Thursday, October 7, 2010

Women Are Human, and You Can Be Too

I just read Jon Acuff's post and consequenting comments on the topic: Interactions and friendship with the opposite sex as Christians.

I love me a controversy. Especially when it involves women. I have friends on both extremes. Those who are totally fine eating lunch alone with a man friend. Those who aren't friends with men on Facebook. I don't think either are inherently right or wrong.

Jon concludes, "Of the two camps, 'Jeez, you're such a Puritan, loosen up,' and 'Better safe than sorry, can a dude drive me to the airport,' I know which one I want to fall into."

I would argue that a better option to the two Jon presents would be to try not to lean into extremes. Though extremes are easier, they're not more spiritual and they avoid the larger problem.

On a trip to a conference, Jon asked that a male pick him up from the airport, as he and his wife thought that was the wiser choice. That's cool. In the life of Christian ministry, perhaps this approach is the most practical and advisable.

But in the working world, life doesn't work that way and I would argue shouldn't work that way. (Now, if you believe that women should not be in the work world in the first place, then my arguments will have no weight with you.) But if you are one of us that has rent to pay, then you probably know that avoidance of the opposite sex is simply not practical. Men supervise women. Women supervise men. They have meetings together. Sometimes they discuss sensitive issues and the doors must be closed. That is the working world.

But that makes it sound like interaction between male and female is just an inevitable evil that we must put up with. When truly the thing is:

Women are human. We are human before we are women.

Men, as it turns out, are also human. They are human before they are men. (I'm borrowing from one of my favorite thinkers, Dorothy L. Sayers.)

This may seem simplisitic, but when we say that we cannot have interaction with the other sex, we are viewing their being as primarily a gender, an "other," not a human. The end result of this is an Esmeralda and Minister Frollo mentality. Men's view on women becomes myopic. They are the forbidden fruit to be avoided and shunned. Women's attitude towards themselves becomes shriveled: They are shameful and dangerous creatures of lesser value.

Let me tell you a secret, men: Women don't like the feeling that all we are is a temptation. That we aren't people, we are something to avoid. It hurts our feelings. We don't like being equated with our sex. We don't like it when we're not first considered as people with something to contribute. We don't want to play the Esmeralda to your Frollo.

Avoidance does not build character or spiritual maturity. Our insularity instead lets our issues fester, like Frollo.

If I am jealous of a girl because of her shiny, blonde locks and seemingly infinite circle of friends, I shouldn't avoid the glossy-haired girl in order to avoid sinful, jealous thoughts. I should deal with the root issues that are causing the sin, such as low self-esteem and competitiveness.

If I struggle with anger and occasionally want to scratch my husband when I talk to him (which I don't, by the way), I don't avoid the problem by never talking to my husband. I deal with the root issues causing my anger, such as a sense of entitlement.

If I struggle with flirting with men, the solution is not to never speak to a man again. That doesn't mature my character. It allows it to fester. I need to face the root issues, such as conceit and a desire for attention.

I don't think we should all go throw ourselves in situations that will cause us to struggle so that we can deal with our issues. Certainly not. But I don't think we should retreat from normal, everyday activities that are a part of any human being's life.

My husband (gosh, I love him) happens to be one of those guys who always was friends with girls. (And I gotta say, that is a wonderful kind of guy to marry.) He is still good friends with girls he was close to growing up and I love how he respects and finds great value in them as people.

That doesn't mean we don't practice discernment. By all means, we do. But as humans, we don't just need negative restrictions, we need positive practices. Jesus is a great example of this. He didn't avoid women. He knew how to treat them as people. The radical practice of Christ and Christianity is that men and women are both people, on equal footing.

What men and women really need isn't more time away from each other, what they really need is more practice seeing each other as people, as brothers and sisters in Christ, learning to appreciate the unique and valuable aspects of each individual. If we hide ourselves away from the opposite sex, all they will ever be is an object of desire, not what they are: A human.


Eric said...

Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Amber. You (and Acuff) have put words to something that's chafed at me for awhile -- serving as a pastor and job supervisor for a team of female missionaries. Some people have considered my situation and the fact that I'm OK with meeting alone with women, in certain circumstances, and the implication has been that I'm a man of reckless morals... when, in fact, I feel like it's driven by the opposite desire (as you explain so effectively). So anyway, thanks for your thoughts.

Amber said...

Thanks, Eric. I appreciate your comments.

I also meant to say three more things in my post:

1. I do think each person/couple should determine what boundaries are best for them. What might not be a struggle for some, might be a real struggle for others. There are no specific estrictions placed on us by the Bible, only Jesus' precedent of openly talking to women and Paul's exhortation to flee from sexual immorality. I think our response needs to keep both in mind.

But most of all 2. What bothers me isn't so much the restrictions people place, but rather the underlying attitude that can slowly creep into our churches because of it when presented in certain ways.

And 3. the thoughts in the last two paragraphs are from my brilliant husband, so give him the praise or blame.

Patricia said...


minkster1984 said...

gosh, amber, you have a way with words! this post struck me really hard. deep down in my heart, i struggle with certain issues related to men. it's a good reminder to see them not as "an object of desire" but as a human. sometimes we never know what they've gone through that makes them what they are today. thank you for your thoughts. :)