My mother told me that she was glad that I was not born in an earlier century, for I would have been publicly whipped for asking so many questions on gender equality. I wanted to know why the women cooked, but they were the last to eat. I questioned why I had to fix my husband’s plate, when the food was on the stove and he could walk as well as I could.
I wanted to know why women were expected to stay home and take care of children, unable to leave abusive men, as that was against the Bible’s teachings. What did it mean to be submissive to husbands? Why would God want me to obey someone who had no respect for my opinions or my humanity?
Mama did not talk much to us, and now, I wonder if part of her silence was my many questions about what was fair and unfair. She was a single mother in the 1950s and 1960s, in a black neighborhood where only two or three children lived in homes with a father. I watched my mother work two jobs sometimes to put food on the table, because my father did not think it was his responsibility to care for us.
Seeing these single women do everything, from working to cleaning to disciplining children taught me their strength, courage, and their value and worth to our community. Yet, they could not obtain a credit card without a husband’s signature.
I watched the women do nearly everything in church, but if a woman went into the pulpit, she was put down. She could be excommunicated for wearing earrings in the choir loft. Seventy-five percent of the membership on Sundays were women, and the preacher and maybe ten or so men were nearly the only males there, but they had full control.
When I asked why women could not speak in church, I was told that Jesus had only men disciples. I wondered if they had heard of Mary Magdalene and the other women who supported Jesus and the disciples out of their own resources and who were gifted with telling the disciples and Peter that Jesus had risen and would see them in Galilee.
Did they know of the prophet Huldah, whom King Josiah consulted about the scroll found in the Temple? Or the five daughters of Zelophehad who changed the rules for inheritances, giving daughters of men who had no sons the same right to inherit their father’s property as the men?
As I celebrate another International Women’s Day, I am so thankful for the progress made through the years. I am still praying that preachers will stop telling women in the 21st Century to return to abusive husbands and try not to upset them. But, women can have their own credit today, buy homes alone, work at jobs previously shut to them, and answer the calling of God on their lives. That’s progress, and sometimes as long as you are moving forward, that’s enough.
Happy International Women’s Day to all women and to the men who love them and support them to be everything God created them to be!