I recently read Everyday Sexism by Laura Bates.
It was an easy read but a tough subject matter.
It left me feeling uneasy and upset.
It was eye-opening, even to me as a woman.
Josh read it also.
I’ve already written about how I love when women and men break traditional gender roles.
But I never identified as a feminist…yet.
Sexism is more prevalent than most of us are aware.
We’ve simply gotten used to it and tuned it out.
It’s sexism when someone doesn’t get a job because they’re a “pregnancy risk.”
It’s sexism when someone constantly asks when you’re going to start a family.
It’s sexism to assume a woman won’t want to return to work after having children.
It’s sexism to make blanket statements about either gender.
And then there’s harassment, abuse, and rape.
All of which are just part of life for many women.
Harassment comes in many forms, from cat-calling, to touching, to “innocent” flirting, to stalking, to making lewd comments.
I could go on and on.
These occurrences happen so often for some women that they are simply a part of daily life.
These aren’t just statistics from the book.
This is my friends.
This is me too.
Most of my life I was taught to be polite and smile and gloss over awkward things.
But after reading the book I was made aware that some of the customers I used to wait on at my job were treating me in very sexist and inappropriate ways.
Sometimes I was uncomfortable but said nothing.
Other times I didn’t even notice it was harassment until afterward.
That’s how prevalent this behavior has become.
I’ve since left the workforce, but now I’m aware and prepared to stand up for myself when these things happen.
The first step is to speak up. Say loudly what the person is doing and call them out.
“Please don’t touch my arm when you talk to me, sir.”
Don’t be afraid to turn the situation around and make him uncomfortable.
He’s already made it uncomfortable for you.
Don’t fear making a scene.
We’ve been silenced for too long.
It doesn’t matter if you’re at work. You don’t have to be a nice employee.
You have the right to speak up.
Make your disapproval known.
I’ve never been one to attract serious stalkers or incessant cat-calls, but over the years I’ve had countless strangers make casual comments on my looks, calling me beautiful or sweetie or making up names for me. I’ve even shared here about being harassed before.
But before reading this book, I simply tuned most of it out.
I didn’t get upset until afterward.
I wish I had spoken up for myself more, or at the very least come up with witty comebacks to remind these men that I am more than my appearance.
I think it’s so important that women are empowered and encouraged to speak up when something isn’t right.
I don’t believe the answer to sexism is that women should have to act and look like men.
We need to be respected for who we are – as women. We shouldn’t have to toughen up or act overly manly to be treated with respect and dignity.
This is where I diverge from the book. Bates seems to think that these issues will be resolved with more education and information.
Josh and I think all the issues of abuse and sexism boil down to one thing: Selfishness.
Men aren’t perfect and neither are women. I’m of the belief that we all wrestle with sins and need Jesus’ grace and mercy to cover us.
Some men are selfish and want something from women.
Sometimes they just fantasize.
Sometimes they describe in crude details what they desire.
Sometimes they actually try to take it.
This is not okay.
But selfishness is the underlying problem, and it’s not one that will simply disappear with more education and resources.
While I admit that those things help, they can barely scratch the surface of Mankind’s selfish tendencies.
Don’t be Trapped.
Christians definitely aren’t immune to sexism.
While I think great strides are being made for women in the faith, the church can be a very sexist place.
My heart is heavy for women who feel trapped.
Women who have been told that the only acceptable place for them is in the home.
Not all women are married, but for those of us who are, it is true that our ministry often begins in the home.
But that doesn’t mean it has to end there.
Don’t get me wrong. I know how hard mothering is. I’m in the thick of it myself.
Sometimes there’s nothing left to give at the end of the day – to my family or to anyone else.
But the home has the potential to be the beginning of our outpouring for Christ’s kingdom.
That means serving our family, but it also means using our gifts and expanding our talents for the kingdom.
It means giving of our time other places. Caring for the sick, visiting those in prison.
It means giving of our resources to help the impoverished.
It means making art if that is your gift, and excelling in business if that is your gift.
We are by no means required by God to “stay home” when we’re saved.
Quite the opposite – he often calls us out of our comfort zones and into his radical plans.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
It bothers me that in many cultures and subcultures women are expected to set aside their plans and dreams to solely raise children while men are allowed -even encouraged- to pursue higher education, express themselves creatively, serve and minister in churches.
