Are Women Equal Yet?

Today is International Women’s Day, an annual celebration falling on 8th March and dating back to the early 1900s when women campaigned for the right to vote and receive equal pay. Equality continues to be a hot topic today, especially for those who are aware of how far the pendulum still needs to swing, to enable many women to gain equal rights.

The terrible truth is that many consider this almost done and dusted. But a simple examination of statistics show that we are a long way from considering it accomplished. A video was created for last year’s International Women’s Day, featuring a famous face and a powerful message:

 

Equality for women and the topic of Feminism within Christianity is something I have written on a lot. One of my most commented posts was on this top and can be read here: “Christian Feminism Is Not An Oxymoron”

The definition of feminism that I embrace is that post is as follows: “Feminism: a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing and defending equal political, economic, social rights and equal opportunities for women.”

Personally I find that 100% compatible with my Christian faith and my reading of Jesus’ behaviour in the Gospels. In fact, based on that definition (and only that definition) I feel comfortable saying ‘Jesus was a feminist’.

Some have taken the term ‘feminism’ and created angry and bitter versions of it. Clearly that is not compatible with an orthodox understanding of Christianity. But in it’s truest form, feminism is simply a quest for equality – something very much on the heart of God, when He created us in His image, as equals.

Using this kind of definition, feminism is not something limited to women only. Men can be feminists if they believe in and seek the equal value and treatment of women. So it’s not exclusive.

Some would say the term has too much baggage to be used and understood in a Christian context. They argue that it simply creates too much division and misunderstanding. But what about all the other terms we use that have become laden with baggage and negative overtones for some people? Should we throw out the word ‘Christian’ just because some people have given it a bad name? Or what about terms like Evangelical; should everyone reject those definitions because some have given them a host of negative associations?

I don’t think so. I believe that language always becomes tired, over-used and in need of resurrection. Perhaps feminism is a term that Christians could dust down, re-examine and embrace. In it’s purest sense it is a quest for women to be treated equally. The more angry, shrill associations it carries are only expressions of this goal. We can use a term without needing to replicate all the behaviours of others who have walked under its banner. We can redefine what it looks like to express feminism as a position and a passion.

  • http://twitter.com/loozeta loozeta (Lorraine)

    Any discrimination that suppresses one group of individuals over another is NEVER of the Kingdom but made by humans.

    Many women though in their suppressed state, through hegemony maintain the patriarchal status quo. This is the voice of ‘negative associations’. It stops the voice of witness.

    Sophia to all my sisters.
    Lorraine

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Shirmovski/100000959683305 Paul Shirmovski

    Did Jesus care much about human rights when he was on earth? Is he concerned about defending equal
    political, economic, social rights and equal opportunities for women now?

  • Beth

    Thanks for this timely post.

    I think it’s impossible for all women to achieve equality with men. We may be equal to men in some areas. 50% of the world’s population are female give or take a few babies here or there. Even the language of feminism, our positive discourse about ourselves implies we are niche.
    I believe one of the strengths of feminist thought is to value individual experiences of womanhood. For this reason I think International Woman’s Day is a step in the right direction.

    Power relationships are always open to corruption, can become mechanisms of abuse and dominance and are constantly in the process of being negotiated. Therefore I don’t think female strife will ever disappear.

    On the flip side, policy makers and public bodies often assume there is a male heterogeneous group around which they can plan decisions. Increasingly this may not be true. The gay rights movement is a good example of men challenging this mythological enshrined generic man.

    Churches are not policy makers in the strict definition of the word, while they may make or agree upon policies. I think they should be more aware of the way in which personal life stories can deviate from the norm, whatever we agree collectively this may be.

    Product designers don’t look for mean statistics when taking physical measurements to create prototype goods. This is because the number of people who are average across a range of values is very small: no-one would buy them.

    On International Women’s Day, I’d challenge anyone to find an average woman.

    I think it might be helpful for the Church to develop a new vocabulary when talking about these issues. Feminism itself is an umbrella term representing many different views.

    When I hear a man or woman is a sympathizer of feminism; or a supporter of it; or a feminist, I am not necessarily any clearer on what their views regarding women are.

    I think it could be useful to develop an inclusive approach to women’s ministry alongside other ministries in the Church, with its own language and way of representing itself, via words. If only to make itself distinct initially from competing world views and opinions.

