The Words of God do not Justify Cruelty to Women


Place: Mosebo, Ethiopia Date: Sept. 15, 2005 Credit: The Carter Center  Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter shakes hands with a young girl in Mosebo, Ethiopia, during a visit to commend the efforts of the Amhara Region to prevent trachoma, a painful and debilitating disease that causes blindness.

“The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.” Jimmy Carter

Wow. When I first read the title of the July 12th Observer Op-Ed by President Jimmy Carter, “The Words of God do not Justify Cruelty to Women“, I didn’t quite know what to expect.

As I read the piece, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. A man who was president of the United States stepping into the minefield of women’s rights with courage and conviction, enough conviction to leave his church of six decades, the Baptist Church.

As I let what President Carter had written seep into my awareness, I felt something hard to put into words. It’s the feeling of having another human being express, aloud, something that I have known to be true, all my life, deep in the recesses of my being, even though the established ideology of the many cultures of the world denied its truth. Here was a man speaking it with such strong conviction and courage.

All my life I have witnessed this falsity played out, the falsity that women are lesser beings. It is a belief that is ingrained in the culture I live in, and in many of the cultures of the world. I imagine there are still some small pockets of indigenous people who continue to honor women as equals to men, encouraging the gifts women bring, as well as those of men. But, I grew up in a culture where this falsity was a part of the system, and so, I internalized this belief. I internalized the sense of not being as good as, not deserving the same opportunitties, not, not, not …

I grew up as a middle-class white girl in the United States where I had so many more options that others. I had, and have, more options than so many women and men; yet, and here is the crazy-making part, I witnessed the gap between what I was told and what I experienced.  If the world believed women were lesser beings, then I must have been crazy for knowing, and believing, something different. I internalized a sense of distrust of my own knowing. I internalized all the crazy-making thoughts that seemed to support the cultural belief that women are second-class. At a young age, I adopted the belief that the world around me fiercely held to.

My process of awakening to an innate sense of self-worth and self-trust as a woman has taken decades. It has been necessary to look deeply within, to inquire into my own self-limiting beliefs, as well as those beliefs held by the culture I live in. It has been critical that I ask myself, with fierce truth-telling, if what I hear and see reflected out there is real, is true. In this process, I have come up against all of my internalized beliefs about my worth and the worth of women. I saw where I was telling myself all the lies that I had been told. I came to understand that those lies were illusion. I came to know that I am created in the image of an intelligence far greater than anything my mind could comprehend, an intelligence that does not create flawed and sinful beings. I came to see the beautiful light and life that lies within the female body.

More recently, I came to understand that men are not the enemy, women are not the enemy, there are no enemies. We are all part of the whole. We are all dis-illusioned, conditioned by beliefs that keep us separate and at odds with each other; somewhere within, we know these are illusion. And, we are all capable of seeing clearly, if we choose to question our own belief structure with fierce truth-telling.

Fast forward to yesterday: here was Jimmy Carter finally, in plain and simple English, saying what I know and feel as true, know by way of my own experience, that women are not lesser beings. A feeling of rightness and peace came over me, a rightness that happens when what you see and hear outside matches what you know inside.

You might read President Carter’s Op-Ed, and even this post, and say, “Of course women are equal”. But, it is one thing to know this intellectually, but another thing to know it emotionally, to no longer believe those old feelings of low self-esteem and low self-worth, or to no longer feel a sense of being better than or less than. When I read his piece, his words resonated with what I feel inside.

I feel something big is shifting in the world. I believe in the power of the truth. If we wake up out of this illusion that women are lesser beings, and realize mutual respect and honoring between the genders, this same feeling of rightness, of peace, can pervade the world we live in. And, perhaps we can realize true honor and respect for all of life, the earth, animals, plants, ocean…all living beings.

Thank you, President Carter, for taking this courageous action, and speaking it out into the world, for in your speaking it aloud, we take one more step forward to a world where men and women bow down to each other with mutual respect, dignity and honor.

Photo credit: The Carter Center

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