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The last gasps of Patriarchy?

Leigh Waggoner

Years ago, I sat on the couch in my living room facing an investigator from the State Board of Medical Examiners. He had come all the way from Madison to my house in the woods in northwest Wisconsin to question me.

His task, on behalf of a panel of male medical doctors, was to determine if I’d broken the law. At that point, I did not call myself “a midwife.” When asked, I said simply that I helped women who gave birth at home, and that is what I did.

I remember this man leaning in toward me and with all the power of the AMA behind him calmly interrogating me. I remember the internal shuddering that I couldn’t control. I remember not being able to think straight. And when he left, I shuddered all the more as I realized, “This person has power over my life that I can do nothing about.”

The short version of the story is that I was investigated three more times by the state but never brought up on charges. All this was in the background at the same time I was moving through a protracted civil case that culminated in a jury trial. After being front page news for months having been accused of “practicing nurse midwifery without a license,” I was found not guilty.

It was a grueling, emotionally draining, and expensive year.

I write about this, because I know what it feels like to not have power. And power – not sex, not even violence – is behind what we are seeing in the news these days.

From public accusations against men in high positions to the women on the streets who are speaking up in the #MeToo movement, women are finding our courage and our voices. We are standing up to those who have assumed power is theirs and theirs alone, and they are rattled. The world is seeing, I believe, the last gasps of Patriarchy. The foundation of the Good Old Boys network is crumbling.

Why write about this in a religious column? Because if the stories on which our faith is grounded don’t in some way address inequities in our world, it is not a faith to which many these days want to subscribe. It is nothing more than a tool to prop up those at the top.

A challenge for those within Christianity who see another way is that there are Biblical stories that support Patriarchy. It is, after all, a religion born in a time and out of a culture that was thoroughly patriarchal. In our own “sacred scriptures” women were property with all the rights of the cattle their husbands also owned. It is a religion that, as it developed in power and influence, squelched other expressions of faith that centered on the Feminine Divine. It is a religion in which, even today, women have not yet fully achieved parity. This is to a large extent because all religion is embedded in a culture, and, universally, Patriarchy still holds sway.

One might ask why any woman would stay a Christian. It’s true, many of us are leaving. Some of us, though, stay. And the reason we stay is because of Jesus. We stay because, for ourselves and for the men in our lives, Jesus – a man – showed all humans a different way. The stories we have about him show a teacher (divine or not) who took the lessons he learned at his mother’s knee about equality (see the Magnificat, Luke 1: 46-55); who learned from a non-Jewish woman from Syro-Phoenicia (see Mark 7:25-30/Matthew 15:21-28) and was willing to be changed in how he understood his culture and his religion; and who stood up to those in power on behalf of those who were culturally and religiously marginalized (see the Gospels). Jesus showed the people of his day another way. The way of radical equality and unity.

As a woman I have no desire to “take” power from men. As a woman and as a Christian, I hunger to live in a world that honors and participates in the way of this teacher (Jesus) who looked to God and taught what he saw – a realm in which all are of value (equal value); all belong; and in which everyone’s voice is heard and honored.

Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. She can be reached at 565-7865, or rector@stbarnabascortez.org.

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