gender

When you cannot see: The Power of Representation

“Well, when I was nine years old Star Trek came on. I looked at it, and I went screaming through the house, “Come here, mum, everybody, come quick, come quick, there’s a black lady on television and she ain’t no maid!” I knew right then and there I could be anything I wanted to be.” – Whoopi Goldberg

The power of representation cannot be overstated. It is very difficult to be like or aspire to become someone that you have never heard about or even seen. What we see forms our reality. Although there will always be pioneers, it is a lot easier when you have an example to follow. Someone who has shown you what is possible. Here Ms. Goldberg talks about representation primarily in terms of race, but we can also think of it in terms of gender, religion, culture, personality, body type, and much more.

I am a Christian and have spent a lot of time in churches and other Christian circles. I have noticed that when we look to develop leaders, we take male examples of leadership in the Bible almost exclusively. I realize that female examples do not occur as often or in as much detail, but they are there. And what is there is powerful. Esther, Ruth, Deborah, Huldah, Priscilla and many more stand out as models of what it means to lead in difficult situations, and often in a male dominated, patriarchal world. I have been wondering: Do we miss them because we are trained and otherwise socialized to view leadership only through a male lense? One that traditionally prizes aggression, direct communication, and individuality? Have we worn male glasses for so long that we cannot recognize their gifts and actions as leadership? Or does our theology barricade them as anomalies that God had to use because the right man was not available?

I suppose there could be many reasons. But the consequence of this lack of representation means that we are indirectly, and in some cases directly, inhibiting many, both men and women, boys and girls, from having a real understanding of leadership as something that both genders share and have capacity for. How can women exclaim, as Ms. Goldberg did, that they realize they can be anything they want to be if they never see an example? Instead of drawing on the full realm of possibilities in terms of leadership examples in the Bible, we rely on an anaemic sample that paints a black and white picture of what is, in reality, a rainbow of colour.

Women, in many cases, make up more than half of the population in the church and in Christian organizations today. Let’s take advantage of gender diversity in leadership by challenging these traditions and evaluating our leadership examples and role models. Let’s enable the Whoopi Goldbergs in our circles to scream through all the house, “There’s women in leadership and they ain’t no token!” Let’s allow them to dream and become anything they want to be. Let’s paint a bright, new future.

Get Tired, Maybe Something Will Change

I’m tired of being told what I should and shouldn’t wear,

Because men abdicated responsibility for their impulse control.

I’m tired of men debating what I can or cannot do,

Because somehow deciding my life is their role.

I’m tired of asking to be included.

I’m tired of fighting to be heard.

I’m tired of job and pay inequity.

I’m tired of hearing about girls denied an education and forced into child marriage.

I’m tired of women being denied their fundamental rights and freedoms, simply because they are women.

I’m tired of rape victims being asked what they were wearing,

Because their assault is thought to be deserved or desired.

I’m tired of gender stereotypes dictating how we live our lives,

Because maintaining boxes is more important than allowing freedom to live according to passions, gifts, and callings.

I’m tired of feminism being considered a dirty word.

I’m tired of men trying to convince me my tiredness is irrational.

I’m tired of a lot of things.

Maybe if more of us were tired things would change.

 

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?

How I Changed My Mind about Women in Leadership

I remember sitting across from my mentor and her telling me that she was thinking about becoming a vicar. I looked at her with a puzzled face and said, “But, doesn’t the Bible say that women can’t be pastors?” She replied, “Tami, I’ve read the same Bible and I don’t see it that way.” I was confused: how could two people read the Bible and come to such different conclusions on the same issue?

I’d grown up in a church where women in leadership wasn’t really discussed, but all I ever saw were men up on the stage. Sometimes a woman would sing a solo or do a children’s story, but that’s about it. Men led and men made the decisions. My mentor had me thinking, though, could women be in church leadership without going against Scripture?

I couldn’t get it out of my head, and so, when I went to a Christian university soon afterward, I decided to take a course on the topic to learn more. I’m not someone who is easily convinced, so I entered the class, taught jointly by a female and a male professor, as a sceptic.

I learned a lot about gender, stereotypes, the background of feminism, and how history and culture have influenced peoples’ beliefs around what it means to be female or male. I even saw how society could play a part in shaping how one reads and understands the Bible. All of this was important for me to learn, but it was studying how Jesus interacted with women that tipped the scales for me. Jesus affirmed women as his disciples (Lk. 10:39), reinterpreted laws to protect them (Mt. 5:27-28), and even compared himself to them (Mt. 23:37-39). When women were not allowed as legal witnesses in court, Jesus chose them as the first preachers of his resurrection (Jn. 20:11-18). Jesus intentionally turned cultural and religious ideals upside-down to free women from bondage. Jesus saw women as equal to, not less than, men.

As I learned in the course, studied the Bible for myself, and prayed, my eyes were opened. Scripture didn’t prohibit women from church leadership; it encouraged it! Leadership and ministry were never supposed to be about gender – they were supposed to be about giftedness.

Where is my mentor now? She became a vicar in an Anglican church in England. And me? I think she’s well gifted for the position and I support her 100%.

I firmly believe that equality of the sexes is one more step towards the actualization of the Kingdom of God. We see glimpses of it in Jesus and throughout Scripture, and we can be a part of bringing it in now by how we live out the reality of gender equality in the church, in our homes, in society, and wherever we are. Amen. Come Lord Jesus!

The title for this blog post came from a book I read recently by the same name. I highly recommend it. Check it out on Amazon here.

how i changed my miind cover