Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Day I Got Called a C**t in the ELCA Clergy Facebook Group

People tend to love me or hate me on social media.

I don’t usually elicit a “meh” response.  

This is the thing—I’m not “nice”.

People often wish they were something other than what they are.  On Downton Abby, Baxter the gentle quiet *nice* maid wishes she was more like Barrow who is not nice and doesn’t care what people think.  But Barrow does care about what people think about him and he envies Baxtor’s ability to get people to like her.

Scarlett O’Hara is not nice.   But she often compares herself to her cousin Melanie who is nice.  On the other hand, Melanie admires Scarlett’s boldness.

This is the thing.  Baxter’s niceness ended her up in prison taking the fall for a man who took advantage of her.   Melanie was alive because Scarlett wasn’t nice.

My father wasn’t nice.  He was a union organizer for the railroad workers.  It got him beat up.  He didn’t help change lives by being nice.

My mother wasn’t nice.  

She was a single mother and having had me at age 43,  was too old for this shit. I didn’t keep my room clean and every few weeks she would take out her frustrations by trashing my room, throwing things at me, screaming at me and telling me how worthless I was.  When I was little, I was nice.  I would cower and beg “Please stop, Mommy”  She didn’t stop.

When I reached puberty I stopped being nice.  

Most of us do.  I stood calmly, coldly watching her throw things, ducking.  Then I said “Do you feel better now?” in a very snotty way.  She smacked me hard across the face.  I didn’t flinch.  And she never trashed my room again. 

(If you are interested in how *that* relationship turned out, see Saying Good Bye (or not) to Mom)

All of this background is to help you understand why some guy I don’t know calling a c**t in a Facebook group is neither going upset me or shut me up.

It all started with a suggestion that maybe white men over 35 could try just listening to younger clergy, people of color and women for a week.  And some men just can’t do that.  

One, in particular, had what I thought was a temper tantrum, complete with bad language and references to his penis. 
And I couldn’t leave it alone.  I poked him.  He struck back.  I poked him again.  

And he responded with this:

"Joelle Colville-Hanson (He tags me so there is no question who this remark for) It gives women a bad name when a few are condescending c**ts and demeaning bitches"

And a little voice in my head thought “maybe I shouldn’t have poked him”  

I told that voice to shut up. 

 And I called him out on it.

And the wrath of the community came down upon him.   The C word is over the line.  I mean had he just called me a bitch I would have thanked him.  

People who know me know that in private I curse like a sailor.  But I never use that word.  To me, it is  very close to the n-word.  It  is a violent, ugly word that is used by men who want to put a woman in her place, on her knees under his control. 

And I’m glad that most people in the group were outraged.  I’m also glad they saw how little it can take for some men to go there.  

I’m sure it was very shocking to see that word used towards a white middle-class clergywoman.  In public.

What I don’t think everyone gets is how often it is used to demean and subjugate women of color, women who are in service positions, girlfriends, wives, women in bars, women on the street, women and girls who are trafficked.  

 I hope that the outrage at me being insulted is outrage at all women being reduced to a body part.   And a commitment to fight any effort to reduce a woman to a vagina or a uterus.

It all started with an idea to do some work in intersectionality.  

As a white woman clergy who is churchwide and synod staff, I have an enormous amount of privilege.  But it didn’t stop some guy from publicly calling me a c**t. 

And I really am glad it happened.  So we can talk about it.  

And talk about why it’s not okay for other men to tell me I need to forgive him.  Nor it is appropriate to say “sorry this happened to you but you know, not all men….”  And it’s not okay to make stupid jokes because you feel like you have to say something and you have nothing to say but if you make joke and I don’t think it’s funny then I’m the one with the problem.  Those were some responses to this event.  And honestly some of the responses bothered me more than being called a name. 

But all of this coming out in the open and having the discussion is a good thing I think.  And makes me feel better about not being *nice*.


  1. All of what you wrote is important! We must work to change the reality that language is "used to demean and subjugate women of color, women who are in service positions, girlfriends, wives, women in bars, women on the street, women and girls who are trafficked."

  2. Thank-you Pastor Joelle. yes, Yes, YES!

  3. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that. I thought you handled this in the best possible way. Keep on speaking up, Joelle, you have a refreshing voice. I'm convinced that "Christian nice" causes more trouble than it tries to avoid.

  4. You didn't say anything to even get worked up about, which still wouldn't have justified the disgusting language, but might have given him the excuse that he had reason to be angry. Instead, you are dead on. Some people are just too fragile in their privilege to be poked back.

  5. Thanks Joelle. I am not nice either but I thank God that I am loved and forgiven.

  6. 'Nice' is poison, be 'nice' usually means, 'Sit down. shut up, don't make me/him/her/us feel uncomfortable by naming assholeism, or any other ism' The time for 'nice' is long past.

  7. One of my favorite quotes is from Eleanor Roosevelt: Nice women don't make history. To go against this world, to dare say that yes as a woman, as a person of color, as a disabled person, as a gay person, that God has called me (whoever your me is) and given you a word of truth just sets off all kinds of alarm bells with some. I'm glad you stood your ground. I'm glad others on the page were outraged. And I work and pray for the day when labels will no longer define us; that the only label will be, 'beloved of God'.

  8. I left that group for a reason. You're tougher than I am!

  9. Your comment about how even though you're a woman of considerable privilege (and, I would suggest, ecclesiastical power, which could be another part of that penis-American's issues) - anyway, your position in the church reminded me of an old and very telling 'joke' from past decades: "What do you call a black doctor?" Answer: "n*****." Patriarchy and white supremacy attempt to sustain their position of absolute power by reminding us that no matter our accomplishments, we are really just body parts and skin color. Thanks for calling that s**t out!!!

  10. Huh. First, kudos on the realization that "nice" isn't appropriate in adversarial situations. "Smart" works, and "Pithy", and even on occasion, "Condescending", but not "nice". Nice is for people working from a position of power already. It's a way of tempering the impact. I'm nice in public, because my default response is to crush the average person with either physical presence or an ego the size of Detroit. I can be nice, because not nice leaves casualties.

    That said, you lose 5 points for being a sexist. ;)

  11. Wow! That's the only word I have for both this guy and you. Wow that he would even get so worked up that he thought this was the way to go and wow for your reaction Joelle! Not to many women would stand their ground in the midst of something so harsh. You're courage, self confidence and all around "this shit doesn't fly with me" attitude is awesome! Thank you for being so bold and helping other women realize that this behavior isn't okay, and we can and should stand up for ourselves.

  12. A ugly reminder that power and privilege, and an eagerness to resort of violent and demeaning language haunt even those of the cloth.

  13. Of course I don't know the whole context. But when reading your post, I thought about a certain political candidate who has a "tendency" to say demeaning things about other candidates and the press. The parallel is that some people bring up criticisms about others for their own shortcomings. Its the "look in the mirror" criticism. Seeing his own faults in others but not in himself. Not sure if this is right on with what happened to you or not, but I do wonder just why some people who seem to have everything need so be so touchy. I could use a little more of your not-niceness. I often think strong things, but seldom say them.

  14. I appreciate your words. As a woman clergy person, I’ve had some experience with men being disrespectful. Yet, I haven’t had your experience. Thank you for strength,