As a religion major at Davidson, some of my most powerful conversations about faith and religion have taken place outside of the classroom, most recently in the Multicultural House basement. There, I have been fortunate to take part in a series of dinner dialogues called Women Talk: a circle of women joined by common questions and struggles of faith. For four weeks in the months of September and October, twelve women from seven branches of Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Baha’i, and secular traditions came together to talk about the intersections of gender, religion, and race. Our dinner conversations were punctuated by laughter, second helpings of curry, and poetry readings from Alice Walker’s writings on the spirit. I am so grateful to the women of Davidson who have taught me how to be faithful and fully own my identity as a woman.
I learned from these dialogues that our religious traditions are not just patriarchal means of oppression, as some on-lookers can argue. Religious and spiritual beliefs and practices can also be sources of hope, courage, and belief for us as women to re-claim our fullest dignity. It is a constant struggle to know what we believe, and why we believe, and how we live out our beliefs. Sometimes we follow a tradition we don’t agree with. At the same time, women’s experiences of faith and spirituality often go unheard and unaccounted for in the public realm, and we are working to change that. We are both alone in the journey to answer these questions and we have role models and mentors to guide us. We are making change, and we are inspired by the words and example of our ancestors and our compañeras.
This poem is a compilation of our conversations, questions, and reflection exercises. I hope you take courage from our words, and enjoy!
As women, we are taught to fulfill impossible expectations.
Women are created of an inferior nature, called to submit to the man.
We are to be homemakers, and the ones who care for the children.
Women pass on the tradition, but do not pray in front of men.
Women cover their shoulders and their heads and their hair.
Women have to be proper, modest, guard their hearts.
They don’t divert attention.
We know there’s another side of the story.
Women run the kitchen and children’s education,
prepare communion, light the candles at Shabbat,
lead their families to go to mass,
and pray to God for hope.
We are re-teaching ourselves to find role models.
We are the sisters and daughters of Mary Magdalene, Joan of Arc, Zora Neal Hurston,
Hannah Seresh, Hagar, Alice Walker –
We also come with questions.
Is God feminine or masculine?
Are my two options in life to be Madonna or a whore?
How independent and put-together am I supposed to be?
How do I stand up against racism, sexism, economic oppression?
Why is it ok for Americans to hate my religion?
Who am I called to be?
We want to be seen for who we are.
As confident and kind
powerful and passionate
strong and capable
We want to live for what we love:
Mountains. Music. Coffee and tea. Nature. Showers, crisp air, hugs, justice, stories, laughter, hugs, rain, all kinds of love, hummus, animals, books, dreams, responsibilities, adventure, breathing.
This is who we say we are:
Poet. Friend and companion. An ethnic minority, Latina, not a race. Black. Pakistani, not Arab. Global citizen. Low-income. White majority. Listener, thinker, questioner. Believers. Complex and sensitive, powerful(less), supported, alone. Reader, athlete, musician. Mentors and our mothers’ daughters. Struggling and confused. Earth-child. Not self-made. Independent and interdependent. Movers and shakers. Subject to change. Vulnerable. Strong.
The only voices we have.