    A good resource could potentially be used and adapted by other religions.

    Appropriation of language is an issue in every technical subject discipline; and the Church because of its world wide mission initiatives is increasingly methodological.

    The word “Feminism” is highly polysemous. It has endured for over one hundred years, but is it positive, negative, or interesting?

    I’m not anti the word “feminism.” I think a relevant contemporary vocabulary could be developed alongside its current useage which could be mutually beneficial.

    Wow! I didn’t know I cared so much. Have a happy International Women’s Day! Another great, empowering blog post.

  • http://twitter.com/davidbhoffman David B. Hoffman

    The term “Feminist” to me brings up all sorts of bad imagery even though I believe very strongly in equality among women and men. I’m sure that if all who claimed that title had the same mindset as you (Vicky) there would be no issue. But they don’t. I wish that I could say that there was no need in the church for women to take a stand for change and don a title such as “Feminist”. But I’m not that naive either. It’s just important to understand that there is no changing the past history of the label. And by assuming/using the label a great deal will be assumed about you and your moral and political leanings before you ever have a chance to explain your thoughts or ideas on the subject. Or any other subject for that matter. 

    As far as Jesus is concerned, I agree with your assessment of how he felt about women and men. But with all of Jesus’s titles it seems to me that there is no need to humanize him any further by labeling him a Feminist. With all of societies many “Jesus was a” anecdotes “Jesus was a Feminist” just gets a bit lost in the crowd and there is no need to minimize his walking on earth as mere human any further. But I don’t feel strongly on this point as I know your intent is for good, and intent matters. Your sincerely. -David 
    P.S. Happy Women’s day. :)

  • Benjamin Horvat

    On this Woman’s Day I am sad, though I want to celebrate women.  I grieve that the feminist movement had to start as it did.  Men have treated women in ways that are sooo far from the example Christ gave of his love for the church, his bride.  

    I pray that husbands everywhere would begin laying their lives down for their wives…not in order to give them chocolate (it’s Lent after all right now) or to spoil them in some other way per se, but to apply the same passion for their well-being (and empowerment) as Christ displays for the church.  Perhaps this sort of behavior could spill over into the world of singles like me to, where it is appropriate.    

    Shifting gears slightly; I’d be cool with reclaiming feminism as a term if we could also retool a new counterpart term for Godly manhood as well.  What if we called it:  Masculism.  Ha ha.  I’m not sure if it sounds nearly as good as feminism, but I wanted to try it out.  Why?  Because I believe it is not possible to find a fully God pleasing posture for feminism without relating the redeemed-from-the-Fall feminism to men as well.  Men and women need each other, and not just to procreate, but to exemplify the beauty of God.  THIS is what I believe should be the ultimate goal of Christian feminism…to be equal partners, striving in partnership with other men and women to regain God’s intent for Adam and Eve…to be His crowning creation…in God’s own image…his BEAUTIFUL image!  And I believe this r e a l l y matters to the heart of God…because God is love.  

    Very Warmly–Benjamin
        

  • http://vickybeeching.com/blog/ Vicky Beeching

    Thanks Lorraine!

  • http://vickybeeching.com/blog/ Vicky Beeching

    I think a basic reading of the Gospels would give a resounding ‘yes!’ to your first question. So I believe he is :)

  • http://vickybeeching.com/blog/ Vicky Beeching

    Thanks Beth. Love how passionate you are about this topic.

  • http://vickybeeching.com/blog/ Vicky Beeching

    Thanks David!
    What do you think about all the other terminology that has become tarnished with negative historical baggage? Should we throw them all out, or try to reclaim them? I’m of the ‘try to reclaim them’ approach. Otherwise we should probably drop using the word ‘Christian’ based on the Crusades etc?

  • http://vickybeeching.com/blog/ Vicky Beeching

    Thanks Benjamin.
    Nice ideas!
    I think he primary need for areas of imbalance, is to restore balance. Men have the better deal in the power imbalance, so primarily the need is for a system of thought to restore female equality (the underdog). A bit like racism – the need was and is to restore equality to those who are non-white, to enable them to be treated with total equality. Those with the majority of the power are in much less need for a system of thought and protection, as they are already possessing more of the power and protection.

