By now, everyone should be familiar with Rush Limbaugh calling a university student a slut for defending birth control funding. I’m not going to ride that train. Plenty of other wonderful and smart people have already responded to the idiocy. There’s no need for me to press the point.
It does bring some other things to mind, though. For me, this isn’t just about one man with a mouth calling someone a foul name. It’s not even about the specific foul name he used. It’s about the insulting way some people speak about women they perceive as behaving outside of feminine propriety. Women who have sex outside of marriage are sluts; women who are strong, independent leaders are bitches; women who aren’t traditionally feminine are dykes (which actually may or may not be true, but it’s used as an insult in this case). One of the most insulting things I ever read was a comment on a blog wherein the writer (a man) said that he thought women should stop “trying to be men.” You know, I don’t even understand that one. It was in reference to women being strong and powerful and taking on top-level leadership. In fact, even boys and men are insulted by calling them girls or women or “femmy”—athletes with sub-par performance, men who show emotion, men seen as “weak.”
How in the world did we get the idea that we can classify a person based on personality traits, career choice, or relationship status? Why is something that is good for men seen as bad for women (power, sexual experience) and vice versa (emotional expressiveness)? And where we get the bizarre notion that being a woman is the same as being weak?
Why is it a bad thing to be a woman or to be the woman or man you are?
I can (almost, barely) understand it in relation to leadership within the church, and even husband-wife roles within Christian marriage. A fair number of people still take certain verses literally. What I don’t understand is why it’s a problem outside the church or in regard to personality traits. There’s nothing in Scripture—at all—prohibiting women from being brain surgeons or CEOs or government officials or Heads of State. There is nothing in the Bible—again, at all—disallowing both men and women from having personality traits culturally assigned to the opposite gender.
What bothers me most is that too many Christians see nothing wrong with bashing women or using femininity to bash men. I’ve heard every justification, from “It’s all in fun” to the snappy, “Well, it’s true” (complete with defensive pouty lip). The problem is, that attitude didn’t come from Jesus. Heck, it didn’t really even come from Paul. So why are so many Christians happy to embrace it?
Many years ago, I read a book in which the author suggested that primitive men feared women because of the life-giving power of their bodies. They were mystified by women’s menstrual cycles and had all sorts of strange superstitions. I don’t know how much truth there is in that (I suspect quite a bit). If so, we don’t seem to have come very far. All the arguing over whether birth control should be covered by insurance certainly seems to run in that vein. I think it’s fair to say that at least some of the fear of having women in charge is the belief that we are unstable for at least part of the time.
We have to confront these fears. We have to examine whether what we believe to be true about women is factual or superstitious. And before I hear from anyone who wants to argue for complementarian views outside of a marriage, save your breath. I’ve heard it all, and it’s just plain wrong. A complementarian view of the marriage relationship, or even within the church, does not translate to the same view within another context, and there is no Biblical evidence that it does.
It’s important to look for our own underlying prejudices. But an unexamined heart is not an excuse for name-calling and degrading terminology. I have hope that even when we disagree about what womanhood should look like, we can still treat one another respectfully and refrain from inflammatory and abusive language.