Thursdays in Black #TiB aims toward a world without rape and violence. Historically, the movement is traced to the 1970s when Argentinian women protested for protection from violence and rape. Flowing and ebbing over time, Thursdays in Black has spread globally. March 15, I attended a panel discussion at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York City. Hosted by Ecumenical Women of the United Nations, a panel discussion. Four men dialogued on progress and potential for a world without gender solicited destructive behavior.
Toxic masculinity was defined broadly, not necessarily by gender or male human beings, but by attitudes; threatening attitudes that bully and harm. I talk in my memoir, I Am My Father-Mother’s Daughter, about negotiating the attitude of masculinity. Here is the chapter:
Keeping It Straight
The farmer’s market got a reputation. Officials from other markets, including from the Seattle Pike’s Place Market, visited Pasco to watch its operation. I’d give them tours and answered questions. They took notes. The standard comment to me was, “I can’t believe you don’t have theft problems.”
The comment tempted me to pat myself on the back. I diligently prayed for honesty and believed my prayers had positive effects. Cash was the main currency. In the crowded hubbub, purses were opened and closed. Pants pockets were dug through for money and dollar bills were handed to farmers, who threw the money in shoeboxes and crates.
In an apron tied around my waist, I carried thousands of dollars from paid vendor fees, even serving as the local bank for change. Theft was only mentioned once.
A vendor noticed a pair of handcrafted wooden earrings missing from his rack. Two weeks later he told me, almost incredulously, “Cheryl, those earrings reappeared on the table.”
My prayer for honesty was fine and good, but I knew the people and atmosphere had a lot to do with it. The customers genuinely appreciated the fresh produce, handed to them by the very people who put their hearts and souls into the products. The vendors were from family farms, not corporations. There was no middleman to dilute the authenticity. The good outweighed the bad.
Not that it was all hunky-dory. Irritation, jealousy, and plain old weariness crept in periodically to throw us off guard. Fortunately, we’d help one another get back on track quickly, even when we didn’t know it. Like the time a woman helped me correct myself.
It was a scorching August day when more than seventy vendors showed up. I wiped salty perspiration from my eyes and was menstruating, not always a trouble-free task for me. I moved cautiously so blood wouldn’t start rolling down between my legs. People kept asking me for help, keeping me from walking across the street to where the bathroom was located.
I watched three vendors walk up to me at once, all talking, or rather complaining. When they were standing within an arm’s reach in front of me, I held up my hand, palm out as a stop sign. They stopped and quieted. I pointed to the person I figured would be the quickest to deal with. “I need change for this $50,” he said. I made the change.
I pointed to the second person, who said, “I need plastic bags.”
“You can buy some bags at stall three,” I answered, and then looked at the woman who stood with an agitated, indignant expression on her face.
“You told me to sell from stall fifteen and there is no way I can get in that stall. Do you see all these people? I have a truckload of peppers and tomatoes and need to get them out of the sun. It’s impossible to get in stall fifteen. I’ve tried. There’s no way.”
In the middle of her verbal explosion, I saw a thought pass through my head that harkened unmistakably: Women like you are why we are considered the weaker, dumber sex.
Though feeling annoyed, I said to her, “Please take me to your truck and I will help you.” I followed and asked her if it’d be okay if I backed her truck into stall fifteen. She gave me her keys and within two minutes she was selling her produce, relieved and happy.
Oddly, I wasn’t happy with myself. I felt a bit chastened.
When walking to the bathroom. I quickly realized I’d judged the woman alongside the thought that some women feed male chauvinism. I’d spent my life dodging male chauvinism because plenty of men treated me with prejudice, as if I was weak and dumb. So, why would I entertain what amounted to a male chauvinist thought?
Later in the day, I took the time to answer that question the best I could. It dawned on me chauvinism wasn’t gender specific. It was simply narrow-mindedness, a laziness that doesn’t help others. I would be adding to it if I accepted that thought about the woman that had passed through my head earlier. I mentally re-routed my thinking to admit it was chauvinism that annoyed me, not the woman. I affirmed that I didn’t help the woman because she was daft, but because I could help her in a way she understood. We were equals.
It was an exercise in breaking apart thoughts and reconnecting useful thoughts to get a more inclusive picture. The exercise helped me later when reading the Bible at home.
I read the story about Elisha who met a distraught mother in debt. She was about to lose her sons as payment for the debt. Elisha asked, “What do you have in your house?”
The mother had some oil.
Elisha instructed her to borrow a bunch of jars. When she poured her little bit of oil in the jars the oil multiplied miraculously. She sold the oil and paid off the debt.
It was the question, “what’s in your house,” that shifted my mental strategy. Instead of thinking and acting from the premise that I lack, why not ask what I have?
I had food, shelter. I even had stuff in storage, nearly forgotten. We certainly had family love. And then whomp, the thought to foster children landed in my creaked-open mind. I needed to share family love.
I went to the phone and called the State Social Services Department. A social worker came to our house to start the process of licensing me and Doug as foster parents. She examined our house, nodding in approval. Where I saw puny, she saw modest. Where I saw ugly, she saw practical. Where I saw cheap, she saw affordable and clean. Within a few weeks, 2-year-old Junior came to live with us.
Leah and Carly didn’t mind a stitch when we moved their clothes dresser out of their bedroom into the kitchen so we could fit a crib next to their bunk bed. The girls had fun showing Junior the swing set and forts.
Unexcitable by physical color, shape, or size, Junior ambled as fast as his chubby legs could carry him to keep up with the girls. He adored hugs and book reading time.
Junior helped solidify in my mind the concept of a Father-Mother God that cares for us all. With a divine Parent, the temptation to condemn his human parents died off.
We continued fostering children for the next fifteen years.
I learned that I never lost what I didn’t have. I learned that I can increase what I have.