I received 6 years of public school education, 7 years of private school education and 5 years of tertiary education. I hold a degree from one of Australia’s most prestigious universities, paid for by partially scholarships and the remaining with government loans. I chose to start working casually at 16 and I had a fulltime job within a week of graduating university. I am paid on par with my male colleagues and I have access, should I need it, to a range of paid leave. I have requested and received pay increases and I negotiated my pay when I started my current role. I walk past the homeless on my walk home to my clean, spacious apartment in a safe neighbourhood. I worship my God and Saviour Jesus without any fear each week. I have access to subsidised healthcare and the ability to pay for it when my largely healthy body fails me. I could go on. So why do I care about International Women’s Day? Because although the taste of inequality or the voices that I hear to combat it pale in comparison to other women in Australia and around the world, it’s a taste nonetheless. Inequality as a privileged white woman:   From a well-meaning housemate: “You really shouldn’t run that late, particularly around that area. You know what happened [at that bridge], right?” From the guy walking passed me on the street: “Hey, why so sad? You’re beautiful. Smile for me. I’ll make it worth your while.” From the book on my bookshelf and from the stage at conferences: “Don’t let the first salary offer be the one you take. Challenge it. Ask for a rise when you think you add more value to the company than you’re currently receiving in your pay packet.” From the conservative church: “We’d love your help on this…Great idea, please allow us [men] to take it from here.” From the tech in travel conference website: *List of 40 names, 36 men, 4 women* Inequality in Australia and the world: While I’ve experienced ‘cat calls’ and uninvited propositions, the reality is there was a 25% chance one of the women I sat beside in classes at university would be sexually assaulted, harassed or receive unwanted behaviour while studying. But statistically, if she tragically experienced it and courageously reported it, she’d join a whopping <1.5%. Outside those sandstone walls, we have women sexually assaulted in their homes and women forced into prostitution. (2016, The University of Sydney) While I receive equal pay thanks to enterprise bargaining, I share a house with a woman in a very similar role + industry who does not. Queensland women receive 16% less than men as an average of weekly earnings (2017, Workplace Gender Equality Agency). Globally, women are disproportionally represented in low-paying, insecure and undervalued household work (2015, UN Women) While I have the luxury to work in an professional field with a high proportion women, I live in a country where the proportion of women in management drops from 37% in any management role to 16.3% in the C-suite (2015, AFR). Should we jump across to our political scene, women make up only 29% of Australian parliaments (2015, The Guardian). Globally? 23%. (2016, World Bank) While I have a pastor who is willing to boldly speak up for change in the church and society, the Christian church has historically upheld patriarchal structures in their attempt to interpret and practice scripture. It is not uncommon for Australian churches to have little to no women involved in church services or have paid roles within the church at large. Outside Australia and the Christian faith, women are taught to practice more faith-based gender protocols than men. Women are segregated during religious services, restricted from entering particular places of worship or perhaps during menstruation, and unable to take up leadership or instructing roles. Further, practices, largely taught and regulated by men of faith, can involve physical mutilation, non-consensual youth marriage or excommunication for failing to adhere to discriminatory gender-specific teachings. So despite being a privileged white woman, and knowing it’s not just about me, I’m motivated and passionate about this singular day and on the 364 that follow it. Men and women are all made in the image of God and intricately different from each other. However discrimination, harassment and inequality continues to prevail. Today is public reminder of my privilege and reminder to be bold for change.
Hamish Blake made a little Flipagram of his wife Zoe Foster Blake and the literal+figurative hats she regularly wears. Spotify suggested some female artist playlists I may be interested in. Virgin Australia ‘grammed an all women crew who recently flew Sydney-Adelaide. David Jones launched a new ‘At the DJ table’ video content series “featuring an incredible group of Australian women.” The NSW Police Force posted a ‘shout out’ with a photo of women officers marching. My old boss and dear friend posted a pic of the old office crew decked in purple attire. Mike Baird announced the NSW Public Service was now 100% flexible for all senior staff. Sisters are doing it for themselves. On International Women’s Day, we wanted to share this great shot of our all-female flight crew taking the reins on a trip from Sydney to