This list could have been a lot longer! Men aren’t the only ones with sexist attitudes against women. We ladies were raised to believe these very same things about ourselves. As a society, we’ve (ironically) worked together to keep women “in their place.” But it’s time for that to change. We’ve seen the light—that women are, in fact, equal in value with men and equal image-bearers of our Creator. Scripture is clear that we have equal access to salvation, equal responsibility for the problems in the world, and an equal calling to minister to, nurture, and rescue the lost. It’s time to ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate the lies and half-truths about women’s value—and then confront them and reject them wherever they are found. Let us replace that which marginalizes and divides with that which unites us in love and respect. After all, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
1. Stop asking permission.
Let’s say you have a chance to hang out with your husband and you have an idea of something fun you’d like to do. How do you bring it up to him? Do you ask him permission, saying something like, “Hey, Joe, can we go see a movie tonight?” Or, “Is it okay if we go see that movie tonight?” If so, did you realize that, just by the way you’re phrasing the question, you are giving him the entire decision for what you hoped would be a joint activity? You’ve just posed a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question, and unless this is something you’ve both been wanting to do for a long time, he’s most likely going to say ‘no’—simply because his mind is probably somewhere else at the moment and it’s often hard for men to switch gears that fast. And, when he does say no, you’ll probably feel like he’s being controlling and doesn’t care about what you want—as if he denied you any say so (when you actually denied yourself!). Often, the little power struggles that drive women crazy are the ones we create ourselves when we subconsciously accept and maintain a subservient position. Next time you want something, try a different approach—an approach that solidifies your position as an equal. For example, “Hey, Joe, I was thinking we could go see a movie tonight. What do you think?” See the difference? Instead of putting the entire decision on him, you’re inviting him into a joint discussion as an equal partner in the activity. You’re actually honoring him by, one, taking the pressure off of him for coming up with every activity, two, by being willing to hear what he would like to do, three, by letting him know you’re wanting to spend more time with him, and four, by offering a chance to plan a relationship-building experience together. Whether you end up at the movie or having a quiet evening at home with some hot cocoa and a shared blanket, you’re far less likely to resent him at the end of the night.
2. Stop apologizing for everything.
If you spill hot coffee in someone’s lap or lose your temper and say something mean, by all means, apologize. However, if you’re late getting dinner on the table because you’ve been working hard all day, don’t apologize. You’ve done nothing wrong. Instead, ask the family to pull together and help. That’s what families are for. If you made a decision in good faith that your boss or husband doesn’t happen to agree with, don’t feel like you have to apologize for it. Just explain your reasons, if pressed, and/or offer to readjust where necessary. But, as an adult, you have both the right and the responsibility to make choices, recognizing that sometimes those choices may not be perfectly on point. That’s just being human. It’s not a failing of womanhood. So, don’t apologize for not having perfect judgment or insight in every situation. Just recognize the error and adjust as necessary. As a general rule, try to limit your apologies to moral failures or for causing someone harm (whether intentionally or not). Otherwise, admit the error, but don’t apologize for it. Just fix it. To apologize for every single failure is to reinforce the idea that it’s your job to be perfect, that the person you’re apologizing to is your moral authority or superior, and that, if you’re not perfect, then you’re somehow less valuable as a human being. All of these are lies. Don’t perpetuate them.
3. Stop treating adults like children.
Women (particularly, Christian women) often buy into the lie that it’s their job to be everyone else’s “helper.” (In fact, the word mistranslated as “suitable helper” in Gen. 2:18 actually means something more like man’s best match and mighty defender/rescuer.) While there’s something beautiful about a person (males and females) who has a servant’s heart, there’s something unhealthy and misfocused about someone who doesn’t know how to value their own time and resources or set healthy boundaries. Women tend to believe that, if there’s a need, it’s their job to fix it. (Which doesn’t reflect the best opinion of what the Holy Spirit is capable of….) This is particularly true when it comes to their husbands. Here’s a tip: If you truly respect your husband, you won’t feel the need to serve him hand and foot or come to his “rescue” every time he can’t find the ketchup. He’s an adult. Stop treating him like a child. Let him figure some things out for himself. He can do it. He can cook a meal. He can do a load of laundry. He can take care of his own children for an afternoon. (It’s not babysitting if it’s your own kids!) Stop jumping in and doing everything. Let him join you in the responsibilities of caring for the family, and you could even step up to the plate in areas of minor home repair and auto maintenance, for example, as needed. The point is, if you want a love and respect-based partnership instead of a servant/leader relationship with someone, don’t assume the role of a servant. After all, you’re not really helping anyone when you undermine their identity as adults by catering to them as if they’re toddlers. So, go ahead and see yourself as worthy of respect, behave in a manner worthy of respect, and you’re far more likely to gain respect. (And do the same for others!)
