You Might be an Oppressed Christian Woman If …

Collage art by Me!

I get emails week after week from women who have read my book, Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church. They tell me their stories of how they are unraveling their identity from the grip of patriarchal Christianity—not from Jesus, but from a version of faith that keeps women in second-class status.

There are other women I know who are not comfortable that I use the word oppression. It’s a heavy-duty word. It kept popping up in the writing process of Unladylike which worried me. Maybe I’m being too harsh? Too dramatic? Women sold in slavery, that’s oppressive. But a woman told she can’t preach? Is that oppressive, too?

I met up with a group of wise, older women I know. We get together every few months to sort out together the things we are reflecting on. We call ourselves the Patina Sisters.  At one gathering at my friend Jane’s house, I threw it out there as we sat around the fire pit in Jane’s garden. “Am I going overboard using the word oppression? Is it an overstatement?”

The group lit into conversation pretty quick. “No, I don’t think so. I felt oppressed when I was told in seminary I couldn’t be a pastor because of my girl parts,” said one woman. “And what is oppression?” she continued. “It’s when power is used against someone to hold them back from being who they are. There are all kinds of acts of oppression. Some are just more obvious than others.”

We talked at length, my Patina Sisters and I, about the covert presence of oppression almost invisible in many churches we were familiar with. Such as the many big churches in our area that do so much good that the banning of their women from the pulpit or positions of spiritual authority seems mundane in comparison. It can be quite a mind shift for a woman in a social-justice driven church to realize that she is being oppressed in her beloved faith tribe

How can a woman know if she is being oppressed or not? In the spirit of comedienne Jeff Foxworthy’s famous You Might Be a Redneck comedy routine, I want to give you,

You Might Be an Oppressed Christian Woman If …

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if women are blocked from pastoral roles in your church.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you only see men in preaching from the pulpit.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if when you want to talk to your pastor about a concern you have, he asks to see your husband instead.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if your church teaches you that God created you to submit to male leadership.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you think it’s ok that women submit and that God created you to serve men’s leadership.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you are convinced that your life is not fulfilled unless you get married and have children.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you don’t trust your own opinions, but seek validation from male figures to affirm your ideas.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you are concerned that you are self-centered just because you’d like to teach or preach.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you feel secret shame for wanting to have more voice in your faith community.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if when you do speak up about equality and are hushed you retreat back into your feminist closet.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you feel guilty for wanting equality with men.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you feel like a failure because you are not a submissive woman or wife.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you worry that your loud personality is unbecoming for a woman of God.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you dumb yourself down in order to not outshine the men in your church.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you think the Bible teaches that women are designed to serve male leadership rather than live as equal partners.

You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you are reading this and think that equality is a heretical doctrine that is polluting the church.

If you think you might be an oppressed Christian woman I hope you’ll do something about it. You don’t have to remain oppressed. There is a holy wind of change gusting up across the globe, the church included, where women are being agitated to shake off being less than because of their vaginas. It is unjust. It is oppressive. It is not how Jesus treated women. The way churches treat women today does not match how Jesus treated women.

I hope you’ll pass this on!

What other You might be an oppressed Christian woman  would you add to this list?


You Might be an Oppressed Christian Woman If … — 20 Comments

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  2. You might be an oppressed Christian woman if you are told you cannot vote in church business meetings, because your husband is your voice. And if you were a single woman, you just didn’t get a vote, but if you were a single man, your vote was welcomed.

    True story.

    • Kimber…
      Totally believe this is a true story, for it is unfortunately not a unique story but all too common.

      It definitely is oppressive to a woman’s voice and identity. This has got to change and women are the ones to change it! We cannot wait for permission to use our voice or embody the fullness of who we are. That would simply feed the oppression, waiting for some other to allow us to Be. Women discover our freedom and God-breathed power when we shed the patriarchal cloaks put upon us and instead walk Stripped In Who We Are by our own volition. This is the revolution we need and one that I believe we are witnessing as women around the world are finding their #ROAR !!

      Thanks for commenting. Tell me you are no longer at this church!

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  4. As a guy, my comment may need special “vetting” to qualify as legit. But I’d offer this one: You know you are an oppressed Christian woman if male infidelity is justified as being a wife’s failure (due, of course, to her not “keeping herself up” for him). I’ve heard it, I’ve read it. You ladies decide if it fits.

    • If your comment needing vetting that’d just be oppression in the other direction.

      I am shocked that that has ever been preached. In the UK, most Christian ladies (in my experience) are make-up free and dressed in what’s practical or comfortable, rather than what looks ‘attractive’ or ‘sexy’. Not that the few who do wear make-up are right or wrong, or that the comfortably-dressed ladies look awful (gracious I could dig myself a hole if I wasn’t careful). It is the one thing that sets apart Christian ladies – they’re more ok with just being themselves, without embellishment. Sometimes the things I’ve heard have been said in the name of the gospel sound more like things you’d expect from the Taliban.

      Doesn’t the Talmud say something about a man’s duty to ‘please’ his wife and keep her ‘satisfied’?

