“Men, let’s meet after service you know church anniversary is coming and we need money”
“Sisters, don’t forget our meeting on Saturday, we have to clean the church for our coming anniversary”
Before I finally stopped going to church, I attended a number of churches and announcements like the ones above were commonplace in these churches. The prevailing belief was that men should handle financial responsibilities and some hard labor that were not fit for women while women handle cooking and cleaning, activities that are not fit for men. This division of labor though coming from a place of love, is sexist and problematic as are many of the beliefs around gender relations in church.
I wrote about benevolent sexism in two articles here and here but given that sexist attitudes are embedded in larger belief systems and that the church is one of the strongest social institutions that create and justify sexist beliefs, it is important that we examine examples of benevolent sexism in the church.
Examples of Benevolent Sexism in Church
- Women are our mothers, sisters, daughters. And caretakers
- Don’t worry, the women will handle the cooking for the anniversary. After all they are our mothers.
Not sure this qualifies as benevolent sexism because it looks more to me like hostile sexism but I’m including it
- Men should provide for the family, men are natural providers, etc.
- Men need respect, women need love.
I don’t even know how this one can make sense to anybody. Who doesn’t want to be respected? Who doesn’t want to be loved?
- Women are higher moral agents than men
- Sisters please help our brothers, cover your hair and body properly when coming to church, don’t lead them into sin.
I have to talk a little bit about this one because it enables victim blaming and contributes to the prevalence of rape culture. When we say things like this, we are in essence saying that women are somehow responsible for men’s sexual behavior and misbehavior which is not only wrong and unfair but extremely problematic.
Also, with this narrative, we are essentially saying that men have no self-control and this is just ridiculous because in the same church circles, men are supposed to be the stronger vessel, the shield and protector.
- Submission rhetoric. Woman, submit to your husband. Eph 5
This is not part of benevolent sexism because there is nothing remotely positive about reducing yourself for another’s ego all the time but I had to mention it.
Some of the examples above might seem harmless enough to the unsuspecting eye but when you look closely, you will see that these behaviors feed into the larger framework of patriarchy that has been oppressive to women over the years.
For example, saying women are our mothers, sisters, daughters feeds directly into the idea that women are an addendum to men, not whole human beings in their own right but an extra to men, for men. Also, the women are our caretakers narrative has been used to justify women doing a disproportionate amount of domestic labor which is largely unpaid while men have enough free time to pursue paid labor and status which ultimately leads to men holding economic power over women.
Regardless of the kind intentions, benevolent sexism has negative consequences for women which include undermining women’s autonomy, enabling rape culture, fostering self-doubt in women’s abilities, fostering reluctance to protect themselves and feelings of helplessness in women.
At the end of the day, these attitudes are borne out of the belief that women are somehow less than men, less competent, less logical or reasonable, and this is the same belief that’s been used for years to justify misogyny and patriarchy.
Ideally, I should not end this article without including some of the ways to avoid benevolent sexism but I’m sure a good number of church folks don’t care about stuff like this and the ones who care can figure this out on their own so I’ll leave them to it.
Best of luck!