Using biblical texts to stereotype women does immense damage to society. Rev Dr Anita Monro explores the overt and subtle consequences of sexism.
Mary, mother of Jesus (the virgin) and Mary Magdalene (the alleged prostitute): that’s how we remember two of the key leaders of the early Christian movement. That kind of stereotyping of women is identifiable throughout history.
Whether it’s the images of “God’s police” and “damned whores” highlighted by Anne Summers in the history of European settlement in Australia, or “the angel in the house” and “the devil’s gateway” depictions found in the writings of certain “church fathers” such as Tertullian, women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
Why does it matter? Because it’s that kind of stereotyping that undergirds attitudes towards women now. It’s an incredible double-bind.
QUT researcher Sharon Hayes writes about how this kind of stereotyping feeds into domestic violence and sexual assault. She points out that when women occupy public space, they are expected either to acquiesce to the demands of men or else fade into the background. When women raise their voices against such expectations, they are victims of the consequences—from being labelled “feminazis” and “bitches” to physical violence.
The current public awareness campaign seeking to tackle domestic violence addresses this stereotyping by showing just how damaging it is for women to accept whatever is dished out to them in the name of “love”, “boys being boys”, and sporting field banter.
The stereotypes are active in much more subtle ways too. Why is it that the Queensland Synod has only ever elected one woman as moderator? Why aren’t there more presbytery ministers or chairpersons who are women?
As Christians our identities are found in Christ and our baptism into Christ: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3)
If we are to live out our baptism fully, then surely we will be addressing these stereotypes in every aspect of our lives individually, as part of the church community, and as part of our wider society.
Then maybe we will remember Mary, the mother of Jesus, as a strong young woman who bore the son of God (the “theotokos” or God-bearer), and Mary Magdalene as the first witness to the resurrection that she was (John 20).
Rev Dr Anita Monro
Anita Monro is Principal of Grace College which sponsors an annual Women’s Theology Conference. This year’s conference will be held 27 June–1 July with biblical scholar Tina Pippin as guest speaker. For more information visit gcwtc.net
Grace College is a women’s residential college at the University of Queensland. It is a joint activity of the Uniting and Presbyterian churches in Queensland. Visit grace.uq.edu.au