Can a woman pose semi-nude in a fashion magazine and still lead the charge for gender equality?
A furore erupted last week over Emma Watson’s role as U.N Women Goodwill Ambassador and what it means to be a feminist. Back in 2014 Watson was hailed for her stirring speech at the United Nations at the launch of the He-for-She campaign.1 Her call for gender equality had so many hits that the website broke down.2 In her presentation, Watson talked about the need for men and boys to join in the push for change and to refute the idea that feminism is synonymous with man-hating. Her speech was spot on – we can’t do this without the men.
But last week Emma Watson made the headlines again – this time in a daring photoshoot in Vanity Fair.3 Scantily clad in a white robe bolero, the photos exposed most of her breasts and sparked a media backlash. British broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer accused Watson of outright hypocrisy, tweeting; “She complains that women are sexualised and then sexualises herself in her own work.”4 Others labelled the furore as unfair and unimportant.5 Watson herself was baffled by the accusations, defending her actions in a promotional interview for her film, Beauty and the Beast; “I don’t understand what people are complaining about,” she said; “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my t**s have to do with it.”
When I was first asked to speak on the topic of singleness, I was reluctant: who wants to be the poster girl for that?! Then I realised just how few pastors and leaders talk about this area and given that singles now outnumber marrieds in both Australia and the US, it’s become a significant need both in the church and in wider society. My decision to speak openly and honestly on the topic has led in recent weeks to a spate of opportunities from radio and newspaper interviews, to lectures and ministry bookings – even a request for comment on the latest Australian season of The Bachelorette. Whether single, married, divorced or widowed, God’s heart for us is to pursue his purpose for our lives and our marital status never changes that.
However, there are some realities that need to be addressed in order for singles to live an emotionally healthy life – starting with the misplaced understanding that God is all we need… Watch here (Full interview coming soon!)
Singles, Stop Waiting, You Can Flourish Now
“I want a husband, but I don’t need one.” My chat with Emma Mullings from Sydney’s Hope 103.2 was honest and open as we discussed how to fulfil your purpose irrespective of your marriage status and some of the historical reasons for why women find that particularly hard to do.
One of the reasons for the existence of women’s ministry in the church of my childhood was because women were not allowed to teach men. On a Wednesday morning – well apart from the sacred Sunday – women were free to express their gifts. Here they could preach, teach and pray as long as it was only in the company of women. For many, it was a highlight of the week.
Yet even in churches today that are largely egalitarian, women’s ministries still feature prominently on the program. In nearly every church I visit, there’s a ministry portfolio for the women; a schedule of special events; sometimes even a designated staff member. In our national denomination, the women’s department is one of the strongest and the annual conference a calendar highlight. I’ve even joined in with the recent launch of a special branch of my ministry called God Conversations for Women. The importance and priority of gender-based ministry for women has long been established.
But at the same time as women’s ministries flourish, I ask myself, what about the men? Every time I speak at a ladies’ dessert night or a women’s weekend retreat, I find myself wondering about the other half of our species. Men’s ministries are rare. In the church circles I move in, there are no regular meetings and few signature conferences. If women’s ministries are so important, why aren’t the men’s? In fact, in those churches which allow women to be preachers and teachers, what is the rationale for any gender-based ministry at all?
I’ve walked down the aisle eight times. There was the the lime green 50s sheath, the navy blue Jane Austen gown and the princess red number with sleeves puffy as parachutes. Each time I waved the happy couple off with confetti and cake and kisses. Each time I farewelled a best friend, having been supplanted in their heart by another.
Which is of course how it should be. Marriage was God’s design – his solution to the problem of loneliness. “It’s not good to be alone,” God declared at the beginning (Genesis 2:18). Everything else in creation was good, but even in a perfect world, aloneness was the one thing that was not. So he provided a profoundly beautiful relationship designed to meet humanity’s deepest needs. A connection bound by love and held by promise; a pairing that reflected his very essence as a relational being.
But what do we do when this profoundly beautiful solution of God’s hasn’t materialised for some of us? What do we do if we’re single and waiting or when we’re the divorcee who struggles with remarriage? What if we’re the gay person who opts for celibacy or the widower who’s been left behind? What if in an imperfect world, God’s perfect solution isn’t possible?
The bumper bar neared closer. I glanced in my side mirror. Angle a little more. Turn slightly. That’s it. Now a direct line in. Right, you got it. Engine off. Keys out. Success. Two men watching on the roadside cheered. I smiled triumphantly in return.
For a long time, I was shocking at car parking. ‘Men have better spatial awareness’, I’d quote to myself when my woeful manoeuvring left the car stuck a metre out from the kerb. But three years living in space-starved Potts Point changed that. In Sydney’s inner-city where carparks are as rare as diamonds, you get good at making the most of teeny blocks of bitumen. Since there was never a man to call on, I had to learn to do it myself. And given the rarity of parks, I got a lot practise.
Neuroscience tells us that men are generally better at car-parking. Because they use a different area of the brain, they usually fare better in activities that involve spatial skills.1 It means that men can also read maps more effectively than women and why they don’t have to turn them upside down three times to orientate themselves. Those jokes about women drivers may have some grounding in fact.2