About a month ago a group of construction workers started screaming inappropriate comments to me as I was walking into my office. I pretended I didn’t hear them. The more I walked the angrier I got. I am a 31-year-old Professor of Communication. Why did I feel an instinctive need to normalize their behavior when I literally lecture on how females are trained to systematically mute themselves in order to not disrupt male patriarchy? I have every tool at my disposal that should prepare me to confront this parking lot loser, and yet instead I walked briskly passed them pretending I had a phone call. It took me about 6 minutes to decide I had time for this. I introduced myself as Dr. Day to their foreman, and made sure he was aware that this was a University campus, with young women perhaps more vulnerable than I, who may like to walk to their classes without being harassed.
This is the world we live in and it doesn’t matter how educated you are, how old you are, or how many kids you have, a woman will experience sexual harassment just for being a woman. Oh and by the way, #churchtoo.
A friend of mine preached recently. She’s young, and vibrant and has an incredibly gentle spirit. She wants to be a pastor and I think she’ll make a great one. After her message many of the church members asked her to come back. She stayed for potluck at their insistence and before leaving she ran back to the sanctuary to collect her things. A man followed her, and proceeded to tell her that not only could she not be a pastor because of her gender, but also that she was dressed indecently. Her dress was long and modest, but it didn’t have sleeves. This man didn’t think that she looked holy enough apparently to minister to his congregation, and instructed her not to come back unless she was dressed appropriately. She was mortified, and through tears, apologized for her dress.
When she called me and told me what happened, I was seething. In my early twenties I too thought I should be a pastor. I took a couple semesters worth of coursework at the seminary before deciding I wasn’t saved enough to survive church ministry as a woman. Now, I do have female friends who are sharp, and educated, and tactful, and who handle situations like this with grace and poise, and I thank GOD for their work. But for myself, as a married woman, and mother of 3, when men feel the need to comment on my dress after a sermon, I feel the need to remind them of the work God is clearly still trying to do in them.
If a female’s arms are so sexualized in your mind, that you can’t listen to her share the gospel without getting hot and bothered, could we perhaps pause and reassess whose problem this is? I am all for the “stumbling block” concept, but let’s be reasonable. A man who would follow a 22-year-old girl INSIDE THE SANCTUARY after she just poured her heart into a sermon, should have every elder laying hands on him trying to get that demonic spirit out. How much porn have you watched that you can’t sit in church and hear the gospel without thinking about sex? The problem probably isn’t my dress, or hers, it’s your browser and I think we are allowing our churches to be unsafe places for women if we don’t call out this misogynistic behavior.
Studies show that when men see women, AND when women see women, we see a mismatch of body parts. Rather than see a whole person, our first instincts are to see breasts, legs, hair, thighs, eyes, and butts. We compartmentalize women based on their bodies and it’s disturbing. Scientists have found that 96% of the medias sexual imagery is of women’s bodies. Objectification is rampant in our sex obsessed culture, and our churches are no different.
Objectification is when we train ourselves to see men as people who have sex, and women as people who have sex done to them. Pornography has a huge hand in how this all has happened. With the introduction of pornography we have completely found ourselves in a culture where men are sexual subjects, and women are sexual objects. This type of thinking leads us to live in a world where men have power, and women do not. Men get jobs often based on how they think, while women still have to read articles that reference the importance of how they look, even in the workplace. 80% of our political offices are held by men. Men are in power in virtually every industry in the world, despite the fact that there are more female workers.
This type of cultural paradigm has brought us to social media, where girls are taught to self-objectify. The only problem is that when we treat ourselves as objects, we lose our humanness. Studies have found that when girls self-objectify it lowers self-esteem, it lowers cognitive skills, it creates sexual dysfunction in relationships, it destroys body image. It is interesting because we post photos of ourselves in order to feel pretty and valued, and yet we lower our self-esteem. For goodness sakes the average woman monitors her body every 30 seconds and no that was not a typo!
My dress isn’t what makes me holy and you can say the name of God without knowing Him. We need women in ministry because 1 in 3 children today are growing up without dads, and so for many people, the female voice may be the only one they can feel safe trusting. I want our church leadership to challenge any men who would make their pews uncomfortable for female speakers and listeners. Jesus Himself made a whip, and drove the bad guys out of His house. If we want to rebuild the church, and stop the mass exodus of young people, we need men and women who are willing to fight for the vulnerable and bring darkness to light. Please remember, when you objectify the female body, you are revealing your own spiritual nakedness. The gospel can help all of us, but not if we aren’t honest about how much we need it.
Thanks for coming to my TED talk.
Dr. Heather Thompson Day is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Andrews University. She is the author of five Christian books, including “Life After Eden,” and writer for The Spilled Milk Club. You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.