a unified sisterhood

Today is International Women’s Day, a day when the world pauses to think about human rights, harmful female stereotypes and sexism. It’s a day when women ask men to think a little harder about the words they use and the attitudes they hold. Within the walls of the church the debate over male/female roles rages as hotly as ever, but in our hurry to align with one side or the other we sometimes neglect to take a step back from the fight and look for common ground.

I propose we do just that. But I’m not asking men to do a gut check – I’m asking my sisters in Christ to face squarely some of the unhelpful stereotypes that we hold for other Christian women. What follows is a collection of attitudes or statements that I have encountered during my years of ministry to women. See if any of them sound familiar to you:
  • Single women are leading second-best lives.
  • Single women in their 30’s are too picky.
  • Single women who are self-confident need to “tone it down” if they want to find a man.
  • Women who don’t have children are leading second-best lives.
  • Women who are childless or single by choice are selfish.
  • Women who express their opinions with confidence are threatening.
  • Confident women marry weak men.
  • Wives who study the Bible more than their husbands threaten male headship.
  • Wives who commit to evening activities are neglecting their husbands and children.
  • Mothers who choose to work love God and their families less than mothers who stay at home.
  • Daughters need less education than sons because they won’t need it to be a mother.
  • Daughters need fewer career options than sons because their husbands will support them.
  • Divorced women and widows need our help, but not so much help that they start eyeing our husbands.
Why are we so mean to each other? Why are we still pushing each other down on the playground? It is the hallmark of little girls to dress alike and speak alike to avoid being marginalized by the crowd. But we are not little girls, and we must stop. At the root of some of these stereotypes is fear: fear that someone else’s choices somehow threaten the validity of our own. At the root of others is pride: pride that our own choice is more righteous than another woman’s. If we embrace these stereotypes we say no to the unity we are called to in Scripture - a unity centered not around fitting into a certain mold, but around loving a certain God.

Do we really think womanhood should look one way? In order for that to be true, so many factors would have to be within every woman’s control. But of course, they’re not.

What if we spent less time drawing lines in the sand to separate the righteous from the unrighteous and spent more time cultivating a gracious heart? What if we embraced the idea that womanhood looks many ways because the Church needs many kinds of women to flourish? God sanctifies single women and married women and divorced women and educated women and uneducated women and loud women and soft women and working women and women who stay at home, and He uses them all uniquely to fill out the mosaic of the church to its full vibrancy. Give grace to your sister, and guard your heart from calling something sin that is not sin to justify your own actions or choices. “Love one another with sisterly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

What unhelpful stereotypes have you encountered that you could add to the list? Leave a comment and join the discussion.