Last week Andy and I attended the Adoption and Foster Family Coalition, New York (AFFCNY) conference. We had the privilege of presenting two seventy-five minute workshops that we entitled Minimizing Harm in Transitions. The conference was excellent and we had the opportunity to attend several other workshops throughout the three days.
I attended one led by Judge Karen Peters and Kristen Anne Conklin Esq. It was a brilliant and informative session. They talked about the NYS Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Childrenof which Judge Peters is the chair and Kristen Conklin is the Executive Director. It is a fantastic initiative (see http://www.nycourts.gov/ip/justiceforchildren/index.shtml)
One of the objectives they talked about is “Girls Justice.” This much-needed initiative speaks to the increased number of girls in the justice system and their needs. Of course, much more complex than my one sentence summary. Their research also reflects the gender bias that still exists.
So, with those thoughts buzzing around my head I read the lectionary for today (Sunday). One of the readings is Acts 16:16-34. As I read it I couldn’t help but notice the same gender bias and lack of compassion for the girl in the tale.
The text is a story about an incident during Paul and Silas’ travels. They were journeying in Philippi. Briefly, a slave girl followed them shouting comments to them. Ultimately, they quieted her by casting a demon out of her. An action which resulted in Paul and Silas being arrested and gaoled. During the night an earthquake broke open the prison walls. They didn’t escape and the jailor was so thankful he became a follower of God and was baptized. A many faceted tale!
The gender bias was glaringly apparent as I read this story. What a difference in the treatment of the slave girl and the jailor. Of course, there may be a social class bias too but for today I’ll remain with the gender bias.
The slave girl was doing her job of divining (awful as it may have been). Her shouted out words annoyed Paul and Silas. The passage does not tell that they looked at her with compassion or that they felt sorry for her predicament thus wanting to help her. No, their motivation was that they were annoyed, and, most probably, irritated by her. So, they used their power to stop her.
Paul and Silas had deprived her of her livelihood yet offered nothing in exchange. The passage adds that her owner became angry which could not have been good for her. This poor, unnamed woman went from a really bad situation into an even worse one. As I read the story I can only conclude that Paul and Silas did not see this slave girl as a person, merely an irritation to be dealt with.
This is in stark contrast to the story of the jailor. Paul and Silas did not fare well after their treatment of the slave girl due to the anger of her owners. They were arrested, beaten, put in innermost cells and shackled in the stocks. Later that night, an earthquake opened the doors and released the shackles. The jailor was so upset he was going to commit suicide presumably because he would incur the wrath of his supervisors for not doing his job. Paul and Silas called to the jailor not to do so as they had not escaped.
What a contrast! The slave girl was left to the anger of her owners. The jailor was saved from the anger of his superiors. This time Paul and Silas did have compassion for the outcome.
The story continues. The act of compassion from Paul and Silas caused the jailor to embrace a belief in God. The girl was sadly not afforded that opportunity.
So, I ask myself, “In the eyes of Paul and Silas was the life of a male jailor worth more than that of a female slave?”
Sadly, my conclusion must be “yes”.
I don’t highlight this gender bias because I am surprised by it — actually I expected it.
I highlighted it because it still exists today. Unfortunately, I don’t have to look too hard to find this gender bias. The conference session I attended focused on just one aspect of this gender bias, but it is everywhere.
The important questions to ask myself—
“What can I do to stand for gender injustice?”
“How can I speak up when I become aware of such a situation?”
“How can I be an advocate for those involved?”