Thursday, October 18, 2012

Women of Faith

Rachel Held Evans (1)
I've been reading Rachel Held Evans' blog since a month or so before she finished her actual year of Biblical womanhood. Some of it I sort of skim through (I don't have the books she's doing in her current book study series for instance) but the rest of it I just inhale. Like Rabbi Rachel Barenblat over at The Velveteen Rabbi, Rachel Held Evans is thoughtful, deeply spiritual, and hungry for knowledge. I love that these two women are both so strong and so completely different! They empower me to do what I need to do, as a spiritual person, as an interfaith minister, and as a woman.

In one of her entries today (her FAQ, actually), Rachel  wrote, "Christian women receive a lot of mixed messages about what it means to be a woman of faith." I read this and my mind just exploded. I actually had to walk away from the computer for a bit.

It isn't that her comment was all that strange. I've said it myself dozens of times. I think it's more that it's an epiphany that I've heard this same statement out of most of the strong women that I know. Sometimes it's "Christian women" and sometimes it's "pagan women" and sometimes it's "professional women" but it's always "descriptor women". We ladies get mixed messages from all over the place.

A bone of contention in some of the pagan circles right now is the covering of a woman's head as a life choice in conjunction with her spirituality. I've covered my hair during some rituals for several years now, having come to the conclusion that there are just times it's appropriate. I cover my hair during Easter if I go to a church, too. It just seems... right. You might ask yourself, why would this be such a big deal? Believe me, I ask myself the same question, a lot.

A modern Rachel (2)
There are some women (and men) who feel that it's dangerous in some way for a woman to cover her hair. Others feel that it's a way of telling the world you're not confident enough or that you feel you're ugly, or that you're just someone's doormat. I don't understand any of that. I cover my hair, the few times I do, because it has religious and spiritual significance to me. Why does it make a difference to someone else why I do it, other than that they wish to appease their curiosity (something I don't mind doing, at all)?

There are pagan women who have been spat on for covering their hair. There have been verbal threats, nasty e-mails, rude comments on posts on FaceBook, and even threats of violence that have had to be passed on to police. All this, because a woman (a group of women, in fact) chose to put a scarf on before they went out for the day.

The mixed message I've been struggling the most with is the idea that we (meaning women) are supposed to be free to be ourselves, and yet that has come to mean "free to be whatever you like except if you're doing something that displeases someone else." 

A rather vocal group of online women "talked trash" over a women's group I belonged to. Why? Because the ladies (and I) had decided to cover our hair because our gods had asked it of us.. I've been told that no "real god" would EVER demand something so demeaning of a woman. Speaking only for myself, I would have to say that the gods certainly did make such demands, until quite recently in fact. In the past hundred years or so it's relaxed, probably because we ladies have, but there's long history.

All that aside, why is it an issue? A piece of clothing has been found offensive to a certain group, and they're making waves over it. Why do they find it offensive? It's their opinion that if a woman veils herself, then she may as well just throw out all the freedoms won by the suffragettes and women over the past 75 years. I'm not sure why wearing a scarf (or hat, or anything else, frankly) should cause people to be worried, but they are.

Mixed messages. Do this; don't do that. Don't rock the boat. Don't upset the status quo. Rachel Held Evans talks about why "living Biblically" is so difficult. I don't think she's just talking about evangelical Christianity, though. I think it's bigger than that, and it's something that infects every religion and every belief system. It's too easy to fall into that "holier than thou" headspace, where you get to dismiss anything that doesn't fit your world view.

The worst part is, I'm sure most of the reactions (whether the ones Rachel Held Evans gets for "living a year of Biblical womanhood" or the ones Rabbi Rachel Barenblat gets for being a female Rabbi, or the ones I get for being a liberated feminist woman who does, indeed, sometimes cover her hair) are knee jerk ones. The truly offensive people, the rude, nasty ones, are easy to deal with. You dismiss them. It's not so easy when it's a friend or a local pastor, or worse yet, someone who's interviewing you for a magazine or newspaper. Those latter people probably don't realize the biases they're working under (hence the mixed messages!), and so it's difficult to point out to them that they ARE working under a bias.

I'm loving what little I've read of Evans' book so far. Her take is humorous but intelligent. Her writing is easy to read and imparts a lot of information. I think her book (and her blog, and her FaceBook page) would be great reading for any woman who's ever gotten mixed messages over the years (in other words, all of us, every single one).

Check back often for prayers, spiritual musings and all manner of religious discussion and talk. If you have questions or comments, please write to me below. I love to answer questions! If you purchase items I have linked through ads or Amazon, I receive an affiliate portion of the sale. If you find the items are useful, please purchase from my site!
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The Power of We
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Jewish Holy Days: Sukkot
Living Life to the Fullest

1) Photo by Dan Evans
2) Photo by Maki Garcia Evans

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