A MESSAGE TO GIRLS ABOUT RELIGIOUS MEN WHO FEAR YOU by Soraya Chemaly

I found this blog online–I don’t think it can be shared enough:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/soraya-chemaly/message-to-girls-about-re_b_1518849.html?ref=tw#s327348&title=Dr_Ingrid_Mattson

A Message to Girls About Religious Men Who Fear You

Posted: 05/21/2012 12:31 pm
 
Dear Girls,

You are powerful beyond words, because you threaten to unravel the control of corrupt men who abuse their authority.

In the United States last week there were people who wouldn’t let boys play a baseball championship final because a girl was on the opposing team. She’d already had to sit out two games because of their demands. Why? Did she, a competitive athlete and a member of her team, chose to? Was she being good and respectful when she acceded to their demands? Why were they not asked to forfeit their games? What messages were sent to her and her teammates? This is not complicated. It sent the wrong messages. Confusing messages. Incoherent messages. You need to know that she should have been allowed to play and not have had to sit out two games. These people, and others like them, all over the world, led exclusively by religious men, are scared of you and will not let you be. You worry them constantly.

If you were not powerful, they would not take you so seriously and they take you very, very seriously. You should, too. You can set the world on fire.

It doesn’t feel this way, I know. If that were true, you think, I would not have to sit out baseball games out of respect for religious beliefs that require my subservience and call it a gift. I would not be turned away from serving God with my brothers. I would not be taught that I’m an evil temptress or the virtue keeper of boys. I would not have virginity wielded as a weapon against me and my worth determined by my womb. I would not be spat on and called a whore by men when I am eight because my arms are bare. I would not be poisoned for going to school. I would not be forced, at the age of 9, to carry twins borne of child torture. I would not have to kill myself to avoid marrying my rapist. If this were true, they would pursue my rapists instead of stoning me for their crimes. I, and thousands others, would not be killed for “honor.”

Girls, these things happen because there are men with power who fear you and want to control you. I know that I have equated relatively benign baseball games with deadly, honor killings but, whereas one is a type of daily, seemingly harmless micro-aggression and the other is a lethal macro-aggression they share the same roots. The basis of both, and escalating actions in between, is the same: To teach you, and all girls subject to these men and their authority, a lesson: “Know your place.” I also know that there are places where girls are marginalized and hurt that are not religious. But all over the world these hypocritical, pious men, in their shamefully obvious wrongness, represent the sharp-edged tip of an iceberg, the visible surface of a deep and vast harm. They employ the full range of their earthly and divine influence to make sure, as early as possible, that you and the boys around you understand what they want your relative roles to be. Where there are patriarchal religions girls, in dramatically varying and extreme degrees, disproportionately suffer. Understand these men for what they are: bullies. Do not internalize what they would have you believe.

Your very existence makes them anxious. And their anxiety is particularly high because you have something no generation of girls has had before — globally connected communities of men and women who support your equality and freedom. Like guns, germs and steel, this transformative technology, which enables me to write to you here, alters geography, changes societies and dismantles systems of control — it makes the world a smaller place and it creates, even if slowly in some places, positive change for girls like you. You see, until now, these men could count on, indeed they could ensure, that you and the women around you were house-bound and isolated. Many of you still are. But now, there are millions and millions and millions people who are thinking about you and challenging these men every single day. You have the speed of light on your side and unless someone permanently turns the lights out, those days are gone. So, although you might feel like you are alone, you are not.

How do you threaten them? A girl, alone? By being able, strong, confident and yes, shameless. You may not “naturally” be interested in domesticity, piety, purity and submission, and they rely on your commitment to those things to order their worlds. Their actions, from one end of the spectrum to the other, are designed to fill you with self-doubt and, ultimately, fear — either bodily or spiritual — because otherwise you, and the young boys around you, will be fully aware of your strength and potential.

Because of this, they single-mindedly focus their attention on you, your body, your clothes, your hair, your abilities, your physical freedom. When their “manners” and “morals” are not universally applicable, but different for boys and girls, you can be sure that this is why. They seek to teach you, subtly, through small slights and gendered expectations, that you are “different,” weak, unworthy, incapable. The sadness is that, in their perception, if you are none of these things, then they are not strong, worthy and capable. This is not an excuse, but an explanation. It’s why they find infinite “benevolent” ways to undermine and disparage you, all in the name of “God’s word.” When that fails, they resort to violence. All over the world, their anxiety is manifest in a spectrum of actions ranging from mild paternalism, respectful of “proper boundaries,” to deadly enforcement of their rules.

