Wading into the gender debate with no care for the fallout…

Every Thursday I meet up with a bunch of women from our church to look at the Bible together, to talk about what’s going on in our lives and to pray to our Father about those things. It’s one of the best things about my week. We’re going through a book on identity for women at the moment and it’s proving a little hard going. I’m just more and more convinced that it’s just too hard to write good material for specific genders. I know the value of meeting up as just women to talk about faith, there is something mysteriously wonderful when we meet up, chat and understand each other. It’s a relief and a joy and weirdly different to when there are men around. I don’t get it and I love the mystery of it.  When it works, when we put down desires to compete and compare it’s a beautiful thing. I love my friends who are women and for the way we can connect.

I find the problem comes when books/bible study resources are written just for women or just for men. Women and men are such beautifully diverse people that it’s fairly impossible to define what makes them up as different genders. We end up with hopeless stereotypes and generalisations that make everyone feel uncomfortable.  We surely all know that there isn’t just one way of being a woman or a man, we know this is true, we know that there aren’t even 2 or 3 ways of being a woman or a man. We know that there is a glorious and beautiful spectrum of the ways that people express themselves and deal with life. There isn’t a male way or a female way. There might be trends or similarities, things we can all role our eyes over and say, ah men aren’t they so good at putting things in boxes in their minds and getting on with life, or ah, women aren’t they so emotional about everything. It’s kind of true sometimes, but it’s not true all the time, and it really shouldn’t be the basis for a philosophy on what women are like and what men are like.

I don’t think I am defined first and foremost by my gender.  Yes, I am a woman, but I am Kath, child of God before that. I am a female child of God, a female version of this messy thing called being a human but I am child of God first and foremost. God created 2 different versions of human, I’m pretty sure he did that to reflect something of what he’s like, not so we could get hung up about what it really means to act in a womanly way or a manly way. He is 3 persons and likes that whole relational dance thing of different people relating to each other in submission and humility.

I think I’m on more solid ground on my next point. The whole Bible isn’t divided up into 2 sections, a male one and a female one. The fruit of the Spirit aren’t divided up into male characteristics or female characteristics.  We’re called not to enact what our gender tells us to but what our identity as humans tells us to, we are to be like our Father, loving, gracious, kind, compassionate, strong, loving justice and truth. The Bible gets pretty specific on how the genders are to relate to each other in marriage and in some of church life (depending on your interpretation- sorry wanting to avoid that can of worms here…) but that’s it. There isn’t a womanly way to live out the Christian life.  There is a Kath way, or a Sarah way or an Anna way or a Mandy way or a Jo way or a Lou way. Sure these ways might overlap more than the Kevin way, the James way, the Johnny way, the John way, the Tony way or the Bob way but equally they might not. There isn’t a manly way to live out the Christian life. There is, however, a godly way for all of us to live out our lives that isn’t related to our genitals but to walking in the life of love our Lord and Saviour has called us to.

I love the diversity of humans, I love the strange similarities between me and other women I love the mystery of it all but I don’t want to write it down and say, this is how all women or all men are to behave, this is what we all have issues with. It seems to me to be too reductionist of the wonder and glory of being human, of the joy and frustration of being two separate genders but with the call to relate well to each other and follow our God in love and sacrifice.

What do you reckon? 

Is there any real merit in books telling women how to be a Christian in a womanly way? I can kind of see merit in books for different situations of life, but think those could be pretty cross gender too.

Is it easier to see this if you don’t fall into a societal norm of being a man or a woman? Is that why I jump on this bandwagon with open arms, because I’ve never felt like I’ve fitted into what society has told me a woman should be (don’t worry, I’m dealing with that, God has shown me that I’m a beautiful woman and I’m well in the fight to believe it).

Is it something to do with the fall that we’re always going to struggle with these gender identities and battle with each other for supremacy in this life? Is it something that went wrong at the very beginning that we find it so hard to talk about these things without our hackles and our defences rising? What can we do about that?

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10 Responses to Wading into the gender debate with no care for the fallout…

  1. Thanks for this Kath. I think our tendency (or perhaps I should say mine?!) is to think in generalisations and stereotypes because it’s easier than actually getting to know individuals. Of course, when it comes to writing material aimed at a supposedly homogeneous group that’s actually very diverse, this backfires, as you say.

    I also think that quite a lot of the advice on “being a godly man/woman” is based on 19th/early 20th century culture more than on the Bible. There are Scriptural commands/patterns/distinctives, but no hard-and-fast rules on what that looks like for different personalities in different cultures. The whole “male breadwinner” model, for example, was completely irrelevant when most work was done from the home and the whole family were involved, doing tasks suited to their gender (the men doing the plowing due to physical strength, but everyone gathering in the harvest, for example).

    Just a couple of things I’ve been pondering recently. Not sure how much they’ll contribute to further discussion though 🙂

    • pilgrimKath says:

      Thanks Matthew- like the thoughts! It is a real challenge to get to know the person rather than putting a label on them, I often find that once I take the time to do that the stereotype is blown out of the water and I’m able to interact with them as one person made by God to another… Takes guts and love to engage with people like that though!

  2. John W says:

    As a man who often finds “manliness” an anathema to interpreting life, and tends to experience life and faith in a combination of intellectually and emotionally, I’m very much in agreement that broad stereotypes can be very unhelpful when it comes to approaching Christianity. The idea of a “men’s group”, where we would play football, then have a bit of a chat over a pint sounds hideous to me.

    However, I think there’s one big difference that perhaps merits some differentiation, and I of course say this while in possession of a penis. I think a paternal Bible, with a masculine emphasis on, and interpretation of, God, a masculine Christ, and a predominantly male-told and male-featuring story, leads to some distinct issues that affect men and women differently. I think it’s in that area that both men and women need specific teaching, although I’m undecided whether that would need to be in separate groups, and have to catch a train instead of think it through : )

  3. Circus Queen says:

    I often that our obsession with gendering is simply a distraction from the real work at hand. Thought-provoking post as always. Sorry I’ve not a whole lot more to say in response at the moment!

    • pilgrimKath says:

      Thanks lovely Adele – Yep, it can be a real distraction from just getting on with this being a Christian malarky… But sometimes helpful… Ah, why can’t life be nicely clear cut?

  4. Anna says:

    yay! we got a mention!
    oh, and I think you’re on solid ground with all of it mate 🙂

  5. becci brown says:

    Great post. I agree. I think we do it with all kinds of people. “Homeless people”, “drug addicts”, “teenagers”, “offenders”…Seriously, what is a homeless person? what do they look like? Who are they? Age? Gender? Background? Other issues? Education? etc etc etc…same goes for me as a woman. I don’t fit a box. Neither do you. I am God’s child and there’s room for a whole lot of diversity within that. Hoorah!

    • pilgrimKath says:

      Thanks Becci – not sure what our obsession with boxes and definitions is all about really, perhaps we’re just not all that great with simple mess 🙂

  6. Fiona says:

    Yay! Could say a lot more, and might do that at some point when I’m not trying to do too many other things all at once at the same time. So, for now, simply yay!

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