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.

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Depression & Addiction. Would Die To Make Them Stop.

Making it stop, making an end.  Every day that crosses my mind.    Being atheist removes the unnatural dread of death for me that religion creates.  i was hit on the head with ice-skates once and I remember how that was.  I fell, saw my older brother fall to try to avoid hitting me, his skate came up–darkness.  That was it.  I didn’t feel the cut of the blades across my forehead, leaving a -1 scar that would last for many years.   I don’t recall the throng of people who gathered around or my Aunt Eve placing my head in her lap.  What I do remember is waking with blood in my eyes and wondering where all the people had come from.

In that moment of black out, time stopped for me.  The time it took for those people to gather round, and for my Aunt who was an RN, to show up.   There was no pain from the blow, no fear or distress.  I was completely unaware.   And now I’m thinking, that is death.  Or that is how death is if in fact all the hopes in an afterlife we humans like to hold dear, are false.

Is that so bad?   One friend put it very well.   “I didn’t mind not existing all the millions of years before I was born, why should i mind not existing after I die?”  

Or if there’s an afterlife, and evidence doesn’t disprove it any more than it proves it, I really do think it’s a natural condition same as our physical life is a natural condition.  There are no hoops to jump through.  No holy rituals one must complete.  No giant man god in the sky who’s unending ego must be appeased.   It’s just something that comes after the darkness, after the body shuts down, when the energy leaves the body and who knows, perhaps takes with it a little echo of what we are.

Why do I sometimes wish to die?   Because I have depression, and because people with depression are subjected to a stigma.  Now if I had cancer, or heart disease or any other physical illness, I am quite sure my friends or the people who cared, would still be there for me.  But any form of mental illness, which, by the way, is just as much a physical illness people can’t help as cancer or heart disease or anything else, is not the same.   Having any sort of mental illness effects the way your brain works. It effects the way your thoughts come across in your head.   Mental illness distorts your thoughts, or makes your brain less efficient at processing them.   Little problems seem huge.   Or at least that’s how it is with depression and anxiety disorders.   The person with these illnesses, reacts differently than people without them.  And in doing so, drives friends away at the precise time encouragement, support, and kindess would help the most.

I used to love my life.  I used to laugh and look forward to new experiences.  I engaged in the world around me.   Since depression has cost me the few friends I have, and left me feeling outcast and unwanted at a time I could really use some support, I find myself with nothing to look forward to.  The friends i miss, do not miss me.  Because I was a burden to them.  I didn’t mean to be, but I was and people do get tired, even nice, well meaning people.   But unlike them I am unable to abandon myself, and so on I must plod mostly alone, understanding that my illness is punishing me by taking away my already small ability to have/keep friends. 

Or so it seems.    So every day I must fight to find reasons to get out of bed.  This is what depression is.   I find there are a lot of addictions in the world that hide behind labels calling them something else.  In addition to the known addictions like cigarette smoking and alcohol abuse, there is also addiction to anything else that we might use as a crutch to get through our day.  Many people are addicted to work, and the feeling of success and worth it brings.  Or people can be addicted to people, which I was.  I was addicted to how wonderful it made me feel being around people who treated me like I was okay too, like I was wanted and liked and cared for.  I loved how that felt.  I loved how it made me feel.  I didn’t want to lose that, and when I did it tore me apart; what little I had left of happiness fell to pieces, and why is that?  Because I had a dependency on other people to give me that warm fuzzy feeling I loved so much.   I went years hoping to have the company of people I respected who seemed to actually like me and accept me flaws and all, and having people like that, knowing people like that, gave me happiness I hadn’t felt for a very long time, if ever.

This was a nice thing for me at the time, but it had a negative side.  Without knowing it, I became addicted to that.  I never developed any ability to make my happiness on my own.  I needed something on the outside to make it for me, other people to make it for me.   And people get tired of making happiness for someone else.  It’s hard enough learning how to make happiness just for yourself–but to have someone else dependent on you for their happiness–that gets very tiresome after awhile.

So that was my addiction, and it helped ease my depression having those people, and then when I lost the support of those people, I fell to pieces, just as much as any heroin addict or alcoholic would fall to pieces cut off from his/her drug.

Another addiction of course, is religion.   That crutch that people need to feel good about themselves.   Doesn’t matter if no one else likes me, Jesus is always there–he will never forsake me.   Or…I wouldn’t be such a loving person as I am if I didn’t have Jesus.  Because of Jesus I am saved, because of Jesus I am not an abomination in god’s eyes anymore–a sinner.  I am a new being, born again.  I am saved.

