Sunday, March 11, 2018

Rev. Kit Ketcham, March 11, 2018

            Not long before he died, Dr. Sigmund Freud reportedly said The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'“
            In attempting to discover just when he said this, I instead discovered link after link---often from men---asking the same question and trying to answer it.  Some theories were wildly off-base:  furs and jets, opined one fellow.  Many articles and blog posts seemed to assume that the question referred to what women want in a sexual relationship.
            Legend has it that Dr. Freud didn’t have a clue when it came to understanding what his own wife wanted.   She wasn’t apparently interested in discussing the topic.  Very much a wife of her times, Mrs. Freud avoided being part of his research, perhaps fobbing him off with the ancient adage “if you don’t know, I ain’t agonna tell you”.
            Today’s women are more forthcoming.  They’re tired of the misogyny and the unrealistic expectations that have been part of women’s lot in the patriarchal society for eons.
            Because I figured I’d get some good input, I asked the women of PUUF to answer the question:  “what do women want?”  And I got some great answers, which I hope will clear up some of the confusion.  Some of them will be surprising, some of them are things you guys may already be aware of and doing, to the best of your ability. 
            Because I got quite a volume of response to the question, I’ve decided I need to give our men a chance to answer a similar question “what do men want?” and I will be asking that question for a sermon in May, since next month I want to talk about humor---it will be April after all and we could use a lighter topic!
            I received several pages of emails from this group of women, who shall remain nameless.  And as I pored over the women’s responses, I noticed similarities in what they were saying.  Many of the statements seemed to point to a sense of not being heard when they asked for some kind of behavior.  A number of responses expressed anger at some kind of treatment they’d received. 
            If I were just to read you the list of wants, needs, and desires that these women pleaded, ranted, laughed, and plaintively described, it would take up the whole sermon.  But I’ve grouped them into some categories to help us look more closely at them.
            As an aside, I saw a funny video recently on Facebook, where the speaker was comparing the brains of men and women.  He described a man’s brain as being made up of boxes, each box being a place for each important thing in his life.  And one of the most important characteristics of this brain, in this speaker’s opinion, was that none of the boxes were supposed to touch each other.  In other words, what was in one box stayed in the box and did not interact with things in the other boxes.
            Women’s brains, on the other hand, according to this guy, connect everything.  No boxes, just tracks interlacing and twining around each other and touching here and there and going on, always moving, always connecting to each other thing or idea.
            Now, I am a bit dubious at this simplistic description, but I do have to admit that my brain does go constantly, making patterns with the connections, watching to see what is related to something else, how ideas hang together, how behavior is stimulated by something and then causes something else.
            I can’t speak for a man’s brain, but I really wonder about the box idea.  The guys in the audience were laughing----I don’t know if that means they agreed or if they were just going along. Their female companions were also laughing and nudging their partners.  I guess maybe we’ll learn more when we ask the men the question about what they want.  So stay tuned.
            The responses I got are roughly grouped into four major categories, with a few comments that didn’t fit easily into any one of them.  I’ll list the categories now and then I’ll go back to elaborate a bit.
            The biggest grouping was the kind of support women want to get from men.  Next up was sexual behavior toward women, from over-familiarity at one end of the spectrum to sexual violence on the other end.  Next was the kind of support women want from other women.
            And fourth was more goal-oriented with an implicit vow I think is hidden in the words of those women who took the time to write down their thoughts and send them to me.
            Before I go farther, however, let me say a heartfelt thank you to those women who undertook this challenge and sent me their thoughts.  I found that I identify with most of them but I also realize how different we women can be from one another.  Just because we all have the same basic hormones in our system doesn’t mean we all think or feel the same.  Or that we want exactly the same things.
            Our backgrounds, our parentage and upbringing, our innate abilities and interests, our values---these all are valid shapers of our true selves.  When misogyny and sexism, especially sexual violence,  are applied to our personal self as we grow and mature, our core identities are damaged.  This goes for men as well.
            One person said she didn’t know how to say “I want” and even now finds it hard to avoid feeling guilty when she says what she wants.  Another referred to the role of caretaking that so often is an expectation of women; it’s hard to step away from that role and let others take care of themselves when they can, even a beloved partner or child.
            So, let’s listen to some of the statements in these four categories.

