Many years ago, a friend gave me a decorative plaque that said, "Well-behaved women rarely make history." I thought in many ways that this suited me; however — and paradoxically — in my mind, I have always been fairly well-behaved.
Then I reflected on the strength I have witnessed by so many women in my life, including the many women, living and deceased, in my congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, California. My guess is that these women and the strong women at the Jan. 21 Women's March also see themselves as well-behaved. So who is to tell us if we are well-behaved or misbehaving?
I had the privilege of attending that march in Washington, D.C. The crowds were beyond anything I have experienced. Because of the sheer number of people, I was never able to meet other Sisters of St. Joseph. I was a solo participant in a sea of women, men and children that encompassed all ethnicities, faiths, genders, abilities and ages (with some very creative banners!) who had come to witness to the unity in our diversity and demand equality for all.
Before the actual march, there was a four-hour rally. We in the rally area had no idea that the march was already in progress throughout the city and off the planned course because of the enormous numbers. What a crowd!
At one point, a speaker yelled out, "People!" The entire crowd called back, "Power!" The word "power" reverberated through the air, making us pause for a moment as we realized the power we carry within and among us.
To what are they calling us, these droves of people with a diversity of purpose? What is this time in the United States challenging us to do and become? The image of Yahweh shepherding the Jewish people through the desert to the Promised Land kept coming to my mind, as well as the image of Jesus angry at the injustice and defamation of the temple. Our heritage is rich with imagery and story of God being with the people in the face of unjust social structures. I am leaving this experience with an even greater resolve to speak out against social structures that promote exclusion, injustice, oppression and division. It is a Gospel imperative.
A sign at the march asserted, "We've been taught that silence will save us, but it won't." Throughout the world, girls and women are taught to be "good girls" by staying silent. Unfortunately, our androcentric, patriarchal social structures perpetuate this as the norm. These structures tell women what is allowed (defining when we are "behaving") and what is not allowed (and thus the shameful "misbehaving"). I think it is fair to say that these structures also permeate the hierarchy and history of the Catholic church.
Gloria Steinem, a steadfast and often controversial feminist, rallied the crowd with the challenge: "Sometimes pressing 'send' is not enough." Yep!
How am I, how are you, and how are we getting out there and taking action? She quoted an organizer of the Berlin march, who said: "We in Berlin know that walls don't work." Yep!
Steinem concluded with: "We are linked, not ranked." We work side-by-side, "Circling the City," working in collaboration, not over one another.
Social Service Sr. Simone Campbell, another steadfast and often controversial figure and a Nun on the Bus, was cheered as she implored us to be neighbors to one another, to be our brothers' and our sisters' keeper. She called us to commit "to exercise joy, to claim our passion, to have curiosity about our neighbors, and then share it around."
I think it is fair to say that both Steinem and Campbell are often "misbehaving."
So, back to the "Well-behaved women rarely make history" quote. I would like to be counted in the number of the many women religious, and women in general throughout the world, who seek to stand in solidarity with the most marginalized in our world (including ourselves), who seek to bring to consciousness the unjust power structures, and who do not collude with both civil and religious injustice. If that means we may be perceived as misbehavin', well, I'm all in!
Another poster stated, "My liberation is bound in your liberation." Echoing many of the speakers, we are called to seek avenues of liberation, to a radical love, to have our boots (or heels) on the ground. As women, we have natural abilities that are desperately needed in our world right now: healing, birthing, and hope. And as 6-year-old Sophie Cruz chanted, "Sí, se puede! Sí, se puede!" "Yes, we can! Yes, we can!"
[Linda Buck is a Sister of St. Joseph of Orange and, as a psychotherapist and spiritual director, her ministry focuses on the integration of psychology and spirituality, providing services, consultation and training in both of these areas. She is passionate about issues surrounding systemic injustice as well as mental health advocacy.]