See, I had that addiction too, but losing the people in my life I thought cared for me because I developed this illness, made me realize or become aware that people are not reliable or dependable.  Sometimes they’re not even what they seem to be.  And learning this about people I had grown to care for very much, made me want to remove any other falsehoods I didn’t realize existed, from my life.   Any crutch I might turn to like so many alcoholics turn from one addiction–alcohol–to another–religion. 

But I am not writing about religion.  I am writing about dependency and how easy it is to fall to addiction and dependency when you have depression, because with depression you will do and try anything to feel good.  To have a reason to get out of bed.  To not step in front of a train once you discover how to get on the tracks.   To not OD or jump off bridges or in front of Metro buses. 

People think it’s selfish and cowardice to comit suicide.  I submit that no one does so lightly.   The people who kill themselves have very likely gotten tired of trying and failing all the time, tired of succeeding and having no one notice.  Because really, it’s only the failures people notice who want to find fault with you–see only the disappointments in us to justify their actions in turning their backs when we needed them most.   And it’s the aloneness people can’t bear.  The feeling like nothing they do will ever be enough or help enough.  Death is scary–thanks to threats of hellfire or the fear of not existing anymore or…whatever, and many religions even threaten mentally ill people who die because of their mental illness are going straight to hell, so….it takes a lot of desperation to make someone, esp. a religious someone, suicidal.  It’s only when life is scarier and the pain becomes so unbearable that people want to kill themselves–just to make it stop, nevermind whatever fears they have.

It is hard work to love and care for a depressed person.  But it’s even harder work being in our shoes.  Because depression isn’t like a lot of other illnesses.  Many people don’t understand they have it.  Many people who do, don’t know how to regain control of their thoughts they can’t seem to manage anymore.  Everything seems huge.  Overwhelming.  You walk around feeling like a shattered vase just barely holding itself together–and if a strong wind comes you’ll fly to pieces across the road.  That’s depression.  When you want and need a loving heart to hold you, help you glue the cracks so you don’t fall apart, so you can at least function again even if you’ll never again look brand new.

But it’s work to care for someone with depression, or any mental illness.  It’s work.  Because just like AIDS or Hepatitis C or cancer or heart disease, depression isn’t fun, and it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t easy.  It hurts, and it kills just as readily as these other illnesses, and the person inflicted is just as wanting to be cured, to feel well again, as any other sick person.  But they have to go every day completely alone, feeling completely like they will never measure up or be loved or wanted or accepted or cared for–that they’ll never be whole enough again for such things.

Sometimes death seems better.  Sometimes I wish for the black oblivion I felt when those ice skates hit my face.  Even non-existence would be a gentle peace and an ending to a hurt I often find unbearable.  

And I could deny it that I think of death.  I could deny it to keep my friends from having to worry.  But that would be a falsehood too.  So instead I say every day I have to struggle to get out of bed, find a reason.  My reasons are my animals.  I have little animals who need me to go to work so I can feed and shelter and care for them.  These are my reasons, and really my only reasons.  Because my animals love me even when I’m struggling.  Even when I’m in pain.  Even when I’m damaged and I don’t know yet how to make me better.  My animals do not turn their back or judge me, and they are always there.  I can’t disappoint them.  I can’t let them down.  And they, in turn, are honest with me.  They never give me false hopes, or false caring.  They simply are what they are, and they love me.

This is my reason–because of my little animals.  I do not put my hopes in some world yet to come.  I don’t believe there is such a place.  And I do not turn to Jesus to make me happy, because that’s just one more crutch, one more addiction, one more hoping for something outside myself to make my world right for me.

Happiness, real happiness, doesn’t depend on things, or imaginary friends, or other people, or such and such working out just right.  Happiness is a decision.  A choice we must learn to make.  Those thoughts that seem so big and terrible, that the depressed or anxious person must battle every single day just to get through from dawn to dusk–only we can decide which ones to believe and which ones to reject, which ones we want to attach to and let them control our mood, our emotions, our life, and which ones we decide aren’t worthy of us.

