Since I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, I never questioned all the gender stereotypes that society generally accepted as normal in the 1950s and ’60s. For example, women were expected to stay home instead of going out in the workplace. Men were the main breadwinners. Women were not generally represented in professional life and men were not expected to do chores like preparing meals, house cleaning, laundry, ironing, or washing dishes. Women were considered physically and emotionally frail and in constant need of men’s care and protection.
These were the values that I grew up with, but I always considered them to be demeaning of women. Even as an unbeliever I wrestled with this and had difficulty accepting that it was right and fair. I tried to model something different in my relationships with the young women that I dated, but tragically it was always easier to drift back to the societal norm. Once I responded to the claims of Christ upon my life I believed that I had further reason to challenge gender stereotypes of my non-Christian past.
When God brought the woman I would eventually marry into my life, I saw her as an equal in every respect. In fact, in the early years she had more Christian experience and maturity. We needed time to catch up and then it seemed important to me that we continue to grow together for the rest of our spiritual journey. That commitment led us to seek training for Christian ministry with Churches of Christ in Australia.
During our training, my views on the status of women in the church and the home were challenged for the first time. I was neither experienced enough nor theologically astute enough to handle my critics and make the case for equality. I stored these things in my heart. Years later, I discovered that my wife shared my convictions about equality and purposed in her heart to examine and resolve these questions someday. For the moment, my wife and I were happy to model equality in our home life and in the way that we servant-led the church. It was not until we were introduced to the ministry of Christians for Biblical Equality that we felt both equipped and qualified to make a stand on the issue.
Speaking up for biblical equality has been difficult for me, but it has been far more difficult for my wife. Those who oppose equality will not listen to a woman, no matter what her gifts and experience. That doesn’t mean to say that they will listen to a man! But men need to stand up to the relentless pressure and demeaning diatribe that women face.
By the emotive use of the word “feminist” for example, even when it is coupled with “biblical” or “evangelical,” women are dismissed as either militants or heretics, or both. It’s so sad and frustrating when women who express themselves clearly, or what may be deemed as forcefully, are dismissed. Unfortunately, men who stand up for women who are treated this way may be accused of being “feminized,” and therefore also rendered voiceless.
Challenging the status quo must be done tactfully and graciously so that we don’t allow ourselves to get caught up in name-calling. This applies to face-to-face defenses or, if we are so gifted, written defenses in internet forums, articles, or books.
Careless stereotypical comments are often made in the course of conversations in both secular and church contexts. They may be something as simple as, “You know how women (or men) are…” While said in jest, these statements are still insulting and can reinforce demeaning attitudes if they’re not corrected. When women take a stand against stereotypical comments, they are often accused of being too sensitive or emotional to be taken seriously.
Showing emotion is not a bad thing, even for men. When boys are hesitant or compassionate, they are often abused by their peers with outbursts like, “Don’t be such a girl!”—as if being a girl is a bad thing. These kinds of stereotypical attitudes begin in the very young and need to be addressed every time they occur. Mature and sensitive men can help stem this tide of unnecessary girl-bashing.
Having grown up in a secular environment where certain attitudes about women were expected and accepted, I’m especially disappointed when they appear in the church. Even worse, though the world is addressing these injustices, the church seems to be reverting to a medieval theology toward women.
Women’s voices need to be heard. Without being patronizing, men must offer strong and supportive voices alongside the gifted women God continues to raise up in our day and age. My reading of Scripture tells me that there was no sense in which the women surrounding Jesus ever felt patronized. Our own attitudes and actions should be the same as His as we champion the cause of women in our own generation.