In some of the conservative Christian circles I grew up around, women were discouraged from going to college and told to focus only on the “home sphere.”
As a result these women became fully reliant on a husband to provide for them, and eventually their children.
This culture doesn’t guarantee abuse. There are happy marriages within this culture.
But this culture can, unfortunately, give the husband the opportunity to abuse his power.
I’ve seen it happen and it breaks my heart.
I say set women free.
Let them fully embrace their callings.
Let them excel in their craft, whatever that may be, and serve in their communities.
Let them pursue higher education.
Let them be leaders if their gift is to lead – adults as well as children.
I love spending time with my babies and watching them grow. It makes me alive inside. But I also need frequent breaks where I can miss them, have adult conversations, and bounce ideas off other people.
This isn’t just a personal preference, it’s a need nearly all mothers have!
When we get married, no one expects us to stay home and have our husband be our full identity.
I did retire from my job recently to be with my boys and to serve in other areas.
This was voluntary.
No one, not Josh, our church, or either of our families, pressured me into the decision.
It is truly my desire, a joy, and a privilege for me to not work right now.
But it doesn’t mean all women are called to do the same thing.
Embrace God’s Plan.
So what’s God’s plan for your life?
I can’t answer that.
What I do know is that he’ll seek your obedience where you’re at.
If you’re single, embrace your singleness and freedom and take big risks.
If you’re married, you and your spouse can develop a family mission statement and vision that includes serving together and expanding your gifts together.
If you have small children, show them love, take them places that impacted you, and read them lots of books.
When they are old enough, volunteer with them and help them learn practical skills in ways like working outside, in soup kitchens, or hospitals.
Help them develop their own gifts and dreams.
Help them see that the world is about more than just them.
Josh and I believe men are called to be the spiritual head of the family, but this is actually more pressure on the man. The wife is liberated.
Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.
As a spiritual head, the husband is called to lead, guide, and protect the wife.
This doesn’t oppress her, it frees her.
It gives her a safe place to exercise the gifts God has given her.
This is God’s plan for men – not selfishly pursuing every fleeting desire, but steadfastly representing his love.
If more men would step up into the unselfish calling to love and lead, more women would be freed to be loved and be led without abuse, harassment, or suppression.
And the Bible does give an answer to women in unhealthy marriages.
In the early church all the believers lived in community together.
In community women are safer.
In community women have financial support other than just their husband.
If he abuses or leaves her, she isn’t forced to deal with the consequences alone.
She’s surrounded by people who will help with her children and care for her.
Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.
So let’s not silence women any longer.
Let us listen to women and take them seriously when they say they’re being harassed or assaulted.
Let’s be that community, surrounding victims with love and resources and real help.
As women, we should know what abuse is and all the forms in which it can come.
We should be aware and ready to respond, not just put up with it politely.
Women, we aren’t meant to be a doormat. That was never our calling. Look at Proverbs 31 for an example of a woman of strength and dignity in the Bible.
An excellent wife who can find?She is far more precious than jewels.The heart of her husband trusts in her,and he will have no lack of gain.She does him good, and not harm,all the days of her life.She seeks wool and flax,and works with willing hands.She is like the ships of the merchant;she brings her food from afar.She rises while it is yet nightand provides food for her householdand portions for her maidens.She considers a field and buys it;with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.She dresses herself with strengthand makes her arms strong.She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.Her lamp does not go out at night.She puts her hands to the distaff,and her hands hold the spindle.She opens her hand to the poorand reaches out her hands to the needy.She is not afraid of snow for her household,for all her household are clothed in scarlet.She makes bed coverings for herself;her clothing is fine linen and purple.Her husband is known in the gateswhen he sits among the elders of the land.She makes linen garments and sells them;she delivers sashes to the merchant.Strength and dignity are her clothing,and she laughs at the time to come.She opens her mouth with wisdom,and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.She looks well to the ways of her householdand does not eat the bread of idleness.Her children rise up and call her blessed;her husband also, and he praises her:“Many women have done excellently,but you surpass them all.”Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.Give her of the fruit of her hands,and let her works praise her in the gates.Proverbs 31:10-31