Encounters with Sexism
Every now and then I get that slap in the face reminder that sexism is alive and thriving in our world. Sometimes it can be easy to think otherwise. I attend a church that affirms my value as a woman, I have intelligent friends, I participate in emerging church forums, and I live in a progressive town. So in my day to day life I can pretend that most of the world actually thinks I’m human. And many of the people I know are uncomfortable taking a stand for women mostly because they don’t see any apparent problems. Then come the wake up calls.
I started the week at a women’s book discussion at my church where we are reading through Sue Monk Kidd’s Dance of the Dissident Daughter. I love that story of one woman’s awakening, and it served as a significant part of my journey in affirming my worth as a woman. Our discussion this week focused on how language is still often used to demean women. When the worst insults in our culture are to call someone a girl, when women are still pressured to have sons, and apologize for birthing daughters, when in business meetings women are ignored, or forced to be and dress like men in order to compete – sexism is alive and well. The constant blows at who we are surround us, and we all lamented that when we point out this stuff we are dismissed as angry bitches. That whole discussion was reflective and theoretical, but then I went out this week and saw it all in play.
A couple weeks ago I signed a letter to the Presidential Selection Committee for my alma mater Wheaton College encouraging them to consider female and minority candidates for the next President of Wheaton. Dr. Duane Litfin is retiring after 17 years of leading the college with an ultra-conservative hand. He was selected to steer the college away from a perceived “liberal” turn in the 1980s. So he brought his dispensational, cessationist, anti-ecumenical and anti-egalitarian views to the college. My former pastor, a friend of his, told me as I headed off to college that Litfin’s greatest fear for the college was the growing amount of women entering the biblical studies field. And while I was there, great efforts were taken to promote “Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” and silence the students for biblical equality groups. But now as he is leaving, there is a chance for the college to break those chains and take a stand for women. Yet even proposing that option has met with disdain. Responses to the mere suggestion of considering a woman or minority include - “You have got to be kidding me. Only in academia and government are such bogus voices funded and stroked. I feel specifically called to buy something with a pink ribbon emblem and then go wretch.” and “This is silliness. And it’s a classic example of what happens when people ignore the Pendulum of Truth” and “I do not think, however, that they should be set on finding a female or minority president. It is very likely that in doing that, they may end up with someone that will lead the school in a very dangerous direction.” Along with numerous assertions that the college should hire the most-qualified candidate, implying that a woman or a minority would not fit that bill. Sexism is alive and well.
Then here in Austin a couple of weeks ago, the DJ’s of my favorite morning radio show were suspended for using offensive language. The British radio host had used a phrase that sounded like a racial slur, and they laughed about the awkwardness of what her phrase sounded like. They were suspended without pay for a couple of weeks and forced to take cultural sensitivity classes. Since returning they have been very careful not to really say anything about other races, even stopping themselves in the middle of stories. But the use of women as insults has continued in full force. They constantly compare people to girls to show how weak and pathetic they are. They use references to women’s anatomy to insult people – especially the ever-popular term “douchebag.” Lesson learned – we have to be sensitive to other races but women are scum to be used however we like.
Similar lesson from this whole recent controvery about the Deadly Viper book. In the promo for the book about men’s intigrity published by Zondervan, the authors made use of Asian cultural references in really inappropriate and insensitive ways. It was obviously offensive, and a number of us in the Christian community pointed out that offense and asked for an apology. I fully affirm that an apology was needed to my Asian brothers and sisters, and the Christian community in general. At the same time, I was disturbed that many of the people calling for an apology were saying stuff like “I think the content of the book is great, I just have problems with the culturally insensitive packaging.” I think they were saying that to be nice and build bridges, but in all truth the curriculum is full of sexist stereotypes that use women as insults. The authors even have a video on their website promoting their Mancave series that is simply a series of gender stereotypes where manly=good and girly=bad. I applaud the efforts to stand up to insensitive racial stereotypes in the church, but wish people hadn’t affirmed gender stereotypes in the process. And I really wonder if that same group of people would put forth the effort to take a stand for treating women in the church with respect just like they asked for Asians in the church to be treated with respect. I want to believe they would, but far too often I see sexism protected by the shield of “theology” in ways that racism can never be in our modern world.
Sexism is alive and well. This week has just been a reminder of how far we have to go until women are respected as fully human and not demeaned for the sake of entertainment.