Dear Girls -- Here's Why Nasty Old Religious Men Are Terrified of You
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This is hard to do. It requires that you, individually, be brave, strong, determined, fearless and confident. It requires that you demand that the adults around you pay attention and change their behavior. This is even harder.
First, and perhaps the most difficult to understand as a girl, is that women who love you and care for you often enable these men. This is what people say, "It's not JUST men!" And they are right, women support them, individually and in groups, in ways that have private, public, political and societal consequences. But, make no mistake -- although women are the enforcers of rules, they have no real, systemic authority in conservative religious hierarchies, and they know this. Yes, without their supportthese men could not continue, but until these women are truly free -- bodily, economically, physically, politically -- and their practical and spiritual salvation is no longer mediated by these very men, they will continue to support them. Enforcing the rules is a rational choice that enables them to survive, the world over, in unjust environments. You scare them too, because you call in to question their own complicity and cause conflict within.
Second, it is confusing that these men say they do what they do for your own good. They talk about respecting you and your dignity. You want to believe them; they have power and authority over you, your parents, your community and your access to God. They are often kind and benevolent and they love you. So, they must be right. But they are not. They demonstrate their own hypocrisy over and over and over again. They say they know what is best. They do not. You do. Don't believe them when they teach you in hundreds of ways, through sacred text, careful words, cherished traditions, hidden threats and frightening examples, that you are inherently more sinful, base and corrupt, less worthy and in need of constant male guidance. Reject them.
The adults around you may not appear to support you when you take your humanity to its logical religious conclusions. Do not let them off the hook. Do not let them use "tradition" as an excuse or say it "really doesn't matter." Do not allow them to get away with asking you to "sit out games," "be a good girl," "don't make a fuss," and "put something on." These are micro-aggressions that result in macro-aggressions. Adults often don't think these things through. Sometimes it's scary to them, too.
You can say: "There is nothing wrong with me. There is something wrong with you and your world."
Otherwise, when you get older, these same men, the ones who fear and hate you, will continue to undermine you. They will seek to control your body, keep you out of the public sphere, subjugate you in the name of a narrowly defined "family," create impediments to your equality, shame you at every turn and justify your continued oppression in convoluted ways that defy reason and morality. They will investigate you for being strong, violate you, stone you to death, charge you with witchcraft,punish you in every conceivable way to set an example for ... your children.
So, know that you are strong and powerful. Use your reason. Trust your instincts. Seek out those that would support you and, yes, know your place: on the field, in the street, on the bus ( in the front), in school, at work and in public office.
You are not alone and you are brighter than the sun.