Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gender Stereotypes in Christianity, About Women Part 1

1 Peter 3:3-4 “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes.  Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

I want to discuss in this post about gender stereotypes that go around in the Christian communities.  Stereotypes have been going around for centuries be it racial, gender, nationality or other religious faiths.  However, among Christians there is a mentality to hold on to rigid gender stereotypes leftover from patriarchal attitudes that affect both the sexes.  Many of the stereotypes are directly towards women, how we should be, act, what are roles should be in life or in the home.  I was astounded when I read very outdated arguments on what women should be allowed to do, whether they should be doctors, political leaders, play sports, join the military, be tough, strong, brave or aggressive etc.  On one Christian women’s blog, there was a debate about women doctors where one commenter even argued that women shouldn’t be put in position where she will be required to be aggressive.  Another argument on another site, was whether women should be politicians, some believing that men make the better leaders, and one female commenter reasoned that women need protection.  I was confused about what type of protection she thought women needed that would be compromised by becoming a political figure.  

On a very conservative Christian blog called “The Rebelution” run by two young Christian men Alex and Brett Harris, the younger brothers of Joshua Harris popular for the “I Kiss Dating Goodbye” book made a post about their idea of what real woman should be.  Although, I found the post quite interesting, I couldn’t help but also find it rather exhausting in its long list of how women should behave and act some.  When one female commenter objected to their ideals claiming she was truck driver, she was criticized by another female commenter for taking on a man’s role.  Many of the myths are how women should act or behave include being docile, nice, passive, helpless, fragile, dependent, too emotional, not as logical as men who are interested in only traditional women’s interests like shopping, sewing, knitting, cooking, housekeeping in order to retain their femininity as opposed to being strong-willed, independent, outspoken and with a headstrong personality who prefers sports, mechanics, hunting and other traditional male interests.  

Some ultra conservatives reason that for a woman to have strong mind or a will of her own, means she is embarking on a Jezebel spirit or stepping out of a traditional women’s role she is being temped by Satan or being unfeminine.  Afterall, women are the fairer sex, the gentler sex or the more patronizing referred the weaker sex.  Women shouldn’t do anything that goes against their feminine nature, least of all take on what is considered masculine roles.  I still wonder where many Christians get these ideas.  I believe part of it still based on traditional cultural attitudes that are still hung over from the by gone era starting in childhood when girls are expected to only play with dolls, like the color pink, and have only typical girly interests, be girly-girls rather than tomboys who like to do typical “boys interests” or be good in math and science.  Even in adulthood, there are what is considered women’s jobs like nurses, teachers, secretaries, seamstress, hair stylists etc and women’s hobbies like sewing, knitting, cooking, fashion, arts and craft, reading romance novels etc.  

The main argument to justify these attitudes are that males and females are different and men should be men and women should be women and stop trying to unisex everything between the genders by eliminating gender distinctions.  First, I like to point out that I do except that male and females have equal rights, are equal worth but not identical and do have some differences that extend beyond just natural biological differences.  I also believe these differences consists with each gender having their own unique strengths, capabilities, and weaknesses which should be acknowledged as it is what makes men and women complement each other.  I’ll even go further to say that I believe on average there are certain things that may be more suitable for men(like physical heavy lifting) and certain things on average more suitable for women(like multi-tasking) and see nothing wrong with admitting this.  There are also certain circumstances where males and females shouldn’t compete against, such as professional sports and other areas that require a lot of physical strength, or even heavy binge-drinking, since  studies have shown that women tend to be more vulnerable to alcohol consumption due our bodies been built different from men.  I even find certain negative traits more unflattering in women than men and don’t care if this will offend some feminists. I also believe to an extent, certain gender roles where men are the providers and the protectors and women are the nurturers and caregivers.  

Women today should embrace the uniqueness of womanhood with balance of the traditional and modern elements.  With this, they can be encouraged to embrace their femininity, with their more natural nurturing ability, be soft, be full of gentility and be a lady.  While at the same time, be strong, assertive, self-reliant, independent minded, outspoken, be bold and fearless who can stand on their own two feet and embrace their individual talents and skills.  Neither of these traits need to be mutually exclusive in today’s society.  The problem is many who hold very ultra conservative patriarchal attitudes over emphasize the gender differences and use scriptures to justify these very restrictive and rigid stereotypes based on nostalgic ideas on how women should be that basically pigeonholes women.  

