Why Do Men Control, Limit and Oppress Women in the Church? (Pt. 3 The Anthropology) by Haley Myers

part3Find Part 1: The Psychology by Jory Micah

Find Part 2: The Theology by Jory Micah

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(Guest Post by Haley Myers)

In essence, anthropology is the study of all peoples in all times and in all places, and it seeks to answer, along with the other social sciences, what it means to be human. And because we study people, the topics of sex and gender are unavoidable.

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In anthropology, sex and gender are not interchangeable terms. Sex is the biological determination of male or female, while gender is “the meanings assigned to the biological differentiation between the sexes” and is culturally determined (Haviland et al).

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In other words, biology decides man or woman, while culture determines the rules that affect the various aspects of men and women’s lives. This ranges from how they dress, how they relate to members of both the same and opposite sex, and most importantly for this discussion, their roles in society.

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People must meet nutritional, sheltering, and reproductive needs if they are to survive, and each environment presents its unique challenges in the quest for survival. Cultural anthropology looks at the similarities and differences between cultures’ ways of meeting these needs to understand the incredible and beautiful diversity we see today.

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It goes without saying that women everywhere are the ones who give birth, and this seems to be the factor that cultures look at when deciding which people do what. According to archaeologist Robert L. Kelly, gender inequality essentially derives from man’s inability to bear children and the sole reliance of infants on their mothers while breastfeeding.

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When studying culture, it is vital to remember that 1) no culture is better or worse than any other and 2) that nature and nurture are equally important in making us who we are (Ziker, in-class lecture). Remember the “nature versus nurture” debate? Again, go back to the difference between sex and gender.

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Nature says I’m female, and nurture tells me that because I’m female, I have to worry about makeup every morning. In one of my undergraduate courses, my professor talked about how the environment itself conditions for inequality, because in areas where men have a larger role in subsistence—or basically, the obtaining of food—there is more inequality towards women, while in areas where women have a larger role in subsistence, there is less inequality towards women.

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And especially because of the environment, there is rarely true gender equality for women because men are typically granted sole access to the higher-valued resources, which excludes women from the opportunities and prestige that result from this access.

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Typically, women have more of a role in subsistence in areas of greater biodiversity. The tropics are a great example of this because there are many different plant and animal resources that can be used. Contrast this with extreme deserts or the Arctic, where there are few plant and animal resources available.

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In the first example, everyone can more easily contribute to the society than in the latter example simply because the amount of resources are more numerous. So, theoretically, men and women are more likely to have an equal contribution to subsistence, all other things being equal. (Note: All other things are very rarely equal; men usually still have sole access to some resource(s) that is highly valued).

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In the latter example, because there are fewer subsistence opportunities, men usually have to provide for the food because of both the skills (that women aren’t taught or can’t practice because of their childbearing responsibilities) and the risk involved (that women with children can’t always take). So because of the prescribed gender roles, men have access to the highly-ranked resources, which sets them apart and up from women.

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So now apply this concept to the Church. Christians know of their vital need to be spiritually fed if they wish for their faith to survive. The Church lives in an extreme environment with few available resources. It is my own opinion that this is not out of necessity, but out of choice in the effort to set ourselves apart from our neighbors, and in order to do so, we severely limit the resources given to us. But typically our resources are limited only to the Bible and the Church.

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Thankfully, everyone can read the Bible and everyone can attend church. But of the two resources, I would argue that the Church is more culturally important because it provides the framework (or the “culture”) in which the Bible is interpreted and applied, and it therefore further provides the ways in which we read, interpret, and apply the Bible for ourselves. Right now, men have the only access in the Church’s leadership—particularly preaching—which is the equivalent of them having sole access to the pantry.
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Our religious upbringing and our churches tell us what is right and what the Bible means. Because of men’s exclusive access to this central resource, we have provided an environment that is conducive to gender inequality.
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Granted, there are some churches that do allow women to be elders, deacons, or even preachers. Most of the churches that I’ve attended throughout my life have had a woman be in charge of the music and/or children’s ministries. But because of the centuries in the Church’s history that limited women within the Church’s organization, there is still a lot of hesitancy and dare I say fear behind the inclusion of women into the actual theological leadership.
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Think about how the Church prioritizes its activities. In my experience, the Sunday morning service are the most important part of what the Church does. It’s when all of the members and visitors can gather together and worship as a community. Then come the various women’s and men’s ministries. These are still important, but the Church doesn’t give them the emphasis they do on the Sunday morning service. Finally come the children’s ministries, which are oftentimes conveniently timed to match the adults’.
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It’s great that men, women, and children are given a time to explore their faith with people their own age (for children) or sex (for adults), but when we prohibit women from ever having a place in the (supposedly) most important part of the Church’s activities, are we really saying that we equally value all members of the Church? By giving the platform only to men on Sunday mornings, we are telling women that their contributions to the Church are less important than those of men.

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Anthropology and history show that patriarchy has always had some kind of influence in society. But anthropology has also shown that culture is always changing. We, as members of the Church, do not have to continue under this patriarchal regime simply because that’s what we were taught or even because that may be what the pastor preaches. Instead, we can start a new discussion about how we the Church are reflecting Christ to the world and seek to make it a more accurate depiction.

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haley

Haley Myers is a recent graduate from Boise State University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology with Honors. She is passionate about gender equality, human rights, and animal rights. She also enjoys English history, languages,s and hopes to someday travel the world.

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4 Comments

  • Well done Haley! I agree with you that a strong message is on display when women are denied access to full participation Sunday morning. Congrats on your recent graduation!

    • Thanks, Leah! It’s been such an encouragement to me to see so many people who are working hard to give different voices the platform that they deserve despite the obstacles.
      I really appreciate the time you’ve taken in reading and replying 🙂

  • “It is my own opinion that this is not out of necessity, but out of choice in the effort to set ourselves apart from our neighbors, and in order to do so, we severely limit the resources given to us.” Yes, I very much resonate with this!

    Advocating for gender equality is often seen as “caving” to the culture and Christians are called to be “countercultural”. I recently read an essay in Christians for Biblical Equality’s Priscilla Papers by Jennifer McKinney, “Sects and Gender: Reaction and Resistance to Cultural Change”. She comes to a very similar conclusion. “American Christians often have trouble seeing the impact of social and cultural forces on religious institutions and belief structures, leaving them vulnerable to adapting a status quo that shapes, and may even subvert, Christian ideals,.”

    • Thanks, Olivia! I’ll definitely have to look up McKinney’s essay; it sounds great! Thanks for taking the time to read and reply–I really appreciate it 🙂

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