Girls, Boys, Men and Women – Whose World Is It?

[Today’s guest post is from Cristy Tice, who writes of her childhood debates and grown-up lessons on the equality of women and men serving Jesus in a world that doesn’t yet get it.]

The Great Debate

I remember my first involvement in a debate. When I was eleven, we neighborhood kids had taken a break from whatever activity we were up to, riding bikes, jumping ramps, Frisbee, backyard baseball, football, hide-n-go seek, who knows. In my Nashville neighborhood right on the outskirts of downtown, kids close in age lived in every home around mine, what bliss. Seven of us (three girls, four boys) were a really tight group. We shared everything like bikes, baseball gloves, snacks, you name it.

Sipping water that hot afternoon, we piled on a front porch and out of nowhere someone posed a question, “Is it a man’s world or a woman’s world?” Each gender took their own side, explaining why one was more important than the other, who deserves to be boss, who makes the world go ‘round. It went on forever, was sloppy and interesting, and had a tone of nana nana boo boo.

Until that point I hadn’t been challenged to verbalize how boys and girls, men and women are culturally sorted into stereotypical categories. (Not to mention the insensitivity this pink and blue debate could be to people of a beautiful array of orientations.) Thinking back, with the experiences and observations I have now, I believe we are interconnected as human beings, we all need each other, and it is worthwhile to uncover biases that prevent healthy interaction, compassionate understanding, tender intimacy and life-affirming love.

Standing Up to Man Culture

This debate from childhood stuck with me, and life filled in the gaps to wrestle with the answers, and find even more questions along the way. As a woman, I’ve experienced mutually respectful, kind, loving friendships with some great men. These great men take risks of being shamed, shunned, laughed at and misunderstood for the love they give.

I’m grateful my husband didn’t buy into rigid gender roles or want to dim my light. In his fierce resistance to cave under the pressure of Bible Belt man up culture—holiness with a capital A, I’ve come to understand he was fighting for us. Where some might say he was taking the back seat, weak and not fulfilling his role as a spiritual leader, he was actually fighting for kindness, respect, dignity, equality, intimacy, and love. It’s life-giving to be a valid equal, a trusted collaborator, a partner, a team.

As a woman, I’ve also experienced the power of men used over me to exploit me or dampen my spirit.

  • A boss threatened to take away my vacation time if I didn’t do something unethical for the organization.
  • A boyfriend used his hugging arms as a measurement tool to judge my waistline, and say “you’re not quite there yet” and “If you could just believe in x, then you’d be marriage material.”
  • A leader invited me to write teaching content for ministries as an anonymous team writer, but the audience assumed my material was written by a man since it was used to teach men. Some slaughtered the writings with reinterpretation and I kept the secret of female authorship instead of defending the message, as the author.
  • Even though I don’t doubt their love, a few family members also joke that I “break all the rules” when I exhibit strength or joy in areas that are typically considered masculine. These are only a few examples.

I’m not rebellious or sorry for my love to cook on the grill, use power tools and equipment, work hard, break a sweat, have an opinion, ask a hard question, take up space, lead something, speak up, or exist. Men can do these things and be respected as great leaders. Women can do the same things and get called “bossy”, “sassy” or “angry.”

A woman who reveals desires, thoughts, and ambitions does not need her “leash tightened.” She is not an animal who needs to be tamed and caged, or subservient in word and action to the man telling her to “get back where she belongs”, and telling other men to “get her under control” or to “chop off her legs” so she can’t get to the voting booth with her unapproved political angle. I know these are jokes. But the heart of some jokes aren’t funny. A vintage ad announces “new men’s underwear, for women” describing how they are easier to launder, for women, because women do the laundry. Humor is often used to ease and cover discomfort and pain, which can be a gift, but some jokes reveal what’s in the heart when you follow the logic all the way to the light.

