The gendered side of church networking

Luke is absolutely right that networking in the church is an excellent idea. It’s kind of like being a member of an alumni group at your university—when I was on the phone with my dad about this yesterday, he had his LinkedIn page up and was telling me how he was running across all these people in his network he had no idea had graduated from Hankamer. There were a bunch of them who had one or two other people of similar rank in their companies who were also Baylor Business grads—clearly that wasn’t a coincidence. Being part of the Church is like that. So yes, getting to know the older members in your church isn’t just a great idea in terms of spiritual formation; if they can vouch for your character, they’ll go to bat for you.

I don’t think everyone has the same experience with this, though. I love my church dearly, but the fact is that at least half of the women there are stay-at-home mothers. This is fairly common. Women in the church feel a certain amount of pressure to get married, and when they get married—as I have experienced—there is a certain degree of expectation that when it’s time to have children, the primary responsibility falls on the woman to be with them and raise them. This is derived from Genesis (how the man’s curse after the fall is to scratch a living from the earth; i.e. men are supposed to work), and the complementarity idea suggests, then, that the woman, created with a certain faculty to nurture, is the more suited to stay home with the children. And as both women and men in the church are all very familiar with, this idea is not without controversy.

Christian culture is far from the only one that espouses the idea of the domestic woman and the working man. It is also far from the only culture that has a certain level of distaste for working women. I state this with a great deal of caution: in a particularly honest, personal passage of Scripture, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 7 about how in his opinion, it’s better not to marry, for by remaining single a person is freer to devote themselves to the Lord. Accordingly, the idea of singleness is not unaccepted in the church. I would say, however, that it’s not as accepted for women as is marriage. Women certainly don’t perceive it that way. Yes, broader culture has a great deal to do with that, but instead of regurgitating familiar arguments about the woman’s natural role versus her right to do well by herself, what I want to do is to turn this argument on its head.

Looking out Wiw

What’s a girl to do?

Both men and women in the church (of all ages) are underaware of just how conflictual are the messages women receive about what to do with their lives. You can’t even draw clean lines between the spiritual and the profane on this one, because there are some values that are shared in both worlds. Consider this: in the church, it’s fairly expected that a parent who loves his or her daughter will want her to do well in school. This opens up the question of why: is it to help her to develop discipline and perseverance? To help her gather knowledge? To help her succeed? Say she decides she wants to go to university: why, if her purpose upon marriage is essentially to stay home with the children, does she need a college degree? To educate her own children?

I’m bringing a harsh case against the church in this case on purpose, and these are not necessarily the views I hold myself. It is intuitively conflictual to esteem a woman pursuing education and then essentially relegate her to the house once she’s married. That doesn’t strike me as fair. No, I would not say the church expects all married women to be stay-at-home mothers—it’s just that this is largely the image that adult women in the church portray to young girls through their own examples. And it has serious implications: if I, hypothetically speaking, wanted to find a successful, Christian businesswoman to mentor me, I would have a much more difficult time doing that then would my husband at finding a comparable man to mentor him. Is this because being a successful Christian businesswoman is wrong? No, but at least in the church, it’s not exactly encouraged, either.

So what should we make of this? I’ve taken enough sociology of gender to know very well that this case more or less holds true outside the church as well. There aren’t a lot of powerful women in business; there are more in other sectors like politics, but they’re often subject to harsh stereotyping and sex-shaming you can read about in nearly any feminist blog. As for the mentor problem, the comparative discrepancy of Christian females in the professional world compared to Christian males makes it a lot harder for women to network in the church than it is for men. It’s not impossible, and there are always exceptions. That said, as any statistician would tell you, exceptions don’t disprove the rule.

What I am saying is that this arrangement has the potential to set the stage for some pretty serious identity crises. What is an intelligent, motivated, young, female Christian college graduate to do? At first glance, it seems like those traits almost divide in half. That’s what I’m going to talk about in the next part of this series, Submission and Success. For now, though, I want to open the floor. I’ll reiterate that the strong case I made doesn’t necessarily reflect my own views; my own views are still developing, but I hope this will generate some discussion.

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One thought on “The gendered side of church networking

  1. I have another set of friends dealing with some of the same questions. Just as with them, I don’t have any conclusions, but I have some thoughts. The first is that I think the curse is not a good basis for a course of action. The curse is what is, not what it should be or what we should seek after. The curse states that men will domineer over women, not that we should. If complementarianism is good, then it is pre-curse and the curse twisted it and made it ugly for many. As far as I know, from a strict biblical standpoint, complementarianism doesn’t provide an answer to this question. The mandates in scripture merely establish the leadership role in the home and possibly some restrictions on church leadership (I am unsure if these are universal). Proverbs 31 doesn’t seem to be much help; it has some of both working at home and acquiring goods. Otherwise, Scripture relays the reality of women’s current role in society; most of the women in Scripture worked in the home. However, considering the curse, this is not necessarily a good thing.

    The argument about a mother’s nurturing sounds like a good argument, but I don’t know if staying at home is necessary as a mother. I think that if both parents are really serious about raising their kids well and are willing to make the necessary sacrifices, parenting can be done well with both parents working. On the other hand, not holding a regular job frees up time to pursue other important things, such as serving in an organization or church, spending time with kids when you’re not exhausted from work, or potentially educating your kids to a certain age. My mother homeschooled me, which I think was fantastic, but I don’t think that someone who doesn’t is parenting wrong. I think a problem occurs when people think their lives should be all about their kids. Yes, pouring into your children’s lives is important, but if your life is all about your kids, you aren’t teaching your children to live; you are teaching them to raise children. This is very circular and I don’t think very productive to society.

    With this in mind, I think the question lies parallel to some other questions that I am trying to answer that apply to both men and women. What is the purpose of a job? Is it just to earn money? Should it just be something interesting or should it somehow make a difference? Is it some kind of balance? How do you even find a balance? Should one simply try to find a job that frees up the most time for other “more important” activities? If one had the resources to not need to work a regular job, what kind of activity would be best worth pursuing?

    I don’t think there is one answer to “What’s a girl to do?” Perhaps a better approach would be to ask “is THIS career worth pouring my life into?” or “is spending my time at home a good use of my life right now?” instead of the usual career or family paradigm.

    A final thing to think about is that not having kids is an option. Both Jesus and Paul talk about the extra burden of having a family.

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