Female Role-Models image

Female Role-Models

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Andrew Wilson has recently posted some well thought out, and interesting, articles on women in the church; the Complementarian/Egalitarian debate. Being a woman myself, I feel I have more licence, or perhaps it is just confidence, to comment critically on women’s issues. Therefore, I thought I would add some sociological observations to Andrew’s more theological posts: I have been thinking about the importance of female role-models in the church.

Peter writes:

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewellery or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Peter 3:3-4)

 
I wonder how many women in the wider culture would think a gentle and quiet spirit is desirable? I’m not sure that many would. Gentle and quiet women are not something that is particularly sought after. In fact, I’m pretty sure that the opposite is true. We are expected to be independent women, emancipated and not just equal to men, but able to do everything that men do (audience of women cheers!). However, the women that come to mind when faced with these ideals can be some sort of Charlie’s Angels for younger women, or perhaps successful business women for us in our mid-twenties, and I guess beyond.
 
Michael Ramsden came to speak to our church in Brighton last year. He mentioned that he had been reading some feminist books that really troubled him, because of the abuses to women in our society. Afterward I got a chance to ask him for some references. As a result, I have recently finished reading Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy. It was a shocking confirmation of the debased and twisted view our culture has of female liberation. It is not a book I would encourage any man to read; it can be rather descriptive. Levy’s essential message was to undermine the assumption that women needed to try to impress men, or try to be ‘like men’. She comments on the increasing desire within the ranks of women to cast themselves in a masculine mould:

Why try to beat them when you could join them? There’s a way in which a certain lewdness, a certain crass, casual manner that has at its core a me-Tarzan-you-Jane mentality can make people feel equal. It makes us feel that way because we are all Tarzan now, or at least we are all pretending to be.1

 
It is a very interesting observation, and one which I agree can unfortunately be true within British society. As such, there is a need for women in our country to have good role models. This is also true in the church, and is evident from my church’s Exploring Church Membership sessions. There is a slot where we talk about women in the church, and there is almost always a question like: ‘What can women do in the church?’ I believe in a Complementarian view of gender roles, and believe that men should be elders, and therefore believe that men should often be the ones at the front of church, leading our corporate meetings. However, for women in the church it is easy to try to emulate the elders in more ways than one, and even start to believe that ultimate spiritual development is serving Jesus through preaching and leading the church, as this is the role model so readily displayed on Sundays.
 
Peter’s exhortation to build our identity as women on God, and develop our ‘inner self’ is beautiful and feels so right, but a male dominated ‘stage’ at church can leave women with few examples of how this is worked out in practice. This can be particularly true for younger women, who may not have developed friendships with older women in their church. With this vacuum in young women’s lives I have observed that they can increasingly, and often quite unconsciously, turn to the modern ideals of ‘independent women’ and being ‘like men’ as Levy has described. This can be compounded by a lack of female role-models in their church life, leaving them with male role-models within the church and female role-models in our wider society. Male church role models are great, but they may not help counter the pressure on young women to be ‘like men’. Certainly, non-Christian female role models won’t.
 
This is precisely why I have been so encouraged by the women’s work that has started running at Church of Christ the King (CCK) Brighton, and I’m sure in many other churches too. We aim to hold Women’s Days and events three times a year at CCK, and in the past they have been a great success. Personally, I have found it so helpful to be able to see women preaching and teaching other women. Not because I have a bee in my bonnet about ‘male only’ preachers, but because I have had the opportunity to be inspired by the spiritual lives of other women in my church. It really has been a great encouragement.
 
I’m aware that we will need to continue to grapple with these issues, such as women preaching and teaching. But while we do, it’s good to know that we are developing, not necessarily toward an increasingly liberal theology, but towards a system that best represents the Word of God and the caring of his people. We are developing by aiming to hold on to our complementarian conviction, while seeking to use the teaching and preaching gifts many women possess.
 
Women, we don’t need to beat men or try and compete with them. We also don’t need to feel that an egalitarian theology is the only way our dreams and aspirations for serving God can be fulfilled. There are many ways in which your gifts and calling are needed and can be used in the church. If there are changes to be made let’s seek new ways in which our gifting can benefit the body of believers, rather than seeking to dismantle complementarian theology to justify a culturally defined ‘equality’ in which Jane is indistinguishable from Tarzan.

Footnotes

  • 1 Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture by Ariel Levy, p.93

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