Adelaide recently. A photo posted by Virgin Australia (@virginaustralia) on Mar 7, 2016 at 2:06pm PST My commute and lunchtime social media scroll sessions today were filled with articles, photos, quotes and statements of support for International Women’s Day. And so it should. Today is a day to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievement of women – locally, nationally and globally. It’s been celebrated in varying degrees for more than a century and remains an opportunity to demonstrate how we value 49.6% of our world population, the same proportion who continue to struggle with structural and cultural inequality. It’s also a platform to bring pertinent gender issues to the forefront. Brands, corporations, government and media agencies all celebrated differently. This weekend there were women’s fun runs and triathlons, today there were breakfasts, policy announcements, advertisements, social media posts and editorials. Their support of women was unquestionable. However, there was one key institution absent from the celebrations. The church. I used my lunch break to extensively search the internet – in hope. I trawled through the Facebook and Twitter channels of notable pastors, large churches and Christian organisations. I looked on key websites for opinion editorials or blog articles. I looked for anything or anyone recognising today, even just a humble #internationalwomensday. Here’s what I found: –          Michael Jensen shared this post on the value and role of men and women. ‘For Christians, woman aren’t property or baby makers. We’re witness to the life of Jesus Christ in our bodies…. Posted by Michael Jensen on Monday, March 7, 2016   –          John Dickson took the opportunity to share and challenge the doctrinal position held by the Sydney Anglican Diocese on women preaching. This International Women’s Day might be a good moment to revisit what was once (up until about 1990) the standard… Posted by John Dickson on Monday, March 7, 2016   –          Eternity magazine online re-posted an Open Doors article on women in Iraqi refugee camps.   Nothing from Australia’s largest church Hillsong. (Although it is their second of three women’s conferences today, so I’d be surprised if they didn’t do something with the 5000+ in attendance.) Nothing from some of Sydney’s largest churches. Nothing from my new church in Brisbane. Nothing from the leaders of Australia’s churches. It makes me wonder, why is the church not joining the rest of society in celebrating women? We live in a day that equality is high on the agenda: be it gender, marriage or economic. Further, we live in a day that society is very critical of the church. And for good reason, the church, as an institution, does not have such a great track record with inclusion and transparency. The same sex marriage conversation is evidence enough. The inclusion of ‘to submit’ in marriage vows brought the biblical role of women in marriage into the spotlight a few years ago. And even in February, ABC deemed it newsworthy to publish an article on the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney’s response to a question on gender equality at the annual prefect ceremony. The students were torn in how to reconcile his comments and the empowering words of their teachers, and society. I can understand why. Women make up half the population and close to 60% of the Australian church. Be it conscious or unconscious, the decision for the church to neglect the largest international day celebrating women adds propensity to the argument that the church doesn’t value women equally. See in the church failing to recognise the importance of day, it fails in joining the rest of our society is demonstrating we value and celebrate women and their role in our communities. And while men largely lead the church, a theological conversation I’m not having here, today was an opportunity for men and women. An opportunity for brothers and sisters alike to rally around their sisters past, present and future. Celebrating International Women’s Day is about saying to women “we love, care, appreciate, support and need you”. It’s saying it to every woman as she seeks equality in her life as a daughter, sister, mother, wife, worker, volunteer, teacher, nurse, truck driver, policewoman, children’s worker, pastor, student minister or corporate executive. At a personal level, I know my church values women. When a sister and I raised our frustrations that the past 4 video testimonies at church had been men, my campus pastor said he shared them and knew the next 4 would be women. If only they could be more equally distributed. And again, when deciding on making it my new home church, I shared the lack of women involved in the services bothered me. It concerned him also. He shared the problem was often having enough women willing to be involved. Taking time to celebrate women encourages women to continue on as they are, to look and push for opportunities, to enable (with words of affirmation and training) our sisters to be bold and serve, but also shows young girls to aspire to take active roles in their church. It also encourages our brothers to look to publicly and privately encourage, acknowledge and