Harper Lee, Go Set a Watchman, and No Means No

monday inspirationsWelcome back to another post in the Monday Inspirations series, where guest bloggers write about the books and authors that have inspired them. Today’s post is by Anne Higa. This is Anne’s Second Post. The first one is here. You can check out OTHER Monday Inspirations posts here.

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Like many of us, I was pretty nervous to read Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. The prose was imperfect and unpolished, but the message is timely and needed. Also, much like this post, I believe the ultimate message is positive although it may sound pretty bad.

In a month, I’m going to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, as a recent theology graduate and a woman, because – I can’t seem to take no for an answer.

In case you didn’t know (I had to look it up, personally) Go Set a Watchman is a phrase from the biblical book of Isaiah, from an oracle regarding the fall of Babylon. In the Bible, the Whore of Babylon is the classic image of idolatry, originating as the kinder (and therefore more seductive) successor to previous invaders of Israel, eventually emerging as a main character in the book of Revelation, in cahoots with the infamous Beast.

Much like characters in Lee’s first novel fail to see how merciless and prejudiced they really are, I posit that the characters in this novel often fail to realize that the whore of Babylon, when stripped of its misogynistic, patriarchal overtones, is actually a useful metaphor for the unjust system which is preaching those very words.

I don’t hate men. Or anyone, for that matter. I don’t wake up in the morning and think how can I be equal to a man today? Because, to me, that would be crazy, almost as crazy as believing that because Jesus was a guy, priests should also be guys.

A Catholic believer once told me, regarding women’s ordination, that no means no. My initial reaction was rage. How dare he use a phrase for rape in order to defend the male leadership’s right to exclude females from office?  But people, even decent people, really do think this way. To them, the logic makes sense.

As I was reminded this morning, we Christians often skip past the words in the Bible, that women are supposed to submit to their husbands – and we miss the part where we are all supposed to submit to one another, and to the Church. I agree, in principle, but I disagree with the priest who shared this message at Mass, who placed the blame at the feet of our selfish, modern society. As he put it, because women don’t stay in their place, no one does. I found myself staring open-mouthed, like Scout stares at Atticus, because how can he not see it, what is so glaringly obvious to me? Paternalism, white man’s burden, whatever you want to call it – may seem right on the surface, a kindness to those who are “inferior” and need the help, but ultimately it is cruel and the slow death. And that’s why people rebel, not to be contrary, but because deep down we know something is wrong. Something. Is. Wrong.

How can they not see this?

I need time to find my own dignity, my own voice, never mind other people. Not because I don’t care about them, but because I do. A lot. As the author(s) of Proverbs said, “Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.” I hope I don’t hate anyone, even people I profoundly disagree with. I hope I’m angry only because I care so deeply. God knows my heart.

And there, I’ve managed to work several of my favorite, most inspirational writers in here, most of them Jewish males.

Thank you Harper Lee for reminding me, and inspiring me, and yes even thank you to the Atticus Finches of the world for being smart enough to be happy when we figure out that they are not God. Last but not least, thanks, Ula, for letting me visit with you on your blog again. I’m truly sorry if this one sounded like a downer, but I understand what it’s like to be stopped short at the overwhelming sight of entrenched prejudice, and to need a deep breath, to pause, while your worldview shatters around you.

And then, to work piece by piece toward building a new worldview, somehow, someway. I’ll let you know when I get there, if I get there. So that’s why I really needed this novel now. Even it being kind of a mess in some ways, even that helps.

 

Anne Higa is a speculative fiction writer who styles herself a feminist – in the sense that she believes that women should be viewed as truly equal to men. Born in Hawaii, raised in New Jersey, and a recent transplant from Pennsylvania, she is now in the process of moving to North Carolina – and how she has missed the ocean. Check out her blog at annehiga.com.
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