WHAT IS THE MODERN CHRISTIAN WOMAN? AN INTERVIEW WITH STEPHANIE SHRIDER
BC: What does the modern Christian woman look like, in your opinion?
Stephanie: I think that the modern Christian woman looks like a whole person. She has personality traits that are ambitious, and bold, and she’s not self-con- scious about who she is and what she believes in. She’s not afraid to be a leader. She doesn’t think that it’s wrong to be a leader, and she sees it as a God-given gift to have leadership skills and the ability to use her passions and her interests to lead in whichever way she feels called. I especially see modern Christian women in the workplace. That’s where I see a lot of these skills being brought out, but sometimes in the setting of a church, they get pigeonholed into an arts-and-crafts night or a mom’s group. I’m seeing Christian women working and having kids, and I think that’s something that has really changed since my mom’s generation. My mom grew up in a community where almost every Christian mom was a stay-at-home mom or was striving to be one. I don’t think that’s the case anymore. Now I ask how I can use my gifts to do work for the Lord at home and in the workplace.
BC: What does it mean to you to be a Christian feminist?
Stephanie: To me, being a Christian feminist means realizing that there are many different paths for women to take and respecting the equality and dignity of each of those paths. Wanting to be a stay-at-home mom is just as signif- icant as wanting to be out in the workplace, the CEO of a company, a teacher, or any other vocation. I definitely believe that women should have the same rights as men and should be treated as equal to men in society. Women deserve teaching in all areas in life as well. Education for women is extremely important, and it’s something in which I think that we’ve seen progress. But there needs to be teaching for women about how to be a woman in the work- place, at home, and not just teaching about motherhood or where your place is in relationship to men. It’s really about having equal rights and equal education about different roles in all of life.
Christian feminism, to me, is understanding that God made both men and women in his image. That the world was not complete without women, and that both women and men were called to rule over his creation. Women should have the same rights as men, and their voice should be valued equally in the ruling of creation.
To me, being a Christian feminist means realizing that there are many different paths for women to take and respect- ing the equality and dignity of each of those paths. It also means that paths are not mutually exclusive. I firmly believe that God gave women gifts that the marketplace needs and the home needs, but it is up to each of our relationships and conversations with God to discern our callings in this world. It may be as a worker, wife, mother, sister, all of the above, or something else. In the end, the only label that truly matters is “Daughter of God.” I think that our biggest task facing gender equality in church is to ensure that we provide women, as we have for men, with teaching for all aspects of life. As a Christian feminist, I hope that I can identify places in the marketplace that desperately need a woman’s voice. Some astounding research that I read showed that 95 percent of Hollywood directors are male (A Woman’s Place by Katelyn Beaty, pg. 17)! One of our main avenues of media is told through a male lens a majority of the time. It is not my call in the world to become a Hollywood director, but this is just one example of needing a woman’s voice in areas of life that impact us all. I hope that Christian feminists can band together to advocate for women’s voices and perspectives in the market.
BC: What kinds of things might make a woman feel self-conscious?
Stephanie: The first thing is always, “Am I doing enough? Am I enough?” And this constant striving to be perfect is something that can plague a lot of women. Am I doing enough at home? Am I doing enough at work? Am I enough to my friends? Am I enough to my colleagues? All of this can make women feel self-conscious, and that can be really hard. Another question, particularly in the workplace when bringing Christian values and caring about your colleagues and clients, is “How can I be truly caring and show people that I care about them as a whole person and what’s going on in their lives without being seen as a pushover or too motherly?” Sometimes caring can be interpreted as flirtatiousness, so the question becomes, “How can I be who I am if that involves truly caring about people as a Christian, without having that specifically assigned to my identity as a female?”
BC: What have some of the challenges been for you as a Christian woman with business interests?
