Growing up in the South and attending a church at a small, southern, Protestant denomination, I grew up amidst the sounds of acapella singing and hell-fire preaching, my ears filled with a cacophony of sentiments such as:

  • Women are the cause of the downfall of men (and all humanity)
  • Women were created to be the “helpmeet” of men
  • Women are not allowed to lead men in prayer
  • Women are not allowed to participate in services
  • Women should not wear any clothing that might provoke the lustful thought of a man (this including a T-shirt with writing on the front)
  • Women should select a man for a husband who will be her spiritual guide
  • The bodies of women represent a temptation and threat to the spiritual purity of men (i.e. any sexual sin on the part of men is essentially the woman’s fault)

These days, I feel a million miles and a million years removed from this context. Although I still live, physically, amidst many who espouse these beliefs, I have come to view this ideology as the manifestation of a strange and misguided mindset. Back then, though, it was simply par for the course, the manner in which life was conducted all around me. A common enough question – whether at school, at an interview, or at a ball game would be “where do you attend?”

After high school, I chose by my independent will to attend a small, Christian liberal arts university. I was determined to be the sort of woman I felt I ought to be.

At this university, there existed a sort of craze for coupling (by which I mean marriage), and a common one liner and sometimes marketing catch phrase at all the freshman orientation sessions was  “meet your mate here,” likewise there existed a common superstition that if you sat in the same swing with a person of the opposite gender three times, you would one day get married.

As a senior, the day I went to pick up my cap and gown in the university basketball arena, the college ring rep asked me if I’d gotten my “MRS degree.” I wanted to reply that no I’d gotten a “real, man’s degree” and was valedictorian at that, but I held my tongue to be polite. These days, I’m decided enough not to hold my tongue. Sadly, though, we had a whole contingent of women who had come to the university for that one purpose. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone if my answer had simply been, “Why, yes!”

Throughout my tenure there, my friends and I formed small devotional groups determined to be good Christian women, pouring over such fare as Elizabeth Elliot’s Passion and Purity and Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye. However, it came to the point one evening after reading a book for Christian women that advised women to “shut up and be mysterious” in order to heighten their attractiveness, we could take it no longer. We chucked the book out our third floor dorm room window, and our devotional group disbanded.

Perhaps that was the turning point, I’m not sure. However, the day came when I could simply no longer swallow an ideology in which women were viewed as lesser, subordinate and suspect beings.

Luckily, I managed to find a liberal and free thinking enclave in the English department (after shuffling through three majors), a place where I felt I fit in. It is likely because of professors I met there and whom I count among my friends that I began to come into my own.

NPR presented an interesting discussion yesterday on the discovery of a scrap of papyrus. There, it appears, Jesus mentions a wife. Is he speaking metaphorically, as he often did? Or, could he be referring to the existence of an actual wife?

Regardless of the real significance of the obscure scrap, so limited that the true context of its words may never be realized, in the course of discussion with scholar Barbara Bradley Hagerty, issues such as the subjective selection of the contents of the biblical canon (and its uses to oppress within society) surfaced, as well as mention of alternative gospels that were excluded from the biblical canon. These were gospels which included accounts of female disciples and close female friends of Jesus.

And, today, while actually attempting to research regional trends in sexism (is the South still as sexist and bigoted as the perception of it), I discovered a statement by Jimmy Carter -a role model of mine for his work in global societies. In the article, published in The Guardian, he discussed sexism in the Southern Baptist Church and his decision to sever ties with the denomination as a result of that sexism. FYI, the Southern Baptist Church is a close brother ideologically to the denomination that is part of my personal heritage.

The more I read of discussions like these, the more I feel a great burden lifted off my shoulders. I now recognize and choose not to subject myself to the oppressive beliefs of others. I am not guilty or shameful any more.

I feel as though I have a handicap coming into this feminist discussion. It takes a while to recover the feeling that your very soul is not at stake in the intentional questioning and critique of religious and social mores. I’m behind but gaining ground and thankful for this forum to learn and grow, experiment and discover. I’ve changed and will change again, many, many times, and I am not afraid any longer to do that.

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