With the recent rollback of reproductive rights in the United States and the passing of anti-trans and anti-drag bills, honoring women this March is a bittersweet affair.

Truth be told, the way we observe Women’s History Month has always troubled me. 

We honor individuals who are “firsts” in their field, ostensibly to show how far we’ve come as a society or to set them up as role models for those who follow. It is right to laud these efforts and persistence. 

Yet, the notion that these women must fight so hard to succeed betrays a systemic issue that also deserves our attention. When we judge a woman’s success on her “hard work,” we are perilously close to expecting women to participate in the toxic, mythical “rugged individualism” convention that created so many barriers for women in the first place. 

Rather than tackling the systemic issues that create unnecessary barriers for women, our celebration of “persistence” feels like celebrating women striving to achieve their aims despite the world around them rather than in partnership with it – in partnership with all of us.

So, what is the Christian response? How might we genuinely partner with women as we celebrate Women’s History Month? 

I am encouraged by a number of ways Disciples are responding. Not only are more women being called as ministers than in years past, but we are seeing congregations leverage their resources to lift women (and their children) from poverty.

For example, Heart of the Rockies Christian Church, a relatively new Disciples congregation in Fort Collins, Colorado, identified accessible and affordable housing and childcare as local issues. Partnering with faith-based organizations, including Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF), they are contributing land for a proposed development that will comprise of housing for low-income families, seniors, and adults with disabilities, as well as a community building with an early childhood education center. 

Their “celebration” of women is more than lip service. They are acting in solidarity with women to ensure they have the resources to succeed. They are addressing systemic problems that have held them back for generations.

Meanwhile, our understanding of womanhood continues to evolve. When we ask how to shift a system that privileges the male-dominant culture at the expense of everyone else, we must also consider how this system privileges cis-gender, heteronormative sexuality.

What if we celebrate Women’s History Month by asking ourselves, “How can we ensure the success of all women? How can we create nurturing, caring spaces to help all women flourish?”

What if we consider, for example, how discriminatory laws impact trans women in our community? How can we support these women in their fight for equality at the local, state/province, and national levels? Is our faith community, for starters, a safe space? 

Disciples have resources to help us improve. Maybe this year, celebrate Women’s History Month by taking the time and energy to explore how our places of worship can become open and affirming.

When the responsibility for achieving gender equity rests on the shoulder of women alone, we will continue to celebrate individual anomalies rather than changing the systems that make these achievements so out of the ordinary. 

When we work to dismantle inequities that create barriers to the success of all women, we’ll genuinely have cause for celebration.

This blog post originally appeared as the opening letter of the March 2023 issue of New Church Ministry‘s newsletter, the New Church Know-It-All.

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