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Are we inadvertently sexist?

It’s International Women’s Day. We have a female Prime Minister. We just celebrated 100 years since some women have been able to vote. But the gender pay gap is currently at 18.4 per cent and only seven women rank in the FTSE 100 CEOs. All of them are white. Why? Are we part of the problem? Claire Rush of Girl’s Brigade ministries challenges us to think: are we inadvertently sexist?

On Sunday amidst the Academy Awards’ glitz and glamour, there was an even more significant mic-drop moment. Nike launched its new advert featuring tennis champion Serena Williams exclaiming: “There’s no wrong way to be a woman.”

“I’ve never been the right kind of woman; oversized and overconfident. Too mean if I don’t smile; too black for my tennis whites; too motivated for motherhood. But I am proving, time and time again, there’s no wrong way to be a woman.”

BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Because one BOOM isn’t enough! What a message that young girls need to hear more than ever especially on International Women’s Day.

Today, the Sophia Network has released a new research report called Minding The Gap, which amplifies the voices of over 1,200 women to reveal that nearly two thirds (62 per cent) of respondents in its recent survey had experienced some form of sexism in the Church.

And girls experience sexism too.

According to Girls’ Attitudes Survey 2017, 55 per cent say gender stereotypes affect their ability to say what they think. Girls as young as 7 feel the need to conform to gender stereotypes perpetuated across different aspects of life – social media, fashion, advertising, school, families and even Church. Just last month, girls and young women that I work with in Girls’ Brigade Ministries  told me that they feel limited and confined by stereotypes, which expect them to act in certain ways. You can discover how they are refusing to conform by responding in hope-filled, transformative ways to say “This GB Girl Can”.

My heart is to see all of God’s people, especially girls, experience the transforming power of Jesus and flourish in their unique God-given calling – whatever that may be – to be part of God’s mission of restoration, because if his great commission is to be fulfilled, both women and men need to work in partnership for the gospel.

But here’s the thing: although we know gender stereotypes limit both girls and boys, the difficult reality is that sometimes – even unintentionally – we can perpetuate sexism and stereotypes in our youth and children’s work.

Sometimes, we’re sexist and we don’t even know it.

So how can we be more intentional about ensuring girls and boys, made in God’s image, flourish in our youth and children’s work?

Equip yourself

Become more aware about the complexity of gender in our culture by educating yourself. Natalie Collins’ Gender-aware Youth Work: Confronting Gender-based Injustice with Young People for Grove Books argues that gender-aware practice is critical if our youth work is to enable young women and men to become who God made them to be, liberated from – and equipped to counter – the constraints of gender injustice.

Ditch the boxes

Does your termly girls’ night in session involve a pamper party while the guys go off and do something active? Pamper nights in our youth group focussing on nails and make-up can unconsciously reinforce the idea that a girl’s value is dependent on how she looks and the wider cultural message that girls’ bodies are projects to be worked on.

How amazing would it be to do activities that elevate girls’ aspirations and build confidence in themselves? We at Girls’ Brigade Ministries know that single-sex spaces are very significant. Make use of it to build girls’ confidence in their God-given gifts rather than focussing on their image. For guys, use this space to debunk stereotypes that real men don’t cry and talk about the importance of mental health.

Encourage critical not passive consumption

Young people are surrounded by a culture which breeds toxic ideas about femininity and masculinity through adverts, TV, social media and music. Do they have the tools to process the multitude of messages about gender, identity, success, popularity and relationships that they are receiving, consciously and unconsciously? In the face of an aggressive culture which seeks to undermine their self-worth for profit, media literacy is a key skill for children and young people to have.

Language matters

How you speak to the girls and guys in your children and youth groups (and in our lives) matters. When we speak to girls, do we only praise them for their prettiness or fashion sense? Let’s be intentional about praising girls for displaying other qualities as well like courage, strength, creativity and intelligence. How do you deal with sexist jokes in your youth and children’s groups? Do you challenge them? It may be a joke but language matters as it creates the culture around us.

Shift your default position

Let’s shift our default position from focussing only on men in the Bible. When you’re scheduling your programme for the year, are you exploring the women that God uses? Are you discussing the bravery of Abigail, the resourcefulness of Lydia and the leadership of Junia? God used women and men in incredible ways; let’s demonstrate this and learn from them.

Intentionality is the key. Let’s be intentional about working together to cultivate a culture of worth for everyone and to recognise and act on the truth that each of us has equal worth and value – regardless of what we look like or what our gender, age, race or ability is. This is the hopeful message that Jesus brought to us and he’s calling us to follow in his footsteps today in our homes, in our youth groups, and wherever he has placed us.

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