The other day, a good friend of mine was told that she looks like a “pastor’s wife.” She was a bit confused about how she could possibly “look like a pastor’s wife.” I assume she was told this because she has a heart for the lost. She helped start and build a thriving youth ministry. She organizes events, preaches, and holds Bible studies. Any man doing the same (or even less) would be told that he could be a pastor. So why the difference?
Sexism is lurking in the walls of the conservative church. In subtle ways, the church is telling women that they aren’t invited to the decision-making table. There is a quietly oppressive system in place that ensures women know their place (which is not behind the pulpit or in any position of leadership).
Many women have internalized this subtle sexism, accepting comments like the one my friend received with no outrage. For example, I noticed that another friend of mine had an incredible gift for preaching, so I told her that she should become a pastor. She responded with a chuckle, “Oh, that’s not biblical! So many people say I should be a pastor’s wife though.”
I realized that even if God is calling her to preach, she will never know it because she is blinded by sexist lies fed to her over a lifetime.
Women are discreetly left out and oppressed in the church.
Firstly, a doctrine of unbiblical gender roles is planted in the brains of young girls by people they trust—parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, etc. There are likely no women preaching at their churches, so young girls see the position of a pastor as a male role. That becomes the “norm” from a young age, so much so that the idea of women pastors can even become repulsive. These young girls also hear over and over again that the husband is the “spiritual leader of the home.” They accept this hierarchy as biblical even though the Bible mentions no such thing.
Secondly, complementarian theology emphasizes biological differences between males and females, especially during puberty. The girls are shamed and told to cover up “for the boys” while the boys are praised for their growing bodies and physical strength. They argue that since boys are overall physically stronger, girls are just the weaker sex.
I struggled for years, asking God why women have to bear such a burden? Could it be that God does favor men over women? If a teenage girl is constantly told to cover up and hide, all for the sake of “the boys,” then why wouldn’t she feel shame? If she is told over and over that men have the final authority, then why would she dare question the words coming from the pulpit?
Lastly, girls are taught that someone else always knows what’s best for them. They learn not to trust their own minds. From the clothes they wear to monumental life decisions, men know what God wants for women. Fathers, pastors, husbands, and other male figures hold the “God-given” trump card.
Girls are taught to listen to the male figures in their life over their own gut instincts, which are often the prompting of the Holy Spirit. This creates a subconscious belief that girls are inferior, that girls aren’t good enough. Not good enough to lead. Not good enough to make decisions. Not good enough to discern the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
It’s time we call this what it is. Unequal spiritual authority, purity culture, and male headship are all different strains of the same toxic ideology—sexism. Some sexism is blatant, but most of it is subtle, hidden behind so-called “good intentions.” In many churches, it is hidden behind misinterpreted gender roles.
Not allowing females to preach is sexist. Teaching male headship is wrong. And objectifying girls’ bodies using purity culture is dangerous. It’s time for the church to open our eyes to the dangers of subtle sexism and take action.
We cannot look away from the men abusing power and women struggling to break free from the chains of gender roles. We must stand up and shine a light on the sexism that hides in the dark corners of our sanctuaries and creeps in the back of our minds. We must dismantle the patriarchal ideas that imprison women.
It’s time to set women free. Today is the day to take a stand.
“Speak up for the people who have no voice, for the rights of all the down-and-outers. Speak out for justice! Stand up for the poor and destitute!” Proverbs 31:8-9