gender roles

Be yourself, but exactly like this.

boxing-gloves-300x300Debra looked at me wistfully with a light in her eyes. I had just told her about my kickboxing hobby, so why the look of an unfulfilled longing? “I’ve wanted to box for a long time, but always thought it would make me less of a woman,” she said with a shrug of her hands.

Why would she say something like that? Sports are not inherently gendered. Somewhere along the way in her life, she must have internalized a message of what someone else thought it meant to be feminine. Maybe it was communicated by her family, friends, church, local community, broader society, or the media. Maybe it was all of these. Either way, a feminine box had been created where some things were clearly in, and others were clearly out.

Boxes in themselves are not necessarily threatening, but the consequences of non-compliance are enough to facilitate a community of cubic figures. Those who dare to transgress the sacred walls are shamed and shunned. The innate human desire to belong and to be loved easily overcomes the equally innate human desire for free self-expression. On one hand, society screams “Be Yourself!!” and on the other, it adds “but stay within these exact boundaries.” In Christian circles, it can be even worse, because compliance is connected to what is ‘biblical’, so salvation is on the line.

What are the results? People like Debra are robbed of their wholeness, and we are robbed of their beings and talents. Maybe she could have been a competitive boxer, but we’ll never know. It may not be sports, it could be anything – music, art, emotional expression, fashion – so much is defined by ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ boxes.

People like Debra need the freedom to be themselves. Boxes need to be challenged, and not just those related to gender. We need to value wholeness more than conformity, for the individual and the community. Our joy, and even our future, depends on it.

Why I Need Feminism, and the Church Does Too

Some time ago, I engaged in a social media comment exchange with a particular person who argued that we did not need feminism, because gender equality already existed, at least in most Western countries. The exchange was short. I could not deal with the ignorance that oozed from his words.

So, in honour of the man that will remain nameless, here is the beginning of a list of reasons as to why I need feminism.

  • Because people somehow think gender equality exists
  • Because female objectification still exists
  • Because women who have been raped are asked what they were wearing, as if somehow being raped was their fault
  • Because I’m tired of being told that I should be careful how outspoken I am for gender equality, as men don’t want to marry a woman like that. After all, women are, by nature, gentle, nice, and submissive, right?
  • Because people scoff when I speak up for gender inclusive language
  • Because feminism is treated like a joke
  • Because men who are sensitive and nurturing are thought of as less manly, and women who are strong and outspoken are thought of as bossy and aggressive

After considering why I needed feminism, I started to think about the [Christian] church. Does the church need feminism? Ultimately, I believe the church needs Jesus, not a human construct. But I still believe it’s a helpful construct to consider. Here are my reasons why the church needs feminism.

  • Because Jesus is a feminist (See my article here)
  • Because the female leaders in the Bible are said to be an exception. Or used because God couldn’t find a suitable man. Or that they were going against God’s plan. In reality, they are people who responded to God’s call and used their gifts.
  • Because we still treat the part of the curse that refers to female subordination as prescriptive and not descriptive
  • Because we treat gender roles that originate in culture as Biblical, and therefore unquestionable.
  • Because gender dictates service opportunities more than gifting and calling
  • Because women are told to endure abuse due to the need to “submit to their husbands” (See, for example, John Piper in this YouTube video)
  • Because there are double standards. For example, women doing the same role as men have a lower title or less pay just because of their gender. Or women who are allowed to preach are told they are giving a talk, not a sermon.
  • Because we still use strongly androcentric language that excludes women
  • Because people need to hear about Jesus and we need to use everyone we can to their best ability, regardless of gender

These lists, of course, are just a start. There are many more reasons why you, the church, and I need feminism. What would you add?