            Speak Up!  For justice for women, for equal pay for women, for equal opportunity for women.  We could really use your help.
            Wait until we’re finished speaking before you offer your thought or idea.  And hear us when we say what we want; if you don’t understand, it’s okay to ask.  But don’t discount what we want; pay attention.
            Don’t be afraid of strong women----we are allies in this life.
            Be respectful of our unique abilities and contributions.  None of this  “you’re just a girl” stuff---to us or to our daughters.
            Be respectful of all women no matter what they wear.  If we are dressed a little bit sexy in your eyes, don’t assume it’s an invitation.  Teach your sons this as well.
            Honor the courage and contributions of women over the millennia of human existence.  They laid down a foundation for our lives that we still draw on.
            Respect our intelligence and don’t discount our opinions and ideas.
            Don’t judge us for our gender, our age, our size, where we live, or our sexual preferences.
            Help us stay safe---if you see someone hassling us, check it out.  We’ll let you know if and when we need help.
            If we are professional women, treat us with the respect our profession deserves.  It’s important to us and we will appreciate it.
            AND make us laugh.  We are so fond of you---and we love it when you’re funny.  Just no dumb blonde jokes or raunchy remarks that degrade women.  Please.
            And here are some statements about sexual stuff.

            NO sexual harassment, no sexual violence, no sexual innuendo, and no over-familiarity even with women you think know well or would like to know better.  Be careful with that---it can easily be misconstrued.
            In a professional situation, do not come on to a woman you work with.  We’ve all seen how this has backfired for countless highly-placed men lately and it happens to just ordinary nice guys too.
            Listen to us when we express OR when we withhold full consent for sexual intimacy.  Don’t tell us it hurts your feelings when we say no.
            Don’t take advantage when we’re less than aware—tipsy or sick or unhappy or angry.  And don’t bully us into saying yes.
            Don’t shame us for how we look or act or sound or smell.
            Don’t shame us for having been victims of sexual assault.  Shame the perpetrator and be understanding and compassionate toward us.  And help bring about justice in the situation, if possible.
            Be transparent with your feelings; be honest and don’t keep secrets; be gentle; say sorry if you hurt us physically or emotionally.  Be accountable for your behavior in relationship.  Be faithful to your partner.

            Stand up for other women.
            Don’t shame women with judgments and terms like slut, whore, stupid, crazy.

