International Women's Day 2020
Preached 3/8/2020 at SouthWest UU in N. Royalton OH
By Rev. Meg Mathieson
Today is International Women’s Day and, yes, the anniversary of the day in the late 1970s when I sprung forth from the womb, with my fist already raised in feminist solidarity. It’s true! My first words were “down with heteronormative patriarcial systems!” My mother was a feminist. Throughout my life, my mother moved right while I moved left. As far as my memory goes back, she always opposed the right to choose, but the critical juncture came when she informed me that she was leaving a group called “Feminists for Life,” in which she had been an active leader. “I just can’t call myself an feminist,” she told 13-year old me.
Eastern Orthodoxy, at least the form of it in which I was raised, had no place for feminism. Women were simply less than men, and that was a biological and theological fact. I know that many of you are refugees from similar belief systems.
A quick history of feminism:
As with any civil rights movement, feminism in the tentieth and twenty-first century has been characterized by starts and stops, when there is a surge forward, and then a pause, due to backlash. These are referred to as waves.
When women got the vote in 1920, that was considered the first wave of modern feminism. Forty years later, many of you stood up for women’s rights while I was learning to walk. This was the second wave of feminism, and it was characterized by a push for breaking glass ceilings, legalizing abortion, and embracing “free love” thanks to the pill.
Some of you were part of the third wave, which was my generation, in the 1990s, we herald Anita Hill and Naomi Wolf, and we used words like “sex positivity” and “intersectionality.” We were riot grrrls. We went to Indigo Girls concerts.
We are in the midst of what will likely be known as fourth-wave feminism now. This is my daughter, in her second year of university, living in a co-educational dormitory. Boys and girls together everywhere, it’s madness, I tell you. She identifies as a lesbian, but most of her friends choose not to identify at all. You can do that now.
I’m watching from the outside, and seeing this dating world where if you decline to identify as a gender, than you are also free of identifying as a sexual orientation. People just date other people, and fall in love with other people. Love truly is love is love is love.
How far does the feminism rabbit hole go? Will there be a fifth, a sixth, a seventh wave? I certainly hope so. During a time when electing a woman president looks hopeless, we need to look at how far we’ve come. From the right to vote to just getting rid of gender altogether. The arc of time is long, but it is clearly bending toward justice and equity. Thank the goddess!
From a fight for basic rights to the me too movement, we can see the arc bending from where we stand. It’s a gorgeous thing. Yes, during a week when we watched Elizabeth Warren concede that maybe the time is still not ripe for her, we also watched Harvey Weinstein finally sent to prison. Let he be a warning for others: wealth and power can no longer buy the right to abuse.
It can be hard for those on the outside of the me too movement to get a grasp of its universal impact. In the US, 1 out of every 3 women will experience some sort of sexual assault in our lifetimes. To some of us, that number sounds shockingly high. To others, it actually sounds kind of low.
You are probably aware that we, UUs, have this wonderful comprehensive sexuality education curriculum called OWL or Our Whole Lives. I was once at an OWL training and the instructors asked the 20 adults in the room to think of the first time they had ever experienced a truly consensual sexual experience. Like, truly, emphatically consensual. Like, you didn’t feel pressured by society or you didn’t feel like you were being nice, or you might as well.
When was the first time, this is really painful for some of us to recognize - and it was a groundbreaking moment for me, especially in recognizing what is called “compulsory heterosexuality.”
You see, I like to joke that in my twenties I chose the heterosexual lifestyle, but in reality, my parents and well, pretty much everyone else chose it for me.
I have to think about what else our society is choosing for us. For all of us. As the mother of two teen boys, I worry about the messages they are getting about who they are supposed to be. Is there such a thing as “compulsory masculinity?” I think there must be.
I believe that our culture generally doesn’t recognize femininity as an attribute in and of itself. No, in modern America, femininity is simply a failure to be masculine. Especially for male-presenting people.
Here, in this holy space, we must (and I believe we do) cultivate and even insist upon a truly feminist space. And that means banishing compulsory masculinity at the door. It means recognizing femininity as a powerful, beautiful, and important thing.
It means honoring the divine feminine within yourself. It’s there, even when you do not feel especially connected to it. We all contain sparks of masculinity and sparks of femininity.
And we insist on creating a space, together, with swirls of yin and yang energy embracing one another. I like to think that if we could all see with a sort of sixth or seventh sense, we’d see our energy swirling in here right now, and it would look like an enormous yinyang. Complimentary energies assisting one another in an ever-rising dance towards psychic health.
Speaking of health, I wrote to the swuu list the other day a reminder that our congregational mission statement reminds us of our three core values:
- inspire wonder
- radically accept and love
- joyfully connect and serve
I also mentioned in my swuulist email our wonderful resource, the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which holds online UU worship services every Sunday evening at 8 pm. As the disease progresses, I will be looking into alternative ways of worship for us here at SWUU, including livestreaming and creating our own SWUU zoom room online. I would be happy to help anyone interested but also daunted by the idea of attending an online service. Please contact me via email or phone - my contact info is on the back of your order of service - and I would be happy to help get you set up, even come over to your house if you like.
I’d like to end this sermon by reading an extended quote by Rev. Meg Riley, the leader of the Church of the Larger Fellowship:
“The seventh principle of Unitarian Universalism is an affirmation that we are part of an “interdependent web of all existence.” As I understand it, this principle was added at the urging of UU feminists when the principles were developed. And they, in turn, were drawing from many other places—indigenous cultures all over the world, major world religions, lived experience.
Sometimes the meaning of our relationship to one another seems abstract and ideological, and sometimes the interdependent web of all existence seems mythical.
And yet, in a time like this, when the Coronavirus is connecting us all profoundly as a global family, we see that we are all, indeed, interwoven on a cellular level. We are part of what Buddhists call Indra’s net. Here’s some more poetic language about this:
“Far away in the heavenly abode of the great god Indra, there is a wonderful net which has been hung by some cunning artificer in such a manner that it stretches out indefinitely in all directions. In accordance with the extravagant tastes of deities, the artificer has hung a single glittering jewel at the net’s every node, and since the net itself is infinite in dimension, the jewels are infinite in number. There hang the jewels, glittering like stars of the first magnitude, a wonderful sight to behold. If we now arbitrarily select one of these jewels for inspection and look closely at it, we will discover that in its polished surface there are reflected all the other jewels in the net, infinite in number. Not only that, but each of the jewels reflected in this one jewel is also reflecting all the other jewels, so that the process of reflection is infinite.
The Hua’yen school [of Buddhism] has been fond of this image, mentioned many times in its literature, because it symbolizes a cosmos in which there is an infinitely repeated interrelationship among all the members of the cosmos. This relationship is said to be one of simultaneous mutual identity and mututal intercausality.”
~ Francis H. Cook, Hua-yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra
I don’t know that anyone would describe the Coronavirus as a glittering jewel. It is a frightening, real form of connection. But it is certainly at the nexus of our connections with one another.
What’s a healthy response to this new event? Well, we take sensible precautions—wash our hands a lot for at least 20 seconds, avoid unnecessary large crowd events, stay healthy and well hydrated and well rested, stay home if we are at risk. Beyond that, we look out for the vulnerable, talk to our neighbors, make a plan for support that puts those most at risk in the center. We can reflect love for one another, compassion for our shared vulnerability, commitment to care for one another, into the reflective mirrors that connect us.
As we move forward, I don’t know what will happen. But I do know that what affects any of us affects all of us, and it matters. And I do know that I’m so grateful to be glittering in this net with you!