This year’s theme for International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8, is #PressforProgress. This call for action reminds me of a time when I saw, in a modest way, how each individual can be a part of pressing for, and forwarding, such progress.
It was my first time traveling in a particular country where sexual harassment of foreign women was not uncommon. Our group wanted to respect the customs of modesty for women in this country, so even though it was quite hot during that season, we wore clothing that completely covered our arms and legs. Nevertheless, the harassment occurred.
I have always found prayer to be reliable in addressing challenges, so I turned to God. I wanted to understand more fully the purity of all women and men – a quality that’s part of everyone’s real identity as God’s spiritual idea, or child. In the Bible’s book of Genesis, we read, “Male and female created he them” (1:27).
This helped me see that all of God’s children include all the masculine and feminine qualities of our Father-Mother God, by virtue of being God’s complete reflection or expression. There’s no conflict between these masculine and feminine qualities. In “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Christian Science discoverer Mary Baker Eddy describes “man” (a generic term for all of God’s children) in part as “the compound idea of God, including all right ideas;...that which has not a single quality underived from Deity” (p. 475).
I was so reassured by this view that God’s pure and perfect creation includes everyone. Since we reflect Him, our real identity is Godlike, as holy as God is holy, and as valued by each other as completely as God values all His, Her, sons and daughters. This gave me a conviction that even if someone isn’t being respectful or appropriate, there is a solid basis for a change in course and hope for progress.
Within a day, my prayers were put to the test. A young woman in our group had gone into a shop to purchase a tailor-made blouse, but while the man who owned the shop was measuring her, he had made some sexual comments that so upset her she left shaking in fear. The next day she told me what had happened and asked if I would go with her to pick up and pay for the blouse.
Part of me wanted to simply tag along to help her feel safe, but as I held to my prayers from earlier, something in me knew that I needed to speak up to challenge the man’s misconception of womanhood. I needed to have the courage of my spiritual convictions that the correct message would be heard in a way that would bless, because as the children of God, infinite Love and Truth, we are all inherently receptive to truth and love.
When we entered the shop, the owner was there, and so were two other men. At first I hesitated to say anything, as I did not want to embarrass the owner, but then I remembered that this message was not meant to hurt anyone, but to correct a misconception about the real nature of man that had been foisted upon all of us. So quietly and firmly I told the owner that what he had said to my friend had upset her greatly. Then I said: “We are here visiting in your country because we love your people and the beauty of your culture, and we want to understand you better. But we also hope you will learn to understand us better, and we want you to know that we are good women who deserve your respect and honor as much as your wives and daughters do.”
The man looked right at my friend and apologized for what he had said. He thanked her for coming back to pay for the blouse. And we left on good terms.
While I don’t know what impact this experience may have had on the man beyond the incident itself, to me it illustrates how each individual can be a part of pressing for and forwarding progress in how we think of both women and men. We can all take a mental stand for the expression of universal womanhood and manhood in all of us – the right of each man and woman everywhere to express qualities of strength, goodness, and purity. Because that is how we are made!