“Are there really that many hurting women in the Church?”
I was a freshman at a Christian college when one of my professors posed this question to our class. Yes, I replied, women were still second-class citizens in many congregations; yet he was unconvinced. According to him, the women in his church seemed happy and fulfilled. We’ve come a long way. Women have the right to vote and work outside the home.
Why make an issue out of nothing?
I wish I could tell you that I attended college in an era of widespread, Mad Men-type sexism but, alas, I graduated in the early 2000s. I’ve reflected on his disbelief since then, still saddened by his ignorance. His question taught me something valuable, though. For some among us, the struggles of women in the 21st century are a non-issue. It is the opinion of some, even (especially?) in the Church, that discussions on gender equality are simply not needed today.
I agree that it’s good to recognize women’s progress. Three waves of feminists spanning two centuries have done hard and necessary work both inside and outside the Church to create a more equal playing field for women and men. There are far more women in the workforce this decade than ever before. For every one man who graduated from college in the U.S. in 2009, three women earned their diplomas as well. Women are running companies and running for president.
So why, some may ask, are we still writing blogs about gender equality?
Glaring inequalities such as the wage gap, sexism in the media, and the lack of female leadership in our churches are all good responses to that question. At the same time, we live in a new era where women not only have more options, but are excelling in these new frontiers. In her sensationally-titled book The End of Men and the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin uncovers important findings on segments of modern American women and men. Though middle-class and upper-middle class women and men are now nearly equal when it comes to representation in the workforce and academia, these new equalities don’t make for equal expectations.
In 2016, patriarchy is not dead, it’s reincarnated.
While many women now have more freedom to pursue their God-given potential outside traditional roles, the pressure to marry, have children and be the primary homemaker still looms over them. Rosin’s research proved that society’s ‘to-do list’ for women has only gotten longer since the acceptance of the Independent Woman. Even more, when women can’t check off this to-do list, they feel intense shame.
The New Shame for women comes not from a failure to fill one specific role, but from a failure to fill every role.
We’re handed a long list of attributes: be confident and compassionate and professional and sexy and respectable and whimsical and quiet and strong and…the list goes on.
Today, women may not feel shame for pursuing a career or an education, but they often do if these things impact traditional expectations of a wife and mother. If they choose the calling of motherhood and homemaking, they also feel shame for not working or leading outside the home.
Many women struggle with the lie that they must be everything, to be worth anything at all.
And – guess what? – some of these women preach sermons and fill pews in our churches. All progress considered, there are still hurting women in our churches, women who have been told – even by the Church itself – that they must be it all and do it all. As leaders in the Church, it’s our job to create safe places of healing and wholeness for women, and for all people.
Take an inventory of the culture of your church.
How are we talking about the lives of men and women in our pulpits? How do we structure our gender-based ministries? Who do we applaud as ‘normal’ or exemplary among women and men? Above all, we can fight shame for all people by communicating that our worth is not found in how well we fill any role, but in the liberating love of God.
This post originally appeared on the blog of the Commission for Biblical Gender Equality, which exists to educate people in biblical equality regarding gender; to advocate for justice in the structure of the church regarding gender; to equip the church to articulate the truth about Biblical equality regarding gender; and to advocate for the modeling of women in ministry and leadership in all possible venues within the church. The Commission is a ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church.
Image Credit: IM Creator