As a child, I somehow knew that men and women had different roles. I was never explicitly told, but my job - my role - was to care for my brother, watch over my cousins when we were out, and help in the kitchen. I was expected to be quiet, calm and sensible - a lady. I learnt to be a host from a very young age, and while I don’t regret learning this skill, there was a noticeable difference between the way I was raised and what my brother was expected to do.
And, this difference became more noticeable when I travelled to see family in Egypt. I saw that the dynamics between men and women were significantly distinct, with women needing to be overseen by their fathers, brothers and husbands. One night, my male cousins and I decided we would go to the local club, and as I went to get ready, he followed me into my room. I was told that he needed to approve what I wore, which to me was a foreign idea. It had been years since even my parents were able to influence what I wore. It was subsequently explained to me that the reason for this was should another male make a comment about my clothing, he would be honour bound to defend me through a physical altercation and therefore was trying to protect me and also prevent a fight. It opened my eyes to a different world and, although I experienced some of this in my own life, the nature, culture and roles of women in Egypt in comparison to men is foreign to our Western ideals.
From my understanding of the times of the Bible, my and my cousins experiences as women are nothing in comparison to the women who are spoken about. Women were seen as possessions who were "sold" to their husbands. Their job was to bear children - more specifically sons. They could not own property, they had limited rights in the home and society and what we would classify as domestic violence these days was tolerated within this society (for more details and sources regarding the culture of the Israelites and Jews see here, here and here). This world was noticeably different to our own.
In church, we are currently exploring four different women who are mentioned in the bible as we lead up to Mothers Day. This week, Rob preached about Deborah who was the leader of the Israelites during a challenging time in their history. Rob spoke clearly about how, although not a military leader - she lead the Israelites to freedom through her faith in God. She stepped over and above her position and role in her culture and God blessed her for it. Her story is inspirational, encouraging and her faith and belief is one we should aim to mimic.
And yet, as I write this blog - this is not what I want to talk about. For me, I want to take a step back. For me, before we explore these amazing women, there is a more foundational question we need to ask.
Considering the time and culture that the Israelites and Jews lived in,
Why are women talked about at all?
What do I mean? As we discussed above, the culture of the time of the Bible was significantly different. It would not have been strange for women to be omitted at all - or to only be referenced as an aside when necessary or to support a story regarding men (for example, Bathsheba and her relationship to David [2 Samuel 11]). But instead, the Bible discusses women taking actions beyond their place in society and stresses their role in God's purpose. For example, Rahab - a non-Israelite woman and prostitute - is not shunned for her job, but is uplifted for saving two of the Israelites against her King (Joshua 2). Ruth, a Moabitess, has an entire book written about her (Ruth) and both Ruth and Rahab are referenced in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:5) - something unheard of at that time. After his death, Jesus first appeared to women - not men (Mark 16:1-6). What does this mean? How do we explain this?
Now, while I recognise that I am no theologian, as a woman, my interpretation is simple. I believe that God is communicating to us a very simple message. We matter. Women's stories, our lives, matter. It sounds obvious, right? Of course women matter. And yet, we are currently being confronted by the reality that the environment women are experiencing in the western world is still full of challenges. We only need to look into the media - the #metoo movement - and the reports of sexual harassment in schools, Parliament and our workplaces to see this. Personally, I am struggling with the fact that government is only now passing legislation stating that sexual harassment is an immediately fireable offence. A confronting reality of the COVID situation is that there has been a significant increase in the amount of domestic violence within households and we are still developing strategies to support the overwhelming majority of women who experience this. To be clear, I do not believe that society is being malicious or intentionally harmful to women; rather our history, our experiences, have not internationally prioritised the needs of women and as a society we are only beginning to become aware of this.
But God, God has a different message for us. God is showing us through the bible that we need to consider, respect and honour women. Their stories are just as important as those of the men in the bible. And we need to demonstrate this in our lives.
So, this week. I encourage you - whether you are male or female - to reflect on the inherent assumptions you have. The unconscious biases you act upon. I am not judging you for having them, but take notice of them. Are they reflecting God's message to us, or are they inadvertedly not? If not, what can you do to change them? Reflect on Deborah's story, in Judges 4-5, and ask God - what do I need to learn here and live differently as a result?
And as I finish up, remember that no matter your actions and your past, God loves you and is here to guide and support you to become just like Jesus. What an incredible hope for us all!!!
- Written by Ashleigh Crosilla.