What not to say to Christian women

What not to say to Christian women

I’m loving the conversation about #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. It’s hard to hear the stories–and frustrating when people protest that “not all Christians…” or “but what about X religion?” without pausing to listen.

And yet… it’s helpful to hear women express the frustration of being told that the genders are equally honored–while one group is made to serve, look attractive for, and help the other. When they share their experiences, people get told that they misunderstood, are hurting their community, or are disobeying leaders/God.

So the sheer weight and litany is helpful. Below are comments that echo my experience and that of my friends, in evangelical communities, homeschool groups, or pastoral households, in Bible studies and a Christian family: 

First off, the school and career advice.

Wanting to travel means you should be a missionary; passion for research means you could be a librarian.

What’s more, women are told what to be good at and desire… and then are told they naturally deserve lower pay and benefits because they chose those careers! Yet when women take on support roles, it lets a man’s career come first:

People even worry if a woman has a stronger sense of purpose than her partner:

I suspect there’s a fear that if both parties pursue direct impact on the world, the balance of authority will shift. In addition, men will lose the convenience of a flexible, nurturing partner at home or be expected to sacrifice in the same way that women do:

While churches also lose the unpaid labor of wives and stay-at-home volunteers:


In addition, we have an ideology (set of beliefs and ways of thinking) that says women should submit to men.

(Side note:: without debating in detail, I’ll say that we all want to read the Bible clearly, yet we all read through our existing beliefs, just as we drink water through a whole utility system that leads to our glasses. We pick up loads of history, misunderstandings, grabs for power, and cultural assumptions without even realizing it. For this reason, it helps to stop and think what Paul, a 1st century Roman citizen, had picked up about the natural order of things // master>slave, male>female, Jew>gentile // in his society, before we assume his wisdom about living well in that order suits people in every society).

Anyway, the idea that women should submit ends up meaning they can never lead men, or always need a stronger man over them:

We further support these ideas by assuming two people can’t co-lead. We then ask women to step back from the give and take of 21st century partnership, which is (like Paul’s inequality) the existing social order of our time:


Where does this come from? I’d argue that it’s an artifact of ancient agricultural ownership, common in both ancient Israel and Rome, where men owned women as chattel. Quickly, women are cherished for their desirability, an advertisement of a man’s value and a possession for his use and enjoyment:


This leads to a focus on her appearance, not his:


One assumes women would also appreciate a husband like the man in Song of Songs, “like a gazelle, graceful; like a young stag, virile” … uhh, just go read Song of Songs 5:10-16. I have yet to hear it preached to the men of the congregation. 

However, spiritual leaders do like to boast in the beauty of their catch, their wives, their sidekicks:


Asking women to focus on appearance and desirability leads into interesting ideas on sex. For instance, the myth that women want and enjoy it less:

This leads to a focus on taming male desire and female desirability. Rather than helping women explore and direct their sexual desires wisely, we focus on things women can do so that men experience them as asexual:

Here, being desirable but not sexy and still pure is essential, as if we were pawns in a 15th-century-political-marriage-begetting-heirs game:

At the extreme, this leads to blaming abuse victims, whether male or female. Surely they could have been less sweet and beautiful, and more… aggressive and dominant?

Not feeling it?

Conservative Christian subculture also has hella sexual hypocrisy around the idea of “mutual.” Women are urged to enjoy sex even when they don’t want it, but men aren’t asked to enthusiastically please their sexually-driven partner whenever they’re not feeling it:

Women are expected to make life decisions around getting one of these men, preferably the “not all Christians…” better sort:

Yet when they have sex, they’re also expected to care for and not give up any resulting children. My own father (!) suggested last Christmas that a woman’s life and well-being can’t be automatically placed above that of an embryo. (Argument: sacrifice means giving up our self-interest.)

This, of course, is because women’s choices are made primarily for/in reference to children;

Different Roles

it's tough being a woman
“Girls Bible Study for Girls, and GRUNT for men. Chi Alpha, Phoenix, AZ.”

These beliefs in essential gender differences lead to segregated responsibilities and church activities:

This is true regardless of a person’s talents, and in contrast to the Biblical story in which Mary ignored her homemaking, coffee-brewing, and child-rearing responsibilities to debate theology with the men:

These differences also make women too emotional to lead:

While men are too emotionally delicate to withstand women who make more money (and too confused to be able to learn from someone not like them…)

In other words, ambition’s not okay in girls. However, women can lead as long as we remember it’s an exception–a second-best until a suitable guy comes along:

# Things Christian Women Should Hear

It’s not that every one of these is so bad, of course — and many quotes contain a grain of insight. The problem is that all the little distortions, over time, impose an immense weight and burden on both genders–and in a way that may not be spiritually wise at all. So what do we do?

If you’ve read (or skimmed) this far, there’s hope ahead — read on for things men and women should be hearing from the church!


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