Boys are sent out into the world to buffet with its temptations, to mingle with bad and good, to govern and direct. Girls are to dwell in quiet homes among few friends, to exercise a noiseless influence. – Elizabeth Missing Sewell
The above quote was likely made with the usual dry humor that Elizabeth Missing Sewell was known for in the nineteenth century. Yet the idea that boys and men should be sent out to public work and influence and girls and women should be groomed for a more limited role in the private sphere according to “natural” characteristics has continued to shape gender roles since Sewell’s nineteenth century world. Many people still doubt that women can be capable leaders. This is either because women are seen as too emotional and unable to exercise similar critical, objective, and abstract thinking as men are assumed to be capable of. Or others strongly feel that women should not take on public work or edge into a “man’s world” because it will upset an order established by God, even if a woman proves exceptional talent and passion in one field or another.
The situation began to change over the course of the twentieth century. Women’s suffrage in the United States resulted in the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920 and gave women the right to vote. Women entered the labor market to make up for demographic changes during World War I and II but largely returned to the private sphere by the 1950s as men returned home from military service. “Rosie the Riveter” was an important symbol for women of this generation and yet their participation in skilled work, especially related to the war industry, was generally seen as a temporary need.
Second wave feminism began to change the cultural, political, and even religious landscape from the 1960s on. Whereas the first wave of feminism is largely defined by its concern with suffrage, the second and third waves of feminism are defined by concern with broader issues of gender equality and discrimination. In The Feminine Mystique (1963), Betty Freidan critiqued and exposed the discontent that so many women experienced as they were strictly defined through their roles as housewife and mother and lacked professional choices beyond jobs considered appropriate “women’s work.” Women started to pursue higher education in greater numbers and entered fields typically closed to them. They found that it is possible to combine a career and a family, especially if one was blessed with a spouse willing to redefine his own role as a husband and father and help with the “second shift.” A number of Protestant denominations began ordaining women, including the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, United Methodist Church, Disciples of Christ, Church of the Brethren, and others (even a small number of local Seventh-day Adventist churches). Women received 19.5 percent of earned doctorates in 1974. The number jumped to 45.4 percent in 2004. By the end of the twentieth century, women in the United States entered the political realm and gained high positions as CEOs of major companies. Just like their colleagues, Seventh-day Adventist women have shown that they are capable, talented leaders and workers in all kinds of industries and fields.
This is a very broad and general overview of women workers and leaders. It glosses over a number of complexities and concerns. Like many historical accounts it says little about the experience of women minorities in the United States, for instance. There isn’t room here to address the full underside of the story but there are a few important things to note. Women continue to deal with sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace. Many working spouses have started to share responsibilities in their home, but too many women still experience the “second shift.” Women in a number of industries face the glass ceiling, which contributes to the gender wage gap. The average wages for women who worked full-time in the United States in 2002 were 76.2 percent of men’s wages.
Women have made significant advances toward equality, but clearly they still continue to face challenges. The church has not always addressed these issues that affect Seventh-day Adventist women’s lives.
The Women’s Resource Center was founded in 1996 at La Sierra University with the aim to provide education about the status of women in the church and society, advocate for inclusion of women toward greater equality with men, and celebrate the accomplishments of women.
The Center has coordinated a number of programs and hosted annual conferences to discuss and accomplish these goals. Students, women pastors, and church members are encouraged to foster mentoring relationships through involvement in programs and activities. Trainings, meetings, and conferences help to foster a special community around the Center. The Women’s Resource Center has managed to build a collection of sermons, workshops, and presentations given by Adventist women.
The Women’s Resource Center is currently overseeing a project that will add to the existing leadership training resources for women available at the Center and online. Career and leadership development for women in all professions has become one of the primary goals of the Center over recent years. Career and leadership resources in the form of articles and videos are now available on the redesigned website (www.adventistwomenscenter.org). Many of these leadership resources are from presentations and papers delivered at LeaderShaping conferences hosted by the Women’s Resource Center and the Center for Women Clergy (Andrews University) in 2008 and 2009.
New programs for 2011 include a book club, film club, women’s history project, eating disorders awareness week in February, developing an online thematic bibliography for researchers, a blog project to encourage conversations about topics related to women, and domestic violence awareness, response, and prevention.
The Seventh-day Adventist church has benefited from the vision and leadership of one prominent woman, Ellen G. White. Other women have contributed to the mission of the worldwide church since her time, though their names and contribution are not always remembered in the same way. The Women’s Resource Center seeks to cultivate the passion, leadership, and vision of women in the church and inspire men to see women as their equal partners in all respects. From Scripture, we remember that “the Lord gave the word and great was the company of women who proclaimed it” (Psalm 68:11).
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2922