Fear is why these men “officially” investigate Girl Scouts while perversely shielding child rapists. It’s why they obsess over your “purity.” It’s why they segregate you in public and private spaces. It’s why they instruct girls and boys that girls’ bodies are either shameful and dirty or sacred and belonging to men. Fear motivates them to teach that you pollute others by your very nature. It makes them intent on making sure you stay home and not be fully engaged in the world. It leads them to sanction marriages of 8-year-olds to old men. It convinces them that rape and its consequences are a “gift from God.” It’s why they empower others to stone you to death and disfigure you with acid.

Even “beating the gay” out of children, especially boys who are “more like” you, is aimed at you. Because if boys are “more like girls,” something these men believe is fundamentally inferior, then you can be “more like boys.” That causes ambiguity and destroys their carefully defined hierarchies and that is intolerable to them.

Fear is why they insist there is something fundamentally wrong with you. Don’t believe them. Fear is why they want you to cover your body. There is nothing wrong with your body, and your body is not to blame. Whether you chose to expose your body or to cover it up, consider the degree to which either choice is defined by a reduction of your character to narrow sexuality by a culture that refuses to hold men accountable for their actions and requires you to either radically display ourself for men’s pleasure or withdraw from the world and be held in reserve. Either way, ask who is defining your worth and by what measure. Fear is why they tell you you are so different from boys. You, and the boys you know, understand that your bodies are different, but that you are far more alike than dissimilar. Threatened, insecure, adult men say otherwise. Don’t give in. Even if you’re quiet. The differences these religious authorities exaggerate are simply pillars of oppression used to teach boys and girls that women’s subjugation is “natural” and “divine.” Reject them and their ideas.

This is hard to do. It requires that you, individually, be brave, strong, determined, fearless and confident. It requires that you demand that the adults around you pay attention and change their behavior. This is even harder.

First, and perhaps the most difficult to understand as a girl, is that women who love you and care for you often enable these men. This is what people say, “It’s not JUST men!” And they are right, women support them, individually and in groups, in ways that have private, public, political and societal consequences. But, make no mistake — although women are the enforcers of rules, they have no real, systemic authority in conservative religious hierarchies, and they know this. Yes, without their support these men could not continue, but until these women are truly free — bodily, economically, physically, politically — and their practical and spiritual salvation is no longer mediated by these very men, they will continue to support them. Enforcing the rules is a rational choice that enables them to survive, the world over, in unjust environments. You scare them too, because you call in to question their own complicity and cause conflict within.

Second, it is confusing that these men say they do what they do for your own good. They talk about respecting you and your dignity. You want to believe them; they have power and authority over you, your parents, your community and your access to God. They are often kind and benevolent and they love you. So, they must be right. But they are not. They demonstrate their own hypocrisy over and over and over again. They say they know what is best. They do not. You do. Don’t believe them when they teach you in hundreds of ways, through sacred text, careful words, cherished traditions, hidden threats and frightening examples, that you are inherently more sinful, base and corrupt, less worthy and in need of constant male guidance. Reject them.

The adults around you may not appear to support you when you take your humanity to its logical religious conclusions. Do not let them off the hook. Do not let them use “tradition” as an excuse or say it “really doesn’t matter.” Do not allow them to get away with asking you to “sit out games,” “be a good girl,” “don’t make a fuss,” and “put something on.” These are micro-aggressions that result in macro-aggressions. Adults often don’t think these things through. Sometimes it’s scary to them, too.

You can say: “There is nothing wrong with me. There is something wrong with you and your world.

Otherwise, when you get older, these same men, the ones who fear and hate you, will continue to undermine you. They will seek to control your body, keep you out of the public sphere, subjugate you in the name of a narrowly defined “family,” create impediments to your equality, shame you at every turn and justify your continued oppression in convoluted ways that defy reason and morality. They will investigate you for being strong, violate you, stone you to death, charge you with witchcraft, punish you in every conceivable way to set an example for … your children.

So, know that you are strong and powerful. Use your reason. Trust your instincts. Seek out those that would support you and, yes, know your place: on the field, in the street, on the bus (in the front), in school, at work and in public office.

You are not alone and you are brighter than the sun.

Cyndal’s Road To Freedom

I have posted on Facebook a request for former Christians or religious folk to share (anonymously if they wish) their stories re. what impact Christianity had in their life and what led them to give up this path and find another.

Cyndal is a  real person.  I got to know her on Facebook.  Her husband David is a real person.  Nice normal people, who just happen to be in rock/live music culture.  These people live in a very small red-neck town in Tennessee, and going to church and hungering after the Lord wasn’t enough apparently for them to fit in.  Asking questions, wanting to understand, requesting that a pastor do his job…between that and daring to dress differently and wear their hair perhaps, differently…

Well, I have my own story, and it’s nothing so bad as this.  But mine also has something to do with what happens when mental illness and religion comes together.  So do I believe this happened to Cyndal?  You bet.   This is not the first time I have heard a story like this.

