What it means to be anyone is complicated. We all deal with labels about gender, race, religion and politics. I can only speak to what it means to be me, and to wrestle with these labels. I am a woman, a Christian, and a feminist. The first label was assigned to me upon birth. The latter two chosen in adulthood. And, yet, how do any of them define me?
The past year in America has brought to the surface issues which have been boiling for so long, and finally women are taking a stand against sexual harassment and assault, as well as the prevailing attitudes that have led to the normalization of such treatment. Much-needed changes are occurring, but we’re not yet making changes in the places where it really counts. We can all agree that it’s not okay for a man to touch a woman without permission, but what if he’s verbally degrading her based on appearance? We can all agree that it’s not okay for a man to abuse his position of power over a woman, but what if she’s being kept out of such a position simply because of gender?
Men have gotten push back from using the phrase, “As a father…” or “As a husband…” in talking about women’s rights. The reason that phrase should be omitted is that it puts the man in a protective role, not an equal one. Offering someone protection means that you’re the one in power. If there’s an imbalance of power, there cannot be equality. If women are not able to achieve every position of power and decision-making, then we will always be less than, subject to someone else’s standards and ideas of what’s best for us.
There have been many movements of activism for women’s rights in the past few years. The sheer number of movements is a reaction to decades of silence. Women’s voices have been hushed in subtle ways. I’ve stifled my own voice in many circumstances, uncomfortable with undue attention or standing out.
Today, I experienced something refreshing and powerful. I attended a church run by a woman pastor, and I had the privilege of hearing her teach. At first, I was caught up in the newness of everything. I was seeing the stark white wall of the room for the first time. I was listening to the band play with a modest sound system on a plain wooden stage. The words of the songs were projected onto the wall in text only, without a decorative background. And when the female pastor stepped onto the stage to begin teaching, I thought, “Yes! Finally!” But it wasn’t long into the sermon for the exciting newness to dissipate, as I was caught up in her words, her teaching, her telling of the Truth about Jesus. Her words were meaningful, eloquent, and confident. It was powerful. It was natural.
Introversion causes me to listen more often than I speak up. Sometimes it’s out of the desire to learn more from others, to hear their thoughts and learn a new perspective. Sometimes it’s driven more by a shying away from attention, uncomfortable with scrutiny. When I am compelled to speak, or write, or give voice to my ideas, it’s never a light endeavor.
True equality means that everyone has an opportunity to achieve positions of power, without consideration for the differences with which we are born. This means that women can effectively take the reins in any form of leadership, in the secular world and in the Christian church. It’s simply wrong for women to be kept out of these positions.
Jesus didn’t just sit quietly by and mumble about the status quo. He flipped over tables in the temple and made people in power squirm. And He empowered women. Hearing the sermon today was a much-needed reminder for me. I’ve listened long enough. Now, it’s time to speak up.