Saturday, 8 March 2014

Happy International Women's Day

With gratitude for the women who have played, and play, a role in shaping my life.

This list obviously includes my mother, who instilled the virtues of right & wrong in me, taught me how to manage my life and my household, taught me to cook, iron, clean, but also taught me how to assert myself, have a good argument, make my will known and stand firm.  When we were victims of the economic downturn in South Africa in the late 1980's, Mom was the one who swallowed pride and went looking for food with cap in hand, and we survived for several months on regular deliveries of food donations from our local Catholic church.

The list of influential women extends beyond to include teachers, inspirational friends, clergy, colleagues, nuns, cleaners, pioneers, and more.

The most inspirational teachers in my life were women; from Miss Kelleher who instilled a desire to work meticulously (albeit slowly) on my studies, to Miss Fleming & Miss Von Zeuner who showed me at the age of 12 how to begin to think independently when it came to politics (I was schooled during the apartheid era, which I knew was desperately wrong, but was not aware at the time that you could voice that you disagreed with the government, or that enough voices could change a country. These two teachers took a great risk by encouraging discussions in their classes that would not have been allowed by the school, and encouraged us to find our own voices);
The first person I came out to was a female friend - who helped me see that it wasn't a big deal - I was still the same person.
When my training incumbent subjected me to public humiliation when he discovered I was gay, and began a systematic breakdown of my career, including kicking me out of the parish, making me pay off a 3-yr car loan in 3 weeks, spreading rumours about me around the parish, pinning notices about me to public noticeboards, having me followed around town on days off and in the evenings, and more, it was a female friend who came to my rescue and paid for me to fly to her and stay with her, and who helped me see that my calling was a calling to serve God, not necessarily with a dog collar.
I have learned a lot about ministry from the women in my profession, who have been excluded from playing the institutional game, which made them easier to confide in and befriend. That's not to say that I haven't learn from men in ministry, particularly those who were around during my training years.  However, as people who have also often been sidelined by the official institution, the female ministers I've known have been both colleagues and confidantes, and I'm grateful for them.

This list is a starting point, there are so many more, from church cleaners who taught me about integrity & friendship that crosses income barriers, to parishioners who showed me different models of family & how to raise children (who knows, a skill I may yet need), to those who were, and still are, pioneers in male-dominated workplaces.

I should mention that I've long had a real respect and admiration for African women, those I met, and those I didn't, who - during the dreaded apartheid years, left their own families to be the nanny, cleaner, cook & household manager for white families, in order to provide for their own families. I'm astounded and humbled that they would do that, and often raise someone else's children without prejudice or agenda.

So, happy Women's Day, and I hope to live to see the day when we no longer need a Women's Day, or Pride festivals.

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