  • Beth

    Thanks for your kind comment. I’m never sure I do enough thanking for your original articles before bursting forth with opinions. When I see you’ve posted a new blog entry it makes my day! 

  • Deborah Coyne

    Feminism is a term i have tried not to incorporate into my life but hearing your definition Vicky and admitting that it is, at it’s root, a basic way of defining equality between genders has made me a little less hesitant to embrace the term (only a little though ;-)).

    Sadly, I have become more fearcy famist through encounters with Males who speak down to women and are aweful in their attitudes towards women. More depressing than that they are young men who are christians, some who work for the church. This breaks my heart more than the fact that i am beginning to embrace the term feminism, a thought i would have had horror at while being forced to look at ‘feminist’ literacy at university. Proving that we still need to fight for equality and i agree with you Vicky that can be men as well as females, i knowsome very feminist based men of whom i am greatful.

    The wonder of our genders are that we each represent different elements of God and that is beautiful and amazing! However, we were always made to be equal. God loves us all for who He has made us to be. I believe not only did Jesus believe in human rights but if you read the stories of His encounters with women He time and time again tried to show their equality with men. Aparently in His time (as in around 29AD…) it was a common saying that men shouldn’t even talk to their wives let a lone another woman yet we find Jesus saving a woman’s life from stoning, asking a samaritain woman who had 5 husbands and was onto her 6th bloke for a drink, having his feet washed by tears and cleansed with perfume, He appears first to women when he rises from the dead and treats them as equalsat every point in His ministry.
    As for whether feminism carries too much baggage for Christianity…it’s that exactly what we are called to do – share all our baggage with Jesus? Surely that is a reason for it to be included in christainity not a reason against.

    Just a few thoughts…didn’t know i had so much to say on this matter.

  • Benjamin Horvat

    Speaking down to women…how dumb and blind sighted!  haha.But to speak of: restoring the balance, total equality, possessing equal power and protection.  These are big issues obviously.  Let me give a few aspects of the necessary ‘system of thought’ a shot.  Indeed, job performance should determine pay and advancement, with no discrimination according to gender.  This can and should be systematically and categorically fought for.  Women statistically are considered to have more relational aptitude and have equal ability in language, math and science; the primary skill drivers of business, industry, and the social sector.  Therefore: finance careers, administration, politics, science, engineering, sales, and a number of other areas allow women to perform equally or better than their male counterparts.  So again, anytime a woman over achieves a man’s job performance, it should be reflected in her being payed more and being promoted more than her male counterpart.  And this can and should be fought for in the public arena.

    How can Christ-following feminists be sure that they have the mind of Christ in the way they execute feminism in our world though?  I hope that a woman doesn’t lose her femininity in the effort to achieve.  I for one, don’t believe that becoming more masculine causes a woman to be more effective.  Feminine women are just more beautiful and engaging than the brazen ones.  Could God just care less about these things? And Piper seemed to do a good job in this clip that someone had posted..not sure how he was in prior ones.
        - http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/how-manhood-and-womanhood-are-different

       Benjamin  :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Shirmovski/100000959683305 Paul Shirmovski

    Hey Vicky,

    Could you please support your understanding with scripture?

  • Deborah Coyne

    Your comment Benjamin of feminine women being more ‘beautiful and engaging’ i think is so true. I would hate to think of myself becoming brazen because I disagree with the way some males relate to me. I think surely the simpilist way of looking at things is that God loves and ultimately we are called to love each other as He first loved us. I believe if we genuinly love each other we will treat each other equally. So i would argue thata Christ-following feminists would lead by example and show love of one another through treating each other, whatever the difference the way Jesus did; with love. Would you not agree?

    Deborah

  • Benjamin Horvat

    Oh yes…
    Where there is a lady who knows how much God loves her, the roughness of this world cannot spoil her heart ‘worth more than gold refined in the fire’.  She reflects the love Christ has shown her above all else, and it is seen in her disposition towards others.   Arm wrestling men, shouting down a cadet as a military officer, or even verbally pummeling a man as a lawyer, doesn’t seem to me to be nearly as powerful as when an astute woman walks in a room and everyone experiences the delight and allure of a princess.  :)

  • David McVicar

    Attempting to ‘reclaim’ or redefine a word is a futile effort. It’s best to stick with the truth of the Word. Explain your position in terms of the scriptures, without trying to force that truth into a man made box.

