Friday, 24 April 2009

Women only?

I received an email recently from a woman who said she didn't like groups for women only. And to some extent I agree.

Gender is not the most important factor in life, and I'm not defined by it. Among my dislikes I would include some events which are advertised for women: gatherings of women for worship or Bible study, when they seem to constitute a parallel universe where women can operate.

One of my colleagues wonders why at Men's breakfasts (for businessmen), cooked breakfast is served, while for 'Ladies' breakfasts' (which are not usually for business women, but for stay at home mums), it's continental breakfast!

I've been reading an article which notes that often events for Christian women focus on fashion, women's emotions, crafts, diet and exercise. This is where I part company. I want to learn about leadership and vision, being a godly leader, Bible study, green issues, and how to think Christianly about our society.

I love Catherine Booth's characteristically blunt comment: 'It would be a happy day in England when Christian women turn their attention from poodles and terriers to the poor and destitute.' The things that matter.

What I sometimes need too, though, is a safe space to explore where as a woman I find the church, and sometimes other Christians, a challenge. I relish the groups where I sometimes feel I can be more myself, and find help and support from other women.

What do you think?


Rachel said...

I could not agree with you more on this, Rosie. Every time I come across the split, something in me silently protests.
The conferences directed at the men are the ones which I would prefer to go to, in my imagination I consider going in disguise but this just ends up making me chuckle to think of it.

Karen Freeman said...

It's a Mary v. Martha thing... !

jody said...

rachel :) - we could go as the 118 men with moustaches if you like...

rosie, as you know, i generally do not like segregated ministries - both on a personal level (fluffy bunnies for the women, rock climbing for the men - urgh) and feeling alienated by the formalisation that christian women should 'look like this'.

but also on a corporate/theological level - i believe that we are nourished by being together (male and female, he created them), i think we become malnourished if we segregate ourselves, certainly formally and certainly if it is a frequent thing in our churches.

it is perpetuating this 'system of things' which must move on to the 'new system'.


this question always comes up - women are more able to open up to women, men to men, etc: so perhaps formalised men and women ministries are valid?

i have to reflect on this more, and listen to other women on this too, however, my own experience is that i have friends who are men and women and can open up to them because they are my friends. and there are women with whom i would keep my mouth firmly clamped shut, and men with whom i would do the same.

but it would be interesting to see what others think.

oh, just one more thing, sorry for the long comment. i think we need to see the difference between the 'informal' and the 'formal' - so naturally i may meet up with my female friends, informally we are a segregated group, however nowhere do we have a 'manifesto' that states to belong to our friendship group you have to be a woman and that to be the 'right kind of woman' you need to be a certain type (who likes, as you say, 'poodles and terriers')

when this is formalised, suddenly you are intentionally alienating both men, and women who do not 'fit'.


Kate said...

Hey guys, great post & great comments - food for thought! I agree in general with what's been said about 'separate' groups & tend to find them stifling & irritating! Too much perpetuation of stereotypes for my liking! And I agree with Jody that we must learn from each other & that we are only a 'whole' group when we are together as men & women. And yet... I do find something helpful about being in an all-women prayer cell. Not exclusively, but occasionally. So perhaps we need to hold on to both but keep pushing the boundaries too... And have bacon & eggs at the next women's breakfast we go too ;)

Pam said...

Maybe it's a question of 'all may, some should, none must'?

I was participating in women's groups around particular issues (such as childbirth) long before I was a church member, it worked and still works for me.

But I'm terribly aware that if men met in 'nurture groups' etc I would wonder what on earth was going on that they couldn't be open about!

So I'm more comfortable when the focus of the group is by definition an issue that is of particular concern to women.

I'm also very aware that men tend to network with other men, passing on useful information and knowledge almost incidentally - eg the cliche of the game of golf with the boss isn't entirely a cliche - it happens! So I think we need to learn from that and network with other women and with men as well.