On feminism, fear and the violation of silence

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So I guess I’m a feminist.

Not in any kind of, “I hate men and I think they should be relegated to the back of the bus” sense, but more in a, “I love men but I don’t get why women are still marginalized” sense.

And we are, we women. If we’re all paying attention, we see it every day.

We see it in the ads that portray us as things—pretty baubles to sell products.[1]

We see it in the number of women who show up in the E.R.—or the morgue—after a dispute with a spouse or lover.

We see it in the number of women who are not rising to positions of power in business or politics, or teaching in the church, or making the same wage as a man for the same work.[2] In 2013.

We see it in the way toys are marketed to our children: how boys still get the erector sets and the science projects, and girls…well, girls get dolls. Increasingly sexy dolls. Dolls that tell them they’d better grow up to be sex objects, because that’s what boys like.[3]

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If we pay a bit closer attention, we see it in how all things feminine—kindness, reconciliation, caring, collaboration—are denigrated in the workplace, and often in the home. How the “dog eat dog” rules of business still rule. How women—and men—who take time off work to care for a sick child or attend a school play can pay the price in lost career momentum. How trying to “balance” work and family often means a lower rung on the corporate ladder—or getting kicked off of it entirely.

We see it in how caring for children or making dinner or cleaning up afterward is often still considered “women’s work” and therefore is beneath the attention of the husband. Even if both spouses work full-time.[4]

More subtly, we see it in how people of faith—and here I’m speaking of more than one faith—often reinforce the “separate but equal” stereotype, maintaining that men and women were never meant to be equal in the eyes of God and certainly are not equal in the eyes of man.

What on earth are we doing? Are we nuts?

Look, if God wanted women to be of less value than men, all He had to do was make sure women had a lower IQ than men. Easy enough—He’s God, after all. All He had to do was create us with the inability to teach, to preach, to think, to reason.

He didn’t.

Often we are physically weaker than men; often we are not. Often we are emotionally stronger; often we are not. Often we are smarter; often we are not. This does not make us less than; it makes us human.

The gender roles that have been imposed on American culture seem to have a great deal to do with our paternalistic history and precious little to do with God’s design.

I could pull out all the Bible verses supporting this position, but if you’re a Bible reader, you’ve heard them all before, anyway. And yes, I’ve heard all the verses supporting the idea that a woman should be in submission to her husband. I’m not interested in Bible wars. I tend to agree with Rich Mullins:

It starts off so beautifully and then at the end of that Psalm, the last verse of that Psalm is “How very blessed is the man who dashes the little one’s heads against the rocks.” [Psalm 137] This is not the sort of scripture you read at a pro-life meeting. But it’s in there nonetheless. Which is the thing about the Bible that’s why it always cracks me up when people say ‘Well in Dududududududuh it says…’ you kinda go ‘Wow it says a lot of things in there.’ Proof texting is a very dangerous thing. I think if we were given the scriptures it was not so that we could prove that we were right about everything. If we were given the scriptures it was to humble us into realizing that God is right and the rest of us are just guessing[5].

What I’m interested in is an acknowledgment from both sides that women—and men—have an awful lot of good stuff, valuable stuff, to bring to the table. Why? Because both men and women were made in the image and likeness of God. And paying a woman less or denigrating her ideas or keeping her from a promotion or insulting her intelligence or belting her across the face with a boot or selling her body to the highest bidder simply because she is a woman is simply unacceptable. It’s unacceptable to God—it’s about darn time it became unacceptable to the rest of us.

But we tolerate it. Why?

Why?

Why do men—and some women—have such a hard time with the idea of equal value? And this raises another question: How do we raise our sons? What are we teaching them about the value of women/womanhood/home and family?  If we are teaching our sons that cooking and cleaning are “women’s work”—and sadly, many of us still are—then we are teaching them to devalue who women are. We’re teaching them that women belong in the pink ghetto—and that is not a place a man should be. We’re teaching them that some lines shouldn’t be crossed.

We’re teaching them that it’s okay to “keep a woman in her place.”

We’re teaching our daughters that, too.

