Taking a word back.

When Toni Morrison, best-selling author, Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, was criticized for her depiction of graphic violence, and use of the N-word in her book, Beloved, she said this: “The slave owners were creative in their cruelty. I am taking that creative power back”.

She did not describe the violence of slavery for entertainment value, nor did she whitewash the verbal abuse black people have endured in this country. Instead, she exercised her freedom as a black woman living in the 20th century to write a novel about the unthinkable horrors of slavery. When I read her novel as a 21-year-old white woman, I came face-to-face with a narrative about human slavery that I had been shielded from up until then. It was supposed to make me uncomfortable – to disgust, offend, and ignite me, and it did.

This weekend I marched alongside over 4.2 million women, men, and children worldwide – across all seven continents – many of whom were wearing homemade bright pink pussycat-ear shaped “pussy hats”. Some of them were carrying posters with pictures of cats, or the phrase “pussy grabs back” on it. I saw one woman dressed in a vulva costume, and another woman wearing a vulva hat.

Since then, I have seen a whole lot of conservative women on the internet react to these hats and posters with revulsion, criticism, and even accusations that the same women carrying these “vulgar” signs are part of the culture that promotes and celebrates the moral depravity we have seen from Donald Trump.

When I was in college, studying Religion at a Baptist University, a man named Tony Campolo came to speak to my class about childhood poverty in America. “There are more than 10 million American children who’s families can’t afford to feed them today”, he said. “And the harsh reality is that most of you sitting here today don’t really give a shit”. “In fact”, he continued, “I would be willing to bet that most of you here today care more about the fact that I just said the word ‘shit'”.

So let me try to explain what I see as a similarly frustrating response to the language used by some participants in the Women’s March on Saturday.

Did you know that one in four American women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime? Do you doubt for one second that the current President of the United States has sexually harassed, molested, assaulted, or abused women? Because he admitted it on tape – more than once. Try to wrap your head around that with me for a moment: a little less than half of this country’s voters voted for a man that was caught on tape bragging about sexual assault.

I’ll say it again. They heard that tape, and they voted for him.

For many women who have been sexually assaulted, the election results exposed every single fear they have about our “look-the-other-way” “boys-will-be-boys” “what-were-you-wearing” culture. Because that was exactly Trump’s defense. “It’s locker room talk”, “she’s not attractive enough to assault”, “it’s all lies”.

On the morning of November 9th, the first person I talked to voice-to-voice was a sexual assault survivor. Through wracking sobs, she asked me, “What do you think my attacker learned today? Because I think he learned what I learned.”

Until Trump’s Access Hollywood tape was released, I had probably only said the word “pussy” maybe 12 times in my life – usually in an embarrassed whisper when quoting someone else. Almost every single time a man has said the word “pussy” to me, or in front of me, it has been meant to humiliate or threaten me. I haven’t been conditioned by my life experiences to be a fan of that word, and even now am a bit nervous to defend it.

When a word has been used by someone in a position of power to abuse or malign a person that does not occupy that same position of power, it is unquestionably offensive. But when that same word is used by the victim(s) – ON THEIR OWN TERMS – and turned into something empowering and unifying, that is how you take the power of a word back.

So, even if you hate the word and would never use it, never allow your kids to use, drop dead in the street if your husband or father or brother or mother or neighbor used it, please try to imagine how impossibly healing it might feel for countless other women to stand in a sea of people celebrating the power of that word as a unifying force.

By reclaiming the word “pussy” in this strikingly feminine way – knitting a bunch of pink hats, creating art, costumes, camaraderie, and conversation – 4.2 million women (and male allies) worldwide said, “This is our word now. We are going to take the narrative about our bodies back”.

After Saturday’s march, I cannot imagine ever feeling afraid or offended by this word again. How powerful is that?


#WomensMarch #WhyIMarch #PussyHat #PussyGrabsBack #MarchOn


“If change and growth are not programmed into your spirituality, if there are not serious warnings about the blinding nature of fear and fanaticism, your religion will always end up worshiping the status quo and protecting your present ego position and personal advantage as if it were God.”

― Richard Rohr

To my eyes, ears, and heart, this could be our current, collective spiritual diagnosis.



“…I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen. When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows…In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Arrogant, Overfed, and Unconcerned.

(… continued from here):

My next opportunity to take a class with this professor was in the fall of 2004. The title of the course read “Prophetical Books of the Old Testament”.

For many weeks the class proceeded quite predictably. There were reading and writing assignments, and wonderful class discussions about historical and contextual criticisms of the text. I remember spending many enjoyable moments discussing the Hebrew-to-English-to-modern English problems of translation. For a big ole Bible nerd like me, this was all perfectly sublime.

One day, while reading through the book of Ezekiel, our professor asked the class to participate in an out-loud reading exercise. I felt transported back to elementary school as I listened to others read from the text, paying extra attention to each word, in order to be ready to do my part when the moment arrived. Before I had the opportunity to impress my peers with my spoken word skills, someone read the following verse aloud:

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.”

(Ezekiel 16:49)

Immediately after the last syllable of the last word in that verse was spoken by my classmate, my professor interrupted. “Wait, wait, wait a minute”, he said.

We waited.

“Could everyone please take out your pens?”, he asked. “Pens, not pencils. We should be sure to make this permanent”, he added.

He didn’t speak again until every single person’s pen was poised over their new, expensive, annotated Old Testament textbooks.

“Alright then, if you would please start crossing out all of the words following ‘the sins of Sodom were…’”.

No one moved.

“Go on. Put your pens through the words ‘She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, unconcerned, etc., all the way to the end of that sentence”.

Some people tentatively appeared to draw lines through the words.

“And then write in the word ‘HOMOSEXUALITY’”.

No one moved again. (Thank God).

“I mean, that’s what I heard in church, didn’t you?”, my professor said with the slightest, almost imperceptible hint of mischief in his voice.

“I mean, God’s good but he’s not always right, right?”. The mischievous tone was a bit more obvious.

A few people put down their pens.

“I mean, sometimes I’m arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned. I’ve certainly ignored the poor and the needy at times”, he confessed while pointing his finger into the center of his chest with each confession. “But – and this is important – I am not a homosexual”. As he said those last five words, “I”, “am”, “not”, “a”, “homosexual”, he reached out his arm and began to deliberately shake the same finger, previously pointed inwards at himself, outward and away from himself.

After a moment or so of stunned silence, someone sitting a few chairs to my left let out a slow, self-recriminating whistle.

I felt like scales had fallen from my eyes.

If there was a lengthy class discussion that followed this exercise, I don’t remember the details of that interaction now. However, I do know that ever since that moment I have become incapable of seeing the church’s decision to police other peoples’ sexuality as anything other than a smoke screen. A smoke screen designed – specifically – to deflect attention from the ugliness of our indifference towards the suffering of others.

** For a bit more on this topic: click here.