Thu, 11/10/2016 - 14:23

Out of the Shadows

When I began to write about the amazing women in Heathenry, one of the goals that I had was to cause them to raise their own voices, to tell their own tales. I have been honoured by a young lady of some accomplishment. She is not free to be openly Heathen in her public life, and I respect that. There are real world consequences for the intolerance of others, not all of which we can even pretend to be immune to.

I cannot tell you who she is, but I can tell you that she holds some standing in her community and commands respect in other communities due to her carriage, her words, and her very worthy actions. While young, she exhibits the best of what we hope are the virtues of our community. Her words are worth hearing, her tale worth examination both on its own merits and for what it can teach us about our own community.

Heathen Community

When I was in high school, I thought that both genders were treated equally nowadays in the United States, and the only thing left was the wage gap and the final glass ceiling into executive positions both in companies and within the government. I was wrong. I can’t begin to list all the sexism I’ve experienced, from having a male suite mate treating me like a maid (even after strongly protesting this, several times), to being cat called and followed on the street, to losing people I thought were good friends of mine when I said I didn’t want to hook up with them (and systematically being told by men that unless they could get sex from me, our relationship was worthless/I contributed nothing just as myself), to being sexually assaulted and raped, and then being told ‘well what did you expect?’

What did I expect? I expect to be asked always whether or not someone can touch me. I expected for people to listen when I say ‘no’ or that I’m not alright with something.

But now I expect something else. I expect that a man wanting to have some sort of relationship with me is only interested in sex. I expect that men are likely to violate my boundaries. I expect to be viewed as an object for sex by a lot of men. I expect to have my life put in danger if I fight back, or if I stand up for myself. I expect to have very limited relationships with men, in order to keep myself safe.

Now I’m trying to change expectations. I have gone to places where consent for everything is required, and where it is safe to say no (and yes, as a woman a lot of the times it is not safe to say no, and that includes social repercussions). Where I can start to trust that the men there will value me as me, will listen to what I say and respect that. I want to be respected, I want to feel safe, I want to expect that that will happen.

Within the Heathen community, I have had men be shitty/sexist towards me or there be a sexist dynamic. I have had men be supportive and welcoming. There has been both.

I want the Heathen community to be a place where I expect to be respected and am proven wrong by a few, not to expect to be disrespected and be proven wrong by a few. To help with this I wanted to list a few things that people do that make me feel respected and safe as a woman

Letting other people know it’s okay to say no to a request.
Taking a moment to really listen to what others are saying.
Check your assumptions – ask if what you’re assuming is correct/clarify anything you’re not sure of.
Be honest and open about your intentions.
Ask what people’s boundaries are.

It goes a long way to know my voice will be heard and respected. It goes a long way to know it is safe for me to speak out, because every time someone says something sexist, I have to weigh the probability of them being able to physically hurt me and/or the social/political repercussions against the benefits of speaking up. Moreover, in places where I know my boundaries will be respected, I tend to feel appreciated for the human I am, and feel my accomplishments to be more fully acknowledged.

Being Heathen has been one of the most empowering things in my life. ‘You are your deeds’ speaks strongly to me, and has gotten me to fight sexism/rape culture in a multitude of ways. It puts the responsibility in my hands, ‘what am I going to do about this?’ And the gods have played an enormous role in my healing and determination to stand up for myself.

This isn’t about me and what women themselves do to combat sexism. This to me is about culture and expectations. I am strong and will fight back in anyway I can, the question is not what will I do, but what will I have to do? Will the heathen community be a place where I’ll have to fight, or will it be a place where the fight’s already won?

Disclaimer: this focuses a lot on the men-women dynamic. I want to note that women (& people of any other gender) can be shitty, sexist and can violate boundaries. I also want to note that men can be super respectful of boundaries. I just wanted to write about my experience with men in general and my experience of sexism in general.

Disclaimer # 2: This is not an article telling you how to act, do whatever you want. But if we are really our deeds, then you might want to consider that if you’re deeds are not making half the population feel respected;)