You've Come A Long Way...Maybe
This Convocation is part of the ongoing stream of the Women and Religion movement that began over 30 years ago. In 1978 Paul Carnes began his UUA Presidency by appointing a Women and Religion Committee. The purpose of this committee was to implement the Women and Religion Resolution and to raise the awareness of Unitarian Universalism to the Issues of feminism. At the time, fewer than 5% of our ministry was women. The hymnal used male identified language. Most Unitarian Universalist Churches had women's groups that had day meetings for women who were not employed outside the home. Unitarian Universalism needed to be challenged and encouraged to reflect upon how we could incorporate the issues raised by the women's movement into liberal religion. The first Women and Religion Conference in CMwD was held in 1980 and has grown steadily over time.
It is 2008. It has been thirty years...We have had convocations, conferences, a new hymnal, and the Unitarian Universalist ministry is now more than 50% women. Women's groups have grown into a variety of evening or monthly meetings, if they exist at all. Some among us ask is there still a need for Women and Religion? Or if there is, how do we redefine or rearticulate the issues affecting women in our culture?
In a world where many people feel that we have accomplished our goals for equality, the question is raised, is there still a need for the UU Women and Religion Movement to still exist? Yes, many women have all they have ever wanted -- to the extreme. Many women work full time, raise children and/or take care of parents, chair committees at church, school or in their communities. The statistics say that women still do the majority of household cleaning, holiday planning and psychological parenting. For many, equality is exhausting. We got what we wanted and more. Who knew we could be so tired from our desire for wanting it all? This seems to be the shape of many women's lives.
I knew about the competing demands of women's lives. I thought the world had changed and was much better for younger women. Last year in my Interim Ministry in South Bend, Indiana, I had the chance to work with some young women. They helped me see that the issues that impact women may have changed but there still is a need for women to gather and reflect upon our lives and our faith.
Bethy Williams, a senior at John Adams High School in South Bend, Indiana told me that she feels that the Women's Movement solved some problems and created others for young women in our culture. She points to the “influence of the media in portraying the image of woman as over sexualized and unrealistic. This results in the problems of bulimia and anorexia.” She says, “the self esteem of young women is still fragile" and that "the self esteem gap between women and men” (that was articulated by Carol Gilligan in her perspective changing book 'In a Different Voice') "has not improved.” Williams says that there “is still the problem that the word Feminist means to many man hating, lesbian, communistic and fascist.” For young women, the world has not changed as much as we may think.
Williams says that sexual freedom has given many young women who are not ready, the expectation of becoming sexual, saying yes, when really they do not have the inner strength or the inner permission to say no. Lack of esteem means giving away their bodies because they do not feel self assured enough to say no. We may have an inclusive language hymnal and half of our minister's may be women but we still have a culture that conspires to erode the strength of women's will and self esteem.
Whether we are young, old or in between, women need to find places in the world where we can reflect on our lives' purpose and be with other women who will help us listen to our heart's desires. Places where we can learn to say yes to what we need and no to what we do not. Wherever these places are, women need to seek them out, claim them and return yearly like swallows to Capestrano, to understand and restore our souls or spirits. If we go into any congregation we will find just below the surface people who need the time to regroup. Life is exhausting.
As a member of that Women and Religion Committee first formed in 1978, I know we have made some significant changes. Yet, I have learned by listening to women in our congregations that change comes in small, slow increments and we still have many mountains to be climbed. Women and Religion is one way for women to listen to themselves and to gather with other women from other congregations to learn how to create religious societies that meet the needs of old, young and everyone in between.
Perhaps someday we will no longer need Women and Religion, but we are not there yet.
Rev Denise Tracy
Member Women and Religion Committee CMwD