International Women's Day: Who Needs It?

Let’s be honest: Aren’t we all just fed up with women moaning about how they’re not treated properly, how they’re still victims, how they keep bumping their heads on glass ceilings . . . how they’re excluded from the Canadian national anthem, for crying out loud?

I mean, women have been Prime Ministers of England and India,  CEOs of Hewlett-Packard and Rite-Aid, Governors-General of Canada, presidents of umpteen universities—I mean, sheesh: What do women want?

International Women’s Day, now almost 100 years old, tries to tell us what women want:

More shoes! Better make-up! Botox! Higher credit card limits!

Ha. Ha.

How about this list instead: Votes, and votes in elections that actually mean something. Economic opportunity to start even a tiny (micro-) business. Inheritance rights. Freedom of speech—and dress. Safety from genital mutilation, arranged marriage, polygamy, incest, prostitution, drug addiction, and rape.

Or how about just this, closer to home for most readers of this blog: A single standard of professional evaluation, such that male initiative is not translated as female pushiness and male resolve is not understood as female stubbornness. Recognition that women bear children, that it’s good that they do, and that society ought to help women do it well (hear that, American maternity leave?). And freedom from any unwelcome sexualizing of conversation (including one-sided flirting) in the workplace, in the volunteer sector and, yes, in the church.

Speaking of church, how about this: Insistence on female presence in leadership. Welcoming of female voices in the pulpit and in church meetings. Honouring of female volunteers—beyond those who sing in public.

Or how about even just this: Freedom from interruption in conversation. Men looking women in the eyes during conversation. Men noticing that women are trying to get into the conversation in the first place.

(Believe me, guys: We all have something to learn here. I certainly have had a lot to learn here.)

International Women’s Day: Who needs it?

I do. You do. She does. We all do.

0 Responses to “International Women's Day: Who Needs It?”

  1. Wayne Park

    not to stick my finger in the drink and rile things up…

    but why isn’t this reflected more in the faculty at Regent then? One thing I’m always tickled by is how we purport to engage incarnationally and yet the minority and female representation on board our beloved institution is woefully inadequate.

    • John Stackhouse

      Good question. We all, to a person, faculty, staff, administration, and board, would like to see our faculty made more diverse. And, as long as I’ve been here, and doubtless before, we have exerted ourselves to make it so.

      But here are just three pertinent facts, which together are enough to explain why we have so few female faculty members, despite our best efforts.

      1. We had a devil of a time recruiting female faculty at the (secular) University of Manitoba when I was there in the 1990s. And check out the proportion of female faculty members at lots of other places similar to Regent. There simply have not been as many women as men pursuing Ph.D.’s, and in some fields women are very much underrepresented.

      2. The evangelical subculture continues to be deeply ambivalent, at best, about women becoming professors and of theological studies in particular. So we have even fewer women among whom to recruit.

      3. It seems that Regent students generally prefer faculty members who can teach them from a position of intellectual and personal maturity. That requirement usually entails hiring someone of at least early middle age. Yet it is a commonplace of studies of professional women that it is much harder to “move” middle-aged women–who usually have husbands and/or children–than it is middle-aged men. Believe me, we’ve tried and we’ve found it very hard indeed.

      So there you have it. I haven’t sensed any resistance to hiring women among my colleagues at Regent. We can be obtuse at times about certain gender issues, yes, and especially those of us who are men. But there is no resistance to hiring women: quite the contrary, and we have encouraged our own alumnae to go on to Ph.D.’s, and gratifyingly many of them have. I hope we’ll hire some of them, in fact, in the years to come.

      • Wayne Park

        Thanks for this John;
        I’ve also wondered about this from an ethnic standpoint; at times I can’t help but to think the lack of ethnic diversity is due to the fact that there just aren’t many minorities w/ phD’s out there today. And then I wake up and realize that’s totally bogus..

        to be fair, perhaps the academic landscape is changing in complexion and we are only beginning to witness the fruits of it now.

  2. Frederick Harrison

    You forgot to mention Kim Campbell, who was Prime Minister of Canada, albeit briefly.

    I’m surprised that there are still some churches who refuse to let women into the pulpit or governance, citing Paul’s instructions to Timothy which were addressed to a certain church in a certain situation in a certain time. I don’t recall Paul’s statement that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Gal.3:28 having an asterisk beside the word “female” and a corresponding footnote limiting or diluting the intent of this radical assertion.

