When I had just turned 19, I got a tattoo of a female symbol on my bicep. In college I was a gender studies major (along with religion, big surprise there) and can’t remember a time I wasn’t a feminist. Gloria Steinem visited the college where my parents taught when I was 10 and my mother paid me $5 to go stand in line at the mic to ask her a question. It was a safe bet, my female symbol—17 years later, I’m definitely still a feminist. I am watching my five year old daughter spoonful by spoonful begin to swallow the message she is supposed to be pretty in order to matter in this world (which, truthfully, she is) and I cannot do anything to stop it. When she is 19, maybe she, too, will need a tattoo of a female symbol on her bicep.
Today is International Women’s Day—for another hour, at least—and I have had the privilege to travel meet women from the Global South and I know how different their concerns are from mine. I know that beauty in the US can be hazardous to one’s health but to the woman from rural Tanzania who doesn’t have clean water, that is the least of her concerns. For a woman in the mountains in rural India to menstruate is to be considered filthy, contagious—that is not a mere inconvenience. As I watch my own daughter admiring ads for make up (which she’s never seen me wear) I am well-aware that the stakes for her are quite different. She may or may not go on to accomplish All The Things, but the obstacles she will confront are not the same.
When I got my tattoo I knew everything—I was sure that my rage had moral weight. This morning I preached about Jesus turning the tables over in the temple and skated over the question of his anger (truth be told, it was not my finest homiletical moment), but his anger, and our anger, did matter and does matter. But it will not do anything on its own. I’m not sure how much it mattered that we held signs in front of the women’s clinic near my college to support those on their way in. Maybe it did. Maybe it mattered to one, and that was enough.
Now I am wondering what it matters that my tattoo is still there—I’ve got plans to get rid of it in favor of a larger piece—another woman symbol, a woman with a burning holy heart, love, who walks the world. She is the power of love over death. But I will miss the clarity I had 18 years ago. It was pretty nice to be so sure I was right.