One verse is 1 Peter 3:3-4 where women are referred to as having a “gentle and quiet spirit”.  This phrase has been misinterpreted by some to meaning women should be docile, soft-spoken and quiet in speech, that they shouldn’t be assertive, too strong-willed or talkative.  However, this is not what the verse is saying at all. The Greek word for gentle is “prautes” which means something or someone with a soothing quality.  A gentleness in conduct, especially for people who have the power to act otherwise, such as being humble, humility, showing self-restraint, not seeking revenge or malice.  An adjective form of the word is “praus” which has been translated into the word meek.  Jesus says in Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”.  Jesus also refers to himself as meek in Matthew 11:29 “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls”.  The word quiet in the Greek translation is ‘hesuchios” which means an inner calmness, causing no disturbance to others, peaceful and free from agitation.  

This doesn’t mean women shouldn’t be assertive, never be angry, be a doormat, a pushover nor be quiet in speech.  It does mean that she should be good-natured, be humble without arrogance, selfishness, conceit, vanity and restrain from being vindictive and malicious, instead strive to be forgiving.  It also implies having a peaceful nature free form so much inner turmoil or anger and hostility especially that starts affecting others.  Of course we are allowed to be angry when someone as wronged us or our loved ones, but we should pick are battles wisely and not be quick to anger over trivial things and can shouldn’t express our anger beyond that is reasonable nor let anger fester that makes us bitter, spiteful and hardened. Plus we should strive to be forgiving even when it’s difficult.  Our hearts are at peace with god.  

Other misconceptions about women’s abilities as I pointed out regarding our capabilities to be strong leaders, brave and courageous since many believe these traits are more suitable in men.  Recently, the military lifted the ban on women in ground combat branches such as infantry, armor and artillery which as caused debate about women in combat involving mixed thoughts.  Those who argue against this change reason that women don’t have the ability to kill because they are too emotional, too delicate and weak.  However, most knows these are true as many women in the past have killed and committed other brutal acts and proven to just as ruthless and deadly as many men and many have led nations too.   In fact, I want to debunk all these myths and misconceptions once and for all.  One example is that during ancient times, there were exceptional female rulers.  These include the Queen of Sheba who visited King Solomon in 1 Kings 10:1-13.  Scholars believe her dynasty was in parts of what is now known as Ethiopia and Yemen.  There were also a few female pharaohs in Ancient Egypt.  One was Hatshepsut, who was the fifth pharaoh in the eighteenth dynasty who reigned longer than any other woman in the dynasty and was regarded as the most successful.  Then there was the famous Cleopatra VII who was the last active pharaoh in Ancient Egypt.  

The bible also mentions a number of strong courageous women.  I’ve already mentioned Deborah, the judge and prophetess mentioned in the Book of Judges who accompanied the military general Barak into battle to defeat the King Jabin of  Hazor Canaan’s army although she predicted that the glory of victory will be given to woman and not Barak.  That woman was in fact Jael, the wife of Hebor the Kenite.  Apparently, Sisera, the commander of King Jabin’s Canaanite’s army fled to the settlement of her husband in the plain of Zaanaim where he was greeted by Jael who invited him back to her tent and gave him food and shelter promising to hide.  After he fell asleep, she then killed him by driving a peg into his temple with a mallet so hard that his head was pinned to the ground.  Another brave heroine mentioned in the bible is Judith a widow from the Israel city of Bethulia whose town was invaded by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon’s army.  Judith, along with her maid goes to the enemy’s camp and confronts the army’s general Holofernes, captivating him with her beauty and gaining his trust and promising him information on the Israelites.  Once inside his tent at a banquet, he gets drunk and while they are alone, she takes his sword and beheads him placing his head in a food sack, she and her maid return to Bethulia where she shows Holofernes’s head to the men and tells them to mount an attack of the enemy camp the next morning.  The Israelites then plunder the camp, where Holofernes’s men have fled and bring all of Holofernes’s possessions to Judith.  Judith is hailed as having saved her town Beuthulia from the King of Babylon.  