Everyone hates me.  No one loves me.  All my friends were fake.  I’m not worth anyone standing up for and supporting me.   These are the thoughts I get every day that make me want to shrivel up and die.  Every single day.  These are the foes I battle.  And don’t talk religion with me.  It’s because of religion I have many of these thoughts now.  This programming I can’t be whole and healthy and good without the help of some god.  See, that’s not true.  I was born beautiful, and good, and perfect, and exactly what nature meant me to be.  I am a happy and wonderful, loving and good person.  All I have to do is believe it about myself.  Really believe it.  And not look outside myself for other things to make my happiness for me.

That is the key to survival for me.  The key to finding reasons to get through each day.  The reasons must come from within, from myself.  Not from drugs.  Not from therapy.  Not from self help books.  But from me.  Every day I need to make the decision which forces inside I want to control me–which thoughts I want to take seriously and which ones I want to recognize are just the bullshit religion I was fed or the negative  messages I let myself believe all my life from my mother or the people I liked who couldn’t like me.

Depression Isolates Us

I sometimes think, now that I’m becoming aware just how many people out there feel like I do, feel all the same feelings…that we’re more like a subgroup of society.  We start out, probably many of us, outcasts as children.  Either outcast by our families, or outcast by our peers, or both.  We grow up lacking confidence other kids take for granted.  We are always trying. But there’s always some reason we don’t fit in.  We’re not good looking enough, so people of the opposite gender look at us and think “I can do better,” like having outward beauty or our programmed notions of what beauty is–makes some people “better” than others?

Regardless, we grow up, those of us who didn’t quite fit in, or came from homes that didn’t really want us, and as adults we still try.  But the long nights of crying ourselves to sleep, losing sleep, or just huddling in fear of some real or imagined terror…now there’s something stuck in our heads.  Something wrong.  We are either mentally ill, or our brains are wired wrong or we have a chemical imbalance or a combination of the above.   Because we grew up trying harder than other kids, the popular “better” kids.  And now what are we?  We’re that sub-group of society that end up alone.  Our friends aren’t there, despite how we try to be there for them.  Our families…sometimes it’s not good being around the people that caused the harm in the first place or trigger memories of the harm that was done.

So we’re alone.  And here we still are, trying.  Trying to fit in to that other part of society we too have been programmed to believe is normal.  Thinking if we do this or this or THIS we might be accepted and loved and wanted like other people.

And when we can’t fight our illness hard enough, we are forced to endure more loneliness.  When we do have our little triumphs, there’s nobody around anymore to see.

I hate depression.  I hate this illness nobody understands or wants to make any effort to understand.  I have been locked in closets all my life and I still am.   All because of this belief we carry around, that we grew up with, that to be like one of the crowd is better, our ultimate goal that’s always just out of reach…to fit in…that’s what gives us worth–that’s the key to being wanted, being successful, being SOMETHING.   And until we have it, until we get over this illness we’re being punished for having, we must be shunned.  We must be outsiders.  We must be looked right through like we’re not even there.

This is what I say to that.  Bullshit.  What kind of society does this?  Banishes its ill from the mainstream?  They did that to lepers once; you would think in 2000 years our society would be a little more aware, a little more educated, a little more understanding.   But no.  We have not evolved very much at all, have we?

So how do we break from this box they’ve put us in?  We say bullshit.  We are not less than anyone.   People look at us and say they can do better?  Excuse me–we might be ill but we’re still whole people, and worth it.   If you know us you’ll get to know the beauty we still carry around  inside.  All of us, like any other people.  Like you we are unique, full of dreams and hopes and love and caring.   Shame on anyone who dares to look down their nose and outcast us for having too many bad days when here we’ve put up with other people having many bad days too.  Why is the playing field so one-sided?

Who decides worth of a person?  How is it measured?  Is it measured by looks?  Popularity?  Is it measured by how much money someone has or what kind of car they drive or what neighborhood they live in?  Or is it measured by the kindness and caring a person has in their heart?

I see a lot of value in us.   This little sub-group that finds ourselves struggling with our depression or anxiety all alone…punished for being ill, rejected by friends for being ill, despite how tired we are from always trying, despite how lost and despairing and scared and hurt we sometimes feel. 

You know who I think has worth in our society?  You know who I think are really great people–the kind of people I wish I could be?  People who can still give of themselves when they themselves have nothing, and care and encourage, when they themselves feel their world is crashing down.

I am most thankful for the kind of people who can still care for others, even despite the hurts they feel themselves.   If we have to be separated and made some kind of subgroup, I’d rather be counted as someone like this.