It was as I was beginning to sing the praises of Professor Ann Loades my fabulous Ph.D supervisor the other day that I learned she had just died - having been such an extraordinary person and ground-breaking pioneer in theology and in the life of the Church of England, and wider Church, not least in Durham.
Meeting with Ann was always an occasion for me - whether in a coffee shop (and ideal set for Vera) in Newcastle upon Tyne on a Saturday morning, togged up as she was to teach ballet: or in a County Durham village when, out of her fierce compassion she told me firmly to take a term off combining research with social justice advocacy and church development (I sometimes hear her voice on that today!) as ‘too many women and children are left bereft by over-working spouses and parents having heart-attacks’.
Maybe above all I remember her cutting through the academic nonsense on so many things with keen telling intelligence - as when once I began to stress about maybe needing to write a substantial section in my Ph.D on definitions of feminism (though it was mainly a work of history): ‘rubbish’ she said (though she was eminently capable of writing several books hersrlf on the subject) ‘just put ’justice for women’’ ‘Of course’ I said ‘just like Josephine Butler!’ She laughed in her gorgeous full of life way and we both rejoiced. For, though she was an amazing, creative and accomplished pioneer, Ann always knew she too stood in a long line of Christian feminists (not least our fellow north east foremother Josephine Butler). Ann helped pass on the torch of judicious thought, justice and joy to so many of us - and we continue to honour her by keeping it bright and passing it on to others.
For a wonderful woman, a great mentor and inspiration, thanks be to God!
It was a huge delight to speak recently at Pilgrim College in the University of Divinity with the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies (see address here). I also received a wonderful gift of a handmade doorstop - a beautiful symbol for our times, and for queering theology! Talitha Fraser who is the creator explained their significance in the light of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns which literally, and in other ways, closed so many doors:
'I was lucky enough to get home (Aotearaoa) during a brief travel bubble. Many haven't had that chance and are missing friends and whanau we haven't been able to see in all too long. I found some NZ-designed fabric at an op shop while I was over there. To bring that back and make doorstops, a promise of doors being open, while we were locked-down felt like an action of resistance and hope. Then for a friend's birthday I incorporated Ruth Bader Ginsberg fabric celebrating dissent and we could honour those matriarchs who open doors for us as this friend has been for me. Here's to open doors.'
For part of my own use of Talitha's symbol, check out this Pitt Street reflection.
Have to love the history plaques on the Lincoln County Hospital walls - there are contemporary features too! - not least those to amazing women and interesting women’s contributions from pre-NHS days. Some of those women were remarkable active first-wave feminists, and all achieved things against the odds - just like those ministering amid the different struggles of COVID-19 pressures and under-resourcing today. I like to think the spirits of those named (and otherwise unnamed) will them on
Tired’ (with rage) writes Anna Spargo-Ryan - full article here - and that is one way of putting it! Is there a problem with men’s ears and hearts? Day follows day in the revealing of our deep cultural violent sexism and still no action, other than deflections?
“We don’t want the government to host a morning tea, catered by women, organised by women. We don’t want their 30-second video patronising our womanhood. We need them to come out loudly against sexual assault. We want policies to protect women from harm, to support their recovery and keep them safe. We want action against a nation-wide culture that says women are liars. Take over the burden of carrying blame.”
It’s much more than feeling tired of course, but Anna is right: our federal government’s reactions to the endemic truths currently courageously articulated and focused by Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame, Chanel Contos and others known and unknown are pitiful. And - yes indeed! - Church leaders need to look at their/our culture, language, and actions too...
One of my great theological heroes is Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, who sadly died recently. Virginia was such an inspiration to me over the years - beginning from when I was ridiculed by male students at theological college for promoting her landmark book on the Divine Feminine - apparently they couldn’t think of ‘images of women’ except pornographically (and ours was a ‘liberal’ college)! Later, her work Omnigender, and her own gender identity journey, was important in my own realisation of my authentic gender. In this short video she speaks of aspects of her feminist journey, as she accepts the first Mother Eagle Award (to the 2017 Gay Christian Network Conference). The Mother Eagle Award is presented jointly by Christian Feminism Today and the Gay Christian Network to honour women who have taken the lead in courageously advocating for LGBTQIA equality in Christianity (for more information, please visit https://eewc.com/mother-eagle-award/.)
