I listened with the suspended premonition that accompanies “one of those moments.” A moment often accompanied by a niggling prod to pay attention—something pivotal is about to happen.
As I watched, the junior congresswoman stood before her colleagues in the chamber and justifiably rebuked a senior male congressman for his reprehensible, disparaging behavior toward her. And I knew. It was one of those moments that, in hindsight, you look to and say, “That’s it; that’s when it shifted.”
To be sure, there was nothing unusual or unexpected about the senior congressman’s egregious behavior. He simply did what hundreds of years of majority power has taught him to do when confronted with a challenge to his authority from a woman—particularly a young woman and, more particularly, a woman of color. His disparaging words essentially telling her to “sit down and shut up” were caught by reporters. What followed was a gaslit, back-handed apology for any misunderstanding.
She did not accept it. It was not an apology. There was no repentance, no contrite spirit. Simply an “I’m sorry you misunderstood.” She did not sit down, and she most certainly did not shut up. As I watched, I smiled and thought, “They’re here. Our daughters are here, and this is only the beginning.”
The congresswoman had been one of many who had worn white to the State of the Union Address the prior year in honor of the women—the suffragettes—who had fought and won the right for white women to vote 100 years before. The visual was stunning—the number of women taking up space in seats was disruptive to a groove that had been laid down over centuries. The presence of these women frustrated what had, for the majority, become the smooth flow of power in this country.
Raised in a culture where little girls were cute, quiet, and compliant, I was spunky, chatty, filter-less, and opinionated. Many well-meaning adults told me how to be a more acceptable girl, including instructions to sit down and be quiet. I needed lots of reminders.
When I was finally proposed to, my dear mother was over-the-moon. She couldn’t wait to shop for a white wedding dress for me. The white dress signified the purity and worthiness of the bride. To her mild disappointment, I chose “candlelight.” Fresh from a “Color Me Beautiful”TM indoctrination, I knew that my Autumn coloring was best complimented by “candlelight.” I still had no filter, but I did have a few choices. “Candlelight” it was.
White is problematic for my complexion. White as a symbol of purity and abstinence is also problematic for my theological reasoning. I wonder at the symbol of white because none of us is pure—not a bride, not a groom. No, not a one. We are not pure, but we are redeemed.
Rather than the absence of taint, it seems to me that the image of white in Scripture refers more to the redemption and restoration of something. In Scripture, we are “washed whiter than snow”—words indicating that even snow is not white enough to symbolize our redemption. The taint of our fallen nature is removed.
White represents what has been restored—the way things were always supposed to be—including women now elevated to positions of influence alongside men as a correction of centuries of patriarchal control.
The purifying agency of redemption is at work in our ruling systems.
As the parents, educators, and mentors of an emerging generation of leaders, we have seen this change coming.
Courage and resistance in young women is not about disrespecting elders. It is not about being a ‘bitch,’ although this is what confidence displayed by women is often called. The tenacity with which they live and love comes from an expectation of equity, human dignity, and mutual respect. They hold a vision for the day when all humans will receive respect in the positions of influence that were always meant for them. If not by our history, at least by Creator God and Savior Jesus.
Young women in the United States have heard well and often that:
- You are as capable as any boy.
- You can accomplish anything.
- Your worth is set by the Creator.
- Be bold and confident.
- Do not sit down.
- No one gets to talk to you like that. No one.
They were listening. They are listening.
When I heard the report of the bold, sure response of the young congresswoman, I smiled. She believes it. She not only believes it, she lives it. She knows that no one gets to talk to her like that. No one.
We may each hold our own opinion of the politics of it all, but we cannot deny the truth and power of a young congresswoman’s words as she claims the personhood and potential that was given to her by her Creator. Her worth is neither debatable nor political.
She’s here to turn some tables, and she’s wearing white.
Jill English is an avid encourager of humans and lover of words. She is most at home out-of-doors, and in particular, while walking any beach. Her most magical moments involve being Grammy to two remarkable grandchildren, and Mom to their lucky parents. As a discerner of call in higher theological education, her favorite conversations involve connecting the sacred dots of every-day life and faith. Jill lives in Grand Rapids, MI with two small, elderly pups.