Labels sometimes betray us. They can say more about the labeler than the one being labeled. I grew up in a time when the concept of feminism was a liberal agenda that had more voice than value, or at least that was how the conservative side painted it. That was met equally by the conservative side being labeled by the liberal side as misogynistic and oppressive with more greed than brains. Somehow the true problems being voiced got buried and I fear they have just increased as they have rippled through time.
Webster’s defines Feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities”. The simplicity of this makes me feel I am missing something. How can anyone not be a feminist? If a person is ever willing to say or think seriously that gender should ever dictate rights, they are simply somewhere between addle minded and deranged. The scariest part about that is historically the church fit somewhere on that scale. This misanthropic myopia linking the church’s theology to the dark ages clearly did more to support the battle of the sexes than it ever did to call armistice and seek a resolution. In fairness to the church, they felt justified because the Apostle Paul mentions roles of women and cultural customs in two of his epistles. Why some more enlightened scholar did not point out that the social roles and customs Paul spoke of directly related to a society that can not even be remotely linked to modern America, I do not know. What I do know is that using the bible to support injustice offends God even more than me.
With the labels firmly in place after decades of battle, will we ever truly get down to the issue that needs to be addressed? What really defines equality of the sexes? Is it pay or status? Is it whether we have the appropriate ratio of male/female politicians and business leaders? Is it gender neutrality in language, or is it securing reproductive autonomy for women and removing the male voice entirely. Whereas these are specific ideals in some feminist groups, I don’t see how these characterize gender equality or how they secure rights and opportunities as the definition states.
Like many problems, the real issue is in the words we use to argue a point. To argue for or against the widening or narrowing of roles for women in society and the church starts with a fallacy. Why are there expected roles placed by either the church or society? By simply agreeing that there are expected roles that should be followed we are advocating that some people were intended to be in those roles. In short, they were made for them. The church has believed God created men for some roles and women for others. Secular society would call it nature or the evolutionary process. The problem is that both groups are saying the rules were not created by them but we need to follow them. That is where the error lies. Roles should not be defined by expected rules and norms. They need to be defined by the people who choose to accept them for themselves. Basically outside of physical limitations, people should not be limited by anything other than their own desire and willingness to achieve. By even addressing the issue, we are in part encouraging it.
Still deeper in the problem is the history itself. As both society and church we have committed heinous and utterly stupid acts in relation to this. We have told women outright even to our own detriment that they were not capable of performing tasks because of their gender. Some of those tasks may even have been done better by women but the social structure of the times not only permitted the prejudice but also fostered it. We own that and we carry it with us. We can not change the history but we can change how it affects the present and future. Frankly, I feel the church should be leading this effort. We are far too reactionary when it comes to social concerns and issues.
The real question however is how to lead? Women who choose to live in the established gender roles have just as much right to do so as those who choose not to. Forcing societal change through regulation or teaching has never been successful and reversing the discriminative practices will not correct the past or benefit the now. The inaction of the church in the past has caused more problems then we care to admit. We are seen as the problem when in reality we should be the solution. God called for us to love all and Christ himself placed women in leadership positions in his own ministry. Why don’t we? Some of the greatest biblical scholars are women. I (or anyone for that matter) would be a fool not to listen to them inside or outside the church. If we are truly thinking that gender is the dominant indicator of worth, we are doomed. Maybe I am being simplistic, but shouldn’t we be interested in whether a person has something of value to offer and not limiting the type of things they offer? I wish I had a way to solve the problem but I am not sure there is a solve as much as a path. We need to as individuals stop discriminating based on gender and be willing to look at our actions openly for motivating factors and change them. If we start the change, maybe it will spread. If we do nothing, we are only supporting the problem and wishing it changes. I for one can not accept that.