    As to the Canadian National Anthem, I’ve always tended to equate “true patriot love” as willingness to serve in defense of country, in military terms, as evidenced in the concluding “stand on guard for thee” lyric. Hence “sons” was appropriate for the time the words were written as women were not expected to serve in the military. Times have changed and since women now serve in our armed forces the reference should be updated to reflect this at the very least. As to objections against militarism in our national anthem… well that’s part of what makes up a national anthem. At least the military imagery is not as blatant as the Star Spangled Banner. O Canada is in the form of a prayer, addressed to God, who is invoked as Protector of our freedom. We may recoil at the thought of military allusions in our anthems (and hymns!) but that ignores the very real war taking place among us.

    I’m concerned that negotiations with the Taleban might use women’s rights as a bargaining chip on the table. This is a threat to the Afghani women who have received education or asserted their basic rights to not be treated as property or have an equal voice in the justice system. I doubt the Taleban will recognize their rights if given control – in fact, I expect that many women will be “disciplined” for “religious reasons” as a warning not to step out of the place assigned them. Yet we turn a blind eye to human rights abuses in other countries when lucrative trade beckons (hello China!) and I despair that such will be the case again with Afghanistan.

  3. Emily Hunter McGowin

    Here, here! Thank you for this.

    And, just so you know, I am one of the few women I know who managed to emerge from the “deeply ambivalent” evangelical subculture (the SBC, to be exact) to pursue a Ph.D. in theology. Of course, I left the South and the Baptist educational world to do so, but I’m doing it!

  4. P. W. Dunn

    I left academics precisely over issues like affirmative action. I entered the job market at a time when hundreds of resumes of men were being thrown in the garbage to consider the handful of women scholars; such preferential hiring could not but have a detrimental affect on the quality of educational institutions. One result is that if you are female, you are now more likely to go to university. A lot of people are going to be offended by what I say, but they will have a hard time defending, based on academic standards, the narrowing of the hiring pool to the small percentage of female candidates.

    • Wayne Park

      How can you justify this?:

      “such preferential hiring could not but have a detrimental affect on the quality of educational institutions.”

      do you really believe that to be true?

  5. P. W. Dunn

    I for one do not believe that the sacrifice of quality at the altar of diversity has been beneficial to academic standards in higher learning. Before I started job hunting, one of the colleagues in my field, explained to me how they did a job search at his California University (this was in circa 1994). He testified that they would receive maybe 100 applications. They would take the 95 or so from men and file them in the trash. Then they would choose three from the five women applicants and interview them, and then choose the best candidate from those three.

    This means then that a woman can find a job in academics quite easily and men have a much harder time. This scenario is confirmed even by Prof. Stackhouse own confession above. Faculties will go out of their way to “recruit” women, but to hire a man, they just have to post the position and the applications come in.

    The same holds true for racial minorities of the correct sort–forget it if you are either Jewish or Asian; that won’t help, because these are over-represented minorities–in fact only the best Chinese or Jewish kids can even get into some schools.

    Now imagine if they did this with the NBA. Ok. We are going to give half-Korean men (they are underrepresented in the NBA, quelle horreur!) and females the preference for hiring. How long would it be before people would stop even watching the NBA and just start watching European league basketball instead? But in academics they’ve been selecting the team not to win championships(based strictly on the people with the best talent and the strongest dossier) but to create diversity–then telling the entire world that the team is better because of it. Well perhaps the faculty page on the website looks less monolithic, but I would rather watch European league academics where the concept of diversity has been much slower in catching on.

  6. Wayne Park

    so you support the premise that European-based races excel intellectually and academically over other races.

    • P. W. Dunn

      The thought never even occurred to me. I’m just saying that European schools have been slower in implementing preferential hiring practices. My statement wasn’t based upon race considerations at all, but only upon academic standards.

  7. Emily Hunter McGowin

    I would challenge the generalization that schools have sacrificed “quality” in the name of “diversity.” How can you prove this generalization? Why isn’t it possible that a focus on diversity has been a boon for educational quality (as I would contend)?

    Also, you don’t even seem to be giving any consideration to the fact that there are hundreds of years of exclusion operating against minorities and women. Of course they should be given a second look! They had to bite and claw their way to the top and we would be fools not to acknowledge that achievement.

    Granted, white men don’t immediately benefit from giving minorities a preference in hiring. But, they and their children will benefit in the long-term from a more diverse education, representative of a variety of viewpoints, with a more egalitarian (and biblical!) vision for what the world can be like.

    • Wayne Park

      Emily brings up a good point;
      If we are to accept the assumption that minorities and women are second-rate by academic standards, then how did we get here in the first place? And when will that ever be challenged?
      And I for one don’t – and will not – accept that assumption anyhow.

      • P. W. Dunn

        If women and minorities are not second rate, then there is no need to give their applications preferential treatment. They can compete in the general pool of applicants. I don’t agree with the assumption either and so I believe that preferential hiring must stop.

