We recently celebrated International Women’s Day, a call to action for accelerating gender parity. In the UK, we have been consciously pursuing gender equality for some decades. But are we on the right path? The UK is home to countless victims of human trafficking, a significant proportion of whom are held for the purpose of sexual exploitation. One in four women in England and Wales will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. If we were making good progress, could this still be the case?
The UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) defines discrimination as “Any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex ...”. Is this what we are still shooting for, to combat distinction, to fight exclusion and restriction? Have we to some degree quietly slipped into a process of barrier removal and the pursuit of identical treatment as a proxy to equality?
The stories, songs and poems of the bible are set in ancient cultures of strong gender imbalance. Some argue that this justifies cultural inequality. But when we look at Godʼs actions, time and time again He moves to radically subvert and challenge this condition. I suspect that we donʼt readily grasp how offensively transformative these stories were to the cultures of their times. God is a dramatic feminist.
Perhaps our theology demands that we open up the vista of our politics on gender equality. Can we move on from policies that neutralise or negate gender? Can we envisage a restoration of humanity in which gender identity is entirely positive, fully accessible, carrying no prejudice or expectation but rather offering vibrant potential for creativity and unity?
If this is our goal, what do we act on? It strikes me that undercutting all of our efforts for equality is a digital drug, a venom circulating unchecked through our society. It poisons the eyes, hearts and minds of our men and devalues, dehumanises and objectifies our women. It distorts, diminishes and undermines sexuality for all of us.
Alongside the growing body of evidence that pornography damages relationships, marriage and individual sexuality, there are also alarming indications that our children are being increasingly exposed to and influenced by porn, much of which is violent in content. Even more concerning is the growing weight of cultural expectation amongst young people to expose themselves via picture message and social media.
Policies to reduce accidental exposure to porn have been debated and should be promoted and supported. But I believe that we have a larger part to play in bringing this topic out into the light.
Breaking the taboo is the first step, as is putting down weak arguments that support pornography in the name of a distorted understanding of gender equality. I believe that we can immunise families against pornography through visibility, awareness, openness and education, show it for what it is, and show its effects.
This can and should start in our churches. Two years ago the men of my church met to talk about porn and its effects on us, our relationships and our families. It was raw, honest and a time of immense healing and restoration. We need more. We can and must rescue our children, youth and adults from the addictive poison of pornography and its industry.
This, I believe, would be a decisive step on our journey into recreated humanity and true gender equality.
- Crime Survey of England and Wales, 2013/14
- National Referral Mechanism Statistics – End of Year Summary 2014