Year of the Woman | Sojourners

Year of the Woman

Malala Yousafzai’s quiet strength was in sharp contrast to the “sexual freedom” claimed by Cyrus and Beyonce JStone/Shutterstock

The year 2013 may well come to be known as the Year of the Woman.

Women of high socio-economic status both applauded and lamented the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, while women of a certain age waxed nostalgic over the 50th anniversary release of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Those under 30 were surprised that the latter book existed, and those in their middle years realized the reading assignment that somewhat bored them as inapplicable in college was now vitally important, as they struggled with work/life balance and debated whether to stay home with the kids or remain in the paid workforce.

The “mommy wars” raged, and were fueled by controversial statements and work policies by women in positions of leadership. Stay-at-home moms and paycheck-earning moms stared one another down across a divide narrower than they realized, and bloggers everywhere called for a united female front.

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teen shot in the head for advocating the rights of girls to attend school, took much of the world by storm, as did singer Miley Cyrus. Just this month, Beyonce released a surprise album and corresponding videos that many are heralding as her “feminist manifesto.” The videos show Beyonce in “pornographic poses,” which at least one expert has described as “asking us to think about what it means for black women to be sexual on their own terms.”

The quiet strength of Malala, covered in a headscarf and speaking eloquently of peace and forgiveness, stood in sharp contrast to the “sexual freedom” claimed in the acts of Cyrus and Beyonce, as well as demonstrated the wide divide between the privilege of asserting one’s view of “sexual,” and asserting one’s view that young girls should be allowed an education.

Women in Saudi Arabia protested their right to get behind the wheel, and began driving whether the law allowed them to or not. And on Dec. 19, the U.S. defense budget bill was passed, which included about 30 provisions related to protecting women military members from sexual assault.

In the Christian community, Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist was released and much debated, Elizabeth Eaton become the first female head bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, and Pope Francis called for expanding the presence of women in the Church (although not as clergy).

This recap is far from exhaustive, but it does provide a snapshot of some hot-button issues of 2013 that brought women’s rights, issues, and theologies to various kitchen tables around the world. My own personal Twittersphere and Facebook feed lit up throughout 2013 with church/gender debates, and when this month’s issue of Sojourner’s arrived at my doorstep, I wasn’t at all surprised that its cover story was about gender equality within the church.

Now that 2013 is almost at a close, we must ask ourselves how we plan to continue this conversation in 2014. We can become caught up in whether promiscuity and evocative poses are acts of power and reclaiming sex, or whether they are acts of self-deception that fall prey to men’s shaping of society and culture throughout history. We can become bogged down in debates over which mother is better: the one who stays at home, or the one who brings home a paycheck. We can throw around words like complementarian and egalitarian, and blow up blogs with claims of deficient hermeneutics.

We could do that.

But in 2014, I hope we become not just older, but also wiser, and resolve on Jan. 1 that we will do things differently this year. Along with our resolutions to exercise, eat well, and stay organized, I pray we will resolve to love our neighbors, male and female alike, and to understand that we were all created in the image of God. Once we can truly view each other through the lens of God’s creation of and love for us, each and every one, the rest will follow.

Jamie Calloway-Hanauer is a writer and attorney living in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Andy, and their children. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and a Faith Village contributor. Her work can be found online at Christianity Today, Sojourners, and Red Letter Christians, among others. She blogs weekly, and you can connect with her on Facebook or on Twitter @HappyHanauers.

Photo: JStone/Shutterstock