International Women’s Day: Forging a Positive Sisterhood.
Today we celebrate the achievements of women everywhere, drawing out the amazing stories that have often been written out of history, and we also use the opportunity to talk about why we are still fighting for parity for one half of the world’s population.
Every year a few of my male friends trot out the same objection about this day. “Where’s our day?”, they ask, jokingly. Some of my female friends say we live in a post-feminist world and this kind of thing is unnecessary. Some of those same friends worship quite happily in churches where the women are not allowed to preach or minister, simply because of their gender, and don’t see the irony.
I sincerely hope we never have need of an International Men’s Day, because I don’t want men to ever be subjected to the cruel oppression women and girls still suffer. I sincerely hope International Women’s Day becomes solely about the celebration of women and not about our struggles across the globe. We can kid ourselves and distance our compassion, believing that the problems are only “over there” or in the so-called “developing” world, but this would be to turn a blind eye to the fact that one in three western women experience a sexual assault in their lives, and that inequality and disrespect are rife right under our noses. I constantly wonder that the stench doesn’t make our eyes water. I feel so strongly about the injustice of it all that a few years ago I decided to write a book about it.
Because until things improve, we need to keep forging a way forward into a real and lasting equality, where we recognise our own worth, the worth of our sisters and the work we do (both paid and unpaid) as well as that of our brothers and most fundamentally the humanity of us all. As renowned international speaker, writer and Benedictine nun Joan Chittister once clarified, the real question turning at the heart of feminism is whether we really believe women are in fact, human beings. If we are, we all need to fight against the casual sexualisation of women and girls in the media, the horrendous practices of FGM, child marriage, honour killings, sex slavery, selective abortion and exposure, and to work to narrow the enormous divide between the rights men enjoy and those of their female counterparts the world over.
We need to do this by challenging the wrong-doing, but also by living the truth, creating a positive sisterhood that shows our gentle strength and does not corset our God-given abilities, gifts and ministries. We need to do this together, as a body of women who value ourselves and one another.
We must set aside the temptation to compete and compare, to gossip and to judge, and instead encourage and uphold one another, recognising the beauty in each of our souls; inviting men as we do so into that respectful, agape-centred attitude, so that in unity we create a positive fellowship of believers.
Many people still believe that the social mores of first century Greece and Rome are to be adhered to, reading a literal, unbending harshness into St Paul’s epistles that has been fossilized under layers of patriarchal sediment. And we pass this on as wisdom whilst happily dismissing any scripture that appears to condone or accept slavery. Because that is obviously wrong and may be read with historical context in place and brains in gear. Thankfully there is a great deal of biblical scholarship, I hope my own included, that takes this selective power-base to task.
For in Christ there is “no male or female” and counter-cultural submission is work for every believer to do, as a careful reading of Ephesians makes clear. Such work belongs to the Kingdom of heaven, working like yeast to restore the Edenic ideal that God first set in place, male and female recognising in one another the ultimate helpmeet. Because it is only together, and only as equals, that the human race will heal and thrive, when we are all free to pursue our wholeness and our callings. As a race, and also as a church, we suppress the female at our peril. Anything but total equilibrium between genders frustrates us and has us working essentially as though we had one hand behind our back. Let us embrace parity finally as souls equally dear and capable in the Lord, and consequently in his church.
©Keren Dibbens-Wyatt 2016
To read more about Christian feminism, and how Scripture works for and not against it, see Keren’s book, Positive Sisterhood: Restoring the Integrity and Purpose of Christian Women, available on Amazon and Lulu.