(We’re also raising men who are incapable of taking care of themselves in a woman’s absence, but that’s a whole nother topic. Really, moms? Do you really think your son is going to marry the moment he moves out of your house, and he’ll conveniently die before his wife? That he’ll never need to know how to roast a chicken or clean a toilet?)

Popular culture is teaching us this, too. Every ad that shows part of a woman’s body as a lure to buy clothing or perfume or motor oil or beer—every television program that buys into the myth that blondes are “dumb” or women are an emotional hot mess—every single one reinforces the stereotype that women can’t handle the tough decisions, make the difficult calls.

Tell this to any woman who has sat at her child’s bedside in an E.R., or kept her cool on the battlefield, or held her own in the boardroom or in front of a Congressional committee. Tell her this, and watch her laugh. She knows it’s a stupid and inaccurate stereotype—and so should we.

I’m not saying that men and women are the same. We’re not. (Obviously.) We have some basic, essential differences and both men and women should be aware of—and respectful of—these differences.

So what is the problem here? Why do these issues persist, decades after the women’s movement?

I don’t know. But I suspect it has to do with fear.

If women have “come a long way, baby” (according to the 1970s-era cigarette commercial), Arlie Hochschild contends that maybe some men have gotten lost along the way. Women made huge strides…and then we looked back to see most of the men giving us puzzled looks from where we left them.[6]

What do you do when you’re king of the mountain and suddenly some woman in hot climbing shoes makes it to the top and sits down beside you?

If climbing those mountains is what has defined you, this new equality throws into confusion the very essence of who you are. It questions your definition of masculinity. It challenges the very purpose of your life.

If, as Annie Oakley famously sang, “anything you can do, I can do better,” what’s the point in being a guy? Where is the difference? What can a man bring to the table, now that the roles are suddenly changing? What alternative do you have to simply holding on to what you’ve always known?

Some churches have answered that difficult question with a simple smackdown: women can’t preach, teach or serve unless they do it in the children’s ministry or the kitchen. A woman’s job is to take care of the family. She has no business in a position of authority over a man, in the church or otherwise.[7]

This is using the Bible as bludgeon. The church has a long history of this. I do not believe this was ever God’s intent.

And the church tends to demonize women who challenge this status quo.

I don’t believe that was ever God’s intent, either.

Let me repeat here what I said at the top: I love men. I love it that they have strengths I don’t and that men and women are different. I celebrate those differences (a planet full of just men or just women would be tremendously boring, not to mention quickly depopulated). And I don’t envy guys as they wrestle with this topic—it’s a difficult one for both genders. That’s why I think it’s important that we continue with this dialogue—that we all continue to learn and grow and realize that both men and women have assets to bring to every aspect of our lives together.

So what’s the big deal? Why am I so vocal about this—so passionate—so angry? And since I’m blogging about it, why do I think you should care about it, too, whether you’re a man or a woman?

Because women are dying[8] in myriad ways.

Because women often are unable to raise our children the way we would like to—the way we have a right to—because of wage inequity.[9]

Because women often are unable to save for retirement because of wage inequity.

Because women are being denied our calling—our God-given calling.

And so, we are dying.

Physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually. Dying.

Sometimes, the answer is a husband.

Sometimes, it isn’t. (And really, should it be? Must we always be rescued?)

But it is a cop-out to join hands and sing “Kum ba yah” and say that God will take care of women no matter what we do, so we can ignore the problem and shove it off on Him.

That’s like saying God will take care of the poor, no matter what we do. Anyone who’s been to a Third World country knows there’s more to it than that. God is a God of justice. He calls us as Christians to live out that justice.[10] It isn’t His job to make us fair, to make us kind, to make us do what is right. That is our job. Our job is to love one another the way God loves us. Our job is to obey (John 13:34), and to become the people He has called us to become. To not wink at injustice; to not be silent in the face of what is uncomfortable; to not ignore our sisters when they cry out for help.

This is the job we are failing. Through our petty interdenominational fights, our proof-texting and our silence, our tacit endorsement of misogyny and our ignorance of the issues, we are failing.