      • @Sandy, yeah, in the States we have so much messaging on outward appearance that even the image of a “good christian woman” has become informed by the cultural pressures of flawless beauty and then the church adds to it “flawless spirituality.” Women are born into a culture that shames us and then born again in to church culture that shames us further. plus, there was an internet dust up a while back when a high profile minister fell into sexual sin and another high profile minister responded by warning xtian women to “not let themselves go” or their husbands could succumb to temptation, too.

        Ick. I kid you not!

        We still have a long ways to go to humanizing Christ following women (and men) as flawed human beings living under the banner of grace.

        • Ah. I saw something on youtube where that same high profile minister (read about it on another blog) takes one single bible verse, gives a deliberately partisan reading of it, and then proceeds to use it as the reason women should not work and men should. If anyone with even a moderate intelligence knows the verse in context, they know it’s nothing to do with what he said. It’s like those people who use the NT for antisemitism. It makes me angry when people in positions of authority deliberately distort things and it means their motives are other than truth and love. God is love. Anything less than love is not God. Here endeth the lesson LOL

          • @sandy, the lens of patriarchy distorts EVERYTHING! In his wonderful book, The Gender Knot, author Alan Johnson does a brilliant job unraveling the patriarchal trail and showing us the deep rootedness of it throughout the cultures of the world — Christian culture included (unfortuantely).

            The Bible is used to oppress many people. (know anyone gay for example?) It is what agitates me the most to be a vocal resister. The distortion of the benevolent God I trust exists, and the use of our faith’s sacred writings to support oppression of another. This sh*t has got to stop! (pardon my cussing. i get a little rowdy with my words when i get emotional, though i did show some restraint there by no dropping the almighty f bomb! LOL)

            Thanks for adding to the discussion Sandy…and so good to hear from you in my email box. Loved your story!

    • @jon, of course it does not fit!! This perspective is straight up from a patriarchal view of women and of marriage. It takes the responsibility off the male to control himself and remain faithful and puts it onto the shoulders of the female. Totally dysfunctional.

      People stray for all kinds of reasons. If a wife has gained weight or lost her hair in chemo or become crippled from an accident, etc …. shall the husband take on a mistress? This is archaic and demeaning to the wife as well as the marriage, reducing the woman to mere property to please her master. It is unfortunate that this oppressive attitude continues to thrive in many cultures around the world including huge pockets of Christendom, the one culture that is meant to be most freeing for both male and female.

      Thanks for adding this thought, Jon. And the book is on the way!

  5. You might be an oppressed Christian woman if when you do speak up men are the ones telling you that your wrong, or that they are sorry you views are so far ‘left’. You might be an oppressed woman when you are told that your passion and fight for equality of all is not biblical because your stance means homosexuals and women’s reproductive rights.

    • @Bridget, ugh. So not right that you have to endure this kind of resistance to owning your convictions but THANK YOU that you do!! Young women like you are the future and the present and you are helping undo the past of the sisterhood with each stand against injustice that you insist upon. YES! I will support you any way I can! There is a better day coming. I know it when I meet women like YOU!

  6. Yes, the word oppression is correct. After all, if the same things were said to someone purely because of their skin colour, that would be oppression. Oppression is like bullying, or spousal abuse. It begins with seemingly small things, and gradually grows. It’s the thin end of fascism (yes, I mean that).

    I’d add to the list: You might be an oppressed Christian woman if your fiance tells you that you must promise to say ‘obey’ in the wedding vows, and proceeds to make sure you know exactly what the ‘biblical order of marriage’ is every day of your married life, when ‘submission’ becomes an excuse to dominate and bully.

    I’d also say the thing about fulfilment coming through marriage and children is cultural, not just a Christian thing. We have such nonsensical ideals for women even throughout secular society – be sexy (and sexually available), be glamorous, be flawless, be skinny, be a ‘career woman’, be a breastfeeding, organically-grown ‘yummy mummy’… as a woman, I am expected to be all things to all people except *who I am*, which in Christian terms is ‘who God created me to be’, unless the Parable of the Talents does not apply to women. Deep breath, rant over 😉

    • @Sandy, great rant!

      So crazy but true about the marriage thing. Did that happen to you?

      I had a hard time calling it out as oppression. A decade ago I would not have been able to. I would have thought it harsh and judgmental and undeserving.

      WhatI have since discovered is that it is far more harsh and damaging to keep women marginalized and convince them it’s God’s will. Of course this is not on purpose, yet the culture of patriarchy that so long ago infested the church to such an extent that it is accepted as normal and healthy and even defended. You and I are the heretics. We are in good company. Jesus was considered a heretic as he agitated the religious traditions that distorted the image of. God.

      Thanks for your comment ! If you haven’t read my book, I invite you to do so. It will agitate you some more!

  7. Great list, Pam.

    And when oppression is really reaching an additional danger point is when we, Father or Mother, are teaching of modeling any of the above for our daughters!

    We also need to recognize then “oppression” is sometimes more comfortable than speaking up and we need to think that though as well. Please don’t take that last thought as blaming the oppressed for their oppression, I just recognize it takes courage, action and risk to break from oppression

    We need to be i this together, men and women.

    • @Al, agreed!!! Staying in a familiar place–even if that place is squashing me down — is easier than breaking free and figuring out where to go from here. It is much easier and less disruptive to get along rather than ask questions or dispute religious systems. Asking questions gets people riled up. And we like to avoid conflict, at least I do.

      Thanks for your comment!

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