In life, you collect experiences, and most of mine include the church, offering a different perspective than someone who does not have a row of pews as the backdrop to the majority of their childhood memories. I learned early on what it meant to be a ‘Woman of God’ or a ‘Man of God’, and I definitely knew that they weren’t the same. I was exposed early on to the concept that God expected different things out of the genders, to cross the gender line was a dangerous, defiant thing. Men of God were leaders, strong, confidant, they had good articulation for scripture reading, and they knew the perfect angle at which to cross their hands while taking the ‘Lord’s Supper Pose” (hands gracefully crossed in front of you). Women of God were quiet, fashionable (but not overly so), calm, wrote notes to the sick, and most importantly: made tasty things for pot lucks. When I was a young child I remember imagining myself as an adult woman, in the kitchen of our church’s fellowship room helping prep the dishes for the pot luck…I idealized it. When I grew a bit older, got a little bit louder and voiced my opinion more, I still respected and upheld that image of what it meant to be a good woman, but it no longer fit.
Once I got old enough to participate in the gender separated Bible classes (which I was convinced were primarily about sex, masturbation or menstrual cycles), I was highly disappointed to learn that I was sorely wrong. While some of the gender defined classes dealt with physiological issues, mostly it was about being how to be a good person of your gender for God. Even as a teenager, I knew this was poppycock (synonym for bullshit, brought to you by @annmariesayshi via twitter). I didn’t get why we would spend hours talking about how women CAN’T do this or that, but we can cook, support, and love. In college, while trying to be the best that I could, I would spend hours at a time studying the gentile, quiet spirit and trying to figure out what that meant, much less the Proverbs 31 woman.
Even with all of that I never really felt oppressed. I felt valued and upheld, but also felt like I was being held at arm’s length, boxed in by my gender. This might be why I am slightly misogynistic now.
I still respect women, perhaps more than ever. Subconsciously though, when I initially hear of a woman producing good, creative ideas and leading with confidence I doubt that it’s true. There is an inherent insincerity to the phrase ‘separate, but equal’, it doesn’t matter if you are talking of race, sexuality, or gender…it’s invalid. Surrounding the people who you have the most influence on, your children, friends, and family with the message of ‘I value you, but I don’t respect you’ can only bring a toxic mindset.
My concern with this narrative that is still being used today, despite our culture, has multiple layers. It is going to individually affect each man and woman who hears that narrative repeatedly as I did; hopefully the shift to post-modernism in religion will help offset some of the negative consequences. Also, those people have to function normally in society. (Aside: If you have kids, I don’t know how you don’t panic thinking about whether or not you are helping shape productive citizens, because you are setting their behavior up for their adult lives.) It also hurts a little to know that people who I love and respect more than anything doubt their place and natural talents for leading. Worse than that, there are those who think it’s a Hell inducing act for a woman to speak in front of a man about Biblical things, that’s always a harmful thing, but when people think that you are going to hell, it tends to cut a little deeper. I’m working on reversing this, but it’s taking a lot of conscious effort: reversing my guttural reaction, my easily presuming nature, and the guilt that comes with trying to unlearn a ‘moral’ behavior.