Naomi Miles was left disheartened after realising that all the Christian books for girls were adorned with flowers and butterflies, while the boys’ offering was plain and dark, and spoke of courage, leadership and strength. Here she explains that the church should be free of toxic worldly influences and we should avoid these stereotypes art all costs.
I came back from the Christian bookshop laden with a pile of books and a heavy heart, deeply concerned by the flagrant, unapologetic sexism I’d witnessed. There were books in pretty pastel shades, adorned with flowers and butterflies for the “beautiful daughters of God” while those for men were plain and dark, and spoke of courage, leadership and strength.
Sexism is hardly a problem confined to Christian books and presumably, Christian publishers are simply responding to market forces: sexism sells. So it’s probably harmless, right? The harm is subtle and insidious, but very real. Women and men are different, and it can be helpful for Christian literature to address the particular pressures and challenges each sex faces. The problem comes when we assume that the differences between the sexes can be distilled into neat lists of particular qualities, personality traits and giftings that are somehow intrinsic, immutable or even divinely-ordained.
The problem comes when we assume that the differences between the sexes can be distilled into neat lists of particular qualities, personality traits and giftings.
The reality is much more complicated. Social norms and expectations around gender (which vary across times and places) have an immense impact on the way we think and behave. Men and women might be different, but as soon as we try to delineate the exact differences between the sexes, we are in danger of creating harmful stereotypes that exert a social pressure of their own. Take for example the idea that women are more emotional than men; perhaps on average this is true (at least in the modern West). But how much is this because men are born this way, and how much is because they are afraid of expressing their feelings for fear of being perceived as weak and “unmanly”? And what toll does this fear take on men’s mental and emotional well-being, and on their relationships?
As a man, Jesus felt no hesitation in expressing emotion and was bold in defying the strict religious and social conventions of his age. To him, distinctions of age, sex, class, culture and religion were irrelevant and invisible: he saw through and past them all to behold the individual’s humanity and uniqueness. And so should we.
Of all places, the church should be a refuge from the crushing confines of stereotypes, a place of true and perfect equality.
The fact that each person is made in the image of God is the only solid basis of radical equality and our essential dignity and worth. In Christ, all of the superficial things on which we hang our identity fall away and we become his children, loved and accepted without measure and without condition. Collectively, we reflect his glory. Our differences do not fall neatly along the lines of sex, class, race, gender and background. The outpouring of the Spirit is indiscriminate: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female” (Galatians 3:28). Our identity is rooted in him alone, and we are called to conform to the image of his likeness and not to the pattern of this world.
We must be alert to the toxic influence of social ideas. Of all places, the church should be a refuge from the crushing confines of stereotypes, a place of true and perfect equality where we are each free to step into our God-given gifts, calling and potential. Within the body of Christ, we can celebrate and embrace the uniqueness of each part: no one should feel like a misfit.