When I first started studying women and the church, it became very clear that this is never a one way topic. It seems throughout history that every time women take two steps forward toward equality and fair treatment, they get pushed back at least one step, and sometimes if feels like two or three. As of the present, gender equality is not something that is achieved and then remains intact, but is something that we must continually work to keep at the front of our consciousness. While some people believe equality has already been addressed by our culture, others still propagate the idea that it’s the very thing that will send us all to hell.
The reality is that we live in a world where women face all kinds of abuse and discrimination. When I talk to women across different walks of life and when I read their stories, it is evident that women are still treated as second class citizens. It is an issue that affects all women across all kinds of distinctions. None are immune.
This is something that permeates not only the culture but much of the religious world too. For all the concerns about Islam and gender, Christians are very divided on this topic as well. While many people are huge fans of Pope Francis, it seems he will not budge on the possibility of allowing women to be priests. Recently in Australia, theLutheran Church in Australia denied women the right to ordination. While the majority of lay votes supported it, the clergy were against. It failed by 13 votes. And here, the division between churches that support equality and churches that believe women belong in subordinate roles, continues to rage. Just last week, Jory Micah, a Christian Feminist blogger was attacked online after responding to a complementarian post that called Christian feminists all kinds of names. Jory was respectful and logical, and did a great job laying out the case for real, practical Christian feminism. In response she was mocked and bullied. And this all happened inside the Christian tent.
Women are facing discrimination on all sides, both inside and outside of the church. Whether at a university, at work, or online, we see these behaviors everywhere. As a culture, we have made huge strides forward in women’s rights. However the statistics call for ongoing advocacy.
One in four women will be assaulted or raped on their college campus. We are flooded with sexualized images of women every single day. Women still don’t have universal paid time off for childbirth. One in four women will be abused by an intimate partner. (Think about 4 women in your life…) Pregnant women fear not being hired if they are in the interview process while showing a bump. Women are regularly paid less than men for the same work, including stars like Jennifer Lawrence. Women that refuse to stay out late for drinks with management because of family commitments (or safety concerns) lose out on raises, promotions, and other benefits at work. Discrimination is very real.
Women face discrimination in boardrooms and computer rooms, in organizations large and small. Companies like Amazon pressure women into ignoring what’s best for their families and themselves for fear of losing their jobs. For example, “The mother of the stillborn child soon left Amazon. “I had just experienced the most devastating event in my life,” the woman recalled via email, only to be told her performance would be monitored “to make sure my focus stayed on my job.” (Aug. 15, 2015, NYT) This is just one of many stories in the New York Times article that shows a toxic work environment that is particularly discriminatory against women.
I was recently talking with a software engineer who noted that even when she knew she was being harassed at work, she had to decide when to report it to HR. She felt that there was no way to report every offense because some of the men she worked with “just seem to have Tourette’s about that stuff. It just comes out, and there’s no point in getting upset about it.” Another lady said that she didn’t even know this was something to be concerned about; she just thought she was one of the guys. She is now learning about advocating for women’s rights in the workplace.
The same situation happens in the church. While the mainline denominations have made substantial progress on the road to gender equality, it has not been fully realized. Other smaller groups struggle to live out the realities of equality even when it is part of their statement of faith and practice. And many women in these systems don’t realize the discrimination is going on.
In churches across America, women are called to ministry, are trained at a seminary level, and then are left to fend for themselves. I know many highly trained, brilliant women in ministry who have seen nothing but struggle in their pursuit of a life in full time Christian service. While mainline denominations are making significant strides in equality, even there, being paid for your work is no guarantee. Out dated rules around being in a car with someone or having a meal with with someone leave many men in leadership tentative to engage in real working relationships with women that have committed their lives to the call as much as they have.
Even in places where women are “accepted” in ministry, there isn’t always solidarity between women. An article I saw this week highlights the blindness that sometimes happens between women. Women that do have an easy experience sometimes feel that women who struggle must have a “problem.” It’s unnamed and unexplored. And, let’s be honest, advocating for each other takes time away from a very full ministry plate. But without these kinds of awarenesses, women are divided even in camps that allow them to fulfill their call.
For other portions of the church, as seen above, men (and some women) strive to weaken the equality of women through outmoded theologies of power and control. They defend this even to the point of tearing down other women, in order to make sure that no one gets out of line. This creates a culture of oppression that influences everything they touch. The insistence of seeing women as less-than means that other forces promoting oppression find staunch allies within the body of Christ.
These things make me sad. No woman, no matter what job or industry, no matter which church or religion, should ever feel that discrimination, abuse, and harassment are okay. Being recognized and treated as a human being is a fundamental right.
The freedom found in Christ and in creation means that women are seen as full humans. Made completely in the image of God. As a reflection of God. As half of all of humanity. As equals in all ways. The redemption of Christ works to redeem all of creation, and that includes women as full and equal participants in life, creation, culture, and the church.
To achieve this, women need to stick together. We need to recognize where we are divided and find ways to be united. Whether this means crossing the boundaries between business and church, racial divisions, religion, socioeconomic status, citizenship, or any other barrier. Reaching across those lines and finding solidarity with each other helps women stand strong and move more fully into the future.
We also need to stand in solidarity with women working on the front lines of feminist issues. Emma Watson is calling women and men around the world to stand up for women and make the world a more equal place. Her work with the UN, her work on the heforshe campaign, and her willingness to risk her career to speak out, makes her someone I would like to stand arm in arm with in the fight for equality.
Lauren Mayberry, a member of Chvrches, has received attention for standing up against the sexism that is rampant in the music industry. She is continually harassed at concerts and online and is speaking out against what is considered standard behavior by many fans. Reading her accounts is disturbing. Fans threaten her with physical violence and rape as a way to “compliment” her talent. Why do we live in a society where it is acceptable to treat another human being this way? It should never be okay.
I recognize that this article only begins to address the issues around women’s equality. There are whole groups of women that are included in this but also experience many other forms of harmful treatment. Women of color, poor women, abused women, women in oppressive countries, women caught up in sex trafficking, LGBTQIA women, women in oppressive religions, and women under ISIS all carry the heavy burden of ongoing gender discrimination.
Standing up for women and working toward full equality is an ongoing fight. We need to do this together. We need to drawn in those on the fringes and educate them about the issues. We need to identify ourselves so that the labels of feminist or womanist are not just words from a textbook or news story. We need to encourage men to come alongside our fight, whether we like that reality or not. And we need to do this together. Only when we are united, in all our differences and complexities, with all our stories and experiences, will we be able to change things.
When we stop being diligent about women’s equality, it fades into the background.
And that is where discrimination continues to thrive.
It Was Never a Dress: Working to change the way the world views women.
Everyday Sexism Project: Tracking incidences of sexism around the world.
Reposted from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2015/10/women-sticking-together/