4. Stop reducing your value to how you look.
Though we hear this message often, far more often we hear the message that our bodies (and, hence, ourselves) were designed to be little more than playthings for men. That is a LIE! Don’t feed the lie by dressing in a way that invites attention to your body (and yourself) as a sexual object. Rather, make yourself beautiful from the inside out, recognizing that you were designed to be intelligent, competent, compassionate, diligent, clever, wise, strong, and Christ-like. Of course, at the end of the day, no matter what clothes you choose, it’s never your responsibility to keep men from lusting. That’s on them. But you do have the responsibility to recognize your own identity as an image-bearer of God and to let that identity influence every aspect of your life. God has given you far too many gifts for you to sift them down to just one—the way you look. When you see yourself as more than a body and choose to build good character, others will also begin to see the real YOU behind the pretty face.
5. Recognize and confront sexual harassment.
Looking back, I’m appalled at how often I endured or ignored sexual harassment. Why did I do it? Three really stupid reasons: One, I didn’t recognize it as sexual harassment, Two, I didn’t feel entitled to better treatment, and/or Three, I didn’t want to hurt the feelings of the person treating me like a piece of ___. (You fill in the blank.) As a society, sexual harassment against women is modeled and played out for us in so many different ways, we have started to see it as normal, healthy behavior—as if sexual harassment and even assault is some kind of legitimate courting ritual. It isn’t.
Sexual harassment is the making of unwanted sexual advances or obscene remarks. So, if a guy you’ve never met approaches you with a skeezy, “Hey, Baby,” you know this interaction has already gone south. To him, you’re a sexual object, not a person. Examples of sexual harassment include everything from wolf calls to asking about your sexual history or fantasies to touching your hair, clothing or body. For a more detailed description, go to: http://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/pdf/whatissh.pdf. If someone (whether male or female) treats you this way, and you didn’t ask for it or don’t want it, it’s harassment, and it’s illegal. That person is not your friend. You are worth too much to become some disposable character in their sexual fantasies. Don’t worry about their feelings! (They obviously aren’t worried about yours!) Look them in the eye and clearly tell them to stop. A simple, “Please don’t speak to me that way,” should be enough, but if it isn’t, feel free to report them. But whatever you do, don’t just take it.
6. Hold your head up, stand up straight, and look people in the eye.
This might sound simplistic, but body language and eye contact are surprisingly powerful. If you carry yourself with an air of confidence, people will be less apt to think of you as beneath them, and their behavior towards you will adjust to those impressions. If you’re used to being walked on, overlooked, or marginalized, you have probably learned to keep your head down, talk quietly, and avoid eye-contact. It’s time to change that self-perception (because it’s based on a lie!) and practice a healthy, pro-active self-confidence. You don’t have to be the smartest, most attractive, or most talented person on the planet to stand alongside those who think they are. Just being you—a fully human being with inherent worth—is enough! No one—regardless of their posturing—is, at base, better than you. God made you in His own image to be YOU—a unique, non-reproducible way of reflecting His image to the world. So, when you start thinking about what you have to offer, don’t ignore God’s voice on the subject! As a child of God, you have Christ! I ask you, what better quality is there?
“Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (I Cor. 1:20-25).
7. If possible, kindly replace sexist comments with egalitarian ones. Otherwise, flatly reject sexism.
Sexist comments are so prevalent, we often fail to recognize them as such, but if they go unnoticed, their power to marginalize and silence half the population will continue unchecked. Because sexism is so prevalent in our society, both men and women use sexist comments without even realizing it. So, if you notice a sexist remark, simply kindly replace it with an egalitarian one. For example, if asked, “Can I speak to the man of the house?” Answer, “We’re both in charge of the house. How may I help you?” Or, if your pastor jokes, “I can see who wears the pants in your marriage,” you can respond with, “Actually, we both wear pants, we both care for the children, we both work hard, and we both love Jesus.”
Other comments are harder to correct, such as those which deny you a voice or a promotion or an education based on your gender, or those which qualify as sexual harassment. For example, if you are told you won’t be considered for a promotion because the men in the office wouldn’t be able to respect a pretty woman as their boss, that’s grounds for lawsuit. Let’s say you’re cleaning a bottom shelf and your boss quips, “That’s where I like you. On your knees.” That’s sexual harassment. Also a lawsuit. Look them right in the eyes, calmly but clearly point out the sexism, and tell them you expect more respect in future. If they can’t comply, it’s time to find a good attorney.
8. Embrace your femininity!
Sadly, many women have been made to feel so devalued that they have adopted masculine behaviors. They may change everything from their clothing to their hairstyles to the way they walk and talk—just to blend in with the men. But to reject your own femininity is to implicitly accept and promote the idea that there’s something wrong with it. There is nothing wrong with femininity or womanliness or motherhood or sisterhood. You can wear a skirt (or not) and makeup (or not) and you should still be able to expect respect and recognition. You can be feminine, react in a way a woman would react, think in a way a woman would think—all without having to adjust it or apologize for it. Let’s say you’re sitting in a meeting where the plight of orphans is being discussed. You tear up because you identify with the trauma these children are experiencing. A man looks at you and says, “Are you going to be okay? Can you continue discussing this topic?” You can respond with, “The fact that I’m not okay with children being abandoned means I’m the perfect person to discuss this topic.” Don’t believe or perpetuate the notion that womanhood and femininity is somehow weaker or less capable or less valuable than masculinity. There is a great deal of power—life-changing, life-embracing power!—in the gifts women possess.