“i am i the middle of a forest. there are no paths. i have no companions. and i hear wolves.”
– angela, a pastor & aspiring actress in the film who does she think she is.
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we all know that the world “system” is slanted against women. the injustices are countless, horrific, sad, angering. and on the whole, despite the many strides that have been made in big & small ways, women continue to make less money, hold less power, and fill less leadership positions across most boards. we have a long way to go toward full equality for women. since starting this blog i have written about this issue many times; i know some people think i’m a little on the nutty side related to women’s equality but unless we loudly and respectfully keep calling out injustice and showing what we believe through tangible actions the system will not change. as christ-followers i believe that we are called to bring the kingdom to earth now & so we can’t just turn a blind eye to equality issues “because that’s the way it’s always been.”
for me, equality is more than just equality for women. it’s about diffusing the power structures that keep underrepresented people oppressed; it’s about replacing the ways of the world with the ways of the kingdom (even though “the church” sometimes seems to look even worse than the world when it comes to issues of discrimination, prejudice, and inequality), and it’s about humanity becoming more whole. it is such a travesty to me to think that in so many churches, 100% of the time people never hear from 50% of the population, that around the world horrific injustices are being committed against women & we stand by and watch. there’s so much wisdom & power & strength lost when half of our voices are silenced.
on sunday at our house we hosted a viewing of the documentary who does she think she is? i came across it last year and briefly mentioned it in this blog post by the same name. november 8th was a synchronized”house party” day and groups watch it together across the US. the movie is not for everyone; it’s definitely not a christian film & some of the stuff related to goddess art & history will make some feel uncomfortable but the overall premise & the powerful stories told are so worth learning from. it follows 5 women artists, each with different gifts and backgrounds spiritually, economically, etc. they share their stories of the obstacles they face to live out their art. some of their stories end more hopeful than others, but the overall gist of the film is to stir up just how difficult it is for women to pursue their passions.
i don’t think creativity is just a women’s issue; while the “system” is set up to favor men, i know many men who have the same obstacles to creativity and risk that women do. they are dreaming of new ventures, want to explore art or music or creative passions and hear a voice in their head that says “that’s not responsible…it’s frivolous…you’re not really good enough…who do you think you are anyway?” i was so thankful that even though our discussion had way more women then men we did have a chunk of guys in the conversation. we really do need to listen & understand & learn from each other.
one thing i pointed out to our group and kept thinking of during the film was even if we are not a typical creative artist (as in photography, painting, music, etc.) all of us have an “art” waiting to come out of us. for me, although i like to write, my real “art” is people & cultivating healing community in some shape or form. and while i’ve always been in some form of healing/people/relational ministry over the years, it wasn’t until i stepped into the world of pastoring-on-a-church-staff that i realized that i really loved it, enough to dedicate my whole life to it. and the obstacles to doing it were great. i have 5 kids & a husband that was used to me staying home and sort of just dabbling in what i loved to do when it was convenient for everyone else, always remaining available to pick up the slack and make things happen at our house. when i first went to work full-time at a mega-church in 2004, it rocked the boat in a huge way. it wasn’t a pretty year at the escobar house, to say the least. a weird thing happened inside of me that year, though, that i really connected to as i watched the movie on sunday–i knew i had to do this. the passion, the stirring, the desire, the skills, the dreams were all deep inside of me and started to spill out, and i knew that if i tried to push them back in i would end up regretting it and resenting jose in all kinds of icky ways. so i did what i wasn’t really used to doing–i fought for it. i said to jose “i need you to do what i’ve done for you for the past 12 years; i need you to carry me the way i’ve carried you.” it didn’t come cheap or easy; he initially admitted that he kind of preferred it when i was a better cook, cleaner, keep-it-all-together-good-christian-woman. i can’t tell you the number of times i’d say “alright, i’ll just quit then” when really i knew in my heart that it was just because i was truly scared to step into it, to own it, to do it despite the obstacles. i am thankful because after 12 months of haggling & living in the tension of our disparity, something shifted and he apologized in a deep and powerful way and began to provide wind to my sails instead of being a big heavy anchor (his words, not mine). since then, we have learned what it means to do this crazy thing together and equally carry our family’s responsibilities together. we’re so much better for it–it really changed our lives spiritually & practically & in all kinds of other ways that i’m so grateful for. but, it is true: our house is definitely not as clean!
