“So, are you a student here too?” asked the young IT worker I called to fix my office computer. I smiled, wondering how the student missed my name on the office door, or the row of diplomas framed on the wall. “No, I’m a professor here.” Sexism against women in college undoubtedly happens, but sexism against female college faculty is perhaps more often overlooked. As a thirtysomething woman professor at a Christian university, I have a unique perspective on sexism in higher education.
I so wish I could have told those bright young women about the challenges they will face as they enter their careers and endeavor to find satisfaction in their work and lives. I did not want to be that person, warning optimistic young women about future obstacles—and that the odds of success are ever stacked against them. I fear, though, that if we don’t have open conversations about workplace and cultural challenges, if we don’t call out hurdles by name, we set women up for failure when they enter the workplace.
Consent: a word so bland I once found it almost ugly. Why would I base my framework for romantic relationships on a word as flippant and perfunctory as a waiver to have my photo taken? Bodies and relationships are deeply important to me as a Christian. Naturally, sex is also deeply important to me. Even after I left purity culture behind, I still searched for a rich, God-honoring sexual ethic. Consent seemed like a pretty bare standard for behavior.
Dating is difficult in today’s culture. As I have counseled single women and men through the years, I often heard pleas for help to find a Christian person to date. And let’s be honest. There are many different kinds of Christians. How does one get help to find a similar kind of Christian? One who values mutual submission and servant leadership in marriage?
Do men want to date smart women? This was the question behind a 2015 study published by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.1 What the study learned is that men like the idea of dating women who are smarter than them, but when they meet an actual woman who fits the profile, they suddenly become much less interested.
When Justin got down on one knee—on the day we chose months before—and opened the box to reveal the ring we picked out together, I didn’t feel a rush of dumbfounded amazement. But I didn’t miss that at all. The joyful expectancy of our special day was a tremendous gift—as was the chance to pour my energy into creative expressions of my love for Justin. He and I also kept our plans a secret from each other, so surprise still marked the day.
The epidemic of women’s unpaid work is a serious problem and it’s one that should concern us as Christians. Whether by implication, necessity, or demand, women aren’t being credited or compensated for their work. They are often taken less seriously as professionals and expected to take sole responsibility for housework and other traditionally feminine kinds of work. Not all labor—such as household work—is the kind of work for which we give and receive a paycheck. But it remains that for much of history, patriarchy has ensured that all of women’s work—official and unofficial and paid and unpaid—is seen as less than, and that women’s labor can be taken for granted.