feeds into corporate greed because it’s what we are willing to put up with, give our money to.
So that mens that the URI [United Religions Initiative] has an enormous responsibility and opportunity to impact change through women’s leadership because no other organization on the planet can claim it’s network as more powerful then that of grassroots change makers focused on faith and traditions. This is how we change the narrative, the story, the cultural nueropathways of our community- but through grassroots interfaith change makers who have not only a megaphone, but influence in their communities.
And we also know that women and girls, i.e.; (more than) half of humanity, are disportionately impacted by these critical issues, and are also the majority of the world!
That means the women of the URI have an enormous opportunity (and I underscore) responsibility to leverage that network.
It’s our sacred work.
What is your vision for women and girls in the future?
A world where it is absurd to even think that there’s such a thing as nuclear war materials, deforestation for greed, trafficking children, raising a hand to women, cheating a neighbor or a single child goes to bed hungry or insecure.
A world where greed is replaced with generosity, fear is replaced with curiosity, where girls know their innate creative genius and show up in the world with confidence,
My hope for women and girls, men and boys is to know a society where they are not the Problem to solve- the problem to raise them in equality or parity, the problem to stop the violence upon them, the problem to educate them.
My expectation is that women and girls will be honored for their innate qualities and gifts to humanity and a natural part of leadership and decision making, in parity for a world that works for everyone. It’s possible and within our reach. It has existed in pre-patriarchal recorded history and I believe it’s happening with or without us. However, it will come a whole lot faster when we step into our power and are impactful in our grassroots communities of influence through the URI networks.