I’m definitely not a violent person. In fact, I hate all forms of violence and don’t ever see causing pain as a useful solution to any problem. However, this week I have really wanted to hurt someone, like take someone and physically harm them, and shatter them to pieces with my words at the same time! I wanted to demonstrate my power over them because of my outrage for how they were dominating and hurting someone I love so deeply. I can see how people have gotten to a point where they think redemptive violence might just be ok.
I’m not proud of feeling like this, and while my violent urges have almost subsided, my anger has not. I don’t actually think it’s supposed to just yet, but the question I’m checking with myself is if this anger is breeding hopelessness or is this anger broken-heartedness? Anger that leads to hopelessness is a waste of time, ultimately, it leaves us in pain with no prospect of anything changing, but broken-heartedness, oh woman, that can be a dangerous force.
Over the last few weeks I have been confronted over and over again with stories of women who are being harmed by men, physically, emotionally, verbally and sexually.
My heart is exploding.
Girls as young as 13 beaten with a plank by their boyfriend because “she doesn’t want to listen”, men raping women in groups, women being told they’ll be beaten if they try and leave their partner. I see women shut down for speaking because of their anatomy, women believing that they need to give their bodies over in sex in order to feel desirable, or rather, to make the guy feel good; women’s needs being deemed as substandard and inferior by a society that continues to promote men (and just for the record, for those who might assume, I’m not talking only about life in Manenberg, I see this across society..).
A few months ago Lloyd and I found ourselves in the red light district in Thailand. By found ourselves, I mean we were in it, it was impossible to avoid, but to be honest, I’d always planned to go. I have heard so much about it, I felt it was important not just to know it happened, but to see what it looked liked, to look in some faces and to feel it [rather like coming to Cape Town on holiday, closing your eyes as you drive from the airport and then spending your time at the Waterfront, missing the uncomfortable reality of this city]. What I saw, I cannot even begin to describe. The depth of the sex trade in Thailand is like nothing I have ever seen, and it broke me. Seeing young, young women standing at poles on bartops with their toddlers at their feet, seeing men prowl (literally) for women as if they were a choice cut of meat to be chosen and men reaching inside women’s clothing before any sort of agreement of payment had been made. The business of buying sex is pretty repulsive to me, but equally, for a woman to have her boundaries overstepped even in that broken system felt like the grossest injustice.
I cried a lot there. I have never felt such pain in my spirit as I did for those few days. And I experienced a conviction that to pray for one of these beautiful souls and then leave would be a cheap attempt to make myself feel better. It’s not that I don’t believe God could encounter them, it’s that I know that post-encounter, they need someone by their side. I have seen this over and over again in Manenberg. Genuine, holy encounters that give momentary peace, but in not being able to offer a practical love alongside that, the encounter becomes another religious experience that affirms that God is there but doesn’t really get involved in our lives.
I have found myself hating men this week. Even the good ones that I do life with, I have started watching for any inklings of misogyny, looking to see where the needs of men are being preferred over women’s needs.
My hatred isn’t getting me anywhere, it’s not really the path I’ve chosen. I believe that this imbalance is as harmful for men as it is for women, as it holds them back from the reality of who they are but, on the whole, they are not the ones at the wrong end of the plank. What do we do with that reality? I sit with a fight in me to see something change. I sit with a pain in my spirit too great to shake off. And I sit with tears in my eyes as I think of the many women who are forced to believe that this is just their lot, they somehow asked for or deserve it.
In my broken-heartedness I can only look to Jesus or my flesh will begin to pull me to hatred and violence.
I see Jesus looking into the face of women marginalised and rejected, and speaking life over them.
I see God speaking shared purpose over Adam and Eve, words of partnership and equality.
I see imagery of God as mother all through the Old Testament, lest we think that God is a man (but that’s for another blog)!
…and I find hope that at least God is good, even if the rest of us don’t cut it. And so I look to Her for what happens next, where do I release this fire in my spirit, how do we see women valued in Manenberg, how do we redeem spaces used for exploitation, how do we point out the subtle nuances of misogyny in the most redeemed men in our society?
But what happens next, I’m not sure. It isn’t enough for me to only pray. Prayer motivates action, it moves us to speak and so I will wrestle with this discomfort until things change.