I’ve thought a lot lately about gender roles and what it means to be a woman in the Church. This is a HUGE topic that I’m not really willing to write about in any great detail because it still feels rather overwhelming to me. However, I was talking to Clay about something the other night that has bothered me for years. It seems that it is a common thing in the church for people to make assumptions about the intellectual and theological depth of women that generally has nothing to do with individual abilities.
I think I’m definitely more aware of this as a female with a seminary degree since my kind is a minority. My feelings on this subject have also changed in the past couple of years, and as I look around I notice other people thinking the same things I used to think… and I see it a bit differently. What I notice is that there tends to be an underlying prejudice against women in areas of intelligence and theological depth. Men are considered to be deep and wise pillars of theological truth. Women, on the other hand, well they generally like to be emotional and relational and more into the touchy-feely side of faith. Which is fine, as long as their husbands keep them informed on the deep stuff.
These fictitious stereotypes are more a crossover of cultural prejudices against women than biblical exegesis. No distinction is made in the Bible concerning which sex receives certain spiritual gifts or intellectual capabilities. Being a thinker doesn’t make a woman more masculine, and being relational doesn’t make a man more feminine. Both attributes could be used to describe Jesus, in whose image we are all being formed. So I’m a little pained when I find myself thrown into a category of stereotyped femininity that bears no resemblance to who I am and what my gifts are.
I’ve noticed that men and women alike have a tendency to automatically assume that a man is more trustworthy and intelligent about certain matters… who would you rather teach you about the nature of the Trinity…The Gospel of Matthew…Old Testament prophecy? A man or a woman? Forget for a moment about any convictions you have regarding whether it is a woman’s role to publicly teach in church. That’s not what I’m talking about. A concept of roles should refer to position, not ability. Do you really believe that a woman can have the same level of understanding and knowledge, the same wisdom, and the same ability to convey the the Gospel as a man? When I asked myself this question I was shocked to learn that subconsciously over the years I had come to trust in males more than females. Females are thought of as flighty and emotional, subject to their whims (after all, isn’t that why everyone says we shouldn’t have a women president? She’d be too emotional to do her job?). Sure this might describe a woman here or there, an anecdote that we’ve heard. But where is our justification for not seeing women as intellectual equals with men…particularly in areas of the church?
Everyone is different. Some are more naturally “thinkers,” and some are “feelers.” These refer to our personality traits, not abilities. Women who naturally interpret their world through their senses and emotions have no fewer capacities for knowledge than a man who often finds himself pondering the deep questions of the universe. I have a strong suspicion that too many women have never been challenged to really think deeply, to study theology, to be challenged in asking tough questions about God. They’ve stuck with their label of “feelers,” (whether or not that’s a true personality distinction) and assumed that the men, the “thinkers,” will handle the rest. In no way do I think that being a thinker is more valuable than a feeler… I’m still not even sure which one I am. But I’m bothered that the church assumes women are not interested or capable, and women are never pressed to go deeper.
Girls, we’re emotional, we cry, we raise kids, and we do the laundry. But we also have the same intellectual capacity as a man. I think we readily admit this when it comes to matters of career and academics. But in spiritual and theological areas, there is still a tendency to think that men have a corner on the market. Let’s challenge ourselves, let’s create a bigger imagination of our capacities, and let’s remember that we are created in the image of a God who made all of His children equal.
*For a thorough theology on what it means to be feminine and created in the image of God as a woman, I highly reccomend checking-out Jonalyn Fincher’s Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home.