            Before I go into the 4th grouping, I want to say that these statements were often made because of painful experiences from women’s pasts.  It may be that you fellows are already trying really hard to do it right.  Hooray for you!  We have a lot of really great men in this congregation, but you might want to up your game a bit by sitting down with an actual woman---you partner, your sister or mother or friend, and ask about what they want.  Give them your full attention and ask questions.  Don’t treat what she says lightly.  Be accountable and make amends if you goof up.
The fourth section of these thoughts from the women of PUUF is a little different.  Over and over I heard the mantra:  “I want greater peace and equity between the genders and the whole spectrum of gender experience.  I want us to get beyond the “Us V Them” survival tactics of the past millennia of basic human survival.”
I also want to think for a moment about the worries and concerns that have bothered some of my male friends, who wonder what’s still okay?  Some are a bit scared to reach out to a woman, for fear of doing the wrong thing.  I thought this passage from that lengthy bunch of emails was interesting and heartfelt.
This woman said: (and I’ve paraphrased)
I also want us to approach each situation for the unique interpersonal dynamic it represents.  Sexual intimacy is a complicated thing.  Some behavior is clearly inappropriate; rape is rape, groping is groping, but I also believe we can and should respect the complexities of courtship which necessarily involves some grappling around personal boundaries.  
I don't want what can be an exciting world of flirtation to become strained to the point that the excitement of … romance becomes strained in our world.  I want women to feel empowered to control their own sexuality completely, but also take care not to vilify innocent or confused men. 
This world needs to honor our good men and recognize that sometimes offense will be taken when no offense was intended. And that's okay. And I want us to recognize the dangers of alcohol--which can make women vulnerable, which can make good men into horny men, and legitimately complicate issues of consent for both parties. “
As I have read and reexamined the statements by our women responders and researched more deeply on the topic of what do women want, I’ve been struck by a body of research that deals with the negative and positive effects of our growing up years.
How do the wounds or blessings of childhood shape our personhood?  Beyond the biology of reproduction, how did women develop the ways we tend to respond to men and how did men develop the ways they respond to women?
            For all of us, regardless of gender, there is a common biological beginning---from fetus to newborn to toddler to teen to young adult and beyond.
            Those who raise us as children have the greatest early shaping effect on us:  our parents, our mother and our father figures, and the other adults we live or associate with.
            Most of us have done some thinking over our lifetimes about the parents or parent figures who raised us to young adulthood. We started out totally dependent and gradually grew and matured into the adults we are today.
            Along the way, our experiences with those parent figures, whether male and female or same sex parents or other guardians, shaped our behavior and our responses to the world and our fellow humans.
            There’s a lot of speculation and theorizing about the generational phenomenon thought of as the “Mother Wound”, a name for the collective generational pain that is passed down from mother to daughter and, of course, to sons as well.
            Women learn how to be in the world from their mothers, who learned it from their mothers, who learned it from …well, you get the picture.  And sometimes we learn strength from our mothers and sometimes we learn weakness.
            What we learn about our own male-female relationships is taught to us by our mother’s relationships, how she relates to our father and to other men.
            Sometimes the Mother Wound is deep and raw and painful forever.  Sometimes it is healed by our own self-recognition of the wound and the hard work of creating our own health.
            For women, healing from the so-called mother wound, or the pain we have inherited from generations of our female ancestors, the healing starts when we recognize in ourselves that very sore place and become determined to bend our lives toward healing and to treat the girls and women in our lives in the ways we wish we had learned while growing up.
            Some of the negative things we may have learned from our female ancestors are these:  not to be too successful, not to hurt men’s feelings, not to challenge men professionally or personally, and to feel guilt and shame over our appearance, our ideas, our abilities and intelligence, being careful not to be too bold or too shy.
            I was thinking about these negatives and trying to decide how much I had been affected by them.  Did my own dear mother transfer any of these concepts to me, her eldest daughter?  Well, yes and no.  I watched her carefully stay in the background as a homemaker and preacher’s wife, not revealing her amazing artistic talent, and I also watched her go back to school at midlife and get her Bachelor’s degree in midlife even though she commuted from Goldendale to Ellensburg on weekends to do it.
            The wound I think I am still trying to heal is the guilt I felt when I left the Baptist fold and experienced my mother’s heartbreak at my doing so.  She sent me tracts about salvation when I was living in Denver, asked questions about what I now believed, told me she prayed for my salvation and hoped she would see me in heaven. 
I tried my best to reassure her that I had not forsaken my early beliefs in kindness, compassion, and the lessons the prophet Jesus had taught, but I still felt a tiny bit of guilt that I could not convince her that I was all right and that if there was a heaven, I’d probably be there to say hello.
            The most healing thing for me has been my close friendships with other women, the opportunities I’ve had as a school teacher and counselor and now as a minister to work with women and girls to encourage them to be everything they can be, to appreciate their true selves, not their appearance or cuteness or how pretty they are.
 I still compliment women and girls but I try to make my compliment bigger than just “you look so pretty”.  And I smile at old ladies at Freddie’s and converse with them at the cash register as we wait to pay for our groceries, remembering that old age can be a lonely time and a friendly gesture is worth a lot.
As I come to the close of this sermon, I want to reiterate my firm belief that we have wonderful women and men in this congregation.  We aren’t perfect, but we care about each other, and when something goes wrong between us, we want to straighten it out.
Our women have let us know what they want from their relationships with men.  It will be the men’s turn soon, to let women know what good men want from us.  In the meantime, let’s enjoy each others’ company, mindful of the many complications of human living.  Let’s remember to be the best women and men we can be, striving for healing for ourselves and others as we can.
Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer.

