The Women’s Center at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary exists to work for equality and dignity of women in all communities, including religious professions, for the unveiling of the continuing oppression of women of all races and nations, and for the building of community locally, nationally and globally. To this end we seek to:
- Discern new ways of being and living into these realities by support and advocacy for women and other disenfranchised groups;
- Supplement the academic program of the Seminary and provide a prophetic voice on the Seminary campus;
- Celebrate and affirm the gifts and contributions of women in all spheres of life in past and present;
- Provide a safe space to discuss and hear one another’s stories and supply resources for information and edification.
Periodically reviewing and reflecting on that mission, which articulates the reasons we do what we do, seems helpful. It reminds us of our historical roots, and helps us recognize the persistent relevance of this work in the present. Just as important, it acquaints or reacquaints members of the communities we serve with the Women’s Center’s vision and goals, and with their connections to the common enterprise of reconciliation in the church and the world. Summer, when the work of the Women’s Center focuses on planning for the coming academic year, seems like a good time for this review and reflection. Devoting some close attention to this mission, which drives the activities and events we are so absorbed in planning, seems likely to focus our efforts on what matters most. To this end, during the coming weeks Wimminwise will devote a series of entries to reflecting on key elements of the Women’s Center’s mission statement.
“The Women’s Center at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary exists to work for equality and dignity of women in all communities, including religious professions . . .”
The word “equality” in the context of the Women’s Center’s mission statement is a sign of the Women’s Center’s historic roots in the women’s movement of the 1970s and 80s. The women who made that movement move used the language of women’s rights unselfconsciously. They diagnosed the persistent problems women faced, and had faced historically, in every society as those of profound inequities around gender. Inequalities in division of labor, income and wealth, education, mobility, access to critical resources like health care and nutrition, power and privilege, formed a vicious cycle with an entrenched ideology of women’s inferiority and men’s superiority. That pervasive ideology of male superiority allowed most people most places to take for granted that women were “for” a restricted set of social functions, typically silent ones; that women were, “just saying,” deficient in key areas (strength, intelligence, competence — all, one might note, legitimators of the power women were reaching for in society); that not only was it “a man’s world,” but that the world was going to stay that way, either because it could not or should not change.
The face of that world has changed, to a degree, in the intervening three or four decades. One index of that change is available in looking at media from the 1960s, in which the classified ads list help wanted – men and help wanted – women, and images of the public world — a press conference, a political convention, a business meeting, a seminary graduating class — reflect a world without women.
Some of those changes raise the question of whether working for equality is still necessary. It is now easier for some women, in some places, to take for granted that all the equality people need or desire has been achieved. Some women, in some areas of social life, in some groups, in some countries of the world, are on visibly more equal footing with men. The mission of working for equality now includes articulating the continuing necessity of that work, reminding those of us who might be tempted to privileged denial not to focus exclusively on the areas of greatest achievement while ignoring the manifestations of perduring inequality elsewhere.
Some may wonder whether work for equality is relevant to the demands of the present. Sexual difference theorists, for instance, have argued that liberal egalitarian language obscures the important and under-theorized dimension of sexual difference. Womanist thinkers and other intersectional theorists point out that multiple determinants of structural patterns of domination — race, class, and sexuality pre-eminent among them — complicate accounts of and demands for equality. The language of “women’s experience” is an over-simplification, and calls for “non-discrimination” or “equal opportunity” are inattentive to the asymmetries inscribed in male and female embodied subjectivity. But against those who might jettison the language of equality, we would maintain that the word “equality” always pointed towards and is now capable of accommodating these more complex, nuanced, and attentive accounts of human happiness and flourishing.
Because, as has been said repeatedly, “equality” in this context does not mean “identical” or “the same.” The concern that it does is a perennial red herring, raising the diversionary question of whether equality is really desirable. The problem of sameness is really more the problem of the persistent androcentrism that is challenged by work for equality. The androcentric understanding of “man” as the human norm is profoundly unaware of the gendered particularity of the word “he;” it accepts without question the premise that “humanity” has one essential and fully acceptable way of appearing and being in the world, a male way, and that difference from that way represents a falling-away from ideal humanity. This androcentrism contributes to resistance to inclusive and expansive language in liturgy, hymnody, and scriptural translation, since it cannot fail to register “Father” as a more honorific title than “Mother,” or “Lord” as a more authoritative position than “Teacher.”
What equality means, among other things, is that when we say “a person,” we can mean “a woman” fully as well as “a man,” and that when we say “people,” we consciously understand ourselves to include both men and women, of all descriptions, in that designation. It means that we do not in fact presuppose that “the real prople” are all men, or that women are deficient, “lite” or honorary people. It means that we do not imagine women to be people insofar as they are like men, but something different from people — women, actually — in all the ways women differ from men. Work for equality anticipates a day when that consciousness is simply and actually practical common sense, because it is consciousness formed in a world in which equality is a reality.
The mission of the Women’s Center is to work for equality for all people. That means that we advocate for the difficult, necessary, relevant, and desirable goal of coming to terms with the meaning of a humanity created in the image of God in its diversity. We believe this is consonant with a scriptural and religious tradition that looks forward to a time when God’s spirit is poured out equally liberally on all flesh, and sons and daughters alike prophesy with equal voice.