The New Shame: Why Gender Equality Is Still Worth Fighting For

5 comments Written on June 2nd, 2015     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
mandi2015Mandi Cherico is a second year M.Div student at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL. Raised in the Twin Cities, her interests include feminism, word-care, aesthetics, and Beyonce.



“Are there really that many hurting women in the Church?”

I was a freshman at a Christian college when I heard one of my professors pose this question to our class. Yes, I replied, women were still second-class citizens in many congregations, yet he was unconvinced. According to him, the women in his church seemed happy and fulfilled. We’ve come a long way. Women have the right to vote and work outside the home, why make an issue out of nothing?

I wish I could tell you that I attended college in an era of widespread, Mad Men-type sexism but, alas, I graduated in the early 2000s. I’ve reflected on his disbelief since then, still saddened by his ignorance. His question taught me something valuable, though. For some among us, the struggles of women in the 21st century are a non-issue. It is the opinion of some, even (especially?) in the Church, that discussions on gender equality are simply not needed today.

I agree that it’s good to recognize women’s progress. Three waves of feminists spanning two centuries have done hard and necessary work both inside and outside the Church to create a more equal playing field for women and men. There are far more women in the workforce this decade than ever before. For every one man who graduated from college in the U.S. in 2009, three women earned their diplomas as well. Women are running companies and running for president. So why, some may ask, are we still writing blogs about gender equality?

Glaring inequalities such as the wage gap, sexism in the media and the lack of female leadership in our churches are all good responses to that question. At the same time, we live in a new era where women not only have more options, but are excelling in these new frontiers. In her sensationally-titled book The End of Men and the Rise of Women, Hanna Rosin uncovers important findings on segments of modern American women and men. Though middle-class and upper-middle class women and men are now nearly equal when it comes to representation in the workforce and academia, these new equalities don’t make for equal expectations. While many women now have more freedom to pursue their God-given potential outside traditional roles, the pressure to marry, have children and be the primary homemaker still looms over them. Rosin’s research proved that society’s ‘to-do list’ for women has only gotten longer since the acceptance of the Independent Woman. Even more, when women can’t check off this to-do list, they feel intense shame.

In 2015, patriarchy is not dead, it’s reincarnated. The New Shame for women comes not from a failure to fill one specific role, but from a failure to fill every role. We’re handed a long list of attributes: be confident and compassionate and professional and sexy and respectable and whimsical and quiet and strong and…the list goes on. Today, women may not feel shame for pursuing a career or an education, but they do feel shame if these things inhibit or modify traditional expectations of a wife and mother. If they choose the calling of motherhood and homemaking, they often feel shame for not also working or leading outside the home.

Many women struggle with the lie that they must be everything, to be worth anything at all. And – guess what? – these women preach sermons and fill pews in our churches.

All progress considered, there are still hurting women in our churches, women who have been told – even by the Church itself – that they must be it all and do it all. As leaders in the Church, it’s our job to create safe places of healing and wholeness for women, and for all people. Take an inventory of the culture of your church. How are we talking about the lives of men and women in our pulpits? How do we structure our gender-based ministries? Who do we applaud as ‘normal’ or exemplary among women and men? Above all, we can fight shame for all people by communicating that our worth is not found in how well we fill any role, but in the liberating love of God.

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5 comments “The New Shame: Why Gender Equality Is Still Worth Fighting For”

Well said, Mandi. Thank you. Almost five years into retirement from pastoral ministry, I’ve been inhabiting the blogosphere a lot these days. And I’m overwhelmed by the amount of misogyny that radiates all across the ‘Christian’ web. Yes, there are good, good places for women to write (and women make up the huge majority of bloggers and magazine contributors), but there is also a lot of suspicion, blaming and shaming going on, too. We need voices like yours to speak into this reality. 

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Mandi – I can’t tell you how many people, both men and women continue to ask this question in utter amazement that the realities are what they are. Thank you for giving voice through sharing your journey. As we continue to hear from various voices that are a part of the conversation on this blog we shed light on the true state of the church for women clergy who simply long to be treated fairly and to serve faithfully in their call. Catherine

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I know this lady!  She’s my buddy!  So proudly for boldly living out your calling! I am so glad you highlighted the overwhelming an unrealistic expectations of women, especially in the church. This is widely communicated through portrayal interpretation of the Proverbs 31 woman. We are made virtuous through the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ bout by our works. 

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Sorry for the typos, I’m using the Swype function on my phone Lol. Meant to say literal interpretation. Let’s talk about Martha and Mary. While hosting a dinner party, Martha chose to be burdened down with the expectations of society concerning a woman’s role.  Jesus said,  “Mary chose the good part.” She defied custom and sat down at the feet of Jesus to be taught. Powerful lesson. Martha was a nervous wreck trying to maintain society’s standard. Jesus was like Mary’s got the right idea, let go of those expectations and embrace your freedom in Christ.

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Well done, Mandi! I cannot even begin to count the number of conversations I have had with Christian women who feel like they are always “failing” in one or all areas of life because of the pressure and expectations placed upon them. It is so true that our worth is not found in our “role” or in what we “produce” (success in work, well-behaved children, flourishing ministry, etc.) but our worth is found in the abiding and liberating love of Christ. 

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