    • P. W. Dunn

      Hi Emily:

      Schools can choose students and professors based upon either academic standards or diversity as the highest priority. Something has to give. Personally, I think that despite your contention that education is the better for “diversity”, quality in higher education is lower generally, due to numerous factors, and so it has not become better as result of diversity. I do believe that ideally education should be fair: so I don’t condone “centuries” of unfairness; I hate every form of discrimination; and that means that discrimination that favors women and certain minorities is degrading and unacceptable.

      My mother (d. 1977) became a physician before there was preferential treatment of women. Two of my supervisors at Cambridge were women that made it without affirmative action (Prof. Hooker, Dr. Bammel). They didn’t need it. They were extremely fine scholars. Affirmative action is based on the bigotry of low expectations. I am suggesting that there should not be preferential hiring in academics based on diversity because rather than enriching a school, it waters education down altogether. Thus, if you are hiring a prof., every application should be evaluated on the basis of academic standards–publications, research, teaching ability–and not upon arbitrary things like whether the person is a sought-after visible minority or a female.

  8. elderj

    Interesting discussion. I would agree that “diversity” in terms of race / ethnic makeup has not markedly improved education since it seems to have come at the expense of an even more valuable kind of diversity, that is diversity of thought.

    The academy is notoriously liberal in its frame of mind, based as it is on constant inquiry and resistance to settled norms or established wisdom. This is all the more likely to be true with women and minorities (of which I am one) who often have a stake in upending the status quo of scholarship for their own aims. I am not convinced that such an approach necessarily makes for better scholarship, and certainly doesn’t contribute to better teaching. On the whole, it simply makes for more liberalized interpretation of whatever subject matter is on offer. Certainly it would be difficult if not inconceivable for a woman professor or religion to hold anything but a “egalitarian” interpretation of scripture as to do otherwise would mean she would have to call into question the validity of her own position, something few scholars would dare to do, as it would mean career suicide.

    Further, the increasing call for “diversity” in academia has not happened in a vacuum, although religious scholars somehow seem to believe that they are immune to prevailing winds of the culture. The impetus for diversification (meaning more women and minorities) did not come from the fruit of rigorous and serious inquiry, but is rather part of the zeitgeist of our times. We like to believe we are cutting edge when indeed we are simply floating along with the current of the world and often failing in our duties as Christians to critically examine where this tide is carrying us. It is not unlike being carried about by “every wind of doctrine,” which of course we imagine ourselves immune to, as if all the preceding generations of Christians, scholars, and thinkers that we so readily critique did not also believe themselves to be immune.

    Whence comes this attitude? It seems rather not in a scriptural view of history and of people, but in a quasi-marxist progressive view that sees history moving every upward towards some idealized future and then applies such logic to scriptural interpretation with the unsurprising result that we see ourselves, our interpretations, and our applications of scripture as decidedly more enlightened (read “evolved”) than those who preceded us, and certainly than those troglodytes (especially in the “South” and “SBC” as one commenter noted) who have not yet come to our view. This is rank arrogance, but we dare not call it thus, and it doesn’t seem to be since we have all learned to speak in the learned and hushed tones of respected academic.

    Just my two cents.

  9. Emily Hunter McGowin

    I have to take issue with this statement: “The impetus for diversification (meaning more women and minorities) did not come from the fruit of rigorous and serious inquiry, but is rather part of the zeitgeist of our times.”

    Certainly, the impetus for diversification may have happened in accordance with the Western zeitgeist, but I think “rigorous and serious inquiry” into the Christian scriptures and tradition reveals a significant foundation for openness to and embrace of, the “other.” Focal stories for understanding the person of Christ and the Christian identity involve his embrace of “others”–the Samaritan woman at the well, the healing of the woman with a flow of blood, and his anointing by a sinful woman. These pericopes, and many others, present a model of Christian life that is engaged in crossing boundaries–cultural, ethnic, religious–in pursuit of the fullness of God’s Kingdom. In this way, attention to diversity (although diversity is certainly an overused “buzz word”) is not alien to the Gospel of the Kingdom, but grows organically from it.

    A very on-the-ground application of this truth in higher education, particularly Christian higher education, is the embrace of “others”–others at the margins of our Western society–as sources of knowledge and wisdom who can and do serve as catalysts for critical thinking about and transformation of, our largely Euro-centric, androcentric worldview.

  10. elderj

    Certainly scripture does have as one of its core emphases the “embrace of the other” or alternately put, inclusion, which is at its highest demonstrated in the gospel itself as Jesus’ death and resurrection make possible the inclusion of mankind (humanity if you prefer) into the life of the God-head. We have no disagreement on this point. Jesus’ embrace of the other was an essential component of his mission and was indeed the impetus for the entirety of the missionary enterprise from the earliest days, as evidenced by the rapid expansion of Christianity beyond its Jewish roots into Africa, the East, and Europe and from thence, to the ends of the Earth. This enterprise continues to this day and shall proceed apace until the Lord’s return.

