[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.