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Bearing Witness

Bearing Witness

Hello Rose People,

I’m around people who are talking about sexuality, women's health and menopause a lot of the time, and sometimes I begin to think that the work we’re involved in at Rosebud Woman might no longer be so vital- everyone knows this stuff by now, right? Sexual literacy, the normalization of all body functions at all ages and stages, the elimination of body shame, the deep reverence for our bodies...maybe it isn’t so important anymore. But each time I start to doubt, I almost immediately get reminders to bring me back to the mission. This week alone, I spoke with a young woman in college who doesn’t know her own anatomy, and from whom I learned that the public sex ed curriculum teaches even less to young girls than I learned in the 1980s. I talked with a woman in her mid-40s, who is having many of the signs of peri-menopause, but who didn’t even know that could be a thing, and a woman in her 50s who is still ashamed of a sexual experience from her teen years. I see the impact of people simply not being informed at all or mistaking structural problems for personal failings. Note to self: Don’t mistake systemic problems for personal defects.

This month I’ve recorded a series of podcasts with people who do not look away, and who are willing to tell of the uncomfortable things that happen in a human body, especially a female body. The series is called Bearing Witness. It begins airing this week. If you are a person who can listen to these accounts and not get overwhelmed, I hope you will do so. You can listen and subscribe on any podcast channel, such as iTunes.

One episode in the series is an interview with British journalist Christina Lamb, and her groundbreaking book Our Bodies, Their Battlefields. The book came out just as the pandemic broke, and is just now getting the visibility it deserves. Christina documents, across a dozen conflicts, the rise of mass rape and mutilation as a strategic tool of war, and the double and triple insults of the shunning and shame when this is done in a culture that believes that rape victims are at fault for being assaulted. How many millions of lives are completely ruined this way? In the more than one hundred years that rape has been an international war crime, there has been exactly one prosecution at the ICC, in 2018. ONE. Because it’s still so shameful to discuss, and so personally violent, there has been no comprehensive response to mass sexual trauma in any post war situation. Yet even in this story, Christina points us to the other side: the helpers and healers who come in and hold tender space and who do something, such as the doctor and clinic in Africa that has treated more than 55,000 women damaged by rape in war. These heroes can do something because they do not look away, and they have response-ability, response capacity.

Another episode was with Sandy Kirkham, who tells her story of pastoral sexual abuse, where she was targeted and groomed at sixteen for sexual services by a married youth minister, and then when she asked for help, she was blamed and ex-communicated (while he was moved to another church). Her experience contains the same themes we find in all of the religions where men are taught that women are objects for them to use, and women are taught to be submissive, and sexuality is shameful: this structural dynamic is a breeding ground for abuse! And it results in unnecessary suffering for everyone involved, across generations… shame, secrecy, living double lives, people thinking they are unworthy. It shuts people down, dims their light, and stops them from fully loving their lives and this precious embodiment. Worst of all, it can disconnect people from all of the richness a spiritual life can offer: clergy sexual abuse pushes them away.

Sandy’s story also highlights a religious phenomenon that started the late 1800s, something that is called “soul evangelism”, where the only objective of some churches is saving souls for the afterlife, while disregarding the pain and suffering of the living people and ecosystems right here in this Eden Earth. Soul evangelism causes church leaders to look away when charismatic pastors hurt other people, especially when those people are women, and blame victims instead of taking accountability. In this episode, Sandy also directs us to all of the many organizations helping people to leave abusive sects, heal from clergy abuse, and reclaim spirit for themselves. Her story, as well as a solo on the history of religious sexuality shaming, are covered in two parts.

You may also want to listen to some past episodes that bear witness, like this one with Latham Thomas at Mama Glow. Latham holds both poles of bearing witness to tragedies and being joyfully alive. She witnesses the deep birth inequities, even in America, for black mamas. She holds her heart open to see and call out the senseless violence on black people. And then she acts. She started a movement called Mama Glow to support black moms in birth, a doula training for the four trimesters of pregnancy (yes really, google the fourth trimester), she raises awareness and she galvanizes funds. She does all of this in grace and beauty. She adorns herself like a queen goddess and steps out in her dignity and beauty and serves with laughter and sparkle. The sorrow is real, and the beauty of life is real, and no-one knows how to hold this more than those who have walked in the shadow. We were happy to join her at the MamaGlow expo last month in Brooklyn, alongside many beautiful healers, teachers and brands.

It is true that many of us cannot hold the looking or bearing witness, because we still have to do our own healing- it’s profound self care to know your own limits. But if we can stay with is, we have the chance to melt the uncomfortable places that block us from thriving and be more present with others. We become pillars of peace power presence and coherence. And from that place we can act with sustained energy, to make positive change in the world for more joy and less suffering.

All love, AND THANK YOU for being a podcast subscriber, and a believer and supporter of Rosebud Woman and our mission. Thank you for rising to the occasion.

Christine Marie Mason
Founder, Rosebud Woman
Host, the Rose Woman Podcast