Competitive skier Lindsay Vonn was recently interviewed by SELF Magazine for their latest issue (released on January 28, 2014). In that interview, Vonn spoke about her experience attending the Met Costume Gala in New York City. She spoke of many of the female celebrities in attendance at that gathering as being “skinny-fat” and that she wanted to feed them a cheeseburger. Vonn said, “It’s sexy and beautiful to be strong.”
This led me to think about how we view women and women’s bodies in America. And more specifically, it led me to ask the question, how does the church in America view women? And what mistakes do we make regarding how we view women in the church? I have much to say about this topic, but in order to keep my thoughts organized I’m going to make a list here of the 7 mistakes the church makes in how we view women. (NOTE: Many of these apply to women in sports as well.)
1. Smart women are threatening. This is true both in and out of the church. And it is not just men who feel threatened by smart women. Many women do, too. We’re threatened because we are insecure. Men are afraid of losing the power that they’ve been given for so long without having to earn it. Women are afraid of being given power that they don’t feel equipped to handle. The problem is that we are limiting our potential if we don’t utilize the gifts of everyone. Perhaps our own insecurity is a greater concern than the intelligence of others.
2. Women are a distraction to men. In the church, men have made the claim that having a woman standing up front, preaching, would cause them to lust. Men stare at a woman’s body rather than listening to her message. The mistake we make here lies in where we are placing the blame. If a man lusts, it is not the fault of the object of that lust. We can’t fault women for being who they were created to be.
3. Women aren’t tough enough. For some reason, we have this stereotype that women are fragile creatures who can’t handle extreme amounts of pressure. But after watching my wife carry and give birth to two babies, I don’t think there is anything she couldn’t endure. Women are far stronger than either they or we often give them credit for. We too often mistake emotion for weakness.
4. Women aren’t as authoritative as men. Therefore, women do not make good pastors, coaches, or business leaders. If you’ve ever heard a woman break out the “mom voice,” you know that women can command a pretty amazing amount of authority. The problem here is two-fold. First, we confine a woman’s authority. Patriarchy restricts a woman’s authority to certain spheres of life, and America still has remnants of patriarchy. Second, we are limited in our view of authority. Somewhere along the line, we determined that dictatorial leadership was the “best” and most authoritative form of leadership. Therefore, all of our leaders must lead in that way. It has taken us a while to learn that there are other, equally effective ways to lead. Many women, though certainly not all, tend toward a more collaborative leadership style.
5. Society determines beauty rather than God. Perhaps we could also say here that beauty determines success for women more than intelligence, experience, or expertise. In society, I see this most clearly in the music business. There are a number of female musicians who’ve made a name for themselves solely because of their looks, while some very talented women who would be considered less “attractive” have not gotten the notoriety. In the church, we should be separating ourselves from the society on this issue. We should be pushing for God’s view of beauty that sees all God’s creatures as equal. Yet I see the church time and again implicitly, and sometimes even explicitly, endorsing society’s views.
6. “Femininity” is the greatest gift women have to offer. Pope Francis recently spoke about the role of women in the church and praised their “gifts of delicacy” including a “special sensitivity and tenderness.” While many women do have these gifts, I think it minimizes the diversity of the individual. Not ALL women are delicate. Not ALL women are tender. “Feminine” is not a synonym for “female.” Women offer MANY gifts to the church and those gifts are as diverse as the individuals who possess them.
7. All women are temptresses. There is a long-standing view of Eve as a temptress and as the preeminent woman who defines all who’ve come after her. There are two problems with that assessment. First, Eve was not a temptress. She did not trick nor coerce Adam into eating the forbidden fruit. He was with her the whole time and ate by his own choice. Second, Eve’s choice may have impacted every woman (and every man for that matter), but Eve does not define every woman. Society has assimilated this view and used the concept for selfish gain (i.e. using sexuality to gain power or notoriety). This is a dangerous view that I think the church needs to speak into. And one of the best ways to do that is to lift women up based on gifts not related to sexuality or body image.
I’d love to hear from others, both those inside the church and those outside, about what you see as mistakes the church makes in how it views women. Do you agree with the ones I’ve listed? Do you have others to add? Please chime in with your thoughts and feedback.