support women in the church. I hope the church values women, and I mourn the decision of friends to leave the church and the faith because they don’t believe so. But we need to hear it and see it to believe it. Women have played a huge role in the history of the church. Women continue to play a critical role in the church. Literally. Without women the church would more than halve. Celebrating women today shows the future generations that the church does indeed recognise equality of men and women, irrespective of how scripture is interpreted and played out in denominations and individual churches. We need today to remind us we need to pray, encourage, train and nurture women to continue to be active in the church, for Christ’s glory. When I ask the question, ‘why isn’t the church celebrating women?’ I am being deliberately provocative. But we need to be provoked.     As a post-script here are some Christian women I think are worth celebrating today: –          Florence Young, my great great aunt who led evangelistic outreaches to the Polynesian workers at her brothers’ sugar mills, served with China Inland Mission and established the South Sea Evangelical Mission –         Bobbie Houston, Hillsong cofounder who spearhead the Sisterhood ministries changing the way women meet together around the gospel –          Raechel Myers, co founder of She Reads Truth, a daily devotional website used by millions of women (and now men ‘hereadstruth.com’) regularly –      My dear friends A, H, E all currently understand ministry traineeships of various forms   Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
It’s taken me a while to decide whether to publish this because in part it exemplifies the very issue I’m trying to bring to fore. Alas, I have spoken to a few people, prayed and decided I would. If you take issue, bring it up with me – I’d love to talk further. A number of months ago I was chatting with a young single sister- and an older brother-in Christ, one that I respect and have learnt a great deal from. The conversation flowed about the struggles of relationships, singleness, strong-willed women and in jest he commented, “Well as a first year single guy, I would have been intimidated by you both!” I laughed it off and moved on to another topic. I moved on so quickly I missed his apology for his remark. However, my dear friend standing with me went silent. I didn’t notice. We spoke later and she admitted she was hurt by the comment. Today a dear sister shared her anxiety after disagreeing about an action decided upon by a brother she is in a ministry partnership with. Deciding not to speak up, “Mel, I don’t want to intimidate him!” She isn’t interested in him, but still conscious of her actions. I’ve had other conversations of a similar nature. Strong young Christian women confused as to how to live as a disciple-making-disciples, serving in ministries, often in leadership positions, without intimidating the godly young men they meet. I myself have been labelled an “outspoken single adult,” and wondered at the time what to make of the comment. In a wife I might be described as contentious and far from temperate, the exact opposite of what a wife is called to be. I know it’s unhelpful to have a part of the body so confused as to how to respond and so here’s just a small insight into what’s going on inside the intelligent minds and huge hearts of so many young Christian woman. Before setting out on a longer-than-usual drive on Sunday I pulled up The Village Church podcast and saw Matt Chandler’s most recent talks were on women. Strong-willed, judgemental Mel was fired up: ‘Ah a married Southern man talking about the role and downfall of women – this is gonna be great!’ I pounded my finger on the play icon and pulled out of my driveway. Standard stock introductory music and then Chandler boomed out of Penelope’s speakers: “A man teaching on the purpose of women. What could go wrong?” Huh, way to go brother, at least we agree on that. The first 30 minutes were fairly standard; wives, submission, husbands, male headship. It wasn’t anything new (although he explained ‘helpmate’ in a quite a helpful way). He then moved away from role of women in the family and to their role in the local church. Things heated up. “Now let’s look at the church. What we see clearly in the New Testament is women are as needed and necessary in the flourishing of the church body.” In Acts 8:4, women are almost certainly included in the list of disciples who went everywhere preaching the gospel. Older women are to teach younger women. We see that in Titus 2. Priscilla helped her husband Aquila teach Apollos. In Acts 18 Philip had four virgin daughters who prophesied. The women prayed and prophesied in the gathering at the church in Corinth.” Damn straight. “Women are not only needed and necessary, but they are indispensable and essential in the life of the church.” Men and women are created equal and we should see that play out in the local church and in other areas of life. He had set things up well. He moved on to single women – ah yes, here we go. “Let me tell you what [a helpmate for single women] doesn’t mean: it doesn’t mean you’re supposed to sit around and wait for a