Why gender equality matters

Jenny Baker, over at Sophia Network drew my attention (well, not just mine, that of all her readers) to this post by Dave Westlake on gender equality. He says, amongs other things:

And I am really angry that some of them do see but don’t think it matters. I am tired of the patronising comments that women need to toughen up, not be so sensitive, learn how to take a joke.

I find it encouraging that I see Christian men making this kind of statement on a reasonably regular basis now – very different to the situation two decades ago, when I first started mixing in church leadership circles where it was left to women to point out the problems.

Dave’s post, however, is particularly eloquent. Its timing is also good – coming so soon after the Catholic church’s re-affirmation of ordination of women as a serious crime against canon law (but not, it hastens to add, at the same level as sexual abuse of minors by priests, even though the two things were affirmed as crimes against church law in the same document).

It causes me to wonder what kinds of things make people leave churches. Why do women stay in that kind of situation? I left my local Presbyterian congregation because I didn’t want to have to run their youth group and didn’t like the minister’s take that a pastoral visit to a hospital patient who turned out not to be Presbyterian was a waste of his time. I stayed away because of their increasingly narrow understanding of the place of women in leadership.

The Presbyterian Church of Australia, which I grew up in, ordained its first women ministers in the mid 1960s. Most of it then united with the Methodist and Congregational churches in 1977 to form the Uniting Church, but I remained Presbyterian because my local congregation did. A few years before that, when it agreed to have women elders, my home congregation joyously ordained (no, this is not a mistake – elders are also ordained in the Presbyerian church, at least in Australia) the 40 women who had been functioning as elders anyway. I moved and found that continuing Presbyterianism was much narrower in other parts of the country. When I felt called to ministry, the minister of my home congregation offered to arrange for me to be supported through the Presbyterian system if I wanted to, but advised me against it because he had already sensed the changing attitude and I chose to remain with the Uniting Church.

As time has gone on, the Presbyterian church has become more and more narrow on the issue of women in leadership. It no longer ordains women to ministry and in some states, it no longer ordains women as elders either. Because ordination is for life, they can’t “unordain” people, so they still have one woman minister in active ministry, but I do not understand why she stays. She has been treated abominably by many people in the denomination, although at the moment she is the senior minister in a congregation where her husband is assistant because that’s the way the congregation issued their call, so there are still pockets of resistance!!

But why is this important? Well, I like Dave’s explanation at the end of his blog piece:

In the beginning God made men and women. Both were equally an expression of his image, character and love. Men and women were commissioned together  for both child rearing and ruling. Then the fall happened and what was meant to be together got broken. The world has been crying ever since. Men and women were supposed to be together- equally. We still need to be together if we are to fully represent God, understand His will and live His ways. Male dominated leadership cannot do this. Strict gender based roles cannot do this. And when we belittle, marginalise, overlook and make life harder for women not only do we fail to represent God faithfully, we also destroy a little bit of  His image in one of his very loved children.

Maybe over the weekend I’ll return to blogging on Thomas or eyewitness testimony, but maybe not – I have a job application to write. 😦

6 thoughts on “Why gender equality matters

  1. I hope the job application shines 🙂

    On the leadership thing, I have always found it difficult to understand how anyone can think the God of the Bible would want unisex leadership, haven’t they read Gen 1-3, I also find it difficult to see why anyone would want male-dominated leadership on pragmatic grounds, male-dominated groups are so much less pleasant to be part of, all that competitiveness and heavy handed “authority” 😦

    On why people stay, though I quite understand, one is part of a community, has grown there for years, in some ways it would be easy to uproot, but that would have its own pain, and be also a sort of un-hesed.

  2. Tim, I am constantly amazed by what people manage to read into texts. Not just biblical ones, of course, but the long interpretative tradition makes biblical texts particularly prone to it.

    I agree with you about uprooting. I understand why people stay in unaffirming situations – I have done it myself. What I am interested in is what kinds of things trigger people to leave.

    One of the leadership issues is, I think, a purely pragmatic one. Men in general have louder voices so find it easier to make themselves heard in meetings. One of the things I really noticed when I moved from an office in Humanities, where most of my corridor-mates were female, to one in Animal Science where most are male, is that it is much noiser. Even the women academics don’t have soft voices (for women).

    I have worked in male-dominated areas almost all of my adult life. When I have challenged men who say “women do X” or “women are like Y” by saying “but I’m a woman and I don’t do X” I have always been told “but you’re different”. I wonder if this is related to the fact that I have a clear voice that carries well and is towards the deeper end of normal female. The typical compliment of the older members of congregations to which I preach is “that was wonderful, dear. I could hear every word you said!!”

  3. I’m sure volume has a lot to do with it 😦 It’s one of the reasons I prefer working/being in mixed gender environments is that both the volume of voices and the “volume” of gestures etc. tends to be “quieter”. Men (in general) compete more, and so seek to “impose” themselves on their social environment more.

    [Though I think the “I could hear every word” comment reflects more on clarity of ennunciation, especially in an age of sound systems.]

  4. Judy, I had trouble with the Dave Westlake link. In case anyone else has trouble, here’s my try at it:

    When I have challenged men who say “women do X” or “women are like Y” by saying “but I’m a woman and I don’t do X” I have always been told “but you’re different”.

    Ugh. This reminds me of the depressing studies we see that counter-evidence tends to re-affirm people in their biases, rather than correct those biases. It’s the old dodge of, “Oh, but you’re one of the Good Ones” (the Good Women, the Good Negroes, or the Good Whatever). When a women puts the lie to a gender stereotype with her own example, she is paradoxically made to reinforce the stereotype by being the “exception who proves the rule.”


  5. Thanks Brooke. Something really bizarre had happened to the html for this post – it had kind of pleated itself around and dropped out the block quote code in the process. It now looks and reads as I originally intended.

    And yes, it’s amazing how people manage to reaffirm their biases in this way. At least that’s not just directed at women – it’s any type of bias, but it is frustrating to be on the receiving end.

  6. I’m interested that “Dave” apparently believes he can invent the views of God; or rather — what comes to the same thing — doesn’t believe in God, and just uses the word to get what he wants accepted. I can’t think of any other explanation for his oracle (other than that he claims prophetic status, on the same level as Moses, etc).

    If there is a God, his views will not be reached by such methods.

    This is why the Fathers condemn heresy. Reality is not something we can make up; those who do in fact act in that manner are not engaged in an intellectually honest process.

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