Visiting professor fights gender stereotypes in religion

Susan Shaw, a professor from Oregon State University, lectured at the Merrill-Cazier Library about gender equality and religion Monday, Jan. 23. Church-going women need to stand up for equality, Shaw said in her lecture. Most language used in the Bible refers to God as being a man, she said. The language about God is metaphorical, and therefore, women must challenge this image, she added. If people take this metaphor too seriously, Shaw said, they begin to create a fallacy of misplaced concreteness, in which people take a metaphor and act as if it is real. “If all you hear is ‘God is male,’ then that’s all you are going to see God as,” Shaw said. “God is much bigger than any name we could give God.” Shaw challenged people to re-read sacred texts, such as the Bible, from a woman’s point of view. The story of the Last Supper tells of Jesus and his disciples sharing Jesus’ last meal before his crucifixion. “Women had to be there as well,” she said. “Who cooked the food, and who cleared the tables?” If people go back in history far enough, Shaw said, they will find that women were bishops, as well. From the formation of the Baptist church, women were a part of the preaching. Shaw said it is a reminder that we don’t have to be governed by our more recent history. Theology tends to stereotype women as temptresses, Shaw said, referencing the story of Adam and Eve in which Eve tempted Adam to eat the forbidden fruit with her sexuality. Shaw said this is why women can’t be ordained, since women were the first in the fall, they aren’t fit to be ordained. But looking at the story carefully reveals it is not all Eve’s fault, she said. “Adam is standing right there with Eve at the tree,” Shaw said. “He didn’t speak up, and she didn’t force that fruit on him. He knowingly and fully participated, and yet it becomes reasoning that women get blamed for this, and they get excluded from all sorts of things.” Men are also trapped by theological stereotypes, Shaw said. Men are pressured to be closer to God — to be a better pastor or holder of the priesthood — and do everything right, she said. Shaw said she’s seen some movements in Evangelical churches that involve what she calls a “macho Jesus.” Since women go to church more often than men, she said, men feel they must make Jesus more masculine because it’s how men are supposed to be. “We all end up limited,” she said. “We’re told, ‘This is what you have to be, because you’re a man, and this is what you have to be, because you’re a woman.'” Instead of just focusing on women in a feminist theory, individuals must realize how hegemonic masculinity harms both men and women, Shaw said.

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