Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The feminist within....

I can’t pinpoint the moment I became aware that the world was not working the way I thought it should. My starting point was to think that boys and girls were of the same value and should be treated the same as we are both human and whilst we might be physically different that didn’t mean one was better than the other. Growing up there were rows with my brothers over which was better, to be a girl or a boy, we could have babies, they could grow a moustache…..but as I grew up I realised this row had been won by the boys long before I was born.  I learned that women had to fight for equality; they had to fight to become more than property, then the fight for the vote, fight for equal pay, fight to be educated, fight for the right to have a career and there is an on-gong fight to be treated fairly. Women have had to fight for things that men seemed to have given to them just because they are male. So I’ve been pondering this unfairness for a long time.
Being born in the late 60’s in the Western world means I have had much more freedom than previous generations; I can wear what I like, stay in school for as long as I wanted, have a career, go to university, marry when and who I wanted, control when I have a baby, any job is an option and yet it is clear there are still clear inequalities between men and women, the struggle continues for equal pay, equal opportunities to the top jobs and the debate hits the headlines when the church starts to ‘explain’ the place of women. In the West it seems that the church is the place where women are discriminated against the most, a shocking thought when the church is supposed to be the bride not the groom!!
So why have women not been treated as equal to men? I think part of that answer lies in how we have viewed God as totally male and how we have interpreted certain scriptures.
Growing up I was taken to the catholic church, I did my first confession and my holy communion and remember being very excited to wear the pretty white dress and told something about being old enough now to take communion, old enough to line up with everyone else. I couldn’t be an altar boy like my brothers, so no other participation for me till I was older and then if I wanted to work in the church it would be as a nun or a housekeeper for the priest….not a priest though. By the time I was a teenager I was completely at a loss how a male priest could have anything relevant to say to me as a girl, he wasn’t one and wasn’t going to marry one, so how would he know anything about me or family life and why were priests all men? Questions with unsatisfactory answers took me out of the Catholic Church.
I entered the charismatic movement at the age of 17 and it wasn’t long before I felt women were not treated equally there either; women on the stage were introduced as somebody’s wife rather than by name, I could volunteer to be a Sunday school teacher or run the crèche or I could do youth work but I would not be a ‘teacher’ or a ‘leader’ as I was a woman and the bible said I couldn’t. It appeared that outside the church structure women could be anything including Prime Minister but inside our leadership was restricted and our voices were for singing not teaching or debating theology. Being married to a leader seemed to give some sort of position but no single women were permitted to lead house-groups or preach, rarely getting near the microphone unless to pray for somebody. Women are allowed to be intercessors, they can’t preach but they can talk to God on our behalf…... When questions are asked about the inequality in church there is the pointing to scriptures and obviously Eve has a lot to answer for despite any theology about curses being broken. Eve and therefore women are not to be trusted. We cannot interpret scripture, lead men, teach and are easily deceived
I now believe in equality, not because I’m rebellious or deceived but because I’ve read the Bible.  I’ve read theologians explain how the scriptures that are used to teach that women can’t be in leadership, or teach men or how they ought to wear their hair, or how salvation comes through childbirth, are contextual and that Paul is not a misogynist. I’ve read how Jesus treated women and how women were in all levels of leadership in the early church and I have concluded that God created us equal and so we should treat each other as equals. I think the problem lies with having a warped view of God and ourselves and how we interpret scripture, compounded by not recognising that we are reading it through a patriarchal lens.
When we have a male only God and believe we are created in ‘his’ image we then believe male is supreme and women are inferior and we will interpret the scriptures and act accordingly. Our behaviour shows exactly what we believe. When we believe Eve was made as a secondary thought or as a servant to Adam we will treat women according to that belief. When we believe Eve was the archetype of all women and easily deceived, pretty but dim, we assume all women are simple minded and easily deceived and if beautiful then unlikely to be intelligent. Whether we believe in Eve or not she is in our thinking.
Could it be true that women are treated more equal outside the church construct because people have stopped believing in Adam and Eve and have therefore stopped believing women are inherently gullible or made to serve men? Could it be true that once the church stopped having such an influence on society it allowed space for women to flourish? Although the whisper is still there that a beautiful woman cannot be intelligent and that women in positions of power or influence are somehow less feminine.
What if we accept that God is more than just male? He describes himself as ‘I am’ and neither male nor female and we can accept that we have been made in ‘his’ likeness both male and female and so God is not more of one than the other. What if when God was walking in the garden with Adam it wasn’t an old man with a white beard, what if it wasn’t a man at all? Perhaps acknowledging the male images we conjure in our head, when we think of God, shows us how it is entrenched in our thinking.
Jesus refers to God as Father in his prayers which adds to the image of an older man, could Jesus have said Our Mother who art in heaven? Would that have been outrageous even if it was accurate and if he had how would the church have developed?
What if the reason we call nature ‘Mother Nature’ is because Holy Spirit is feminine and she was the one who did the creating???? Scary thought there…..
The problem is we just don’t have the mental framework to know how to verbalise or imagine a God who is not male. So the church is totally committed to its patriarchal system. We have created God in a male image rather than the God who is the ‘I am’ and because we don’t have the understanding, we return to what is familiar when faced with the questions. We put the question off as one that cannot be fathomed; we use humour to cover how uncomfortable we are with the idea of a feminine God. We call women who raise these questions feminists and hope they will be quiet and stop rocking the boat. It is interesting to note when the subject comes up men often want to know if they have to get in touch with their feminine side and whilst, mostly unaware, will try and shut down the conversation with humour or scripture. Fear of destabilising the patriarchal system is held by men and women and yet until it is removed and we understand what it is to have a God who is not a man, women will continue to struggle and fight for equality.
I think our starting point is knowing that God is the ‘I am’ and is not just male, to spend some time asking God to show us how to be liberated women made in the image of God. I know the way forward is not to imitate men, it is not to oppress men instead, it is not for men to get in touch with their feminine side, it is not something that we can continue to ignore, it is not ok that women are not treated equally in every sphere of life. The feeling that women should be treated equally in the church is not rebellion or deception, it is time for women to be who they are created to be without let or hindrance from any patriarchal system. I'm pretty happy with what a generation of liberated women isn't going to look like but once that is out of the way we may see something new emerge....
Does it matter? I think so, I think the earth is calling out for women as she is in trouble, running out of resources and gripped with fear, she needs the women to have a voice. The boys have had a good run it’s time to step aside, not down, just aside and let’s work together as liberated children of God to love the earth back to good health.