Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Being a Woman

I have just finished reading Kevin Giles' book The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate. It is such an interesting read, there is so much that comes out of it.

His discussion on how the cultural context of the reader influences interpretation of the Bible I initially found uncomfortable. I like to think that if you do your exegesis properly that the cultural assumptions of the reader don't come into it. However, after reading his section on how the theology around slavery changed as a result of the changes in society that were happening, I can see that this makes sense.

His contention was that up until the 1800s the majority of theologians held that the bible not only regulated but legitimated slavery. That good evangelical theologians made an argument from the bible that blacks were by nature subordinate to whites, and that slavery was a divinely ordained institution. Very few would make that argument now, praise God.

Most interestingly there is actually a better biblical case for slavery than there is for the subordination of women, and yet most theologians who are pro-subordination of women are anti-slavery. It is fascinating that in the same sections of scripture that deal with the "household codes" that say that women should be submissive to their husbands, that slaves should obey their masters, that children should obey their parents, that the slavery clause is interpreted as culturally specific for the first century and not a timeless principle, YET the women clause is held to be a timeless principle.

I have been thinking about all this, and what it all means for me as a woman. Before I knew Christ I was a militant feminist, I wasn't in it for equality, rather because I feared that in my nature I actually wasn't equal I fought to prove that I was better than men. As an intelligent woman I often found that I could out-argue many men, and I rather relished 'proving my worth'. I also thought that to be equal with men meant being like men, particularly in the corporate world. It seemed that the women who moved up the management hierarchy were those who were tough and steely and who were comfortable in highly testosterone filled environments.

When I met Christ my perception of myself as a woman changed. I came to realise that I didn't need to prove anything to anyone about my worth. That my worth and my identity did not come from proving that I was better than or like a man, that I could be a woman, be gentle and soft, as well as intelligent and productive in the workplace. I started to incorporate what Jesus was showing me about myself into the way I worked. In managing my team I focussed on looking after my people rather than being so relentlessly task focussed. It is interesting, shortly later I was made redundant and was looking for work. When I applied for another team lead role at one of the major banks, the feedback from the agent after my interview with the bank was that I was "too nice" and they were looking for more of a "cold hard career bitch".

My response to all this was that wasn't the kind of woman I want to be, and that if that's what they were looking for I was glad not to work there as it would be a nasty environment! But I think in abandoning the 'career bitch' stereotype and also the 'barbie doll' stereotype I've fallen back into another stereotype of womanhood.

This stereotype I think is more subtle and dangerous, because it's so often labelled "biblical womanhood". The difficulty is, as Giles' says, you can make a biblical arguement for the subordination of women, but you can also make a biblical argument for the egalitarian position. I've fallen into the "men and women are equal, but men are more equal than women" line of thinking and that I think is just a product of growing up seeing the "Christian ideal" of women in submission to men.

This I think though was a product of the times. Growing up I heard stories about women who had stayed with their husbands who were abusive, and had heard these women commended for their faithfulness. But in many cases these women could not have supported themselves if they left their husbands, and were living in a time where divorce just did not happen.

What I am wondering is this... times have changed, do the household codes of the first century apply now? The cultural context of the first century is not the same as ours. In the first century the pater familias (the father of the household) had the power of life and death over his wife, children and slaves. In our culture and time any man who killed his wife & kids would be charged with murder. Different times.

Throughout the bible God is shown to be interested in justice and mercy. I think an interesting piece of scripture in this context is Matthew 23:23; God is more interested in "justice, mercy and faithfulness" than quibbling about law. This whole debate on what constitutes a biblical position on subordination could really be seen as quibbling about law. Giles' point about text-jam - where both sides can proof-text their viewpoint until the Lord returns seems to me a quibbling about law.

Maybe the key issue is that in the first century women did not have the opportunity for justice in the way we do now, and so the bible addresses the situation and opportunities of the time. But what does justice for women mean now?

The subordination of women didn't come in until the fall, Genesis 3 is the first place in the bible where a clear and unequivocal statement is made on the subject, God said to Eve "...Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you." (v16). This situation of inequality between the sexes is a result of the fall, not God's eternal purpose.

So I'm seeing a new alternative for how I view myself as a woman. Still do not want to be a militant feminist, I love and respect men WAY too much! And the subordinate woman thing I am seeing isn't right. So maybe the issue is really in defining my value, position, identity and relationships in terms of my gender. Maybe I can be gentle and soft because I'm Bec and it's who God made me, and reflects Christ. Maybe I can be intelligent and be gifted for teaching because those are gifts God gave me for the service of the body regardless of whether I have a Y chromosome or not. Maybe how I relate to people (future hubbie included) is a result of my "Becness" rather than my femaleness. Maybe I should stop trying to shove myself into a cookie-cutter shape of what it means to be "a woman".

God bless,

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