Coming Clean: Let’s All Stop Exploiting Women

A sermon by Gregory Waksmulski

Gregory Waksmulski hails from Indiana and now resides in Pawtucket with his partner Rachel Meade and their mercurial cat Ralph. They are a UU family. Greg teaches at Wheeler School and will soon graduate from URI with a Masters in Library Science.

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Sermon Text

This morning’s talk covers a little ground, tracing the way fear and insecurity might lead from patriarchy to the post-#metoo world of equality first dreamt of in the Suffragette movements of the 19th and 20th centuries and lately embodied in the struggle to adopt the Equal Rights Amendment which has been seeking ratification by the many States for my entire lifetime, plus 10 more years. Only Virginia is left to hit magic number 38. Illinois went earlier this May; you might not have heard the news over the din. Almost there.

So, first: men.

My dad taught me a lot. A bit of what is good and right. A whole lot of what’s wrong and unpleasant for everyone. I still think of him when I am about to get unassailably angry. Rather, I think of him, as a child, being just as irascible. I say to child-him as I think to myself, “Oh, Gregory,” – I am a Junior – “oh, you don’t need to scream at anyone to know that we love you!”

Sometimes it helps.

He was scared, all those years. Scared that love would be taken away from him; I kind of inherited that fear. And a lot of pain otherwise. But I’m not alone – all men are deeply afraid of one thing or another.

I hope this is no secret to anyone: Men are scared. All of us. We are scared out of our wits every single day of our adult lives, at the very least.

But for men, we don’t allow ourselves to be scared. Or to feel hurt. Or weak, or any number of non-sanctioned feelings, nor are we permitted to resist indulging those most orthodox of man feelings, acting out on the anger that we feel, or the lust, or that greatest sin of all, to feel comfortable, unambitious, to not need the next rung on the ladder. To not indulge our will to dominate.

But most of us men are also insecure. So we do go out and try that dominance game.

And that, I am afraid, is where men all too often and for far too long have tried to staunch this heady well of fear and insecurity by turning others into things. Ends, not agents. It is deleterious to the spirit and indulgence in the comfort of one’s own insecurity. Separating ourselves into masters and bondsmen, one’s ego and will against an object. We all know the archetype of the bad boss, yelling at underlings for his own mistakes. It doesn’t even look like it works; the bad boss is constantly harassed by insecurity that his people will someday soon rebel against his caprice, but the temptation is there.

We see others indulge their scaredness, and we see the indignity and obsequity, and we file that away. For later.

This learning part, okay – that’s society.

This is a societal thing. Our society allows – tolerates through each of us individually tolerating – certain behaviors to be repeated. Certain rules to be recreated and upheld. Did this come from our culture? It seems to exist in a lot of different cultures. Maybe it did, but it didn’t have to and our Western society has turned It into an institution. An institution that steals from women unrepentantly.

Society has not rewarded women. Here at home in the US women are making 83 cents on the male dollar. In some lucky areas of the economy it is closer to 93 – or still only a seven percent rate of theft.

Economics in three sentences:

A woman, or any worker’s value added, is the sum output and outcomes of this individual having mixed her labor, her mind, and body, and breath, with raw materials and processes — the value she has added to all of society through her participation in labor. To accept and absorb her value added without extending due reward is exploitation.

83 cents on the dollar.

Why is an individual man going to value a woman as an equal – a person – when the economic system – our world religion – doesn’t bother?

All women are exploited in this society, whether working or not — mothers being the most appreciably so. No one has, in my knowledge, ever sent a check to a new mother after a 16-hour labor; there is one day a year where two-dollar cards might float in and give her greetings, just the same as fathers and secretaries, but just as surely not stuffed with cash. Two-dollar greeting cards, for a woman, actually costs her $2.34 considering the 17 cents on the dollar tax she has sustained for her apparent gender.

Apparent and observable gender.

Male observation evokes another area where women are unrewarded. Exploitation proceeds after all most commonly by the eyes. The comely woman will spend over 3000 hours during her lifetime preparing herself just to leave the house, almost three times the amount of time as those of us men who care to put in the effort. What does she get in return for her effort? Well, she is very appreciably useful to many a man as his to ogle.

This is entertainment to him, only similar to stopping in a field to watch some fawn if he’s also fantasizing about eating the deer; and it is vital to note here this is not why any woman – or man – gets dressed in the morning — to be leered at as an object in the least and verbally or otherwise assaulted in the worst cases. Nobody’s treat, to suffer the theft of your efforts, your labor – not even for a sex worker. Even sex workers expect to be reimbursed for their work. Those with no expectation of pay are slaves, and sex slavery is also present in America – doubtlessly in my own Rhode Island town.

But how is any woman different from the enslaved, if all are suffering some degree of theft suffered at the hands of the men in plain view of society?

Men are not seeking to exchange anything for the opportunity to leer or verbally abuse cis or trans women: they are stealing. Just another example of the invisible, omnipresent tax on being a woman.

And who is actually benefiting – growing, being enriched, nurtured, by this theft? Anyone?

Who is getting this 17 percent? Who – anywhere in our society – is benefitting from this stolen value?

We all can benefit now. By pointing at it and naming it and talking about it, here now, all of us together. So that all can learn. Learn well exactly what we can do without and what to avoid.

Let’s stop replicating the complacencies that allow negative social behaviors to flourish, to the detriment of us all.

It starts, for us men, by admitting we are scared. And insecure. And helpless.

We have to come clean.

We have to be honest with ourselves. Say, you know, I am scared right now. This fear is all I can think of right now; anyone would be, too. I don’t need to pretend to be rid of it. Or, say, I am angry! Anyone would be! It’s all I can hear and smell right now, but I am not afraid of the anger. I don’t need to pass it on to try to make it smaller or to be rid of it. Or say, gee, am I bored. That is my boredom. Why should I want to be rid of a feeling that is mine? Nobody else is having them.

Or to say to myself, honestly, gee, that is an attractive person. That is one part of them. They are an entire person, and so am I. Anyone would be attracted to this person, but my attraction is mine and mine alone, like my fears and my insecurities and my anger.

Perhaps if we can all of us individuals practice at it, we might find that we are limiting the choices of male identities less. I think if we teach those around us by showing them a better way, that it could get good for everybody really fast. Faster than we think. Faster perhaps than anybody with an interest in things staying the same ways probably want us to even consider.

Look at history. Look at how fast this #metoo thing has moved. There are abusers everywhere on the out. Justice is coming for all. Right to the pyramid’s point.

This isn’t just about the men who beg for, coerce, and steal sex, their tool to abuse women, specifically those who do so from a position of power. This is about all of us who identify as men. This is about anyone who has been given privilege from their society. It is about the choice that we all of us face every day in a million ways to do the right thing. To make the good choice, even when you want to indulge a little insecurity. A little resentment or frustration.

I know we can all see those moments.

I know we can all sense the good.

Let us all be guided towards that choice for the Spirit.

As they used to say, “Kyrie eleison”