Samantha is a gifted leader in her early twenties, an outstanding communicator and a passionate evangelist who loves seeing people come to know Jesus. She is often the only woman at work meetings and so although she works hard to empower both men and women, she is intentional about developing women and creating a doorway for them to join her. She makes a point of publicly honouring everyone and deliberately creating a culture of equality where both women and men are valued as unique individuals.
Shortly after she started going out with her boyfriend, she discovered that he had very different views. He ended up shouting at her and telling her to submit, claiming that as he was a man he was the ‘head of the household’ and so she didn’t need to be included in decisions. She is no longer with him.
There are different understandings among Christians about the roles of women and men, and while this man’s perspective is not unusual I do find it baffling. The creation story clearly shows that women and men were made for relationships of mutuality and partnership, of equality and co-operation. Hierarchy and competition between men and women happened because of the fall and were not what God originally intended.
I cannot see how we can talk about a man's authority over a woman being 'natural' since there is nothing natural about a distorted relationship which came about through disobedience. If we persist in sanctifying the pervasiveness of male power in our world we turn the outcome of the fall into the norm enshrining that which is evil with sacred power
— Roy McCloughry —
As followers of Jesus, we are to live out restored relationships, not perpetuate sinful patterns of behaving.
Treating each other as equals - at work, in friendships, at church and in relationships – starts with having the right attitude and understanding. But we also need to work hard at these:
We need to be alert to the ways in which people are treated differently because of their sex, and where we are complicit in that – for example, the women who are talked over in meetings, or the men who are not allowed to show vulnerability. What would help you open your eyes to this kind of behaviour?
We need to understand how it feels to be male or female in a particular context, which means asking questions and listening carefully to the answers without making assumptions. Who do you need to have this kind of conversation with?
Laying down power
Some women need to lay down power in the home and allow partners to get more involved. Some men need to lay down power in the workplace or church, giving up opportunities that come their way so that women can have them or being intentional about developing the skills of female colleagues even if that means they end up being surpassed. All of us need to be secure in who God has made us, and generous with the resources we have. Where do you need to lay down power?
Jenny Baker is the author of Equals – enjoying gender equality in all areas of life which is published by SPCK. She has an MSc in gender studies, is a host of the Gathering of Women Leaders, works for Church Urban Fund and is a marathon runner.