What springs to mind when you hear the words 'women's ministry'? Mimi Haddad, president of Christians for Biblical Equality, writes on the Sojourners blog: 'Do you find yourself reluctant to attend women’s retreats because they tend to focus on things like fashion, women’s emotions, crafts, and new forms of stomach exercises? Are you confused by so-called Christian blogs for women, where again, the discussions center on fashion and emotions? I was recently invited to develop a women’s track as part of an international conference for evangelicals, only to learn that the conveners intended to include workshops for women on fashion, beauty, and women’s emotions. Is that what inspires us today as Christian women?'
I think Christian provision for women generally falls into two camps - those that uphold gender stereotypes either because that's what people want to promote as God's design or because that's a way of connecting with women outside the church, and those that challenge gender stereotypes in the light of the gospel. Sophia Network is about doing the second, although there's definitely a place for a critique of what tend to get labelled as women's issues. I'm all for deconstructing the beauty myth and looking at different patterns of work and parenting for example. And I do think that when we connect with young women, fashion, crafts and stomach exercises could be a good place to start for some. I went to a Soul Sista day earlier this year where they had a pampering corner where girls could get their hands and feet massaged, which gave the youth workers there an excellent opportunity to chat in depth and connect. It's a mistake to think that all girls will be interested in those things though. A youth worker I spoke to recently was saying that the girls she works with didn't want anything to do with the sessions aimed at them at a residential they went to, as they felt patronised. 'That's where they tell you that you're fat but Jesus loves you anyway,' was how they summarised it!
I love the Catherine Booth quote that Mimi uses in her blog, 'It would be a happy day in England when Christian women turn their attention from poodles and terriers to the poor and destitute.' And the CBE conference in Missouri in July looks very interesting: 'Are men from Mars and women from Venus? A biblical resonse to gender difference.' Shame it's so far away.