BENEDICTION:    Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, asking for and giving the best and most respectful treatment we can offer.  May we listen well to each other, asking clearly for what we need from each other, and may our relationships be fulfilling and healthy.  Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

#MeToo---and you?

Rev. Kit Ketcham, PUUF, Feb. 18, 2018

This thing has gone too far. It has terrified people, driven them out of their workplaces and even professions, made them afraid to speak up and punished them for speaking. This thing, by which I mean misogyny and violence against women (and girls, and men, and boys, and even babies, but I’m going to skip the horrific baby story that was reported last week). The #MeToo upheaval is an attempt to address something old and deep and very destructive, and if you’ve forgotten how serious it is let’s take a visit to my favorite radical-feminist data center, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics. There you can learn that there were an estimated 323,450 rapes or sexual assaults in 2016, as well as 1,109,610 reported incidents of domestic violence. Less than a quarter of those rapes are reported to police; slightly over half of the domestic violence incidents are.  Rebecca Solnit in the publication Literary Hub.

            When the explosion of #MeToo accusations against powerful men in entertainment, industry, and sports hit the news circuits last fall, I took a deep breath and considered my own history with sexual assault.
            I’ve done a lot of journaling about this topic over the years, trying to figure out how an early experience with an uncle I had trusted and loved had affected my development as a girl moving from childhood, through adolescence, into adulthood, and contemplating my relationships with men along the way.
            When I told my parents that my elderly uncle had fondled me on a recent visit to Elgin, where our aunt and uncle lived, they immediately took action.  But it was not to report the uncle to the authorities nor, as far as I know, to confront the uncle or to inform my dad’s sister, our aunt.
            Instead, we almost never saw that uncle again, unless they happened to drop by our home in Athena unexpectedly.  He mostly disappeared from our lives and died a few years later of age-related ailments.
            But the effect of that experience was burned into my memory and from that time on, I was wary of males.  Even a minor teasing by a male friend alarmed me; and I’d count the number of males in a room compared to the females and wonder if we girls were safe.
            And yet my little heart went pitty-pat over the cute athletes in our high school; I had my crushes and a few boys even liked me in return, but I rarely felt safe with them.  I was aware of their physical strength, their ability to affect how I felt, and my need to keep my distance---because it was up to me, of course, to keep them from hurting me.
            After high school and college, I left home for young adult type experiences: a summer in Wisconsin at a church center, a welfare worker job in Klickitat County, and then an opportunity to move to Denver and really be on my own for the first time in my life.
            I fell in love in Denver, had my first real sexual experience, and then felt the guilt and confusion because of his criticism of my body.  With my so-called “innocence” gone, I began to date another man who became my husband only a few months later.  It felt as if virginity was a burden to be relieved and then there was no reason to stop sexually.  But I was still scared.
            Marriage did not make things easier, and after 13 years of feeling used rather than cherished, I left the marriage and embarked on an effort to overcome the fear I’d had for so long.
            A few years of experimentation, which included an incident of date rape, ended abruptly with the advent of the fear of HIV/AIDS and I began to be more trusting of myself and my ability to choose wisely, to take care of myself, and a couple of truly caring relationships helped me find a comfort level with men that I had not had before.
            But that changed again, after the breakup of a relationship in which my partner was unfaithful, and I have been pretty much celibate since that time, over 20 years ago. 
There is a professional taboo in UU ministry against being romantically involved with a member of my congregation and that restriction became an oasis for me when I went into ministry.  My professional relationships with men had to be completely above-board; much harm has been done to congregations when the minister has let his or her sexual interest in a parishioner become active.  I was very happy with that restriction.  It was a relief.