Breaking the Frame

What if the stereotypical framework we’ve been handed is what is limiting us? What if what we’ve assumed and considered a godly position of how to view men and women is dividing us, carving wedge-shaped stumbling blocks, and truncating the flow of life between the sexes? What if some of our concrete beliefs we champion as God’s way, are actually sin? What if our inherited definition of “godly leadership” is misogyny, both blatant and disguised? What if scripture’s occurrences of men ruling over women is a description of how the curse plays out, and not a prescription for a man’s obligatory leadership role? What if we didn’t know what we were doing, can we be forgiven? What if we did know what we were doing, is forgiveness and change possible? What has Christ redeemed between men and women, and what freedom and progress can we lean into?

Over the past five years or so, I’ve begun to ask myself hard questions that shake me at the core, that move me to change my mind, to uproot my comforts, shift my perspectives and invite what the Spirit would do to keep my heart tender, curious and earnest. So many questions.

It is difficult to see what has been ingrained in us, the perspectives, experiences, and common attitudes that we accept as the way it is, and the way it has always been. We tighten our stubborn grips, seal the deal on beliefs with theological proof texts, and excommunicate our doubts (or anyone who challenges us) in order to maintain some semblance of peace, even if it is killing us. Taking pride in an immovable, unchangeable, unshakeable mindset or belief system may become an obstacle from being able to see and be in awe of what God who is alive in the universe, moving in history (past, present, future,) active, and involved, is doing in our lives. What if the Spirit is calling us to be moved, transformed and off-kilter to make room for something vital and new?

Misogyny is defined as “dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.” I would also add, that it includes dislike, contempt and prejudice against anything that is perceived as feminine. Misogyny is a form of sexism that views patriarchy as normal, moral, and best for everyone. “The man is supposed to be the spiritual leader” is a myth passed down by an oral tradition of unquestioned religious catch phrases. Misogyny is an abusive ideology that dehumanizes and objectifies both women and men. It dehumanizes men who have gifts that misogynistic men consider feminine or weak. It seeks to diminish the value of women who have traits and gifted abilities that abusive men consider tough and masculine.

We remain divided, at odds, in the dark, and hiding from true intimacy when we continue to uphold stereotypes and prejudices. When we ban full expression of gifts, in honor of a societal totem pole, we categorically keep each other in bondage and we suffocate the freedom of love, joy and delight.

Often men who benefit from a patriarchal system will have dominance, authoritarian and conquering language in their mission statement, and slap an “ism” label on anything perceived as feminine in order to dismiss their complicity in oppression. They awkwardly struggle to engage beyond the borders of “manly” comforts. In a misogynistic culture, if a man is scared, upset, or crying, they are made fun of for being too emotional—“emotionalism” is the tag. If a leader is confronted about the need to approach a situation with sensitivity, tenderness and Christ-likeness, the label of “legalism” or “That’s performancism and Christ isn’t my example” becomes the excuse to bow out of facing and working through problems.

A society that forces men to lead, idolizes male headship, and offers it as the only godly option passes along a hierarchy that puts women in second place, (or last place, less than human such as animal, robot, or alien) and limits both genders from expressing their God-given gifts. The triune God doesn’t operate from hierarchy. When we do, we distort his/her/their reflection. Jesus didn’t play by human rules and expectations of him, but he went against the grain for love, to display good news. We are forgiven, God is good with us, we have freedom, and stand equal in the sight of God…now go out and live from that in how you love one another. Jesus crossed borders to commune with ostracized people groups, he faced problems, touched wounds, met needs, fed the hungry, and gave indiscriminate inclusive love. Maybe these types of love in action sound like a “social justice” label, and will be disregarded, but I hope not. Maybe we too can cross the borders of gender barriers, like Jesus, for love.

I’d like to imagine together what could be, if we could welcome bringing everything into the light? Maybe it would open hearts for a kind of love we never knew possible. To make room for words like “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I hurt you. I couldn’t see it before, but I do now. How can I help? How can I ease the pain? Let me show you with my actions that I never want to hurt you again. I carry the weight of my responsibility, I own my wrongs against you…and feel a sense of how heavy you have been.” Maybe interactions like this would present the need and appreciation for Jesus and his words “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” To lighten our burdens, we need to acknowledge that the burdens are real. To not acknowledge them doesn’t make them go away.

