The political events of the last week have certainly illustrated something we seldom talk about: how under represented women are in our political system and to what extent women live by rules created by and for men with little to no awareness of how such rules and regulations affect women.
The brouhaha has been all over cable news outlets and social media, so I’m sure you have not avoided hearing how Todd Akin, the Republican candidate in the Missouri Senate race, revealed his ignorance in his assertion that women who suffer “legitimate” rape probably will not become pregnant because women’s bodies somehow reject such rogue sperm.
Of course Akin’s comments reveal the depth of his blindness to the trauma women experience when violated so violently but I’m not so sure he illustrates a position all that different from many other politicians—they simply haven’t been caught on camera.
Regardless of what you think about Akin or about the Republican Party’s platform that appears to contain goals of outlawing abortion, I wonder if this isn’t a moment for us to stop and reflect upon who has shaped our experience; our theology; our ideas of God? At least for me, I often contemplate the various ways in which I feel the masculine imprint on my faith journey, realities I live with increasingly in uncomfortable ways.
Recently I’ve spent time (too much, really) on various websites promoting Complementarian viewpoints. One of their fundamental doctrines is that humans are sinful, having inherited a nature full of sin because Eve ate an apple and coerced Adam to follow her down the slippery slope. Subsequently for many Complementarians they talk about needing to avoid certain behaviors because they are sinful. For example, women should avoid drawing attention to themselves because that leads to pride which is sinful, of course.
The Christian tradition is full of this kind of thinking: sin requires you to keep yourself in check, to use discipline and accountability to avoid dappling in the kinds of things that elevate your self-esteem, that draw undue attention to your glorious self. Augustine, an early church apologist was especially keen on this notion of sin.
But I’m not so sure this view of sin accurate conveys what many women experience. Most women I know struggle not with thinking too highly of themselves but of thinking they are not good enough: not enough brains, not enough experience, surely not attractive enough. The last thing I think most women need to hear is that they are sinful and must subjugate themselves even further.
In other words, even our ideas about sin have been determined primarily by men, based upon male experience . What if, instead, we began to re-conceptualize Christianity in terms of female experience? Sin in this case would be a different kind of problem. For many women, they live with doubt—often crippling doubt—about their value and their worth. Sin, for women, might not be an out-of-control ego but as some would say, a loss of being centered and thus a willingness to let others define who we are and how we live.
Overcoming this idea of sin would involve trust in God and self; a trust strong enough to embrace one’s gifts and talents and to utilize them to their fullest. Overcoming sin would mean embracing who we are, a very different kind of spiritual discipline than hoping to stifle one’s ego just enough. Furthermore, this masculine version of sin we have inherited is one focused on the individual with little to no awareness of the social complexities and structures involved. What if women’s experiences of marginalization invited us to take seriously the social nature of sin, easily seen in the reality that women are the poorest and most vulnerable?
But sin is only one example out of hundreds, I suppose.
It seems to me that if women want to truly be liberated from a patriarchal reality, we must be willing to put our Christian faith through the paces. We must be willing to reformulate our theology; we must learn to read the Bible asking critical questions about the relationship between patriarchy and revelation; we must be willing to explore a spirituality based in feminine expressions; we must be willing to stand up to the male status quo and take ownership of our spirituality.
Maybe for some of us this means seeking to change our worshipping communities, helping them to embrace women’s experiences. Or, if necessary, maybe we need to find new places of worship, places where women’s voices are heard and celebrated and affirmed. Maybe for some of us this means embarking on the path of embracing the divine feminine, experiencing God as Mother, trusting Her to lead us on a new journey, one where there is no longer a dismissal of the feminine. Maybe this means some of us need to read about how feminists are grappling with Christian history, culling from the remnants important resources of women, of those fore-mothers who have been overlooked and only recently are emerging and suggesting to us new and different ways of living faithfully.
I think most of us go through life without thinking much about how things could be different. We’ve grown accustomed to the patriarchal patterns in which we live and for the most part can’t imagine challenging these patterns—at least not too much. But when someone like Todd Akin gives us an opportunity to consider how radically different his world is from every woman who has at some point in her life felt threatened by a male, which is to say, every woman, then we should not pass up this moment as one inviting us to challenge the status quo.