As we stood together on the Wisconsin state capitol steps in chilly, huddled clusters, literally waiting on the world to change for women, we knew we were experiencing a moment unlike any other.
White women and women of color, stood swaying, arms laced, chanting and singing protest anthems in unison, if not in harmony. Men and children clustered around them, holding up homemade makeshift signs with pithy slogans that called for women to be seen and respected. Community leaders, government officials, and politicians shouted sermonic aphorisms and promises to do better for and by women.
This rally for women’s rights was a moment of unity and acknowledgement of the issues women face in this world as well as the joy and difficulty of being a woman. And yet, while the moment was a novel one, something about it also felt oddly familiar. Not like a glitch in the Matrix, in which reality is stuck in a repeating loop—not that kind of familiar. And not familiar in the way Bill Murray’s character must have felt about reliving Groundhog Day. It was more like a recurring dream that I vaguely remembered dreaming over and over again.
While standing in this powerful moment with the winds of promise and hope thick and heavy in the stratosphere, I quickly Googled other marches and rallies for women.
I scrolled through dozens of articles and pieces on marches for women over the past several decades. There seemed to be a notable rally, protest, or march every few years. That was not surprising. Our country should be the kind of place that offers safe spaces for women and allies to gather.
What surprised me was that, almost without exception, the pieces I saw written about other marches for women used the same language to describe them. I carefully read phrases like “unprecedented,” “never before seen,” “a first.” I saw the same kinds of government officials promising the same things to women. I read about the same hope and momentum I was seeing in this moment. And I became discouraged. Couldn’t we stay awake for one hour?
What I saw and perceived at that march for women is in many respects an allegory for how we have treated social justice for women in this country. While our great country is the land of opportunity, dreams, and hope for many, there has always been an undercurrent of injustice for women. Women have always been outside the arc of freedoms, protections, and opportunities of this country.
Someone or something will make us aware of this injustice, we become awake to it, and we begin to take steps to help women. Susan B. Anthony made us aware of voting injustices; Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Mary McCloud Bethune, and Rosa Parks made us aware of the injustices that occur to Black women. Betty Friedan and Barbara Ehrenreich helped to call attention to the hardships women face in the workplace. We agree in these moments that knowing what we have learned from them will forever change us.
But, after a period of time, no matter how well-intentioned we are, no matter how good we are, no matter how much work we plan to do to achieve biblical equality for women, we return to our normal routines, forgetting the oppression.
Could we not stay awake for one hour?
We find ourselves in this predicament every time a court makes an adverse ruling against women, every time an elected official or legislature moves to limit the trajectory of women in some way, and every time a church or denomination uses Scripture to tell the Christian community that women do not belong in the pastorate or pulpit.
We march. We rally. We pray together for women. Church folk across the country start book clubs, and companies pledge to help develop and encourage women in professions in which they have been underrepresented.
But, after a while, we go back to our normal routines. The money promised never makes it to women. The book clubs dissipate and disband. The attention paid to injustice among women, evaporates.
Could we not stay awake for one hour?
Staying awake for women is painful, thankless, and burdensome. To be awake for women means that we never stop seeing the injustice that occurs to women, day or night. It means there is no peace for us unless there is peace for women. It means that there is no rest for us until there is biblical equality for women. For many of us, it is easier to sleep on women’s inequality.
Jesus certainly illustrated that he had an understanding of how this works. Instead of sleeping through the pain and injustice of this world, Jesus chose to be fully present and awake to advocate for all humans—but particularly for women. And when Jesus asked for some of His disciples to stay awake with him, they could not do it. Jesus said, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death; you all stay here, and stay awake. . .Could you not stay awake one hour?” (Matthew 26: 38–40).
We were all awake in that moment, as we stood on the state capitol steps, calling on the world to change as Jesus calls on us to be awake. Uniting diverse souls, for a common cause all centered in that moment, for advancing biblical equity and equality for women.
The disciples did not stay awake with Jesus. But Jesus calls on us to stay awake, be present, and not sleep on women. He calls us to be present with women in the courtroom, the office, schools, and the church in the fight for justice.
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