80 days ago, Aiia Maasarwe was catching a tram home.
Yesterday, I wore a dress.
41 days ago, I spent an entire night crying out to God in bitterness and anguish.
Tonight, I should be writing an essay on prayer.
80 days ago, Aiia Maasarwe was brutally murdered by a man. The attack had been so horrific that police refused to release details. 79 days ago, I changed as a person.
You see, 79 days ago I had woken up in the morning thinking exactly this: ‘The media doesn’t pay enough attention to boys and men who are sex-trafficked. Of course, girls and women are much more often trafficked, but it must make it so much harder for men to come forward and seek help.’
I began thinking to write a blog post about the injustice done to men that we pretend doesn’t exist. I then began thinking about how I would like to also write a blog post to honour and thank all the men in my life who have supported, encouraged, and loved me.
That evening, I heard about Aiia.
In the week that followed, both the actuality of what had happened to her and the lack of reaction from men profoundly changed me.
41 days ago, during a weekend trip that was supposed to build me up for the coming months, I was plagued with stress about being a woman training for church ministry. I prayed over that weekend, asking God to release me from this call, and, not for the first time, accused myself of pursuing such a pathway out of selfishness and in irreverence for God’s word.
I was then reminded that I had come into theological training saying that if I cannot find reliable, Biblical grounds for women to be in church leadership, I must submit to God’s Word and not pursue it; and that I have never wavered from this declaration. Then, I was made aware that I am accusing myself not out of conviction, but out of fear and hurt, and desire to please others. I may yet be convicted that my role is not in church office, but until then, here I stand.
When I got home from this weekend away, I thought about how I seriously doubt if any man in theological training anywhere in Australia had ever gone into study willing to submit his presuppositions about women in ministry and declare that if he is convicted otherwise, he must submit to God’s will.
I spiralled that night.
I visited Deuteronomy, and 1 Corinthians, and of course, my most dreaded book in the Bible, Judges. And I cried. I cried specifically for Aiia; asking God if He was not moved by her rape. Then I cried for myself. Then I cried for women everywhere. I yelled at Him. Then I was afraid for having yelled at Him, and apologised. Then I was frustrated beyond what I thought the human mind was capable of, because I was so angry, and in unspeakable pain, and I could not yell at anyone, and I could not scream, and if I did I would be either unheard or severely reproved (so I felt). My strength failed me, my hope fled, and my pain overcame me: I felt, regardless of knowing otherwise, that God didn’t care about women being raped. That He didn’t care that many of us would rather die. That He didn’t care about how much struggle He has forced us to bear in our life; physically and emotionally. That He didn’t care that by asking me to work towards Christian leadership, He was subjecting me to the disapproval of men that I admire and to the trauma of my past.
Yesterday I wore a casual dress with a yellow cardigan.
After walking from my college to the tram stop, I regretted this decision entirely. Waiting at the traffic light, I had been beeped at by a man. Another man wound down his window and leered at me as he drove past. One cyclist called out at me as he rode past, and another watched me on his way and smiled suggestively. I was wolf-whistled while waiting at the stop, and the receiver of travelling eyes and more-than-polite smiles from men as I walked through the city. I’m not exaggerating. It was unbelievable.
I was in a casual dress (that passed the finger-tip test), a long-sleeve cardigan and flats; yet I was made to feel like a prostitute, having my body degraded by men with their eyes.
In berating myself for wearing a dress, I recalled a time I was wearing shorts and an old baggy top in the gym as I worked out, and was still subjected to comments about “needing” to “be open” to having sex before marriage, and eventually (because of my Christian views) to a joke about needing to be tied up and raped. I recalled very vividly how my superior at the time (a Christian), whom I immediately reported this to, did not think it was a big deal. How he told me that it was probably because of the way I came across – as a bit flirty and okay with those sorts of comments – that it was just a passing joke that meant nothing, and this man would never really try to assault me.
I thought, it doesn’t matter what I’m wearing; men will always find a way to believe that I should be more modest. They will always find a way to believe that I’m selfishly disobeying God’s instruction. They will always find a way to tell me that I shouldn’t cry out to God in total, raw, unchecked honesty because of the pain consuming my heart at the fact that I am a woman, because it would be irreverent.
Today I was reminded about just how little Christian scholars seem to care about women, who have suffered sexual abuse, trying to read the Old Testament. I was reminded how no one ever preaches about why our dignity is worth 50 pieces of silver. About how no one ever writes a book, in simple language and accessible to all, for women grappling with our treatment in ‘God’s holy nation’ or about how to handle the rape language used to describe Israel’s destruction in the Prophets. I was reminded how I don’t care about being empowered for ministry if I’m not first empowered as a woman, and have my right to safety and justice affirmed. I was reminded about how the world doesn’t need another book about Trinitarian doctrine. It needs Christian scholars, writers, teachers and ministers to be committed to tackling the uncomfortable parts of the Bible that, if otherwise untreated, appear to women to be saying that God doesn’t care about our oppression.
Tonight I should be writing an essay on prayer. But the man, who I admire, whose theology I am discussing, believes that some men are purposefully and intentionally given over to darkness.
Where does that leave me, as a woman?
It leaves me in a world of men who are given over to darkness, who God has intentionally allowed to be so depraved as to rape me. No one wants to say it – they always find a way to work around it – but this belief holds terrible consequences for me, for all women; for Aiia. And if his theology is true, then those consequences are true, and I have no place to cry out to God in despair, and no place to oppose the evil done to me at the hands of the men God has given over to darkness.
Tonight, I should be reading and writing about a wonderful theology of prayer; not swallowing my pain and sitting in fearful silence in the presence of a God who I once made room for on the side of my bed, in case He might want to come to visit and sit there while I slept.