    I think the best supporting reference would be 2 Timothy 2:14 ‘keep reminding them of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.’ NIV

  • Benjamin Horvat

    Hi Brother,

    Since my email is linked in to the comments, I just received yours and thought your thoughts provocative enough to respond.  I love 2 Timothy 2:14 which you mentioned, and I believe it is a crucial passage which urges me to be OK with being vague where Scripture is vague, though allowing clarity where God has chosen to be specific.  

    I don’t want to presume I’ve entirely understood your aims for commenting and I’m not claiming to be a licensed theologian (and I wouldn’t always place much credence in such a license anyways–haha).  Here are a few Scriptures which just come to mind as passages I’d want to think on further in explaining my position concerning word usage in the Scriptures:

    –Messiah:  people had been looking for a messiah based on their cultural understanding of what a “messiah” would do.  Jesus redefined the conception of the word Messiah.

    –Peter:  His name meant pebble, and he was redefined as a rock by Jesus.  He was still rock-like only bigger!

    –Temple:  ”Destroy this temple, and I will rebuild it in three days.”  People’s understanding of the word temple could only have been a stone building.  He clearly used this redefining of the word temple to open people’s minds if not just to mess with his listeners a bit before they got it later!

    –Kingdom:  Jesus spoke of his kingdom often, even though every person in his audience could cite reasons why  they found the existing kingdoms of their day unpleasant, if not tyrannical. 

    –Blood:  ”Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood.”  Jesus knew that speaking in terms of drinking blood was a concept which was above all abhorrent to Jewish culture, but he used it anyway and even pressed his point.  One might even build a case that Jesus’s insistence on using these words caused followers of his to doubt and fall away from his teachings.  Jesus clearly saw benefit in re-purposing words despite people’s preconceived notions of them.  

    In light of these references, I for one, would applaud Vicky for attempting to follow Christ’s example of reclaiming and defining words for Kingdom aims.  Though again, I’m not sure if the position of these passages are what you were getting at or if you were desiring to look at feminist-leaning passages.  I believe Vicky said much of the New Testament would suggest this understanding, but don’t want my comment to get any longer.  And I don’t really like ‘feminist’ as a term myself.  :) 

    Regards to you and keep contending for the pure truth of Jesus, my brother!