It’s time to step up. Because this journey we are taking, this “long way” we have come, is littered with casualties: children ignored for the sake of putting food on the table or toys in the attic (or the garage), marriages on the rocks, men alone and confused about their purpose, women who have died at the hands of those who purport to love them, women who have shelved their dreams—their future and hope—in the interest of “getting along” in society, of fitting in, not making waves. And our society is a casualty, as well: a society that is not as rich as it could be, a society that has suffered loss because its eminently capable daughters didn’t grow up to be scientists or astronauts or biologists or Bible scholars, women who might have found the cure for cancer or explored strange new worlds or led a sister (or a brother) to Christ. It is all of us who are paying the price.

And the price is just too high.


[1] Kilbourne, J. “Killing Us Softly.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTlmho_RovY

[5] http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Rich_Mullins  …from his concert in Lufkin, TX, 1997.

[6] Hochschild, A., &  Machung, A. (2003). The second shift. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

[10] Read the book of James.

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About lisa@diggingformyrrh

I'm Lisa: Christ-worshiper, writer, kitty-mama and wannabe saint (with a long way to go). Trying to stay on the path and appreciate the beauty...with daily thanksgiving. Trying to listen for His song and sing along...and loving every note.
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7 Responses to On feminism, fear and the violation of silence

  1. Very powerful! Thank you so much for this. (P.S. You are a great writer.)

    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Sarah! 🙂 This was a difficult topic for me, but last week it was just one thing after another: those three girls found (thank you, God!) in Cleveland; Elizabeth Smart talking about how she felt like a piece of “used chewing gum” after what happened to her; and a blog post on Sojourners’ website about “The Silence and the Shame of Sexual Violence in the Church.” And I realized, my silence is not being faithful to God’s calling to speak out against injustice. It is not serving me; it is not serving the church; and certainly it is not serving my sisters who are suffering. I have had a fear of the word “feminist” for many years now, I think–I’m still exploring the reasons for that, but it’s time to stop letting fear dictate what I do.

      That said, I’m re-reading Sara Gaston Barton’s A Woman Called, and realizing that she has a real gift for being true to herself but not letting the anger in. I need to work on that one. Injustice necessarily makes us angry, but if the anger causes us to sin, we’re not accomplishing anything positive, spiritually.

      I’m so glad you found the post interesting, Sarah! Hugs to you and the tinies. : )

  2. Sara Barton says:

    Your comment is one of the best things anyone has ever said about my book. I feel like you really “got me.” Thank you for saying it. God is healing the dark side of my anger, but it was real and powerful for a while. My main struggle was being bitter, and thankfully I’m not bitter anymore. But I am still angry, and there can be light in anger. I like the way you explored it in your post. Blessings, Sara

    • Sara, thank you! Your book is a joy to read! Yours is a balanced, loving examination of a difficult, emotion-laden topic; you never once vilify those who have kept you from pursuing the course so obviously given to you by God. And your struggle seems so similar to mine, even though I do not believe God has (yet) called me to preach—I see it as a struggle to understand the whole Word of God, not just the bits and pieces so often used for proof-texting, and to seek obedience within that understanding. I find your analysis of scripture (both from a proof-texting standpoint and a hermeneutic standpoint) fascinating and logical.

      One of my big challenges with the Bible is attempting to reconcile those statements that seem to contradict each other. For example, how do we work for justice and/or work for peace (“blessed are the peacemakers”) without losing the fire and anger that drive us to work for justice and peace? And how do we do this without sinning (“be angry, but do not sin”)? I’d write a blog post on this topic but it’s still a mass of vanilla pudding in my brain.

      I am glad to hear that God is healing the bitterness you once carried, and I pray He opens the door for you to pursue your calling without hindrance! Blessings to you, woman of courage! ☺

  3. Shannon says:

    Loved this post, Lisa! 🙂 I never knew that conservative-minded, women-of-faith could be “feminist” until very recently 🙂 I think you are spot-on, and you’re such a great writer! Keep it up! I want to read more!

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