in the film, some women weren’t so fortunate. the toll that their passion took on their marriages was sometimes too great & 3 of the women featured got divorced. there are too many themes to flesh out from the movie in one easy blog-post, but here are a few thoughts that will linger:
women’s issues aren’t women’s issues; they are global issues. statistic after statistic show that when women do better personally, professionally, economically that men and children benefit, too. we need to recognize that when we empower women, we empower society. the contributions we make are significant if we have the chance to make them. one of the historians interviewed in the film says, “how a society organized the two half of humanity isn’t just a secondary issue. it affects all of us.”
children add an additional complication & we need to figure out ways to value mothering instead of penalizing women for it. there’s a piece in the movie that lists all the famous women artists, performers, writers, leaders, etc.–most names we recognize. not one of them had children. balancing kids with passion is a tricky, scary dance and we need way more role models on how to pull that off. all of the time i notice that in the world i live in many of the women who are strong spiritual leaders have grown children or no children at all; those of us with little ones (and lots of them) have a huge disadvantage of “no free time” and often not a lot of support. one of the women artists addressed what it feels like to have to stop working even when she’s in the middle of inspiration; she said, “if only i didn’t have to go home to the kids.” i have known that feeling & while i wouldn’t trade my kids for anything, i sometimes have to respect how difficult it is to constantly have to stop & start & work around & figure out-how-to-make-it-all-work-because-they-need-me-too.
we need mentors who say “don’t quit.” this is a huge issue for women trying to make strides in any area. we must have cheerleaders, supporters, encouragers, other men & women who will look us in the eye and remind us that this is work worth doing, that the passions that are inside us must be explored and to not quit. and even though i am in the thick of it myself, i want to dedicate myself to encouraging any other women who need it that they are not alone, to find courage, and to step out in powerful and creative ways to use their voices, whatever that looks like. don’t quit.
it’s going to be scary, period. there’s no way around the fear of rocking the boat, upsetting the apple cart, and standing up against a system that doesn’t quite know what to do with you. i was reminded in watching this film just how courageous it is to step into dreams & passion & try to pursue what’s burning in your heart despite obstacles. to keep going when the voices get so loud and tell you that you shouldn’t and can’t, that you are being selfish, that you are sure to fail. like so many issues of faith & life, there’s no easy way. i don’t think pursuing creativity & passion will ever come without great fear and obstacles.
the changes we make will pave the way for the next generations. sometimes i get so discouraged. the statistics shared in this movie are just another example of disparate systems that never seem to change, but the truth is that every step that we take on behalf of women & underrepresented friends now paves the way for those that come after us–not just here but around the world. if we don’t, if we give up and give in, if we lose courage & throw in the towel, these systems won’t change for our daughters & granddaughters. for other underrepresented friends who need us to grease some of the skids on their behalf, too. they need us.
i could go on and on but i’ll stop there. yes, i am sick of the wolves, the obstacles, all the ways that women have an uphill battle. but i am also so encouraged by the strong brave women i know who are leading, loving, creating, trying, stepping out, risking, and doing beautiful things–no matter how big or small. i love what one of the artist’s sons shared. he said, “my mom always told me ‘art is always a risk and sometimes it’s a risk you just have to take.'”
sometimes it’s a risk you just have to take.
as always, i’d love to know what this stirs up in you.
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ps: my friend jeff mcquilken wrote about some reflections on the movie, too. you can read it here.