[New School] Navigating femininity in a patriarchal Christian church

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If you applied the Bechdel test – a measure of how women are portrayed in literature, determined by whether female characters talk to each other about something other than a man – to Bible stories, it would most likely fail. When I turn to the Bible I can only remember a handful of women: Ruth, Eve, Sarah, Esther and Mary, but even then I know them from the men they are affiliated with and not exactly for their story.

In the meantime, there is no shortage of information about the men of the Bible. In fact, the Bible is told through the lives and viewpoints of many men – Adam, Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, Paul, the list goes on. If you think about it, the Bible is a book written by men for men. In fact, Christianity is born of a generation that operated on male superiority, where men dominated all aspects of life: politics, economics, religion and even the home.

This treatment of women has been reflected in the teachings of the Church and, unfortunately, in its treatment of women even today. In a patriarchal society like the Philippines, these teachings only reinforce the supposed superiority of men over women, causing many adverse effects.

As a teenager trying to fully understand the commitment I made to serve God at age 13, I took everything Church leaders said as gospel. It also happened that the leaders of the Church had one thing in common: they were men who possessed various distinctions and impressive public speaking skills telling me what I could and could not do.

Learn to come second

In the Genesis creation story, God gave Adam “suitable help” in the form of Eve. Although the original Hebrew word for the word “help” meant to help each other as equals, the teachings of the Church implied the same thing: next to men, you come second.

Having been raised in a Bible-believing home and church, I was told many times that I should aspire to be a Proverbs 31 woman: wise, strong, and capable. Although this seemed encouraging, I later discovered that these traits were closely tied to being a wife. A woman of Proverbs 31 is literally known as a wife of noble character, as seen in verses 10-31.

It doesn’t stop there. “Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. Now, as the church submits to Christ, so wives should submit to their husbands in everything,” reads Ephesians 5:22-23 (NIV), one of the most popular verses used in the sermons. This is complemented by several verses like Titus 2:5, 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:11-12 which all call for a wife’s submission to her husband to fulfill God’s purpose for marriage.

Along with learning how to save souls and become a better person by following a set of rules, I was taught how to be a good wife. The standards of a good wife were simple: be a good housewife, honor and submit to your husbands, and keep your virginity for the man you marry. This was followed by a series of multiple microaggressions which resulted in being ordered to dress modestly so as not to let our brothers and sisters stumble, to be forced to endure the presence of an attacker on behalf of forgiveness, and not being in important leadership positions (women were not allowed to be pastors), among many others. I was told to shut up and submit to authority.

Apart from being a wife and a housewife, I have often wondered: what else could I be? Who was I apart from being someone else? After all, when the women of the Bible are not used for the development of character in men, not much is known about them.

walk on eggshells

Discovering your identity is not easy as you go through adolescence, but it becomes even more difficult when you live in fear of not living up to people’s expectations. After being programmed to watch my every move as a woman trying to obey God, I lived my life in constant paranoia. Am I wearing something too revealing? Am I disrespecting authority by being too opinionated? Am I too loud? Am I sinning ’cause I hang out alone with a guy? Am I unforgiving? In my head, the problem was always me. It made me walk on eggshells, especially with men, because I was always afraid of tripping them. In other words, I felt trapped in my womanhood as I tried to be the woman I thought God wanted me to be. I was too scared to disagree, so I forced myself to believe that the truth can sometimes be painful. God’s commandments wouldn’t always be to my liking, I told myself. I had to come to terms with the harsh reality that being a woman meant doing less so I could satisfy men.

But the tides changed when I turned 17, when I was introduced to the principles of feminism and the dangers of patriarchy. I began to realize that I was being held at double standards when the men were often given a free pass. On these realizations, I tried to understand how it would impact my faith.

I began to disagree more and more with the teachings of the Church, especially regarding their obsession with “bedroom morals” such as gay marriage, premarital sex, and abortion, while lacking social action to fight against injustice. Yet, despite my growing questions and reproaches about organized Christianity, I couldn’t just give up my faith. So, I turned to the person who was the only basis of my faith in the first place: Jesus.

Speak, even when your voice is shaking

Jesus did not seem to be a fan of the patriarchy, with some experts claiming that his approach to them was “revolutionary”, especially in his time when women were obviously seen as second-class citizens.

In the few times the Gospel mentions Jesus’ interactions with women, he treated them as his equals: in John 4:27 he addressed them directly in public, which was unusual for a man; in John 4:7-26 He speaks to the sinful Samaritan woman with love instead of expected condemnation; in Luke 8:1-6, we see Him supporting the role of women in His ministry as they traveled with Him; in three of the Gospels (Luke 8:48; Matt. 9:22; Mark 5:34) he is said to have healed a woman with a bleeding disorder, and the list goes on.

I would take up all the space here if I explained how the Church became a patriarchal structure, but it is clear that Jesus himself honored, uplifted and even empowered the women in his life. For Christians who are so determined to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, it might be time for the Church and Christians to revisit the standards they have imposed on women and look at them through the eyes of Jesus. Fortunately, some Christian churches have has begun to do just that, because they give women more leadership positions and empower them as individuals.

It is still my personal dream to become a wife and eventually a mother. But outside of that, I’m still allowed to be a person whose worth isn’t tied to those roles. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a full-time housewife, just like there’s nothing wrong with wanting to focus on your career or other roles outside of those that meet the needs. men. You are first an individual whom God loves and honors before any other role you are meant to fulfill.

For Christian women like me who felt secondary, I’m here to tell you that in the sight of God, we are all equal. You are allowed to use your voice. You are allowed to take up space. So speak, even when your voice is shaking and your knees are shaking. Jesus wouldn’t have expected less of you. – Rappler.com

Samantha Onglatco is currently a communications student at Ateneo de Manila University and a lifestyle and entertainment intern at Rappler. In her free time, she enjoys reading, watching Korean dramas, and listening to K-pop. You can contact her at [email protected]

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