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.
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.