I am the daughter of immigrants. My family immigrated to America from the Middle East in the late 1970s. Due to this fact, I have grown up in a household filled with a combination of Middle Eastern and Western values. In this mixed household, I was allowed the rights of a modern American woman, but I was treated with the ideals that Middle Easterns had about women: they need to be sheltered and compliant. In my upbringing, I was underestimated and overprotected, just like the women who came before me. Because of this, I have been very outspoken now when my family’s Middle Eastern views try to deny what I am capable of because I am not a man. The other women like me who made a stance against the injustices done to women are the Sisters of Mercy, the trailblazing group of women who founded Saint Xavier University and made one of the critical concerns of the institution regarding women’s rights. The Sisters of Mercy held this critical concern near and dear because of the horrid stories that are seen in the Bible and throughout the history of women being mutilated, used, disrespected, and forgotten. Even though there is an abundance of stories in the Bible of women being mistreated, one woman who strays away from that notion was a prophet named Deborah.
The prophetess Deborah from the Old Testament seen in scripture Judges (4:1-24, 5:1-31) exemplifies the Sisters of Mercy’s critical concern of women’s rights through her views on sexism, her dedication towards another woman’s story to be told, and her taking great pride in her spirituality. Although in Biblical times sexism was a huge issue that many women had to suffer through, Deborah claimed a certain degree of respect and obedience from men due to her God-given abilities. Because Deborah was a prophet, a person with the ability to speak and send messages from God, she was able to control men’s actions during times of war and was not just another forgotten woman in the Bible. This fact is important to note because of the countless women who are in the Bible who do not carry a name; they are simply introduced through relation to a man and defined by a man like property. So during this time where women did not have any power, Deborah’s actions spoke volumes to whom Deborah was, and how she played a key role in the success of the country of Israel. Deborah was also the first and only person in the Book of Judges, where the people of Israel went to another human for help with a problem instead of their God. In Judges (4:1-24) the leader of the Israelite army, Barak, comes to Deborah in desperate need for God’s help in winning the war against the Canaanite army. During the exchange between Deborah and Barak, the prophetess proclaims to Barak that the Israelite army will succeed in conquering the Canaanite army, but they will not kill the Canaanites’ gritty general, Sisera. That task will be accomplished by a woman. This piece of the story is what proves that Deborah did not surrender her power to the military commander, Barak, or let the sexist ideals of the society she lived in make her yet another nameless and disrespected the woman in the Bible.
Much like I would not let the sexist thoughts of my Middle Eastern culture depict me as less than because of my gender. Being thought of as less than is not an uncommon belief in society and this thought has impacted the way I and many other women view themselves. Because of the sexist beliefs prominent in Middle Eastern culture, my capabilities were always undervalued and that had an impact on my self-esteem and confidence. The Sisters of Mercy saw this toxic trend of sexism negatively impacting the next generation of women, and that is why they believed so deeply and passionately about women’s rights. If it weren’t for people like the Sisters of Mercy or the almighty prophetess Deborah, I would not have regained that confidence in my abilities and skills. I would have still viewed myself as someone who needed a man to survive in the world.
I believe that Deborah illustrates the rights that all women should have had and what the Sisters of Mercy, many other women, and myself have fought and hoped for: a world where sexism is obsolete and both men and women are the heroes of their own stories. Similarly to the way that Deborah fought against sexism she also fought for another woman’s story to be told and gave another woman power by telling the commander, Barak, that a woman was going to defeat the powerful general, Sisera. Deborah’s identity was embedded into her by her God-given power; she knew exactly who she was and she used her abilities to help others in Israel. This ability was strange to see in the Bible since men were usually the people who had the power to change history and “save the day,” so with Deborah being able to have the power to help others, she used this power to help men and women in need. By knowing her identity, Deborah was able to give a new woman, Jael, her identity and place in history. After the gruesome war, the General of the Canaanite army, Sisera, went to seek refuge and stumbled upon Jael’s tent. Since she was a woman, General Sisera did not have any fear of joining Jael in her tent and underestimated her abilities: a fatal mistake. While Sisera becomes settled in Jael’s tent, Jael offered Sisera milk. Once the milk had put Sisera to sleep, Jael murdered Sisera by hammering a nail through his temple. Due to Jael’s actions, Israel prevailed against the Canaanites and Jael became one of the heroes of this story. The heroic actions of both Deborah and Jael gave both women a place in history and their own identities in the Bible.
I believe that by helping other women in need, I can help other women be the heroes of their own stories and I try to help the cause as much as I can. When it comes to Deborah’s prophecy, it helped another woman become the hero in a world where men ruled all. This contributes to Deborah yet again being a trailblazer for women’s rights and being the heroine of her own story in the Bible. Lastly, Deborah exemplifies the Sisters of Mercy critical concern about women’s rights by putting special attention on her and other people’s spirituality. The prophetess Deborah had a relationship with God that was very rare and special; Deborah was able to speak to Him and convey messages that only she could express. She had a special relationship with God and she used this to her advantage during her life. Throughout a time where women were considered less than human, Deborah was able to show her society that she was capable of more and could be an asset to the other people, especially the men, who lived in her society because she was able to speak to God and convey vital messages to the people of Israel. Without Deborah, who knows what would have happened to the people who fought for the Israelites and how many more nameless women would have been in the Bible. Deborah was able to empower herself as well as Jael, and now centuries later she is able to empower millions of more women.
The reason why Deborah was able to thrive in her society was that of her unwavering faith and her deep devotion to her spirituality. I believe that the same holds true for me and my faith. My belief in God has helped me overcome much adversity in my life and has helped me get to this point in college. From finding the strength to believe in myself, after years of feeling like I would never be good enough because of my gender to the process of graduating high school and getting accepted to Saint Xavier University, I know that it was through my faith and relentless relationship with God that I have overcome and accomplished the many adversities that I have faced in my life. I also use my faith in God to help not only myself but other men and women as well. I believe that through empowering others I am serving my God and spreading his message.
This is why it was so important for the Sisters of Mercy to include women’s spiritual rights as well as their physical and educational rights in their critical concerns. What we believe in is part of what makes us what we are, so without spirituality, many people are lost in the world and do not know where to go, but I, the Sisters of Mercy, and Deborah believe that through faith anything is possible. Overall, if it were not for Deborah’s ability to speak with God, this story would not have been told and that would have added to another woman being forgotten in the cycle of lost women in the Bible.
As stated before, in scripture Judges (4:1-24, 4:1-31) from the Old Testament of the Bible, the Prophetess Deborah manifests the same belief of the Sisters of Mercy of the importance of women’s empowerment through her actions in her story: fighting sexism, helping another woman’s story to be conveyed, and by taking pride in her deep spiritual beliefs. During Deborah’s life and in today’s society women are still looked down upon and underestimated for the ignorant belief of being less than because they are not a man. This is a huge reason why the Sisters of Mercy made women’s rights a vital critical concern for all their institutions.
The Sisters of Mercy did not want the future women of society to be forgotten or pushed down before they even had a chance to prove themselves, just like the women who came before them and the ones seen in the Bible. It is vital that in today’s day in age, society does not hold on to the ancient and disrespectful beliefs that women are not capable of succeeding in a world with men. Deborah proved her right to her place in history through her trailblazing and commendable actions. The Sisters of Mercy proved this by creating foundations where women like me can thrive and succeed.
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