There are two situations which I have felt prayerfully close to this week: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe in court in Iran faced with a second set of charges; and the gender-based violence which has seen so many women speak out this week following the murder of Sarah Everard. Perhaps these two situations have nothing in common; one is politically noteworthy internationally, it could be argued, and the other seems to have been ‘just part of life for women’ since the beginning of time. I cannot help but wonder though, whether Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe finds herself in the situation she does, partly because of her gender…?
I had tears in my eyes as I watched a video of Jess Phillips reading a list of women’s names who had been killed by men in the last year…naming the invisible, the forgotten, was incredibly moving. Hearing her say that we do not care about dead women, we do not hear about these dead women, and neither do we seem to report on these dead women, caught me deep in my soul. I could weep, I am weeping, as I notice how right Jess Phillips is. Women have been blamed for as long as I can remember for wearing the wrong clothes, for being out after dark, for being too friendly, for sending mixed messages, for simply being there…it is so much easier to blame the woman as the victim than to challenge a systemic issue which ultimately protects the men who have designed and upheld it.
This week I have chaired a number of PCC meetings, beginning with a time of prayer focusing on Luke 10: 38-42, when Jesus went to the home of Mary and Martha.
“Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”Luke 10:38-42
A number of observations were made where people said they noticed themselves in this particular text – more ready to be busy than to spend time at the feet of Jesus. There was also a question about ‘the better part,’ what it was, and whether it was always so – we would surely never achieve anything if we were always meant to be sat at the feet of Jesus listening. Unsurprisingly, few people noticed how counter-cultural this whole situation was. Jesus had entered the house of two women on his own – there was no other man present to manage the situation that we are told about. Mary, in choosing to sit at Jesus’ feet, assumed a position which societally she did not have the right to do…she was taking the place of a student; one who had a right to sit at the feet of a teacher and learn or garner whatever the teacher was willing to impart.
As I step away from those musings, is it any wonder that most people noticed the domestic situation before quickly moving towards feeling guilty for working hard and still not getting it right? This seems to be what women are socialised into…few women, even today, are socialised to assume the position of the student, to listen much and do very little. Whilst we did conclude that there was perhaps a need for balance and to be present in this moment, in the gifts and challenges of now, to notice the wider picture before jumping into action, I do wonder whether women continue to feel guilty about listening much and doing little because that is not what we have been raised to do. Neither have we necessarily been raised to stand up for ourselves – and our attempts to do so often see us firmly put back in our places for daring to challenge the patriarchal status quo as we have seen with Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.
I wonder how much God’s heart breaks in times like this, where it becomes apparent that we are still unable to treat one another, regardless of gender, sexuality, ethnicity or class, with an equal level of respect. If we take Jesus’ example from his visit to Mary and Martha’s house, even in a society which did not allow women a status outside of that of a man they had a relationship with, he challenged the structures and the widely accepted behaviours that undermined women. More than 2000 years on it seems that this continues to be a learning point. If Jesus were able to teach and interact with Mary as his student in first century Palestine, what would his response be to all the women who have lost their lives due to gender-based violence? What would Jesus do about those whose lives were in danger? Who would he be with? I can only reach the conclusion that he would be right beside these women in their darkest moments, when they are most afraid…seemingly revolutionarily respectful of them just for who they are. It is my prayer that we can similarly offer that revolutionary respect by standing together, by offering hope for a different way of life to one another – one which celebrates women as fearfully and wonderfully made. Amen.