Post by: Vince Schiller, Contributor
On the 20th of September last month, the United Nations met in New York, and there Emma Watson (who recently became the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador) spoke about women’s equality. It wasn’t entirely what would be expected though. You might anticipate that she would highlight the inequality that women face worldwide, which she did. But what was unexpected (and brilliant) was her insistence that women’s equality is more than just an issue about women. Emma Watson’s words were poignant and clear:
“We don’t often talk about men being imprisoned by gender stereotypes but I can see that they are. When they are free, things will change for women as a natural consequence. If men don’t have to be aggressive in order to be accepted, women won’t feel compelled to be submissive. If men don’t have to control, women won’t have to be controlled.
“Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel free to be strong. It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals. We should stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are.”
Women’s rights is an issue of gender equality, it’s an issue for all the sexes. If you listened to the speech, this is perhaps the most important thing to take away from it. It is the very reason that the new organization HeForShe exists. In our day, we are far from being finished with addressing (or far from beginning to address) issues related to women’s rights. Yet at the same time, new and interrelated issues have come to the surface. This speech wasn’t just about women. It was about men, it was about the LGBTQ community, it was about trying to break free from the sociocultural baggage associated with sexuality in general. If the equality of women stays an issue exclusively about women, then it will be much more difficult to affect change. Inequality is a systemic, cultural, social force that requires a systemic, cultural, and social change.
Why is it that men feel they have to be aggressive, indifferent, confrontational, cold, or chauvinist to be accepted? Why is it that calling a man gay or feminine is still an acceptable insult? Why is it that so many men are forced to feel inferior or inadequate by the culture that surrounds them? These things all betray an inherent misunderstanding of gender, a misunderstanding of who people are at their core, a flawed and divisive view of the sexes. As Watson said in her speech, “Men don’t have the benefits of equality, either.”
Furthermore, why must homosexuality still be considered unnatural or abnormal? Why must an entire segment of the population be partitioned off, separated from the “normal” sexes simply because of biological traits or personal lifestyle choices? Watson is right, for too long we have seen gender as two opposing ideals, a black and white war in which anything else in between is grotesque or unacceptable.
Equality is a human issue, first of all, but it is also a Christian issue. What else can be said but that Christians should be the first to stand up for the rights of women, the rights of all genders? For too long they have been the last, either being pulled along at the tail end of change, or making a stand as a force against change. Whether you like the word or not, Jesus was a feminist. Jesus recognized women, respected women, and involved women in ways that were radical at the time. He was on the front lines of change in his time, breaking cultural and social barriers, as the early church expressed “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).I have hope that there is a movement for change, and indeed it is already happening. These issues are a place where the Church has the chance to be a force of change as well, rather than a bystander or sluggish participant. These are not just minority or peripheral issues. The Church should be the first to offer comfort, hope, healing, and renewal in the area of gender and sexuality. Sadly, it has too often been the last to offer this, and has instead offered shame, guilt, rejection, and ignorance. This simply should not be.
As long as women must be lesser or delicate, as long as men must be aggressive or tough, as long as the LGBTQ community is considered abnormal, and as long as the Church upholds these ideas, they are not following the way of Jesus. For too long “Christian” has been synonymous with archaic and uninformed views on gender and sexuality. This is not to say that Christians of a particular viewpoint must compromise what they see as gender roles in a relationship or what they see as sinful in action. But just as the divide between those with dark skin and light skin was once (and perhaps still is) approached with ignorance and bigotry, so we need to leave behind an ignorant or bigoted approach to the (false) divide between male and female.
Frankly, I’m surprised. I’m surprised that more Christians have not picked up on what Emma Watson has said, have not been the first to applaud her efforts and the new line of thinking she represents. I do, and I hope that you do as well. But what can you do about it? First, you can support the cause of HeForShe by going here and joining the movement. You can also support the cause of Evangelicals for Marriage Equality, one that I’m sure readers will be familiar with.
Second, and more importantly, we can be “inadvertent feminists” as Watson said, ambassadors for change in our everyday interactions, in the way we tear down gender stereotypes and treat all people with respect and dignity. As she said,
“My life is a sheer privilege because my parents didn’t love me less because I was born a daughter. My school did not limit me because I was a girl. My mentors didn’t assume that I would go less far because I might give birth to a child one day. These influences are the gender equality ambassadors that made me who I am today. They may not know it but they are the inadvertent feminists needed in the world today. We need more of those.”
Vince Schiller (Contributor) is a student of music composition, and plans to be one for the rest of his life. He graduated from Moody Bible Institute with a B.Mus and is currently in graduate school. Vince enjoys all kinds of food, and hopes to one day have a degree in culinary arts, as well as a degree in architecture, and a degree in philosophy. He also enjoys slack-lining, and loves (and hates) his home state of Indiana.