    Benjamin  

  • Alan

    There is so much of historical weight and theological practice here that it seems difficult to encapsulate.  In the late 80′s, I took a college course in English dealing with various aspects of human relationships.  I thought the section on relationships between men and women would be looking at Shakespearean sonnets and related literature.  Instead, it was focused on essays about the “women’s liberation” movement.  As one of only three guys in the class – and the only one who regularly made the early morning class time – I found myself in a fascinating and sometimes uncomfortable position.  There were issues of “equality” meaning “same,” and we know that men and women are not the same.  It has been interesting to me that thirty years later we hear of “scientific discoveries” that there are biological differences between men and women. 
    One example that came up in class was the question of whether men are stronger than women.  I raised the question of “What is the standard by which strength is measured?” As a very practical example, when I was in the Army, there was a female soldier who could do a greater number of push-ups than me, but was unable to carry a 100lb piece of equipment for the same distance which I could.  These are measurable elements, but don’t show who was physically stronger. 
    I wholly agree that merit-based tasks should be gender neutral. When speaking of equality in the eyes of God, I don’t think that has much bearing.  God views men and women as possessed of equal value and dignity, but men and women are different, not the same.  A great deal of oppression of women throughout the history of Christendom results from a warped theology.
    Have you ever heard that Eve is the cause of sin in the human race?  That is popular theology, but not Biblical.  The writings of Paul make it clear that sin entered humanity as a result of Adam’s deliberate disobedience.  Adam had received the injunction directly from God and, presumably passed it on to his wife.  Paul tells us that all are dead in sin because of Adam, hence his discussion of the first Adam and the second Adam. It has been erroneously taught that women are inferior to men because Eve brought the curse of sin on the human race.
    Paul’s writings on wives being subject to their husbands have also been wrongly used.  When my wife and I were married, her portion of the vows included the phrase “to obey.” Numerous women object to that, but the Scriptures clearly say wives are to be subject to their husbands.  This does not mean that men are to lord it over their families.  The instructions to husbands include loving our wives “as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.” The best advice I have ever heard on this was, “If you,as a husband and father, grumble and complain about what you are not able to do because you have to take care of your family, you are not loving them as Christ loved the church.”  My job as a husband and father is not to rule my wife and children in a dictatorial fashion, but to pour myself out for them. 
    I am in a unique position now.  For nearly eight years, I was the primary wage-earner in our house and my wife stayed home to raise the children and do all the old-fashioned wifey things.  On occasions when I would spend a day at home with the kids, I would comment that I didn’t want to change positions with her – she had the harder of our two jobs.  Due to injury, I am now home on disability and my wife is working outside the home to earn money to support our family.  She is no more important to the family now than when she was a stay-at-home mom and I am no less important to the family than when I was away from the home earning a wage.  We are each neither more nor less “equal” in our change of roles.  I believe that is the basis of Biblical equality.  Each person has their place and needs to be valued in their pace and treated with the respect and dignity that all deserve as beings created in God’s image.
    I’m not so sure, though, that Jesus was concerned in His time on earth with social justice as I understand social justice to be practiced.  He treated people with respect and dignity, but He made no moves to change the structure of society.  He made no moves to abolish slavery, He didn’t seek to elevate women to positions their society prevented them from holding, He didn’t institute programs to end poverty, He didn’t do anything to depose the tyrannical Roman government. His concerns were not with the human social structure but with individuals and their relationship to God and the spiritual Kingdom and its realities. He treated people as people, reserving His harshest criticisms not for the secular authorities but for those religious leaders who had perverted God’s way.
    My thoughts, such as they are.
    Alan

  • http://logicandimagination.wordpress.com/ Melody Harrison Hanson

    I call myself a feminist and I am a Christian, not a Christian Feminist.  I know many Christians in my evangelical world here in the US do not understand and they think badly of me for it like I am some radical, angry person.  And I fear at times they hear me as angrier than I am because of the label’s baggage.  But I do not mean anything radical by it except that I believe woman deserve all the benefits of being human that men do, socially, spiritually, emotionally, economically, …. and this is not yet the case in the marketplace, in homes, in our churches, and so I will continue to try to speak up about it.

    Thanks for your blog.

  • http://www.facebook.com/benjamin.horvat1 Benjamin Horvat

    I’ve loved so much of the wisdom shared.  So:

    After two gender blog discussions among many intelligent people, have we reached any consensus? Do we agree?  ”Come let us reason together!”  (I get it, that improved equality for women is the desired task, and that the stuff of blogs is achieved through provocative debate.)  But is our charge in favor of women’s equality, comfortably grounded and unified in the Church?  (I’d say well ya, obviously.  But…do we celebrate this?!!!)  The Apostle Paul in 1 Cor. 1:10-13, “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, [fn] by the authority of
    our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no
    divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.  For
    some…have told me about your quarrels, my dear
    brothers and sisters.  Some of you are
    saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow
    Apollos,” or “I follow Peter, [fn]” or “I
    follow only Christ.”  Has Christ
    been divided into factions?…Of course not!”Perhaps each of you women could say what I’m going to say better; maybe.  But can we agree that:–God, in the Trinity is not divided, though distinct.–The unity of the saints around God’s throne in heaven is not divided, though distinct and non-equal.–The unity of the Spirit between Christ and his bride is not divided (because Christ took care of it on the cross, though everyone has a different role).I hope therefore, that regardless of whether we physically get to know each other as friends, WE KNOW we are unified in Christ.  I hope we know there is no injustice in heaven–the genders get along, so there is no need for feminism there.  So, I pray each day we can slay the evils of life from the starting point of a happy home, because we dwell in the peaceful courts of Christ.  Right here and now, there is no division, in the church where Christ reigns.  ”Since a house divided against itself cannot stand,” it just makes the most sense for everyone interested in advancing the cause of women in the world to have their identity rooted in the unity of the Trinity and the angels and saints in heaven and on earth.  It’s the strongest castle from which the Kingdom is being advanced.  May Your kingdom come and Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…!!!  :)