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.

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