Virginia's message is an enduring one which I strongly echo:
‘Please, please, transcend your fear. Work with me and the cosmic Mother Eagle in the creation of social justice, stirring up our best, fluttering over our young, and spreading our broad wings’
One of the most encouraging aspects of the Australian theological scene is the work of the Australian Collaborators in Feminist Theologies. Based at the University of Divinity, Melbourne, this vital network has considerably inspired and supported me in recent times and will, I hope, continue to grow in strength and influence. Personally I am thankful to this project and its leaders to have an essay (entitled 'From Footballs to Matildas? - Gender Diverse People and Theological Game Change') included in the forthcoming book Contemporary Feminist Theologies: Power, Authority, Love - part of Routledge's 'Gender, Theology and Spirituality' series. I am also pleased to share in the Horizons series of online conversations which the Collaborators run on a monthly basis. This month, I am myself a focal point, chatting with Dr Cath McKinney about intersectionality, not least the challenges and opportunities of gender diverse people within feminist developments (link to event here). Here below - and at this link - is a short reflection to stimulate thought and discussion...
I was thrilled recently to meet with the amazing (Snaggletooth Productions) duo Erin McBean and Holly Zwalf (also, among other things, coordinator of Rainbow Families Queensland). They were interviewing me for the State Library of Queensland's Dangerous Women podcast project, which will highlight six women's stories. I am honoured to be one of these, recognising that for some I am 'dangerous', though I have never sought any such epithet, and I hope that something in my journey may help others in shining creatively. This is certainly the aim of the State Library. As has been shared with me:
'All of our Dangerous Women are compelling, bold, determined and dynamic and we hope that in sharing their stories they will empower listeners to share a deeper understanding of themselves and Queensland. We have selected stories of three women from our heritage collections, and two women with contemporary aspects, yourself included. We have employed the expertise of Snaggletooth Productions, an all female production company to produce and host the podcast'.
I hope to share more about the project as a whole as it unfolds. There are three key features however which have emerged for me which have strengthened my views (born of my life experience and my studies of women's history) of how 'dangerous women' who deliberately create positive change, or unwittingly represent positive change, come to flourish...
Occasionally I have a palpable sense of the communion of saints. This week it began in a second-hand bookshop in Sydney's Newtown. Looking up, a book seemed to spring out at me like a blessed shaft of light opening from above. It bore the author's name of Alan Webster, a beloved but sadly departed mentor on my life's journey. Reaching for Reality was a book written late in Alan's life and one of which I was not aware. Sketching people and events which have broken free from deadening routine and oppression, it speaks of vision and change, of the critical need and cost of risk-taking, and of the best of the Anglican spirit Alan embodied - warm, inviting, large hearted, open, culturally and intellectually intelligent, responsive and creative, down-to-earth, intimately concerned with every person and aspect of life, grounded in Julian of Norwich-like 'prayer in struggle', and discovering the transcendent in our earthly dust. As I and my immediate family make many transitions at this time, it is as though Alan again speaks directly to me - be encouraged; don't be afraid to be, bring and suffer change; the mystery of God calls us on...
Whilst the statistics and reality of many women's lives continue to highlight the pressing need for feminist change, the plight of many men is also often hidden. In addition to the terrible effects of abuse, male survivors also face particular male issues of shame and humiliation. This is further heightened by cultural issues among some communities. How good then to hear of projects like Living Well in Brisbane. One recent initiative, launched during NAIDOC Week, is a video entitled 'No More Silence: Healing from Sexual Abuse'. This aims 'to start a conversation about community' and involves members talking and working together to raise awareness, to offer support, encouragement and hope to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men who have been sexually abused in childhood.' Check out the resources available on the website and watch the video below...
If the horrors of violence towards females across the world were not enough, this week's flurry of Australian sexism (Briggs, Dutton, Gayle et al), coupled with the serious New Year outrages in Germany, has rightly re-focused attention on the continuing need for feminist activity in the western, as well as wider, world. In that light, it is good to see the current film Suffragette. For anything which informs for the first time, reminds, or deepens, our awareness of the long feminist struggle is to be welcomed. Seeing Suffragette myself this week was thus duly encouraging. I have to say that I had been nervous about doing so. For the film's subject matter was core to my doctoral thesis Combating the 'sin of self-sacrifice': Christian feminism in the women's suffrage struggle 1903-1918 (available on-line here I recently discovered). Like most historians, a modern media portrayal is sometimes trying, even when directors have been assiduous in context and detail. With inevitable allowances for dramatic space and effect, and with some small but important qualifications, Suffragette however has done a very good job. Its lessons are certainly most valuable for today...
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.