Misogyny is a burden for women and men living in a “man’s world.” Exposure to light, finding good news that overcomes fear and shame, and discovering Love’s power, can reset the unbalanced axis of a world tilted in favor and credit to man, and can become “our world.” We can share a space where we can be loved and love from the heart and not worry about a binary impulse of fitting characteristics into inflexible boxes of male or female, masculine or feminine.

In our world, there is room for all humans, who are equal image-bearers of the source of love and beauty that is God. All of our human qualities are direct gifts, not inferior leftovers. If God was standing in front of a mirror, I don’t think the image-bearing reflection would be a man standing in front, and the woman behind. We were formed rib to rib, to be arm in arm, by each other’s sides, with equal footing before things went awry. Jesus worked to secure a curse-reversal between us and God and now we get the opportunity to imitate and participate in putting enmity to rest, in preference to and consideration for each other as precious, beloved, humankind.

So to this generation, and the next, and every one after that of sweaty kids, playing hard, sharing everything, navigating through life one wheelie pop at a time, holding onto wonder, enjoying being neighbors, making room for and celebrating each other, it is my hope that what will remain is Love.

***

Cristy is a Nashville native who enjoys time with loved ones, especially her husband and three kids. She’s outgoing and friendly, but digging in the garden or into a good book, thrifting, cooking, bike-riding and creative projects are welcome activities of solitude and reflection. Cristy’s a fan of earnest questions, wonder, and wandering in pursuit of the Spirit of Jesus, truth and love. She cares about seeing both the humanity and divinity in the eyes of every soul, especially the marginalized, forgotten and misunderstood. Cristy has been volunteering at the Nashville Rescue Mission Women’s campus and Hope Center life recovery program for 14 years, as well as a regular volunteer for a local elementary school of the Metro Nashville Public School System. You can connect with Cristy on Twitter.

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6 Responses to Girls, Boys, Men and Women – Whose World Is It?

  1. what beautiful heady thought provoking and dare i say in snark-mode, ” rebellious” stuff in this selection —–and so right on.. On “biblical gender roles” where the author writes some very severe legalistic stuff about what women should be (actually better be or else they are sinning BIG TIME against god ) he uses the verse where paul says ” I will that women be married, mothers and keepers at home” and bases all his theology on that and many verses from the OT. when I read that verse I see that paul is saying ” I will” not “god wills” so that paul is basing what he feels is the best for the situation at the time since in those days a woman alone had little choice of careers. keep up the good work by using your God-given gifts–your brain, personality, even your faults, to help assemble (build up) the body of christ.

    • Cristy says:

      Thanks for reading and acknowledging the brains that God has given all of us. 😊 I enjoy so many things considered “feminine” as well as “masculine,” but don’t want to force any gender inside a box of human requirements that steal their joy or thwart God’s expression of gifts. Keep up the encouragement and kindness…we all need it.

  2. Catherine Martin says:

    Well said!

  3. Anu Riley says:

    You did such a great job. Many writers (and rightly so) offer wisdom to answer (or start a discussion) to hard questions. You did both, and went a step further. You listed out a number of very hard questions but seemingly left it to the readers to get their own minds working.

    It is 100% fair to ask a professing Christian: are you aiming to be a product of culture, or a product of Christ? Before the angry words start spilling out (it’s insulting to suggest that the former is even a possibility)—it’s fair to give that question serious prayer.

    We tend to be “programmed” by so many factors as we grow into adults. I won’t use the term “brainwashing,” but it’s pretty dang close.

    I remember the intense conflict within when I was considering choosing Christ at a young age. Everything about me would have to go out the window in order to embrace Him. In a sense—-my current “programming” would be wiped clean, and I would allow Him to ” transform me by the renewing of my mind.”

    In a nutshell, He would “install” a whole new “program” in me. One that 100% defied my old ways, thoughts and beliefs. But they would all have to go in order to be born again in Him, and I found that to be extremely insulting at first!

    If you claim to be a believer. your foundation IS Him, and also built by Him, and is built FOR Him. I’m fascinated AND confused how some or many believers don’t understand that fully.

