I find myself a feminist...

Feminist was a bit of a dirty word in the culture I grew up in. It drew up pictures of distinctly non-feminine women adamant in a war that needed to be won at the expense of men.

That has changed.

This week, I read an article by Jimmy Carter called Losing my Religion.  Former President Carter is severing his ties with the Southern Baptist religion because of the way the denomination interprets scripture with regard to women.

This is an emotional issue on both sides, so I wanted to share my experience:

As a young woman who loved God, growing up there was no place for me unless I had a talent working with kids.  It is easy to see that predisposition today on many church websites.  The leadership and teaching positions in some denominations are predominantly held by men while assistant positions are held by women.  Writers and speakers--where my talents lie--in Christian publishing and conferences are predominantly men. (Unless it is a women/children's conference.)  In fact, Pete Briscoe shared a story of his mom, the talented Jill Briscoe, having a group of men turn their backs on her at a conference when she came up to speak.  Sadly, this is really a "thing."

Had I been a guy, I probably would have gone into ministry but there weren't any roles for me as a woman.  In fact, I remember asking my mom as a little girl why there weren't any female deacons in our church. I wanted to serve, but I didn't enjoy working with kids. (Working with kids takes having a talent for it. You can't just wing it.) I wanted to work with the written and spoken ideas of adults. 

What we don't stop to think about is that whether overt or implied, if doors are closed to you it says you are "less". 

I'm not sure that men can understand what it is like to grow up in a spiritual world and to have limited options. In history, there are many strong women with passion for God: Deborah, the Judge, Joan of Arc, St. Claire, Hildegard of Bingen, Julian of Norwich...but they are seldom celebrated in some denominations. We find it easier to share the story of Esther who was beautiful. Beauty seems to be a more palatable trait than strength or leadership. (And Rahab was most certainly never put forward as a role model.)

It wasn't that I felt persecuted. It was more left out. There was much exclusionary language that was part of the fabric. Everything from the guy-centric illustrations of male pastors to the more blatant being told by a young guy in college that I should change my major from Radio/TV to teaching because that was a better career for a Christian woman. (This guy is a pastor today. I'm hoping he's expanded his views.)

I am lucky to live in a time and country where I have a voice--where my daughter can be a CEO or stay-at-home-mom of her choosing. I also work for a company in an industry that doesn't parse by gender when it comes to talent. In the corporate world, I get to have both influence and impact but I'm also aware that it hasn't always been that way.

This week, at a conference I had separate conversations with two female executives---both who had been in the industry longer than me--who commented on my pink jacket saying that they had felt they had to choose more "serious" colors in their wardrobes in order to be taken seriously by their male colleagues. I work in a world where that was never a thought for me.  I don't have to be masculine to have authority in the areas I excel at. I can just be me.

Feminist used to mean women becoming men. But, equality isn't the displacement of a gender. It is a respect that intelligence, creativity and talent aren't parsed by gender and that it is much better to let a person's interests and performance determine their opportunity rather than having artificial barriers limit it. 

It takes both men and women to author the change. And actually, it isn't even that hard.  We simply have to acknowledge that the gender debates are cultural rather than spiritual. Fear-based rather than love-based. That pay gaps are wrong and that the more sunlight that comes on this issue, the more it will cease to exist. 

In any case, God tends to find creative ways for people to use their talents--regardless of the cultural limitations in place. And, luckily there happen to be people like my parents and the awesome John Hutchison who always told me I could be whatever I wanted to be. (Bethany and Chase, I hope I've passed that same gift to you. )

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© Random Cathy
Maira Gall