But enough about me---what about you?  Several weeks ago, I announced that I would speak about the #MeToo tsunami of accusations and resignations, the groundswell of angry women and uncomfortable men.  I asked if any women and men who had been sexually assaulted or harassed would like to help me shape the service, and several contacted me.
Since that time, I have had conversations with a number of women and men and we women have shared our experiences and our feelings, examined the trajectory of our lives as they were affected by the experience, and where we are today with it.  I have come to believe that many, if not most, women have been affected by experiences from one end of the sexual harassment spectrum to the other, from unwanted flirtatiousness to rape, serious injury, and even death.
As several of the men who responded remarked, this is to some degree a socialization issue and has to do with the way gender roles have been assigned and interpreted as we grew up.  BUT it also has to do with misuse of power---physical power and the type of power that is inherent in an unequal relationship where one person has the ability to make or destroy another’s success and sense of wellbeing.
Most men would not even consider physically forcing another person to satisfy them sexually and yet the MeToo victims have spoken clearly about their sense that they had no choice---either to remove themselves from the situation or report the situation or to do anything but freeze and even dissociate from their bodies as it occurred.  They may not have been physically forced, but it was an emotional coercion that may have even been unconscious on the part of the dominant person, usually the man.
Where does this sense of emotional coercion come from?  A couple of my male friends, both from my generation, grew up in an environment in which most women were not peers but were mothers and housewives, not in the workforce except out of necessity and then often in menial jobs or typical “women’s work” careers like teaching or nursing. 
Many of these work situations required women to be subservient to men’s direction and their livelihood depended on their being able to satisfy a boss’s needs.  Sometimes these included sexual advances of some kind; a woman had few choices in such a situation and figuring out how to keep one’s job without succumbing to the pain of sexual harassment and assault has been one of women’s ongoing challenges as they climb the career ladder.
Women learned to laugh it off, to keep their male bosses happy while avoiding the unwanted hug or joke; women warned each other about grabby males in the workforce and in social situations. 
Women have also learned to manage their intimate relationships with men upon whom they felt dependent for reasons like children, financial support, or household needs.  As a stay at home mother and wife, a woman has had to keep her husband happy in order to take care of her children and have a roof over her head.
Little girls may see their mothers mollifying their fathers and subjugating their own needs and come to believe that this is the way men and women are supposed to relate, not as peers but as dominator and dependent, even when the relationship was basically loving and kind.  Mama did what Daddy said.
And adolescent girls may behave the same way when they are with a boyfriend or other male companion: “don’t hurt his feelings by saying no, don’t make a fuss, don’t ask for anything that will make him mad, because if you do, he can retaliate and make your life miserable by talking to the other boys about you.”
When I was a school counselor, I sometimes learned from girls that one of their friends was talking about committing suicide.   So I would bring that girl into my office to check on her wellbeing and I had a series of questions I’d ask as our conversation got underway.  
The girl was often unable to articulate her distress beyond the idea that she was worthless, that the world would be better off without her, that she was stupid and ugly and fat, so I’d gently ask her to tell me more about her life, and the one question that often broke the dam of her anguish was “have you ever been sexually molested or assaulted?”
            The answer was almost always YES, “yes, but I can’t talk about it because he said he would hurt me worse, nobody would believe me, he might hurt my family, he said that I was ugly and fat and dirty and that nobody else would ever want me.”
            This happens to boys too.  We are probably all well aware of the extent of the Catholic church’s history of priests using little and not so little boys---and girls, to be clear--- using them for sexual gratification, and the cover-up by church authorities over the years, even today.
