I was speaking with a friend this week about his grandmother who had been a missionary to one of the Asian nations. She had kept personal journals of her years in the mission field and my friend was prayerfully hoping to obtain them and possibly write a biography. One of his motivations was to celebrate the life and service of a woman of faith who had gone largely unnoticed in the shadow her famous husband cast.
To acknowledge that women have been unfairly silenced for no other reason than their gender is more than just a radical feminist statement. It is a harsh and sometimes cruel reality.
For centuries, women who somehow deviate from the societal norms placed upon them have been “put in their place” by the psychiatric profession.
… psychiatrists were often hired by husbands and fathers to probe their wives’ and daughters’ “abnormal” behaviors. The reasons men cited for such inquisitions were manifold. It could have been anything from exhaustion, overeducation, or premenstrual syndrome to being unmarried or indulging unconventional sexual impulses (such as masturbation). On the most basic level, it was never about mental acuity or medical treatment; it was about exerting control over women’s lives and bodies—all under the guise of medicine. (“How Victorian Women Were Oppressed By the Use of Psychiatry”.)
It is tempting to view this situation as a thing of the past, but we are seriously misguided if we do so. Women of my mother’s generation who struggled to care for their children and looked for support from their husbands were often driven to doctors who convinced them to take “nerve pills” like Valium to cope with more compliance. (see “Mother’s Little Helper: The Crisis of Psychoanalysis and the Milltown Resolution.”) Some of these women who did not find enough relief from their nerve pills and continued to complain were put on “pain pills” as well (opiates). Years later, many of these same women are labeled addicts and denied access to the medication physicians addicted them to.
This societal tale hits close to home for me as one of my cousins is one of these women. She felt unable and perhaps unworthy to be both wife and mother at such a young age. She married at such a young age, much too young to have figured out anything about who she was and what God had called her to do. She only knew her father was abusive so she ran to the first seemingly gentle man she could find.
After marriage, there was no opportunity to work, so she sat around smoking cigarettes and drinking bottled Coke. But these sensual pleasures lost their appeal in a short while. Where else to find both joy and a sense of purpose? Along comes a bouncing baby boy (actually, a girl first, but they didn’t count).
My cousin went on “nerve pills” and “pain pills” she kept using for almost 50 years. To her credit, and by the grace of God, she recently went through a treatment program and now takes much less aggressive medication, but the anxiety and pain she felt before taking drugs has been compounded. The damage has been done and more added to it.
As America finally wakes up to the epidemic of drug abuse, we need to recognize that the face of the addict is not only the emaciated Meth user desperate for his next fix. It is also my church-going, hard-working, family-loving cousin.
So how about a woman coming-of-age in this millennial generation? What are her prospects? It’s a mixed bag, claims a Pew Research report. On the one hand, women have been empowered to do more than they’ve ever done in the past. On the other hand, they are still expected, even demanded, to do all they previously done in the past in addition. This leaves a modern woman in a precarious situation.
… this rising sense of empowerment comes with downsides and caveats. For one, increased freedom of choice creates greater pressure on women to dedicate themselves equally to family and career—an anxiety-wracked, and some argue, unrealistic ideal. Pew Research Center has found, moreover, that wage gaps between women and men tend to widen over time. And then there’s the fact that the expansion of choice does not even apply to many Millennial women. A rising share are single mothers who did not complete college—and today, a lack of a degree disadvantages single moms more today than it did for earlier generations. (“For Millennial Women, a Mixed Progress Report“)
Young women cope with this anxiety in a variety of ways. Some go for “retail therapy,” channeling their frustration over lack of control into managing their own purchasing decisions. Others suffer from serial relationships, unable to find either as rescuer or a partner. Many opt to take highly-addictive Benzodiazepines. A growing number hit the ultimate rock bottom. Suicide rates of Millennial mothers is now higher than any other generation, past or present.
So, what hope do women have? This all seems like such a bleak outlook and I simply refuse to tie a neat “and they all lived happily ever after ending” on it. I will say that until our society faces the terrible injustices we deal on women, there is not likely to be much progress.
Christians are just as complicit in this as any. We have failed to esteem women for their equal value in the eyes of God. We refuse to believe that the goodness of creation includes “male and female, created He them.” We fail to combat (and even sometimes support) social solutions to “women problems.” Christians are just as guilty for crimes against womanhood.
But we do have hope to offer in the radical equality of Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
This does not solve societal sins against women, but it does sound a battle cry to combat them.