Woman, Stand Up!

by Elouise

It’s 1988–nearly 27 years ago.
I gave this at a seminary women’s dinner during Women’s History Week.

* * *

When I was growing up, I sought the approval of men.
I thought that if I did things just right,
They wouldn’t mind so much that I was born female.
They wouldn’t treat me the way they treated other women.

So I dressed modestly—in neutral colors and neutral shapes.
Surely they would see that I wasn’t a source of temptation,
Like all those other women who flaunted their sexuality.

I laughed at their humiliating, obscene jokes about women.
Surely they would see that even though I was modest, I wasn’t uptight,
Like all those other women who didn’t know how to have any fun.

I did my homework—diligently.
Surely they would see that I wasn’t frivolous,
Like all those other women who went to college just to find husbands.

I spent hours helping them with their homework.
Surely they would appreciate, respect, and value my intelligence,
Especially since I wasn’t very pretty.
They certainly couldn’t accuse me of being dumb—
Like all those other women.

I spent even more hours listening to them, nodding in support of their ideas.
Surely they would see that even though I was intelligent,
I wasn’t trying to displace them or take over the conversation,
Like all those other women.

I smiled a lot.
Surely they would see that I wasn’t like all those other women
They kept labeling as troublemakers.
I wasn’t here to rock any boats.

When I began looking for a teaching position at a seminary,
I thought I had gotten over my need for male approval.
After all, I had already been a self-affirming,
Out-of-the-closet feminist for at least eight years.
Hadn’t I learned to live without male approval?

In September 1983, I stood up—
To teach my first class at a seminary.
Standing up felt wonderful!
I had worked hard to come to this day.
I knew I was right where God wanted me to be.
So I stood up, never expecting what would happen next.

On that very day I began to see, to my horror,
How much I desperately long for the approval of men.
And, to add to my dismay, the approval of other women.

As I stood there, I felt the beginning of a great, relentless temptation—
The temptation to sit back down.
Elouise, why don’t you just sit down and ease everyone’s discomfort—
Including your own?
Why don’t you just sit down,
And step out of the struggle to be yourself?
Why don’t you just sit down,
And reassure everyone that even though you’re a woman teaching theology,
There is nothing to fear from you!

Indeed, why not?
The temptation haunts me.

I used to be proud that I got along so well with everyone I met.
I still get along with nearly everyone I meet.
But lately I’ve begun asking myself a disturbing question:
Why do I get along so well with people?
Is it because I’m standing up,
Or because I’m sitting down?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 13 January 2015
Adapted from a devotional for a seminary women’s dinner celebrating Women’s History Week, February 1988.  Theme:  Woman, Stand Up! (Luke 13:10-13)