From the Book of Joshua:
I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Joshua 1:9 (NRSV) – June 2, 2014)
These are among the words spoken by Yahweh to Joshua son of Nun, the assistant to Moses, as he is commissioned to succeed Moses as leader of the Hebrews and lead them into Canaan.
It occurred to me as I thought about them that they can mean very different things depending on the audience to whom they are spoken, or at least they can seem to. It also occurred to me that although there are similar admonitions given to various people throughout Scripture, none of those people are women. There are women who are lauded for their strength and courage, Deborah the judge and Yael who killed the general Sisera, for example, but they are exceptions to the rule (the Scriptural rule seeming to be that women are to be meek and compliant). But I can think of no instance in which a woman is directly instructed to be “strong and courageous” (or anything similar).
I suppose my thoughts run in that channel this morning because of something I heard during an NPR discussion of the recent mass killing in Isla Vista, California, the motivations of the killer, and the public conversation in the aftermath. Two news analysts were talking about the Twitter hashtag #yesallwomen and one of them quoted novelist Margaret Atwood, “Men’s greatest fear is that women will laugh at them, while women’s greatest fear is that men will kill them.” I’d not heard that comment before, but a look at that Twitter hashtag feed made me appreciate the truth that underlies it.
Reading the various Tweets from women under that hashtag is a real eye-opener! Here are a few (edited to remove Twitter identifiers and vulgarities):
Because I thought I was safe walking 2 blocks home in my town ’til rape reports started piling up last year. I wasn’t safe; I was lucky.
Because this is “humor”: Never trust anything that can bleed for seven days straight and doesn’t die.
Because I was recently told by a man that I was “forcing him to have impure thoughts” by the way I was dressed.
Because I’m made out to be a slut for being a single mother.
Because when I’m walking home at night, instead of self-reflection or self-improvement I think about self-defense.
Because when I walk through a parking lot and get catcalled I’m told to ignore it rather than standup for myself.
Because when my intellect stuns someone, attacking my weight is an obvious second choice.
Because when women share stories of being scared or hurt, some people say “Yeah? Prove it.”
Because when you hit on me, my curves are sexy, and when I reject you, I’m a fat bitch you’d only ____ with a paper bag on.
Because I was advised by a male supervisor to flirt with men to get them to sign a petition.
Because when a guy posts a post-workout pic he’s “confident” but when a girl does the same thing she’s “attention-seeking”.
The other eye-openers on that hashtag thread were the Tweets by men. I simply can’t repeat many of them here! To call them misogynistic would be an understatement; to call them vile would be closer to the truth.
As the child of a single mother and the parent of a single woman living on her own, I thought I appreciated the difficulties of women in our society. I was wrong. I didn’t and I probably still don’t, but what I took away from reading through those Tweets is a more visceral (if still partial) understanding of patriarchy. Those Tweets flesh-out and give substance to what, for most men (I think), can be nothing more than an intellectual concept. I suggest my brethren do as I have done and spend some time reading through those Tweets. You’ll be amazed by the comments of the women and appalled by those of the men. You’ll have to be strong and courageous to read them, but in the end you’ll be better for having done so.
So God told Joshua, “Be strong and courageous,” but I can think of no instance when God gave similar instruction to a woman. It occurs to me that perhaps the reason those words aren’t spoken to women in the Scriptures is that they don’t need to be. Women don’t need to be told to be strong and courageous; they already are. Women growing up and living in patriarchy simply have to be.
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.