The Amazing women in my life
This is Women’s Month, when in South Africa we are questioning why there is so much violence committed against women and children. The incidence of violent crimes, sexual and verbal abuse committed against women, is horrendous.
This set me thinking of the amazing women in my family life and within my circle of friends. My mother and her sisters were orphaned in their teens and were sent from Kimberley to a Salvation Army home in Woodstock, Cape Town. She was very proud of the contribution the Salvation Army made to her life. One of her first jobs was to look after an elderly woman. The woman she cared for returned to England and my mother went with her to care for her. However, the woman died within a few months and my mother returned home.
She married my father at a young age in 1933 – this was his second marriage, and they had eight children together. In the midst of bringing up children there were the years of the Great Depression and the search for work. Then he went to war and she had to get on with mothering young children and finding a way to feed and clothe them and take care of their education.
I once captured a poem of my mother around the table with her family. After my mother died, her possessions and bits of furniture were given to members of the family or given away. I lived in England then and had no knowledge of what happened to the pieces of furniture that were of some value. Back in Cape Town, one evening my wife and I were invited to dinner at my young nephew’s home. I entered his home and saw our family table. I was quietly and profoundly moved, and later wrote this poem.
My mother was poor
And did not leave us much
But in a season beyond her death
when I went looking, but not for her
I saw her soul and mine
oval-shaped in a table of oak
matured beyond its years
and there we were, her family of eight.
How in a two-roomed Woodstock space
she poured into us
her tenacious will
and pride of spirit
that we were somebody
and beautiful enough.
Around Sunday’s hard-earned leg of lamb
she fed her children first
and tapped manners in and out of them.
How for such a short time
she held us in that protective frame
and gave herself.
was all she had and was enough.
And we grew oblivious,
vital in our loves and sorrows
beyond the narrow confines
of her table
Into others worlds.
My sisters, and there were five of them with wonderful energy and drive, grew up into a very different world to that of my mother’s. They too would have children and nurture them, but at the same time they were career women who fought for their place in a patriarchal world that was changing, slowly and reluctantly in its need to open up to women.
I honour my sisters in their journeys of helping to create a world where men and women are respected equally.
Reflection on The Syro-Phoenician Woman for St Mark’s Church
The Syrophoenician woman
The story of the Syrophoenician woman is a story of a persistent woman who cries out within her society. She will not remain silent anymore, She will not be put down by authority, or the stature of this young rabbi. She will do everything to make the world stop and listen to her, now in this moment. She cares not that the good teacher has to be on his mission, that he has a programme that will eventually get to her. She will not be silenced by smart words. She will respond intelligently with wit and humour. Her daughter is ill. Yes her daughter! Who needs every attention in that society that a son would.
She will not tolerate verbal abuse in this company of men. She is a woman created in God’s own image.
This is Women’s Month, and we are aware that the achievements of women in every sphere of modern life are considerable.
A country that ignores the contribution of women is simply operating on half its brain power.
Some countries are slow to realise this – or simply refuse to.
We are also remembering the brave women of 1956 who marched on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to petition against legislation that required African persons to carry the ‘pass’.
They left petitions containing more than 100,000 signatures at Prime Minister J.G. Strijdom’s office door. They stood silently outside his door for 30 minutes.
The women then sang a protest song that was composed in honour of the occasion: Now you have touched the women, you have struck a rock.
The women put their lives on the line and carved their names and place in South African history and in the new democracy that would emerge. Amongst those women were giants like Rahima Moosa, Helen Joseph, Albertina Sisulu, Sophia Williams-de Bruyn and Lilian Ngoyi.
When one hears what women are saying about their treatment in modern day South Africa, it seems to indicate that many South African men are fundamentally sick, that there is something wrong with our masculinity.
It is true that not all men are sick, and perhaps you are not.
However the situation does ask us to reflect on some important aspects of ourselves.
I speak to men
How do you regard women? Do you see them as inferior to yourself, who are just there to fulfil your need, both physical, maternal, sexual?
Have you examined how you talk to women, to your mother, your sister? Is there an underlying irritation?
Do you think that you as a man you are automatically superior to women, or to your mother, your sister, your girlfriend? Do you think that the great forums of the world and all its systems, its institutions and businesses are the domain of men?
Patriarchy is our inherited past. Our religions, our philosophies, the Bible itself has fashioned this kind of thinking – but there is an expanding breaking out of this way of thinking, and what it means for us to be men and women in our post-Covid times which will require a new way of being.
The woman and Jesus were examples of two people stepping out of their times, listening to each other and breaking the mould.
Hear the persistent women calling to us in our times from all the homes and shelters and no shelters of our country, crying out for their daughters who are emerging in the new world. They are coming with an energy and confidence I hear in the voice of a Thuli Madonsela, who told us this week that she was inspired by the courage and strength of Deborah one of the charismatic Old Testament Judges who rose up in her day to lead her people. She went on to talk about ethical leadership, of doing the right thing because it is the right thing. She further challenged women when she questioned how women still raised their sons to be providers and protectors. In doing this, women themselves were reinforcing this inequality.
And then the voice of Maya Angelou in her famous poem in which she speaks for all women:
Still I Rise
by Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
’Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
The feminine not only exists in women, it also exists within every man.
To find our maturity we need to find the balance between the masculine and feminine within ourselves.
To treat women condescendingly may indeed stem from a loathing of our own sense of self.
The woman in the New Testament was persistent in her cry to the Lord,
The cries of women are becoming persistent in our society and the world and we must hear them and take what they are revealing to us, to heart.