This rings anecdotally true for me--I played center fullback on my high school soccer team and I loved it, though, admittedly, I was as anxious a performer on the field as I was anywhere else. Even so, on the field, I was a necessary and competent part of a team. When I subbed out, they missed me. I remember a game where we were five goals up in a shut-out and the coach took me out in the second half for a bit; while I was on the sidelines the opposing team scored two goals. I was told to get back in there. Now that's validation. Someday when I have an office I'll hang my senior MVP award on the wall next to my PhD.
The article on girls & sports links to an APA report on girls' sexualization. Toward the end of the report, the authors name several possible agents and avenues for the construction of alternatives to the overwhelming sexualization of girls present in US culture. One of those possible agents, as you might expect, is parents & family. One is sports and extracurricular activities. One is religion. And it should be; this makes sense. Our churches should absolutely be able to and active in providing a context of validation and self-definition for our girls that is free of the cultural context of sexualization.
And I had to ask myself, do our churches do this?
I'm afraid that if I answer honestly, I might have to answer no.
It is a sad thing to reflect that playing soccer may have done more for me as a girl than sitting in church. And I'm not alone; Naomi Walters writes,
Is the practice of silencing women in our churches an overt form of sexualization akin to the onslaught of sexualized media images, Bratz dolls and pinkified princessing our girls endure as a routine and mostly unremarked aspect of girlhood? No. But is it a covert reinforcement of the hypersexualized message that girls' bodies are objects that define and restrict them?In retrospect, maybe part of the reason I was so drawn to soccer is because I was good at it and my skills were utilized there. In my youth group, the females were the most consistent members. When it came to “Youth Sunday” we did all of the planning, and yet, were forced to delegate everything we had planned to male execution. It was clear from an early age that I was born to be a leader, and since I couldn’t do that at church, maybe I played soccer instead? It feels good to be a vital part of a team, a leading force, a fully participating member.
Yeah. I think so.
Maybe you're disposed to think that there's no obvious connection between our practice of silencing women in the church and the sexualization of women and girls in our surrounding culture. After all, the most common defense of our practice is that it's biblical and therefore counter-cultural in the best possible way. And what does being silent in the assembly have to do with sexuality? How does accepting the God-created differences between men and women and their concomitant different roles have anything to do with sexualization of girls and women in the larger culture?
But these practices are not counter-cultural. These doctrines and practices fall right into step with messages from our culture that female bodies define women and girls differently than male bodies define men, and that these female bodies fall under the authority of others--others who get to define when and where and how these bodies should be used, when and where and how these bodies are valuable. This is the same message that women and girls get in the form of sexualization, in which others define when and where and how their female bodies are valuable--that is, desirable. The only difference is the lack of an overt sexual component--but this does not, IMO, make the underlying message any less disconcerting or anxiety-producing. And it certainly does not provide a basis from which the sexualized message of our culture can be subverted.
And this means we need to take a good hard honest look at the knee-jerk defensive claim that we're being "biblical" and "counter-cultural." We need to take a good, hard, honest look at what our doctrine and our practice really does to the women and the girls in the pews of our churches. It's not that we're getting it all wrong--as I've said before. But the gospel message that could--and does--subvert the dominant cultural sexualization of girls and women, the message that God has created and chosen and gifted and loved and called without qualification, is one that isn't consistent with the church's practice of silencing and restricting of women. And we need to take a good hard honest look at this inconsistency.
If the church were a soccer field, little girls could discover just how much they could really do--and we would cheer for them.