I recently took a job working as a counselor for a church. I never really imagined I’d work for a church one day, but I love what I do, and I am continually thankful for the people I work with. One benefit of working for a church is that your coworkers are invested in cultivating your faith as well as their own. One way this occurs at my church is through a monthly women’s devotional I receive for free. When I started here six months ago, I was pretty excited about this.
As time has worn on; however, my excitement towards this devotional for women has waned. It seems to me it is more of a devotional for a certain type of woman. This devo is for women who are married with children, and have a particular set of hobbies and interests, few of which I share. I also find it ironic that though the devotionals often have to do with either rising above materialism or surviving in the stress of being a working mom and wife, the pictures in the devotional are often material goods (shoes, sunglasses, clothes, etc) or household chores (measuring cups, overflowing laundry baskets, clothes lines, folded laundry, etc).
Call me crazy, but when I see a pair of shoes my mind turns to material goods- what should I wear today? When I see an overflowing laundry basket, it reminds me of my housework- what do I have to clean today. It feels to me that this devotional for women is telling us one thing about living as a Christian and implying something else. It’s telling us to stay focused on God, to trust in the One who made us, and to simplify our lives in order to spend more time with Him. These are all good things. But it is also telling us “you are women, your job is to look pretty and get the housework done, all while raising your children and keeping your husband happy” – because if you’re female you’re definitely married with children.
Okay, so maybe I am being a little harsh. I am definitely against “church bashing” and I think devotional bashing is in the same ball field. I’m sure the heart behind this devotional is very pure and even pleasing to God, and I am still reading it for the good it contains. However, I am tired of feeling in the Christian community that I am not “woman enough” or like I don’t fit. I do like shopping and cooking on occasion. But I also love to play sports, to be outdoors, and to be in positions of leadership at times. It seems so many organizations have figured this out. There are climbing clubs for women, pick up basketball games that don’t discriminate based on gender, and even a clothing line called Title Nine (if you don’t know what title Nine is you should look it up) that uses all athletes rather than models in their advertisements. These are people who get that some women don’t fit the stereotype. Some women like to do things that have been typically called masculine in the past. It is definitely okay to like stereotypically female things, but sometimes I wish the church could realize it’s okay not to as well. And I don’t believe I am a minority; I honestly believe there are many women who feel like me. These women, like me, are forced to try to fit into the church activities for women that don’t fit their interests, but remain the only way for them to connect with other women.
Case in point; the name of the devotional for women is Journey. The corresponding name for the male devotional, Stand Firm. In the title alone the devotionals reinforce gender stereotypes with the men being strong and firm, and the women being on some fluid journey. The last time I checked, both men and women were admonished by scripture to stand firm and draw swords of the spirit in the battle for righteousness (I can still remember when my mother, exasperated by a daughter who couldn’t understand why God would create women to be as second class as I felt, proudly showed me this passage in Ephesians explaining that God does not just call men to fight in spiritual battles, but women as well).
So all this to say, I think God created men and women with fabulous and intriguing differences. But I also think there are similarities that many- but especially, it seems, the Christian community- tend to overlook. And when such traits are overlooked, women like me fall into the margins, or feel continually discounted, ignored, or out of place. And we end up reading a devotional that instead of helping us rise above culture, slaps us in the face with the culture it promotes.