Peace Corps has caused Kirsten and me to think a lot about sexism. We have a GLOW club (leadership club for young women), and in the club curriculum we encourage female students to consider jobs that are traditionally done by men. Then it occurred to us: why are we encouraging women to try doing “men’s work,” but we are not encouraging men to appreciate traditional “women’s work?” Boys often say that women should raise the children because they are better at it and they produce milk. To the western world that is terrible, but what if it is true? What if the real reason that those statements are sexist is not because it generalizes women’s roles, but because of the implication that it must be a less important task because women perform it better? In reality, what task is more important than raising the children who will be the leaders of the future?
If societies believed that raising children was the most important job, above doctors, lawyers, and CEOs, then to say that it is a “woman’s job” would no longer be considered sexist against women, but it would be a testament to the greatness of women. Men would then appreciate their wives and reward them for what they do. Then we would be encouraging young men to rise to the top of society by trying to do work that is traditionally for women.
We acknowledge that there is not gender equality, but that doesn’t mean that all women should be more like men, or that all men should be more like women. Each individual should be appreciated for their specific set of skills and passions.
We looked at some Biblical passages that are commonly viewed as sexist to see if these same ideas applied. Women in the Bible are encouraged to be quiet, gentle, and submissive. This happens to be the exact definition for “meek.” These were not considered bad qualities before western culture decided that only the loudest, most aggressive, and stubbornly selfish people have any value. Jesus called everyone to be meek, including men. In fact, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the Earth.” We tend to say that these passages are sexist because they say women should be meek. However, what if the real sexism is that we believe that being meek is only a weakness because it is a common trait in women?
Jesus said only one time to go out and teach about Christianity, and we call it the Great Commission. Who decided that it was the greatest task, to be held above all others? Is it just that preaching is traditionally a man’s job, so it must be the most important?
How many times did Jesus say to take care of widows and orphans? In the Old and New Testaments this is considered the most important act of worship. James 1:27 – “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” Why isn’t that called the Great Commission? Well, that job was done mostly by the women, so it wasn’t valued. And still today it isn’t valued. My wife has an MSW, and as a social worker there are a plethora of jobs that she can do to help orphans and widows, but they have terrible salaries, overburdening workloads, and little appreciation in society. Why? Because it’s “women’s work,” so it is significantly undervalued and unappreciated.
Even joining the Peace Corps was my wife’s idea. In fact, 63% of Peace Corps Volunteers are women. A large part of American society does not value the Peace Corps and thinks that it is full of aimless young drifters, or touchy-feely do-gooders (which is, for some reason, a negative quality.) They think that Foreign Aid is largely a waste of taxpayer dollars. Of course, the US Military budget is more than 1,500 times the Peace Corps budget. Soldiers are seen as heroes. They are brave and strong. They get paid at least 7 times the salary of a PCV (which is still a small amount.) They are also 85% male.
Both groups are serving overseas to promote peace. One group uses education and friendship, while the other uses power and armed force. Which is more valued? Well, according to the US budget, the “manlier” method of promoting peace is 1,500 times more valuable than the “feminine” method. I want to clarify that I have a lot of respect for our Soldiers, Airmen, Sailors, and Marines. I only wonder why a man who drops a bomb in Syria is a hero, while a woman who helps a mother in Rwanda feed her starving children is not.
I don’t believe that work should be gender specific, but I also think that women should not be ashamed or devalued for doing “women’s work,” if it is what they want to do. I know that my wife is more compassionate than I am, and she is quicker to care for anyone in need. I believe that these traits are more common in women than in men. When I read about grassroots development and what happens when you give money to a woman versus giving money to a man, it is the same result almost every time. The man spends it on himself, while the woman spends it on her children. I believe that women’s tendencies to put others first is truly the best trait that a person can have.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” -Phil. 2:3-4
I know it will be difficult, but in the future I will strive to do more of the enormously valuable work that is traditionally reserved for women because it is the work that will make me a better person and make the world a better place, even if I am only able to do a fraction of what my wife can do.
My hope is that you take a few minutes today to appreciate the hardworking women in your life.