When I was in college (the first time around) I participated in something called The Nykerk Cup. An annually event between the freshmen and sophomore women in three areas of competition–an oration, a 20-minute play (written by the coaches), and a song–Nykerk was held before an audience of approximately 2400. I was one of the freshmen orators. Expected to address the question, How has the Woman’s Liberation Movement or the Equal Rights Amendment impacted today’s woman? the coaches my freshman year chose to have two orators so both sides of the question would be addressed by both classes. I started my speech with these three lines: “‘Burn your bras girls join the cause!’ ‘Women belong in the kitchen barefoot and pregnant!’ The two extremes–but which is more harmful to today’s woman?”
Sadly, women have not come very far in the last 30-plus years. We are still not paid the same wage for the same work and we are promoted less frequently despite meeting the same standards. Childcare is still seen as primarily a woman’s issue as are most family oriented topics. In the end these issues are ignored except for a little lip service during an election year. Women and children still make up the majority of our nations poor while white men are by far the wealthiest. And, although the extremes still get some attention; the reality is neither side has done women any favors.
The sexual revolution which went hand in hand with the woman’s liberation movement during the late 60s and early 70s saw taking the stigma off sexual activity by women and the legalization of abortion as progress. With liberation women could be just as immoral as men and no one would care. But, let’s not talk about the financial burden which rests on the shoulders of those women who do not opt to kill their babies, the skyrocketing health care costs due to spiking STDs, an annual abortion rate of over a million, the under-studied impact of long-term birth control on fertility and health, and the emotional cost of all of the above or we might get a different picture of success. And while we are not talking about emotional costs we best not mention the peer pressure our daughters face at younger and younger ages to become sexually active and physically attractive.
As a woman who has navigated those waters relatively unscathed I am angry, angry our revolution actually left my daughters in a more vulnerable place than I found myself. I am angry our enlightened society still treats women like objects and routinely uses soft porn to sell products. I am angry we refuse to look at the cost of our so-called freedom and the lies we protect because of our refusal to even engage in debate. Yet, I am even more angry to see how the church has responded.
While the liberation movement at least attempts to offer women equal opportunity and a voice, most segments of the Church continue to regard women as unfit for leadership except in those areas where women and young children are the only focus and men do not want the job. The language of the Church often camouflages its sexist attitude with lofty explanations of Biblical mandates and unique design but has a very difficult time proof texting actual practice. And believe me these less than attitudes toward women do trickle down into marriage and family relationships.
When it comes to messages and practice with regard to human sexuality the Church has an abysmal record. Statistically Christians view just as much porn as non-Christians, engage in pre-marital and extra marital sex just as often as non-Christians, and their marriages end in just as many divorces. Youth are told to wait because married sex is the best sex but they are not told what makes that true and no one is willing to talk about it when married sex is actually disappointing, when it diminishes, or when the longing and emptiness of pre-marriage still remains.
Additionally, Christian attitudes toward men and women (boys and girls) are skewed to reflect the underlying message that women are less valued and more culpable. Girls who “do it” are still seen and treated like sluts while their male counterparts are seen as having been seduced if they are acknowledged at all. The boy who rises to the occasion and marries the girl is generally patted on the back and told what a good thing he has done despite the fact that statistically that marriage is more likely to end in divorce after adding other children to the mix and the couple’s behavior almost always guarantees the girl will never graduate from college.
Society both in and outside the Church continues to deliver negative messages about the value of women, human sexuality, and marital relationships. The sexualization of women to sell product is easily the go-to form of advertising not to mention a major component of the entertainment industry. Even Christian television adheres to idealized body types for women and traditional role modeling in most of their programing. In the long run, “It’s better to marry than burn” is not far from “If it feels good do it!” Both view sex as a prize and “the other” as an object.
We, as women, need to deliver a new message to our daughters,
to our communities,
and to ourselves.
Women. are. valuable. But, how our bodies might please others is not a commodity to be sold.
Women. are. worthy. Our ideas, abilities, and perspectives are among our greatest assets and should be shared with the world.
Women. deserve. respect. Our time and energy warrant compensation equal to our male counterparts.
Women. are. capable. But, the welfare of the family including childcare, health care, and education is not a burden women should be required to carry alone.
as friends of women–
Men need to add their voices to this message. And all those who refuse to listen both in and outside the Church should be stripped of power and shown a better way.