husband. In the Old Testament, the blessing was children. In the New Testament, the blessing is disciples. So don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs waiting for some man. Please don’t do that. The kingdom of God is at hand and you’ve been called to actively play a part.” Amen brother. Amen. For a while now, as I attend more weddings in one year than my non-Christian friends and colleagues will attend in a lifetime, tour the new homes and apartments of friends and as I awkwardly rub the growing stomachs of my pregnant Christian sisters, I’ve refused to sit and wait. From getting involved at church, to making independent financial decisions, understanding superannuation and investing in relationships far and wide. I’m not waiting. I may not be waiting but I also haven’t discounted serving God with a husband. I’ll happily admit I notice young men. I notice Godly young men. I notice Godly young men who are theologically sound, serving the church and can stand on their two feet (and preferably mow a lawn!). I notice them and sometimes* I wonder why they don’t notice me. I know I’m not alone but it’s also not something I’ve ever heard spoken of ‘from the front’ – until Sunday (via my car’s speakers). “If you’re a single woman in here and you’re like, “Chandler, if I go strong like that, if I get deeper theologically, I’m nervous that young men would be intimidated and wouldn’t approach me.” Now, I don’t struggle with confidence. I am confident in how God has made me. The gifts he has given me. The passions he has instilled in me. The go-get attitude I use to serve the church. But I’m guilty of thinking this – and so are my friends. Perhaps if I’m less assertive, less opinionated, less keen to grapple with God’s word, less vocal in trying to understand women’s role in the world, less enthusiastic in trying new things, less change-happy. Perhaps [insert any number of attributes] I’d be more attractive to a male suitor. Matt’s response was on point but the statement he had made just previous to it changed its weight. His response: “Practice and exercise your gifts to make disciples for the glory of God. Be the type of women who are iron that sharpen the iron of your husbands and male friends. And young men, don’t be intimidated by women who are more theologically informed and educated than you are.” Awesome. But he had just made this condition: “The only caveat we ever see in the Bible around this is that women don’t exercise their gifts in a way that emasculates men or usurps their authority…[so] quit waiting around for some doofus to ask you out.” While I openly joke when discussing the role of men and women, and throw around the term feminism, hear me when I say I appreciate the role God has designed for men – that’s some serious responsibility thrown in their direction. With a sociology major under my belt, I also accept the sociological reality of a man’s impact on the stability of family and children’s wellbeing. Despite my ongoing struggle in understanding the term, God designed women as a ‘helpmate’ for men (Genesis 2:10). However, God instilled a desire for knowledge and understanding, He gifted me in a way that sees me speak up when I don’t understand/agree. He designed me in a way that people may label me as “outspoken”. Matt Chandler suggests we should not wait for a doofus, nor should we exercise our gifts in a way that usurps the authority of men or less diplomatically – emasculates them. It is this very statement that leads me to start thinking perhaps I should curb by words, think more, listen more, speak less. I seek to live life that pleases God and follows his teaching in his Word, the Bible. Now I do not uphold a particular pastor or teachers words as truth, rather I look to the bible and it’s teaching. It just happens that Chandler was the first pastor I’ve heard to address this issue. There is a great deal written about women and here’s just a few passages that address how a woman should live: A gracious woman attains honor, And ruthless men attain riches. // Proverbs 11:16 It is better to live in a desert land Than with a contentious and vexing woman. // Proverbs 21:19 Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things. // 1 Timothy 3:11 Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, But a woman who fears the LORD, she shall be praised. // Proverbs 31:30 Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored. // Titus 2:3-5 The bible is punctuated by honourable woman who have served the Lord faithfully. Faithfully with honour, dignity and goodness. Their temperament patient, encouraging,  kind, loving, generous; temperate. These are the things a woman should be. We read about those who worked with Paul in the early church as “fellow workers.” We see  women used powerfully for God’s glory and growth of the church. Mary Magdelene, Lydia, Tabitha, Mary, Phoebe, Priscilla in the New Testament.   We also see single woman passionately standing up for truth, for social justice, for unity. Single women, and married women, are integral to the church. But here’s the challenge where we get caught up thinking, ‘I don’t want him to be intimidated.’ We actively are trying to balance living as biblical women and serving the church with our gifts, while also allowing men to fulfil their roles. We want them to live as Godly men and so we’re left questioning the impact of our thoughts, words, actions. Am I fulfilling my role? Is he fulfilling his role? Am I doing too much? Am I preventing him from fulfilling it? These woman I speak of aren’t after a doofus. We want a husband fit for his role. We want brothers serving faithfully. Now this is not a call out for help, I’d like to think I wouldn’t go to my little corner of the internet to do that. I don’t wish for you to come up to me and pat me on the back and say: “The Lord has someone picked out for you,” or “Patience sister,” or any other patronising statement. I’m good. I’m better than good. Many of you may want to help so it’s worth considering what will be helpful for single women. There are too many unhelpful articles, too much ill-informed advice and weak prayer going on. This isn’t about me and my future, rather the healthy, fruitful service of this part of the body of Christ. I’m also not calling young men to be stronger in how they live and serve our God. I would be out of place doing so and I also don’t think it’s the solution. It’s the unhelpful thought that is pervading young Christian women and holding them back. It’s a thought that makes me question the ministries I’m involved in. It’s what distorts my thinking and question why the attractive, (and before you all jump, not physically) godly, faithful brother isn’t interested. It’s about a confusion that is pervading the thoughts of strong Christian single women unsure how to serve God best. As we live, prayerfully serving and considering how best to do so, it’s worth considering and praying for the confused sisters around you – whether you’re married, single, man or woman. I don’t know if we’ve made this fear of ‘intimidation’ up or whether it’s legitimate, but without resolution these woman, and I, just continue. I continue praying with a confessing heart. I continue serving with a generous spirit. I continue running; running with perseverance the race marked out for us. May we all.   Listen, read or watch Matt Chandler’s talk ‘Woman’s purpose‘. (I also recommend his next talk ‘Woman’s hurdles‘ and look forward to his most recent ‘Woman’s redemption‘.) *Please don’t think I’m wallowing in my singleness, or it consumes my thoughts. I am trying to be honest. I look forward to seeing and praising God for the great things single woman and I could do without the added responsibility of a husband and children. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)
Last weekend I was taken by surprise. I turned up at a meeting before church under the pretence it was about becoming “more welcoming.” I brought along notes, I even brought along hot chips. It was a conversation I was ready for. But as I looked around the room, the people I had expected to be there weren’t and the whole thing just felt a little odd. And then it begun. Senior Minister: “It has come to our attention that some single adults…” [ability to listen abruptly ends] And there it was, it was a meeting of single people. The meeting continued and I shared my disagreement at the claim put forward: I think we can be more welcoming in general, but I disagree with the suggestion it is linked to relationship status. The meeting ended and we went up to church. Feeling uneasy about the whole situation I flicked off an email to the three ministers in attendance at the meeting and attached my notes for the meeting I thought we were having before I went to bed. But as the week went on, I continued to feel uneasy. Then last night when I met my assistant minister’s wife for the first time (after 18 months! eek!) I realised why I was uneasy. The conversation went a little like: Me: “Hello, I don’t think we’ve met before – I’m Melanie.” “Ah yes, i’ve heard a lot about you and see your emails come through — another one for Trent.” Then from nearby a dear friend hollered: “She’s the outspoken single adult at church.” In my standard response in situations of nervousness, I laughed. The moment passed and we went on conversing. I was thinking as I drove home last night why the comment hit a chord. I know my friend meant nothing by it as I give as much as I take from him. But today I completed a survey for Witchery in order to get a $10 voucher. One of the first questions was this one: It exemplifies the reality – society is about relationships. Indeed, this world is about relationships. But so often we are defined by our relation to a significant other.  I really don’t have any resolve for this thought, only that it seems we are all guilty of applying labels and making assumptions – precisely the reason Witchery has asked the question. No doubt, I, as an adult not in a relationship with a significant other, spend more on clothes at Witchery than someone married/living with another sharing resources, discussing and settling on an amount that one should spent on new clothes. Perhaps I’m just more sensitive because I don’t have a significant other and it seems to bring with it particular stigmas – point being I’m the ‘outspoken’ one. Care to share?Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)