Women’s rights and the gross consequences of gender inequality have come back into the spotlight this week. PBS aired “Half the Sky,” a documentary based on the book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn. People in the Twin Ports got to see WuDunn speak at St. Scholastica. And yesterday, the media announced that the Taliban had shot Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old girl who had spoken out about her desire for an education. She is alive, but in critical condition.
One of the things that struck me, in Half the Sky, WuDunn’s speech, and the story about Yousafzai, was how education was held up as the answer to the problem of gender inequality. But is it?
I would never deny that educating girls is crucial to addressing a wide variety of social issues, and to giving women options–options that allow them to live healthy, fulfilling lives and create a better future for their children. But as much of a no-brainer as women’s education is, I am not convinced that the primary barrier to gender equality is ignorance. I believe the primary barrier to gender equality lies in the depravity of the human heart–in the widespread acceptance of male entitlement, in the desire to control, in the prideful love of power, even if that power over another person’s life is candy-coated and reframed as protection and provision. There’s nothing wrong (and a whole lot right) with protecting and providing for the people you love, but when that protection comes with a tax on the person’s dignity, free will, and development–well, the Mafia offers that, too!
It also struck me again how many of these atrocities spring from deeply held beliefs and traditions regarding “a woman’s place,” and how often women themselves propagated and enforced those beliefs. Women circumcised their daughters because “God demands it,” denied their daughters education because her future husband might be intimidated by a well-educated woman, and sent their desperate daughters back to abusive husbands because “she is a wife.” It was the morally correct thing to do, the God-honoring thing, in the eyes of that society.
And as horrendous as that seems to us, watching Half the Sky from the comfort of our homes, the truth of the matter is that mindset is not as far removed from our reality as we would like to believe. We kowtow to male ego and entitlement. We affirm hierarchies that keep women beneath men. And while we certainly don’t practice female genital mutilation, we have no shortage of writers and speakers who profit from painfully slicing God-given traits they feel are undesirable in women off their feminine souls, stitching them up tight, and calling that biblical.
Excuse me while I upend some tables. Probably of the book-selling variety.
No, the root of the problem is not a lack of education–although education certainly helps. The root of the problem is depravity. Pride. Selfishness. Love of power. Human brokenness. The idolatry of un-Christ-like religious traditions, and desire for cultural affirmation.
The answer is not education. The answer is revival and regeneration.