What kind of world do you want to live in? What kind of world do I want to live in? When (If?) we pray “Your Kingdom come”, what kind of Kingdom/World are you praying to come? Do you look at this world and think with increasing incredulity, “We don’t live in that kind of world” and feel powerless? Do you feel the injustice, the unfairness, the wrongness of what you see and hear and become despairing? Or do you have a different reaction?
Are you compelled to speak out, share your story, share the story of others? Are you trapped in a cycle of anger and inaction – staring at the size of what faces you? Are you disheartened by how small your own battle might look compared to the vast array of poverty, violence and abhorrence – the sheer scale of what seems to be bearing down on us all. And how does one choose just one cause?
Women are being beaten and abused the world over in Pandemic proportions. Black people are being shot and stabbed on the streets, often by the very people charged to “Serve and Protect”. Democracy itself is under threat; the people of the Yemen are being bombed (by British made and traded bombs) and starved to death; man babies in control of nuclear arsenals are having dick measuring contests over Twitter with no thought for consequences outside of themselves (because malignant narcissists are incapable of it); Foodbanks are a norm with people holding down 2 or three jobs relying on them living one borough over from the millionaire landlords and the millionaire lawmakers that protect them.
And all that will still be there tomorrow.
But people surprise you. They still tell their small stories about their own small lives. And even in that smallness it opens a small crack. And the light filters through despite all attempts to keep it out. A veil gets drawn back and all of us can see a different world.
I’ve been constantly reminded of that the last 18 months or so watching the rise of the #MeToo movement. The Silence Breakers. The storytellers. The ones saying enough is enough. And the Patriarchy fighting back. But the stories can’t be untold. And it’s been in the interest of the establishment to sell the lie that yours is an isolated story, you’re the only one. You are alone and if you tell that story you will be left alone. But it’s a lie. Those stories are not isolated. Even when those stories are of pain and harm and abuse we can stand up and say #MeToo and not just open a crack in the door but smash it down altogether – the door and the whole house of Patriarchy.
For a fictional commentary on these Me Too stories I was reminded recently of Thelma and Louise. It’s one of my favourite films I must admit. It splits opinion amongst my friends and I generally have to watch it alone. One of my friends especially expressly dislikes the part “where they give up and commit suicide”… Except, you know what that’s not what they’re doing at all. If you think of the ending as a bit of a downer, imagine your life as Thelma. Not just a loveless marriage but one that appears (to me at least) to be one of coercive mental and emotional abuse. She has no agency for herself at all. It’s even a wonder that she had mustered enough rebellion to go away with Louise at all. And then…
A world in which the word of a woman over a man is worthless. A world in which simply dancing with a man amounts to consent. A world in which options for women are limited to wife, mother, virgin or whore. And if there’s a man’s potential for a high flying career in the offing – your pain and damage comes second to him and his prospects. A world in which this exchange twenty odd years later is still true –
THELMA I don't know. Just tell 'em what happened. LOUISE Which part? THELMA All of it. That he tried to rape me. LOUISE Only about a hundred people saw you cheek to goddamn cheek with him all night, Thelma! Who's gonna believe that?! We just don't live in that kind of world. Pull over!
We just don’t live in that kind of world. But can we? The pair of friends take off after shooting Thelma’s would be rapist and begin to re-write their own world. Thelma slowly begins to see a world in which she has her own agency. Where she is outside of the Power and Control of the systemic injustices that keep women half asleep or bound in convention and discrimination. Where their friendship is one of sharing power, of the two of them together being greater than the sum of the parts – isn’t that what all great friendships and relationships have all their strength in?
I love the two of them together. I love that it’s Thelma that figures out Louise has a #MeToo story but doesn’t push her for it. I love that they face the world they got together. I love that not only is Thelma on a journey discovering her own agency but that they empower each other in developing that agency. I love that by the end they feed each other’s agency and empower each other to take the action needed.
The great scene where they finally pull over for the truck driver who has repeatedly been sexually harassing them throughout the road trip sums up their inner journey to freedom and empowerment – not because they shoot up his truck (although that is a lot of fun) but because they both take control of the narrative from the abuser and because of the equal nature of that control. It isn’t one or the other of them who is “in charge” or making the decisions. They’re doing it together. As a team. And letting each other step forward when needed. There’s this idea that over the journey that started with Louise protecting Thelma with a gun and now instead she steps back and gives Thelma the freedom to choose her own action and backs her up in it. There’s a quote that in some senses I do like – ” A friend will help you if someone knocks you down. A Best friend says ‘stay down , I got this'”. And yes I see where that comes from and sometimes it’s what’s needed (I certainly need it from time to time). But a real best friend helps you up and gives you the tools so that you got this. Shares their power, gives up their control, enables your agency. That’s why I punch the air in that scene.
And as for giving up and “committing suicide”? I just don’t think that’s what it’s about at all. It’s about not giving up. It’s about not going back to the world of control. It’s about finally discovering your agency and not being willing to compromise on it. It’s finding a friendship outside of and as well as a romantic relationship. It’s claiming a world where dancing cheek to cheek all night isn’t an automatic invitation to sex or excuse for rape.
And if you don’t like the ending, what are you doing to work for a world that would have given them a happy one? What would that take? What would it take to “live in that kind of world”? Believing women is a start. But just a start. Sharing power, lifting each other up, drawing back the curtain on lies and protection of perpetrators.
I want to live in that kind of a world and it’s part of what I pray when I ask for God’s Kingdom to come – a Kingdom where women don’t have to throw themselves away to gain their freedom, a Kingdom where all of us share our stories without shame or loneliness, a Kingdom where friendship and community are about lifting each other up, pushing each other forward and urging each other on. Amen.