It’s been a busy week in media. Notably, the U.S. Supreme Court passed down decisions on Arizona’s immigration law and the Affordable Care Act; sadly, screenwriter Nora Ephron passed away; and in the world of sports, Wimbledon is in full swing and the Olympics are right around the corner. What I can’t seem to get out of my head, though, is an article I read Monday afternoon during my lunch hour. I’m talking about last week’s piece in the Atlantic written powerfully and thoughtfully by Anne-Marie Slaughter entitled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”
In the piece, Slaughter talks about her career path, the struggles she’s faced, and the decisions she’s made; but at the heart of her message, she is trying to convey that there is something fundamentally and structurally wrong about the workplace. I hesitate to summarize her argument, just as I am always wary of trying to explain concisely how other social diseases like racism and class discrimination are institutional problems, but for the sake of this post I’m going to try.
There is a message sent to women in the workplace by both men and other women that you can “have it all” if only you work hard enough, sleep little enough, and be dedicated enough. By “all” we mean a family, a great career, and maybe some semblance of a social life (ha!). But in a workplace built by men, there are seemingly insurmountable obstacles for women, the roots of which boil down to some really basic choices. For example, can working from home be a valid and respected option one or more days per week? Can in-house, in-person meetings be scheduled during the hours of the school day rather than evening dinners, thus alleviating the need for extra nanny finagling? Can we applaud rather than disparage men who turn down promotions and extra responsibility because it is in the best interest of their family? And can we embrace the fact that yes, women are the parent (in a heterosexual relationship) more likely to leave work early when a sick child calls from the nurse’s office at school, but that having that woman in the workplace is important and valuable for the company because she brings things to the table that men do not?
As I read the article, I had to ask the question: Is there a Christian side to this conversation? I suppose the most accurate answer to that question is yes, in fact there are many Christian voices in this conversation, but among the Christian voices, their differences can often outweigh their similarities, so much so that it is hard to unite around anything. One biblical voice says Husbands, in the same way, show consideration for your wives in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex, since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life – so that nothing may hinder your prayers (1 Peter 3:7). Okay, not bad. Another tells us Let a woman learn in quietness with all subjection. But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have dominion over a man, but to be in quietness (1 Timothy 2:11-12). Um, really bad.
Unapologetically, as a Christian and as a woman, I cannot accept as infallible any scripture or doctrine that tells me I can never work above men. I know it might seem a little counter intuitive to establish my rejection of scripture in my Christian faith (huh?), but bear with me just a little bit longer.
Feminist theology, far from the angry bra-burning radical feminism of the 1960’s and 70’s revolves around the principle of full humanity. That doesn’t sound too crazy, right? If you don’t call it feminist theology, then we’re talking about something very basic, that each person is brought into this world and bestowed with the Imago Dei, then deserves to flourish fully as a human. Rosemary Radford Ruether, a renowned feminist theologian writes, “The critical principle of feminist theology is the promotion of the full humanity of women. Whatever denies, diminishes, or distorts the full humanity of women is, therefore, appraised as not redemptive” (Reuther, Sexism and God-talk 18). But beyond just women, “Any principle of religion or society that marginalizes one group of persons as less than fully human diminishes us all” (Ruether, Sexism and God-talk 20). Therefore, thoughts and actions that promote the full humanity of women (and any other marginalized or oppressed group of people) are holy; thoughts and actions that don’t are not. Furthermore, this feminist voice is not asking for women to be treated as men, as that would be supporting masculinity as normative. Instead, women claim their own identity and ask for love and respect as a child of God in whatever way they choose to flourish.
To bring this back to the article, it seems to me that if a woman of such incredible power and privilege feels like she cannot have a leading role in the workplace and simultaneously be a good mother to her teenage boys, then something is fundamentally wrong; it is most especially wrong because men can have a leading role in the workplace and simultaneously be considered a good dad.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, an accomplished academic and foreign policy analyst, doesn’t believe things will change until one half of senators, one half of CEO’s and top executives, and one half of tenured professors (among many other professions) are women. We don’t just need women in the workplace; we need women in leadership roles in the workplace. But women must claim the power and authority themselves. We cannot advocate for our full humanity and expect men to give it to us. That’s a little backwards, don’t you think? The motivation to change the system will emerge out of both anger and hope; anger at the injustice (and at the fact that too many people won’t acknowledge it as an injustice) and hope for a world without sexism, a world where all practices contribute to the full humanity of all persons, a world where all practices are redemptive.