    Misogyny as you defined is right, but I go a bit deeper: it also involves extreme hatred towards and an entitled need to punish women who do not believe or function as they see as fit, proper and (in this case) Biblical. This mostly applies to men, but women can be misogynistic as well.

    You can tell this by their fruits: childish insults, brutal name calling, immature ranting and raving will spill out when a female dares to defy the so-called “norms” that misogynistic persons are adamant about.

    Every believer is responsible for allowing Him to change them from glory to glory. This is not an overnight process. Many believers will openly admit they had no idea how ignorant and/or arrogant their former or current beliefs were until the Lord exposed them. They were dark, deadly, and devilish. They did not represent Him, and so they got rid of them—because He told them to.

    It’s hard to believe how many women are so “programmed” to put up with certain attitudes and behaviors that are debilitating, damaging and discouraging on so many levels. OR, they stay quiet when others are being treated with contempt—“programmed” to not rock the boat. OR, they join in with the ridicule, knowing that this what you must do in order to survive and cope in a “man’s world.” You ally with the ones in power, or else you will be crushed by their power instead.

    It is vital that we KNOW what we are up against, because that is the only way to remain vigilant and active—not apathetic and passive. Teach your daughters to speak up, because whether you believe it or even see it or not—she is likely being “programmed” to stay silent—-if not by you, then by the school system, the entertainment world, or worse yet—-the church you attend. If she’s not directly told that Christ is not in the business of boarding up the mouths of females, you’re passively sending her that exact message.

    It doesn’t stop there. Any and every believer sets an example for others. It is not just those in authority or in power. Ask yourself what kind of an example am I setting. one of coercion using fear, or one of compelling using love?

    If you don’t even ask YOURSELF that question, where in the heck do you have the right to tell OTHERS (specifically, anyone that you consider “inferior”) how they should believe and live as Christ intended? You don’t even seem to know Him as well as you think you do.

    Because perfect love casts out fear, but you’re using fear as a weapon to dehumanize, demonize or frankly—defeat the very ones He says He loves.

    My spouse once told me that a “hammer” is often used by men to deal with others. Harsh, hard and fairly heartless.

    That made me think. A hammer can be used to destroy. It can break and crush and cause much damage.

    But a hammer can also be used to build: to take out old ones and put in new ones. It can put things together, or it can take them apart.

    It all depends on who is holding that hammer. And yes, I’m factoring in the Lord, who a carpenter before His ministry. It is likely He spent more of His life learning and engaging in carpentry, because His ministry was only three years long.

    He gives all of us a “hammer” to be used as He sees fit. Sometimes you DO crush and destroy things that need to be done away with. Misogyny would be one those things. Other times you build with it—putting in the right nails in the right places. Anti-misogyny would be one of those things.

    All of this is directed by Him, and you do NOT stray from Him. You do not “do your own thing” and assume He will be pleased with the results. No constructionist would dare to build a home apart from a blueprint, which only a talented architect can provide. You’ll do shoddy work because you would not heed the wisdom of those that know what they are doing.

    But so often, that hammer is used indiscriminately and recklessly. Misogyny is built up when it needs to be destroyed. And anti-misogyny is destroyed, when it needs to be built up!

    Please keep writing: asking the hard questions, endeavoring to answer them, but also leaving us with a lot of questions to ask ourselves, and of Him as well.

  4. Cristy T. says:

    Anu, you sure have put a lot of thought and heart into your comments. Your willingness to share aloud what you are thinking is a vulnerable exercise. We all wrestle with the nuance of various theology, and where to derive our value both as Christians who believe and as human beings created as image-bearers, (who oftentimes struggle to believe.) I have a feeling that whatever we are certain of in our beliefs, God has a way of showing us we can’t worship the certainty of “knowing”, but it seems to become a journey of continued trust into the land of the unknowns. Your comments are comforting in the sense that God never grows weary with our wrestling and questions. Loosening our grips of having it all figured out often opens our minds and hearts to the tenderness of learning. I appreciate you taking the time to comment. May your path ahead be filled with love, patience, kindness and joy.

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