Wednesday, June 12, 2013

2013.06.12 FLOTUS Take a Risk

Warning: it’s my soap box again!—one of them anyway.

Michelle Obama was heckled by an activist woman at a private Democratic fund-raising event just last Tuesday. 

Heckling is not unusual. What was unusual was the way Mrs. Obama handled the harassment by heckling, a tactic I personally think is not only discourteous but rather effete in its ability to persuade or advance a cause, express views, or even to simply create flack.

What impressed me was that our FLOTUS came down from the podium and went straight up to the woman activist, got in her face and personal space, and said: “Listen to me or you can take the mike, but I’m leaving,” daring the stranger to own her rude behavior and daring the crowd to choose between them.

The First Lady won the standoff, but Globe editorial writer Joanna Weiss wrote on June 9, 2013, that reactions were mixed. "Some people will always accuse her of being “angry,” a word loaded with coded meaning.  Even some fans thought she was impolitic here, too quick to show her temper, especially in contrast to her glacier-cool husband.”

Myself, I found it refreshing. This was not from afar, cyber-anger online where we don’t need to see people’s reactions, but a face-to-face confrontation—far from anonymous. 

What are the “coded meanings” in “anger?”  Is it the old fear of a woman scorned in love or politics?  Is it any anger? Is it loaded with racist/sexist/heterosexist/ableist subliminality? If a woman’s anger, is it a violation of gender role stereotype, politically incorrect, or just recalcitrant sexism?

I recall some years ago when I expressed anger. I was trying to get ordained priest in the Episcopal Church just after the Church had voted (1976) that women could be ordained. I was among the first group of women to enter the ordination process in Connecticut.  We were “legal” so the bishop and committees had to receive our applications, but we were hardly welcome in the face of naked sexism in a patriarchal institution. 

The committee turned me down saying that it would be a “dual vocation”—that I would not be able to be a mother and a priest.

After fuming and self-denigrating for a while I, with the encouragement of my therapist, wrote a letter to the bishop, sent also to every member of the committee. I expressed my anger at the injustice and advocated for myself in what I thought was a healthy manner.

Guess what?  My anger was labelled naive, aggressive, hostile, immature, defensive, and, yes, unbecoming for a woman.  My anger was called anything but anger, a quite normal feeling in response to an injury, or for the sake of justice. 

That was 35 years ago.  And the condemnation of female anger is still with us, although much of the condemnation goes underground—along with the anger I would add.

I’m proud of Mrs. Obama. Her action gives us pause. I hope it will be instrumental in breaking down the rigidities of our patriarchal system. When we dare to go face to face and into another’s personal space, we risk rejection AND we also risk establishing a damn good relationship of truth. Heaven forfend. Is that what we’re afraid of?

And for Christians (and other religions too, men and women alike) who are supposed to live respecting the dignity of every human person, it’s time to get a grip and take some risks for the sake of connection.   Anger-in-truth is no sin.