“When Sleeping Beauty wakes up,” writes the poet Maxine Kumin, “she is usually almost fifty years old.” If not fifty, then she’s definitely over forty. It takes years for most women to wake up and face the truth that’s been staring them in the face. What truth? That Prince Charming isn’t coming. If he is, he won’t be what you’re expected. What truth? That you don’t get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate. What truth? That there are men out there who actually hate women, and there are women who love them. What truth? That there are men who don’t hate women, but do believe women are inferior and that’s the way God made it. What truth? That there are women who defend their own subordination.
I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was, by the number of women who sent emails to me protesting my blog piece the other week on submission, taking me to task for questioning the church’s teaching on women’s subordination. At worst, submission is a misdemeanor, not a crime. Sexism is mischief, not a sin. Racism? Now, there’s real injustice. The mind-numbing emails came from those in the deepest sleep possible for a woman, the unconscious state, arguing that what I fail to understand is that there is “good submission” and there is “bad submission.” A few emails came in from men, but I wasn’t surprised by those who defended the way things are. But the women who wrote accusing me of flouting the Bible and not appreciating the mysteries of submission were the saddest. Unconscious is the only way to describe a woman who stands up for her own oppression. She’s oblivious to the way she has been wounded by the tradition she defends.
It’s easier to flail at the person who’s disturbing your sleep than it is to wake up on your own. “Leave me alone, I don’t want to wake up.” “How dare you disturb my sleep?” It hurts to wake up from a deep sleep. I know. It’s disorienting. Everything is fuzzy. It’s frightening. The truth sets you free, but first it hurts your feelings. Sleep keeps the pain at bay.
I was nearly forty before I started noticing things around me. Why hadn’t I noticed when I was a girl that only men were in the pulpit? Why didn’t I notice that men led devotions and held the important church positions? Why didn’t I notice that even my father who didn’t go to church and berated my stepmother for going all the time, that even he knew that Adam was created before Eve, that Eve was the reason “man” was kicked out of the Garden, and that there were scriptures somewhere in the Bible that said that my stepmother had to submit to him? I’d read all the “great books” in black literature classes: (Baldwin, Hughes, Ellison, Gaines, Baldwin, X, ). Why had it never struck me as peculiar that they were all written by men? Why did it take years for me to notice these things? For the same reason that it doesn’t faze my daughter that Snoop, Diddy, Jay-Z, and Nelly are moguls in the music industry despite their mediocre talents, whereas talented women like Beyonce, Eve, Mary J. Blige Missy Elliott, and Mary Mary fade off the scene once they begin to show signs of aging and/or start asking questions about their royalty checks.
When a girl child is taught throughout her life to be submissive, sweet, silent, sexy, pretty but not too smart, she is put to sleep. Whether the lessons come to her from the pulpit or from music videos, the message is the same: shut up and lie down.
It takes turning forty and beyond to gain enough experiences in life and in love to see past the myths and fairy tales. Prince Charming ain’t coming, not on a white horse anyway. Somewhere between forty and fifty years old, a woman shows signs of beginning to rethink her life and dreams of taking back her soul. (I’ve written about such a woman in my book Showing Mary.)
Sleeping Beauty stirs to a noise that disturbs a sleeping woman’s slumber. Sometimes it’s a noise loud enough to yank her awake completely. Infidelity. Divorce. Death. Cancer. Unemployment. Violence. Sometimes it’s a faint noise, but it’s enough to make her toss about and shift position in bed. Noise makes one woman bolt up in bed, disoriented but awake. Another stirs, but chooses to go back to sleep. After all, it’s just too painful to wake up. She isn’t ready to do anything about the noise and drifts back to sleep, but it’s a fretful sleep.
A few of you have written wanting to know why none of the well known male televangelists have come forward and spoken out against the physical assault upon one of their colleagues by her minister husband the other week. Good question. Good recognition. Good insight. That’s it. Come on. Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.
Edited@2:00pm on Wednesday, September 5th: Click here to read Bishop T.D. Jakes’ “Domestic Abuse is Unholy” which appeared yestereday in the AJC.