Another brave heroine who saved her people is Queen Esther in the Book of Esther.  Esther was an orphaned Jewish woman raised by her cousin Mordecai who was selected as a wife to King Ahasuerus of Persia.  Mordecai had exposed of a plot to assassinate the King and the guilty parties are put to death and Haman, the King’s official is granted honor higher than the King’s other officials whom all bow to him.  However, Mordecai refused to bow to him since he only bows to God which angered Haman and upon learning his is a Jew, he ordered all Jews to be killed in the city.  Mordecai informed Esther of Haman’s plot and pleaded with her to confront the King.  Then Esther dressed in royalty went to confront the King, despite the fact that the penalty to see the King when he hadn’t called anyone to him first was death.  She risked her life and confronted Ahasuerus inviting him to two banquets in which at the second banquet, she presented herself as Jew and exposed of Haman’s plot to kill all Jews which angered the King that he ordered Haman to put to death, than he allowed the Jews to defend the themselves against the attacking army and they killed Haman’s army.  

Queen Esther is praised has having saved her people the Jewish nation risking her own like to do it.  Another brave heroine is an unknown woman in the Book of Judges.  Abimelech was a ruthless and power-hungry ruler of the city of Shechem who massacured the people of the city who revolted against him and then proceeded to siege the city of Thebez where the people fled to the tower.  When Abimelech and his army planned to burn the tower down, a woman at the tower threw an upper millstone with all her strength and crushed Abimelech’s skull. Not wanting it to known that a woman killed him, he ordered his arm-bearer to finish him off with his sword.  

Despite the myth of being the weaker and the more gentler sex, throughout history women have played a active roles in wars battles more than people believe.  In Ancient Rome, there were female gladiators that fought in the games.  Also during Ancient times, throughout the continents, there are stories of women leading armies into battle, leading revolts and fighting as skilled warriors.  One known warrior was Boudica, a Celtic warrior Queen who was the wife of Prasutagas, the ruler of the Iceni tribe who led an uprising against the occupying forces of the Roman Empire.  Another known warrior was Queen Amanishakheto, an Ethiopian ruler who defeated the Roman Army sent by Emperor Augustus to conquer Nubia.  Her daughter was Queen Amanitore, of the Kushitic Kingdom of Meroe who is also mentioned in the bible Acts 8:26-40.  

Then there are the legendary Amazons, a tribe of warlike women in Greek Mythology who bared arms and fought in battle.  For centuries many have wondered if these mystical women really existed.  According to a 5th century historian Herodotos, claimed they originally came from modern day Turkey and eventually made their way to the Black Sea near Scythia where they intermarried with the Scythians ending the women-only tribe and creating a new race called the Sauromatians.  The Sauromatian women would continue the traditions of their ancesters and carry arms and fight in battles along with their men in fact the custom was a girl shouldn’t wed until she killed in man in battle.  In the 1990s, a team of U.S. and Russian archaeologists discovered graves near the Russian-Kazakhstan border and digged up skeletons of the Sauromatians that consisted of women buried with weapons near them indicating they fought in battles.  There is research of many women throughout the centuries  and countries who fought in battles even as late as Revolutionary and Civil wars with stories of women disguising themselves as men in order to fight.  Also during the First and Second world wars, women were spies, agents and resistant fighters etc.  Research also shows throughout centuries, women have been rulers of dynasties, as Queens and Empresses in Europe, Asia and Africa.  

In today’s woman have broken many barriers in going against the grain and what was once expected of them.  They become doctors, lawyers, scientists, supervisors, police officers, firefighters, FBI agents, civil or political leaders, athletes, pilots, martial artists, military commanders, mechanics, explorers, scuba divers etc.  Many have committed brave and heroic acts, as well as committed criminal and heinous acts and in some countries they have become President or Prime Minister one example is former Prime Minister of England the late Margaret Thatcher and another is Michelle Bachelet the first female President of Chile.  My point is that women can be strong, smart, ambitious, fierce, courageous, protective as well as gentle, soft, tender, emotional, nurturing, vulnerable and domestic and do anything they set their mind to.  Even when doing what was once considered typically masculine roles in hobbies or workplace, they can still embrace their femininity and womanhood.  Femininity itself is no longer pigeonholed in 1950s ideal since today women can express their femininity in different and individual ways.  What matters is by letter go of rigid stereotypes, we can really be free to explore their individuality with their own god-giving talents and gifts without limitations, judgements and expectations to conform to society’s cultural ideals placed upon them.  

One thing is women have always been and still continuing being are warriors of Christ which we all do a spiritual battle against Satan and his army and striving to preserve our Lord’s will and grace.  This in itself is a huge struggle and will take strength and courage and where women are not excluded but work alongside men in order to fulfill this goal.

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