A Wall I Support- A Wall of Women
The wall of women was 620 km long, over 3 million women standing side by side on the streets of Kerala.
This wall of women was created to let people in, not to keep them out.
This month in the Indian state of Kerala, women lined the streets and highways in protest against women being banned from a Hindu temple. Women of menstruating age were banned from entering the Sabarimula Temple in 1991.
They were excluded because sexual intercourse is offensive to the deity. The responsibility to keep the god from being aggrieved fell on women (1). What on earth was their rationalization? That women are all potential sleeper agents of seduction!
Did they believe their periods made them dirty, their fertility made them dangerous, their femininity made them menacing?
Last year the Supreme Court rejected this discriminatory thinking and overruled the 1991 decision. This sparked riots and outrage, over 100 were injured, 5800 arrested and female journalists assaulted (1). But the women stood defiant- all 3 MILLION of them.
Protests in Kerala against the overturned ruling. Photo from: http://www.news18.com/photogallery/india/massive-protests-in-kerala-over-womens-entry-into-sabarimala-1902389.html%5B/caption%5D
Mass protests like the wall of women in Kerala is powerful and provocative. Mckesson (2) explains:
“Protest is telling the truth in public…Protest is, in its own way, a storytelling. We use our bodies, our words, our art, and our sound both to tell the truth about the pain we endure and to demand justice that we know is possible. It is meant to build and to force a response”.
A part of the wall of women in Kerala. Image from “New Indian Express”
This Christian woman would happily stand side by side in protest with my Hindu sisters.
I get it. My Bible says pretty much the same thing about periods in Leviticus 15:19-23. Being denigrated just because my body functions as it was created makes me enraged and gives me a scary eye twitch! But after a bit of research I discovered a crucial difference between the Hindu and Christian reasoning.
The Sabarimula Temple honors a bachelor god who apparently finds a woman’s fertility offensive. Whereas the Biblical rule is about preventing disease in the Israelite refugee camp that roamed the wilderness for 40 years.
Similar to refugee camps today, establishing hygiene protocol was essential to preventing disease. It wasn’t just menstrual blood that the Jewish law considered impure but also semen, poo, skin infections and open sores. Keeping body excretions away from the camp’s population prevents diseases like Hep B and C. Yeh, I checked it, menstrual blood can carry disease (3).
Eventually the Jews stopped roaming deserts and the law was no longer useful. So Jesus came and smashed that obsolete rule in his usual outrageous way. A woman who had suffered a 12 year period, an “unclean” woman, touched a holy Rabbi. He responded not with disgust but called her “Daughter”. Jesus broke down that wall with one word.
The unsaid message I heard from Jesus was this: stop being freakin’ uptight about body cleanliness you OCD (obsessively controlling doinks) hypocrites and focus on spiritual cleanliness.
The Pharisees in the days of Jesus were not the only powerful people to be pointlessly rigid about periods, the Hindu women of Kerala also had a wall of pointless religious tradition to break through.
These Indian women who protested are part of a rich history of walls of women marching for a cause. In 1789, the women of Paris marched on the Palace of Versailles protesting the scarcity and cost of bread. The women marched for 6 hours to Versailles chanting “Bread, bread” to the beat of a drum. This wall of women would usher in the French Revolution.
Protesting over bread is about as practical as you can get. It’s contradictory to the common criticism that women are too emotional. As if the practical and emotional are somehow incongruous. As if the visceral and the rational cannot converge.
This combustible combination of deep emotion and unrealized solution is the catalyst for protest. The wall of women cry out: “Feel our need! Feed our need!”
One of my all-time favorite, all-women protest groups is the anonymous art collective called the Guerrilla Girls. In 1985, seven female vigilantes disguised by gorilla masks took to the streets of downtown Manhattan. Armed with glue and posters, the Guerrilla Girls, set out to shame the art world for its miserly representation of women artists.
In 2009, the Guerrilla Girls made their own wall. They created an interactive graffiti wall titled I’m not a feminist, but If I were this is what I’d complain about… Women could then use chalk to write on the wall completing the sentence with their responses. Responses included “Being told it was my fault I was raped” and “Why do I earn 79 cents for every dollar a man earns for the same work! “
Another wall created by the Guerrilla Girls was a poster of a brick wall with graffiti that belittles women through historical quotes from famous men. The wall features quotes from Confucius (“One hundred women are not worth a single testicle”) to Frank Sinatra (“A well-balanced girl is the one who has an empty head and a full sweater”).
The Guerrilla Girls were inspired by the essay, “”Why have there been no great women artists?” by Linda Nochlin. Nochlin writes, “”The fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, but in our institutions and our education.” (4)
I think the wall of women from Kerala would agree.
Building big walls is a controversial subject at the moment. The point of these “Walls of Women” is to destroy walls of injustice and discrimination.
These walls were not built to create zones for those who are in and those who are out,
for those who have periods and those who have penises,
for those in prosperity and for those in poverty,
for those with passports and those who are stateless,
for those who have a voice and for those who are silenced.
Good walls destroy these separations. That’s the kind of wall I support.
by Elissa Macpherson: author, speaker, Jesus lover, injustice hater, coffee drinking, sequin wearing, beauty embracing God gurl!
2.DeRay Mckesson from the “On The Other Side of freedom: The Case For Hope”
Note: I’m pretty sure the Leviticus teaching on what was clean and unclean has spiritual layers of meaning as well as the practical ones above but this blog wasn’t the place to investigate that, so you can relax now, OK?