I freed a thousand slaves I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves. – Unknown, sometimes attributed to Harriet Tubman
Please, do not come after me with pitchforks. Or knives, clubs, or handguns, or any other weapons. This article will mention prostitutes and respected church women who try to please God side by side. Before any church women get offended: I am not comparing your sexual lives. Before any prostitutes get offended (you have most likely got some condemnation from religious types along the way): I am not comparing your personalities. I am only discussing a type of argument that has been made about many women.
I was in a training session today where CBE hoped to influence leaders in an egalitarian direction. Someone asked:
What if a woman chooses to do something objectifying, like having a sugar daddy? I don’t think we can tell her anything without taking away her agency. Is that still objectification?
Similar questions are asked about other choices women make:
What if a woman chooses to be completely submissive to her husband?
What if a woman chooses to stay with a partner that controls and hits her?
What if a woman chooses to allow a partner to control and hit her? (BDSM)
What if a woman chooses to be a prostitute/ porn actress?
In short, how do we treat these equals before God, when they make choices that do not display their equal status? Here is my suggestion:
1) Ask yourself: What systematic inequality may be behind this choice/ “choice”?
Choosing to be a prostitute, for example, is hardly ever a free choice. The majority of them start while underage, and some level of coercion usually plays a role. It is a choice made in a world where some have money to buy others, and others have nothing but their bodies to offer.
The wife in patriarchal culture could, for example, choose subordination to her husband because it is the wisest choice within a male-rule culture, or because they believe this choice will please God. Society even sends out a message that it is sexy for women to be the least.
A woman could choose/ “choose” to let a partner mistreat her because she has a part inside her that feels she deserves bad treatment. Or because she believes that better times/ enjoyment wait on the other side of tolerating the pain. Or because she desperately wants to be loved, and she still believes her abuser loves her. Or many other reasons.
I do not claim to always know why women made their choices. What I do know is that we cannot harden our heart towards women who choose subordination or objectification: They are still experiencing pain, trauma, unnecessary work not meant for them, and not reaching their full potential.
2) Know that speaking up against suffering is not the same as condemning those who chose it.
Imagine someone named Martin in a society with high unemployment. Between unemployment and a bad job, he chooses to work for the rude boss who underpays most workers. (You are not sure about Martin’s salary there.) Speaking up against the company Martin works for is not speaking up against Martin. If Martin shouts at you that he chose his job, you could know (and perhaps, depending on your relationship with Martin, even tell him) that you do not condemn him. When a woman chooses subordination, we could have the same attitude towards her.
3) Distinguish between the subordinate and the spreaders of subordination
I blog, for example, against a leader like Mary Kassian who preaches one-sided submission, for the same reason I blog against men who do it. But I do not blog against women who just submit.
4) Instead of condemning, care:
Notice their pains and frustrations. Care about them. See where you can help. “People do not care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
5) Be an activist for justice, dignity, equality, and respect. Be an activist against subordination and objectification.
At worst, those who treat women as less-than may encourage their women to mock you. (In a society led by men, these women can be expected to choose sides with their men.)
At best, you could change the world so that males are a bit less of a dominant class, in which case future women like her will have a little more healthy choices and a little less reason to “choose” catering to male whims.
In short, work for a more equal world, a world which values women as people. If someone is not ready to receive it, your work does not become unimportant. Women who will be rewarded for being subordinate, women who see no better options, means that a just society is still a long way off. Our work is sorely needed.