Small sidenote.  This is a real person’s story, unedited by myself, and I will not post any replies I get to this that are offensive to Cyndal in any way.

Cyndal’s hard road to become a PROUD Atheist

When I was a small child I went to church with my family every Sunday. It was very scary to me because I was so young I just saw a man up there yelling and other people crying. I was very confused because no one explained what was going on but I was comforted as long as my parents were there. Then when I was about 5 years old we just stopped going. I don’t know why. It was just not a routine any more.

We moved around a lot and never went to church anywhere we lived until we moved to this very small, very religious, red neck town. It’s so small it has a small Walmart and about 5 gas stations but a church every quarter of a mile. Unfortunately I still live here with my husband (David) , my two babies (2&4), and my 17year old brother I adopted due to terrible family situations.

When I was 13 my parents all of a sudden started demanding we go to church again. It was a very small, very laid back church where the preacher wore his pjs and cut church off early when his favorite football team was to play that Sunday! At 13 I thought that was awesome! I was very into church and learning everything I possibly could. At one point I even got to teach Sunday school to the smaller children when their teacher was not there! I love kids so I loved that! As I got older I started wanting more. The things I didn’t understand I would question. I just wanted help understanding what was being taught. After a couple of weeks of constant questioning things and begging the preacher for answers he would simply tell me ” i shouldn’t question because that was doubt and as a Christian I should just have faith!” that just wasn’t enough for me! I would TRY to ask more questions but I would be ignored and dodged by the preacher so he wouldn’t have to bother with me. I was 15 then and that’s when the wheels started turning in my head. About the preacher but I still continued being a Christian. I even got the “teen bible” to help me try to learn. At 16 the preacher talked with my parents and all of a sudden I was the “trouble child”. That turned into a lot of arguing with my parents, me pleading my case as why I’m bad, then mental and emotional abuse started to try to “control” me, to prove they were over me. That ultimately ended with me getting kicked out but my grandmother took me in. (for the record I didn’t do drugs, drink, curse, I did smoke cigarettes behind my parents back but that was the only thing I could figure out as to what made me bad) Believe it or not I continued to go to that church. Drive myself and all!

I have always had the punk/rock/goth look even though that made me stick out in this town which labeled me as a “freak”. I didn’t care though, and don’t care to this day. At 17 I met my now husband. He also is a “freak”. Long red hair, lots of black band shirts, big earrings… He was a Christian too then and started coming to church with me when he didn’t have to work. You could feel the tension in the air but we held our heads high and ignored it. It happened quick but about 6 months of dating (after I turned 18) I moved in with him. That’s when the shit started. They didn’t like that at all. I told them even though we were living together we had bible study on our couch some nights in our pjs and he was finally answering my questions! But they labeled him as a devil worshipper!

One Sunday he had to work so I went to church by myself. I was sick that Sunday so of course I was called up for prayer. Everyone came up, laid their hands on me and started pray out loud. As they were doing that the preacher put his hands on my cheeks and whispered into my ear ” you are living with the devil! He is brain washing you! If you don’t move out you will be damned to hell!” Prayer was done so he let go and smiled at me. I was shocked! that night when David got home I told him what happened. He was shocked and mad! We discussed it and decided it was probably our looks and the way he could answer the questions I had that the preacher couldn’t.

The next Sunday after service we confronted the preacher. I think he was really shocked we had the guts to actually bring that to him! You could tell he was nervous because he was stumbling over his words and quickly ended the conversation with “oh..church needs to start!” and ran off. I skipped the next Sunday because I was still hurt. Then I had planned on going the next service but I was really sick. That’s when we had a knock at the door. It was the preacher and my parents! I’m assuming the preacher talked with my parents and told them what had happened and that David was the devil. We talked with them at first but when it became an argument that made me cry, David said that’s enough and closed and locked the door. They became so mad they were beating on the door demanding to get out and they were saving me! We had to actually call the cops to get them off our property! That’s when the doubt on Christianity really started!