            But it happens elsewhere as well, with older boys and men forcing younger boys to gratify them sexually.  These perpetrators are almost never gay men but rather straight men who are pedophiles, drawn to young boys (and girls) for their powerlessness and childlike bodies.  It can also happen in heterosexual hazing incidents where one boy or young man is initiated cruelly into a group.
            For this to happen to any person, male or female or non-binary  is a terrible blow to their self-image, a deep wound to their identity.  They can come to believe that they are worthless, that they are guilty somehow for not being able to avoid or to end the abuse, that others will be harmed if they tell, that they will not be believed.
          Let’s pause here for a moment and think about what has happened in our own lives.  There are a lot of stories in this room, some of them never told, some of them repeated only to therapists and partners, some that have been almost forgotten and some that will always be remembered.  It is not only women who suffer.  Men, transfolk, and nonbinary people are survivors too.
            We all know people---women, men, children, transwomen, transmen, gender-fluid folk---who have been touched by the pain of sexual assault and harassment.  Today we feel their pain and our own.  We wish healing for ourselves and for one another.  We wish for the three-fold purpose of #MeToo to be realized: 
            The first purpose of MeToo is to help women and those of all genders who have experienced sexual violation to not feel alone. The second is to show men the magnitude of the problem so that men cannot claim ignorance.  #Metoo asks men to step up and take responsibility for addressing sexual harassment.  The third is to change the culture so that every person can grow up trusting that their body will be respected.           
         I have here on this table a bowl of pebbles and a container into which we will drop our pebbles one person at a time, representing those who have been affected by the scourge of sexual violation, a condition which is perpetuated by misogyny, patriarchy, and the oppression of the weak by the powerful.
            So, if you are willing, if you are feeling pain from your own experiences, if you have a MeToo story and are angry or sad or frightened, if you want to come up here and stand with me in solidarity with all of us who have experienced this violation, please, come on up.  You don’t have to say anything, you don’t have to share your experience, you’ll just be together with us and not alone in your experience.  If you have loved ones who have been harmed by sexual violation, please come on up as well.
            As you come up to the platform, take a pebble or two from the bowl and drop them in the container, to represent the pain that you and others have felt.
If you come feeling nervous about sharing this moment with others, look around and see that you are not alone.
If you come feeling shame about this experience, look around and see that in our eyes you are holy and good.
If you come feeling relief, look around and feel the freedom of release.
If you come feeling anger, look around and see that others recognize and understand your rage.
If you come here grieving, look around and share your healing tears.
If you come feeling guilty, look around and let go of your heart’s sad burden.
If you come feeling fear, look around and see that you are held by the courageous love of this community.
If you come feeling compassion, look around and see that your listening ear is deeply needed.
And if you come here with a survivor’s heart that has persisted against all odds, look around and see that all of who you are is welcome here and know that you are a gift unto the world.
May the spirit of life and love bring us all greater understanding and the will to change what has been broken for so long.  May it be so.  May we be healed.
Let’s pause for a time of silent reflection and prayer as our sisters and brothers take their seats.
CLOSING HYMN #109:  “As We Come Marching Marching”
I recognize that not all of the MeToo issues have been addressed by my words.  Tod and I have talked about how we might schedule a discussion time later in the year, when we’ve had a chance to reflect, and my March sermon will be entitled “What do women want?”, that famous quote from Sigmund Freud, to carry this important theme a bit farther.
 EXTINGUISHING THE CHALICE.   And now as Veja extinguishes our chalice, let’s close with our benediction.
BENEDICTION:  Our worship service, our time of shaping worth together, is ended, but our service to the world begins again as we leave this place.  Let us go in peace, remembering the hurt and shame that we and our loved ones have experienced because of the plague of sexual violence that permeates our culture.  May we stand up to those who would deal pain with their power and may we do all we can to support each other and to eradicate this stain on our culture. 
Amen, Shalom, Salaam, and Blessed Be.