Stephanie: I immediately think of when I was standing in front of my church—my home church back in Illinois has this great tradition of giving out college blankets when you’re going off to school. We have a quilting group, and they quilt this beautiful blanket for you. Then you stand in front of the congregation, and you say what you’re planning on studying, where you’re going to go to school, and they present you this blanket so that you’ll always remember your church family when you’re away at school. When I an- nounced to the congregation that I would be pursuing busi- ness information technology, there was this collective gasp. Everybody thought that I was going to be a teacher based on my involvement in the children’s ministry at our church and how much I enjoyed working with kids. So many people came up to me and said that I was wasting my gift, that my gift was clearly with children, and that business is not an ethical Christian pursuit. There was this strange ingrained concept that the best Christian path for a woman was to be a teacher. I’m from a really small town, and there was this idea that the only way to be a fulfilled Christian woman was to work with kids. My first challenge was simply understanding that it was fine to be a woman in business and that business itself is a worthwhile pursuit. Then, after I started to study business more and learned about IT (information technology) and the specific chal- lenges involved with working in business IT, I learned that more women are finding jobs there. But when I was choosing my major, many people told me that all women in ITfind jobs and that I would receive special treatment because I’m a woman. That was difficult too because that’s not why a woman should go into IT. Pursuing that kind of career should be more about where you see an opportunity to excel. BC: How do you think the church as a whole could better address the needs of women in the church?
Stephanie: I think the first thing would be changing the perspective on what women’s ministry is. Ministry geared towards women is often one-size-fits-all craft nights or mom groups, involving knitting, quilting circles, a girly chick flick, or nails night. Some women just aren’t inter- ested in that. There are women who want more intellectual conversation, and there are women who might want to go play a big game of dodgeball or do something more active. I think a good women’s ministry is tailored to the interests of many different women. And I’m not saying we should throw out the craft nights and the nails nights, because those are of interest to some women. But balancing the crafty side with other things, whether it’s athleticism or intellectual pursuits, is extremely important. Another essential thing is for the church to encourage strong mentorships between women who are currently in the workplace, women entering the workplace, and those women in the process of choosing college degrees. I don’t think there’s enough career exploration done in churches right now, and I think that’s something that can be improved on for both men and women. Specifically for women, there are many issues we would like to consult one an- other about: understanding more and sharing more about the challenges that we face day to day in the workplace; helping each other really understand how to be a Christian in the workplace and how to care for others without coming across as flirtatious, motherly, or as a pushover; and teach- ing each other more about how to leverage the best aspects of our personalities for success.
BC: Is there anything you would say to men in the church to help them better understand the desires and experiences of being a Christian woman in the 21st century?
Stephanie: Share what you know and what you’ve learned. If you’re feeling a similar way, we’d love to hear that, and we’d love to hear how you faced challenges and got through it. It’s easy to say that men have different struggles than women. Even though that’s true, we’re also facing a lot of the same struggles as male Christians in the workplace. I think that sometimes we as a church can become too divided into different ministries between men and women. There are a lot of things that we need to share. If the Chris- tian men in our church are facing leadership challenges at work, we want to know how they’re handling it and what challenges they’re facing. If, for example, they don’t feel like their colleagues respect them, etc., these are conversations we need to have together to draw upon each other’s strengths to be truly effective at home and at work.
BC: What kinds of experiences have you had, read about, heard about, or witnessed that require change in attitudes, actions, and views toward women?
Stephanie: I had a conversation with one of my classmates on campus about why she wasn’t more interested in inte- grating her Christian faith with her work. She expressed to me that it didn’t seem like there was teaching for it in the church. She also felt that if she wasn’t married or having kids then there was an implicit judgment that she wasn’t a good Christian woman, and she couldn’t live with that. Even though that is just one person’s experience, we as a church need to be conscientious about the message that we’re sending to women, especially millennial women, who are living more integrated lives than ever before. There’s work at home and there are daycares at work now, so these two previously separate spheres of work and home are be- coming more integrated than ever before. Christian teach- ing that does not take account of these new realities won’t cut it anymore.
I was reading this book by Mindy Kaling, who is one of my favorite actresses, and she was talking about how there is all this content that is written for women about how to be leaders and how hard it is to be a female leader. By creating this market for you about self-improvement for work and how to feel better about yourself, people are more or less implying that you as a woman can’t do it. That’s not true, and I think that this market is poisonous because we can do it. There will be challenges, of course, but that doesn’t meant that it’s too hard to be a woman in the modern workplace. We shouldn’t as a society be publishing so many books about overcoming self-consciousness. Instead, we should be teaching women how to be confident and sharing why it’s so great to be a woman in the workplace.