Gender equality: secular and sacred
When I think of gender equality I think of the juxtaposition of the secular and the sacred. There is now a conversation across political parties, in the media and community in Australia about gender equality. This has come about due to the low representation of women in the Federal Liberal Party. In the country of a “fair go” are women with the same capability and qualifications as men getting a “fair go” in the workplace?
Looking at the evidence there is still a way to go before gender equality is realised. To begin with there is a gender pay gap. Australian women must work and extra 56 days a year to earn the same pay as men for doing the same work. Then there’s the flow on effect that women accumulate less superannuation then men and have fewer choices as they age. Many women pensioners today in Australia, live in poverty. Single women, 60 years and over are in the lowest income earning category. Yes, these are the issues I contemplate in retirement! My life is not all about cooking and chickens!
Gender inequality is nothing new. But what is new is that we have the facts to back up the conversation. In 2017 Australia was ranked 35th on a global index measuring gender equality, moving from 15th place in 2006. But it is not merely satisfactory enough to have the conversation. There must be policy changes and attitudinal changes to address gender inequality.
How did we get to this point where there is so much gender inequality? It did not happen in the last decade or even the last century, it dates back centuries. I have a theory that the Christian church is responsible for much of the inequality women still experience today? It is summed up in one word – patriarchy.
I have spoken to women in secular work and those who work in the church. Many women I have spoken to believe they have achieved gender equality. However, when you look at the facts there is still a way to go both in the secular and sacred domains. In the sacred domain there is a strong conservative seam of orthodoxy that promotes equality in God but not equality in function. The issue of equality for women in the church has become an esoteric quagmire impenetrable only by those who are biblical scholars – the so-called “experts.” They are trained in Biblical interpretation, they are well-educated in the Greek and Hebrew, and they are influencing the thinking of theological students and praxis across the globe. In the Roman Catholic Church, they are known as the magisterium, which consists solely of men. Women cannot be ordained as priests nor can they function in the sacramental role. The fact that women do not have the same equality as men is illegitimately based on supposed Biblical authority. In all my research it just does not exist in the text found in the Christian Bible. The text has been misinterpreted.
In the evangelical tradition the role of women in the church has been built around an ontological understanding of God based on the Doctrine of the Trinity. A Doctrine based on the presupposition that there is Biblical authority that supports women being in subservience to men based on the pattern within the Godhead. Women and men who sanction the Doctrine of the Trinity as giving men entitlement to have authority over women are living within the paradigm of patriarchy. I call this the normative paradigm and within the paradigm are belief systems that do not support gender equality. Often it is subjective and subliminal.
The paradigm of patriarchy promotes that women in the sacred domain are equal before God but not equal in role or function. When questioned, weaknesses are evident in exegetical arguments when patriarchal scholarship refers to the Word of God as the source of Biblical authority for gender inequality. It is continually reinforced that the Holy Bible states that women are to submit to men. The argument is that as it is God ordained, it cannot change. Therefore, gender inequality remains central in patriarchal thinking. As I see it, patriarchal scholars are engaged in a relationship of pacta sunt servanda – the Latin term meaning “pacts must be respected”. Such pacts are centuries old. Through the efforts of such scholarship, including women and men, I have concluded that a normative paradigm of patriarchy is sustained, although illegitimately.
Women in the secular domain are still trying to break through the “glass ceiling” to achieve gender equality. While the women in the church have an even greater task ahead of them as they try to break through the “stained-glassed ceiling” or as I prefer to call it the “marble ceiling”.
In the church the quest for equal rights for women is often seen by male leaders and even women as a secular feminist evil which will only undermine church authority. Women want freedom of choice, gender equality without limitations, as well as the opportunity to participate fully in both secular and sacred domains. There is still much work to do to shift the gender prejudices that have existed for centuries. Hence, the pathway to achieve gender equality is rocky, but one that must be tread!