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I am a third-wave feminist.  And sometimes, I have no idea what that means.

At the Ecumenical Women Orientation two weeks ago, we worked with feminist theologian Caryn Riswold to elaborate on what it is to be a third-wave feminist in today’s world.  Three generations reflected on whether the distinction of “third-wave” is even helpful. They worried about where the next generation will take us.  And, they expressed concern over whether feminism itself is dead.

Caryn Riswold speaks at the EW Orientation
Caryn Riswold speaks at the EW Orientation

Women spanning six continents reminded each other of the various perspectives that a global movement brings to feminism.  We noted with joy young women like Facia Boyenoh Harris of Liberia, who hosts a radio show for young girls, embodying a bridge between the second and third waves.  Privileged feminists of Ecumenical Women were reminded of the needs of a far greater population of women—those for whom reproductive justice is not an option; whose decisions are often made for them; whose bodies are made vulnerable to domestic violence, human trafficking, and crimes of war and terror.

Suddenly, we weren’t facing the nuanced standards of a privileged third wave anymore, riding on the shoulders of our mothers who fought before us.

2 Samuel 13 tells the story of Tamar, a young woman who is raped by her brother Amnon with the permission of her father—none other than King David, who the Bible so faithfully upholds as the greatest leader in Jewish history.  Because she is physically weaker than her brother, the passage tells us, Amnon is able to force her into having sex with him against her will. After this, we are told that because of the actions that he himself chose to perpetrate against her, he comes to hate her “with a hatred greater than the love with which he had loved her.”  So Tamar puts ashes on her head and she tears her robe in grief.  Her father David is angry but does nothing, and her brother Absalom encourages her “hold her peace.”

We never hear what happens to Tamar after this story. The horror of discovering this rape in the Bible is eclipsed only by the realization that even the author cares not what happened to Tamar after all was said and done.  Her life, her name, the “rape of Tamar” – these all serve in the text only as a function to explain why later her brother Absalom, who told her to stay silent, kills her brother Amnon, who raped her.  In the story, Tamar is property to be protected or violated. She is a figure whose violation represents not her own personal grief but her family’s public shame; a woman whose grief is but a footnote in the long opus to political power that we find recorded in the Bible. Read the rest of this entry »

Since our orientation to the Commission on the Status of Women on Saturday, many of our delegates have been thinking about the power of scripture, both in its perpetrating violence against women and in its calling for solidarity and compassion.  We thought we would share this clip, featured on UN Radio which features a Lutheran pastor in South Africa named Solomuzi Mabuza, who uses a dangerous scriptural story about rape to educate men about stopping domestic violence in a South African context:

The Bible story The Rape of Tamar is about a young man who violates his half-sister. South African pastor Solomuzi Mabuza uses this story to teach young people about violence against women. Rev. Mabuza is a passionate advocate for women’s rights and gender equality. He believes that since apartheid has been defeated, South Africa should also work to ensure equality of women and children. UN Radio’s Matthew Graham caught up with Rev. Mabuza during his recent visit to UN Headquarters.

Solomuzi Mabuza recently contributed to Ecumenical Women’s Advocacy Guide, Faith at the UN, Gender in the Church.

Click here to listen to the story – which also talks about  male nurses in South Africa.

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