I stopped going for a few weeks until I got a call from my 10 year old brother saying our mother and her new boyfriend had whipped him with a belt and made marks! That infuriated me! It was mid day wednesday so I knew exactly where to find our mother! Church! So I drove down to the church parking lot and waited for them to pull in. No one was there yet and they got there first. I got out demanding my mother to get out and talk with me! She wouldn’t do anything but crack her window but her boyfriend got out and came to my car very angry! I got out not backing down! He was getting up in my face yelling, screaming and telling me I wasn’t nothing but shit for a daughter causing pain in my mothers heart. He pissed me off so bad I grabbed a tire iron out of my car and yelled back “do something…let’s go!” Then they jumped into their van and took off! So…I took off chasing them! I wasn’t done! I guess they called the preacher from their cell because after a minute of round and round they pulled over and the preacher and his wife blocked their car between mine and my mothers. They calmly told them to go back to the church, go in, and lock the doors. Then the attention was turned to me! Yelling and screaming! How dare I go on church grounds acting that way, it didn’t matter what the situation was! I could barely get any words out between their screaming! Well, it ended with the PREACHER, exact words, yelling ” You have been nothing but FUCKING trouble for the past 3 years! I have never been able to stand your ASS! You and the devil (David) are never to step foot in my GOD DAMN church ever again! FUCK YOU YOU LITTLE BITCH!!!” I had to drive by there to get home and as I passed by about 15 church members were outside all of them holding up their middle finger at me and someone yelled something but I couldn’t hear what! And did anyone notice that none of me getting kicked out of the church and why I did this had nothing to do with the whipping of my brother? That was what started it but that act I did was like the preachers perfect opportunity to get me and David out of his church…which was his plan all along!

Now, I know this sounds unbelievable but honest it all true!

That was the beginning of my search. If knew I definitely not a Christian but what was I? I went years just in a non existent daze, half the time not thinking about it until church was brought up then the wondering came back. Around 22 I had enough! I went started the googling, then I went to Books A Million. I sat in the floor for about an hour and came home with 5 books. Not all Atheist books. Agnostic, Atheist, even Wiccan! The Wiccan one was just because I had no clue what Wiccan was! I read and read. I thought and thought. I kept it all secret from everyone. Even David. (Oh I forgot to mention he’s my husband now for 6 years! ) After a while it hit me! I AM ATHEIST! I know I am! No doubt! And I felt free!

Now that I was 100% positive I was Atheist there was the next part….tell David and explain what made me decide this and why… I was soo nervous. He’s my husband. What would he think? What if he got mad? What if it cause arguments? Well, one night we pulled into our drive way. The babies were sound asleep so we took the chance to sit and enjoy a quiet moment talking. Some how religion was the topic that quiet moment. So I took this chance. Basically said ” hunny I have to tell you something about how I feel about religion and if you have any questions or …” then he stopped me. (I have a problem when I’m nervous to talk too much before I just get to the point) He gives me the “come on spit it out look” so I took a deep breathe.” ok well, remember I’ll explain everything…” he says “come on Cyndal” and I just blurt out “I’m atheist and I know that 100%and it feels so good! I have peace now, I feel free, I don’t have near as much anxiety about every move I make any more!” I cringed waiting for shock, questions, maybe even frustrating talking. But to my surprise he just grinned and started laughing! “umm ok…what’s going on ” is all I could say! He said ” stop talking and it’s ok..I’m not mad..I’m happy you found yourself by yourself and you are now happy and not secretly stressing!” He smiled, leaned over and hugged me tight, kissed me and said ” Cyndal I have been Atheist for over a year now, I just never told you so you could figure it out yourself! And even if it were different other than Atheist it would still be ok! I love you!” I can’t explain the relief that was lifted off of my chest! Then we sat there for quite a while talking about how and when he became Atheist and how. And the same for me! He kept telling me how proud he was of me for finding myself by myself! All me! No influences at all! And we talked about that a lot for days! Then he started showing me different things on the Internet to help me further research and his books he had and the wonderful “The Thinking Atheist” site and Seth’s pod casts. That is now one of our pass time things to do is pod casts and “hey look at this video..look at this joke..” I’ve also figured out how to (with his help) teach our children better as far as science and things. I truly feel like as both of us being Atheist has benefited me, benefited David, benefited our family life style…just a lot of things.

This is my story of all my struggles through life but in the end I finally feel my life is the best it’s ever been. And it continues to be better and better. Me and David are on the same page so that helps the whole family in many ways! I feel like my whole life until I became Atheist was a dark blur and now I feel it’s free and happy. Like I’ve finally seen the light! (not in a Christian way though…lol) All of this combined, my whole journey to become myself now, being able to speak out and tell my story has helped me to become out of my shell.

That is why I can honestly say ….

I AM A PROUD ATHEIST!!!

( I really from my heart hope that my story can help hundreds of the quiet Atheist out there that feel like they should stay quiet! Learn from my story that you can uplift yourself and be a free thinker and most of all …a PROUD Atheist!!!)