    That the Christian life is one engaged in crossing boundaries for the sake of the gospel is certainly true, though I would quibble a bit with your phraseology of “pursuit of the kingdom of God.” That such a pursuit is necessarily cognizant of the reality that all people have been made in the image of God and that human culture bears marks of both this beauty and depravity is likewise beyond dispute. So in this way, yes, diversity is inherent in the gospel. However it is not this diversity that is in question here.

    It is rather a “diversity” that is rather reductionist in that it sees people, men and women, as primarily racialized and genderized beings who by virtue of their sex or ethnicity have an inherent claim to superior status since they are a priori “outsiders” whose views and persons we must embrace in order to fully realize or proclaim “the Kingdom of God.” White men are by default, considered insiders, regardless of their respective backgrounds or experiences. The use of the term “outsiders” merely Christianizes a quasi-Marxist distinction between oppressors and oppressed with the consequent effect being that those who are oppressors must be overthrown. This is easily justified using scriptural language, especially from the prophets. Further, the very ways in which Western theological education is conducted and the results it produces is often far out of step with the scholarship produced in developing, non-Western nations, and with their understanding of scripture.

  11. Emily Hunter McGowin

    I guess I would quibble with the way you are characterizing the situation. How else shall we conceive of human beings other than “gendered” and “raced”? There is no “view from above,” humanly speaking, and we are only human as we experience human life as embodied, en-cultured beings. Or, to put it another way, there is no human qua human, apart from gender, ethnicity, culture, etc. I don’t think that placing value upon the experience and wisdom of those living life in “other” bodies and cultures necessarily suggests viewing them as “superior,” as you suggest. Affirming and embracing doesn’t mean elevating to superior status.

    I admit that it is unfortunate and unhelpful to group “white men” together as though monolithic in their experience. But, I don’t think there’s any denying the fact that by virtue of being “white,” being a member of the “normal” race in the Western world, carries with it inherent privileges and and an “insider” status that those without that label cannot attain. If that’s a quasi-Marxist distinction, well, then so be it.

    It is not, however, a necessary conclusion for Christians that the “oppressors” must be “overthrown.” I, for one, would reject such a notion and suggest that reconciliation is the distinctively Christian way of addressing such disparities in power and privilege. Even the oppressors are bound in captivity to their unchallenged privilege and even the oppressed are culpable, in many cases, for their own sins. But, reconciliation cannot happen with hearing from and allowing oneself to be taught by those who have been traditionally left out.

    And, finally, I’d like to resist the implication in your previous comment that a thoughtful conclusion that the SBC (or other more conservative denominations) is wrong in some of their traditional interpretations of Scripture is somehow tied to a progressive view of history as an ever-evolving, ever-improving process. One can make careful, reasoned conclusions about controversial matters of the Christian faith and not do so with an attitude of “rank arrogance.” Just as we must not suggest that those of more traditional persuasions are (necessarily) ignorant “troglodytes,” so also we must not assume that those of differing persuasions are (necessarily) mindless, quasi-Marxist liberals.

    That’s my final “two cents,” I think. 🙂

  12. elderj

    To your final point, I agree. One can certainly make such reasoned careful conclusions as you suggest. Unfortunately both for the “Church” and for Christian scholarship, this is all too seldom the case.

    As to your other observations; please know that I agree wholeheartedly with your statement that all humans experience life in an embodied (and therefore sexed) and encultered way. These are to be acknowledged and indeed celebrated without, as both of us would agree, using them as tools to elevate one above another. Again, it is unfortunate that this seldom occurs, which was the proximate cause of this discussion — the inclusion of woman as woman, or minorities as minorities in academia.

    Reconciliation is the Christian way and reconciliation presupposes an antagonistic relationship of some kind. The antagonistic relationship that is between God and Man is the penultimate example of course. All others are much less so. I reject the presupposition however that men qua men are oppressors and women qua women are oppressed. Everyone is an outsider to someone else’s insider status, so generally when this language is used, it refers to a particular kind of insider/outsider status, that is that which is political power, whether in the government or church or elsewhere. It is for this reason that it carries the overtones of marxism in which everything is reduced to the struggle of classes inherently and constantly antagonistic to another. If we follow his road, we will end at his destination. And that is not how we learned Christ, nor were taught of him.

  13. John Stackhouse

    Thanks, gang. Let’s continue this conversation on academic hiring under the new blog post I have put up.

    If any of you have some other angle of response to this post, please carry on.

  14. Peggy

    Thanks for this article and for your support of the sisters. It is a long battle and there are still too many men and women who don’t get it. Thanks for being one of the ones who does.


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