Why discrimination against women in the workplace is a bad idea for Christians

In an interesting article featured last week in the Aquila Report Rebecca VanDoodewaard argued that Christian business owners and churches should consider making an extra effort to hire male clerks to fulfill jobs often satisfied by female secretaries. VanDoodewaard clarified that she does not have a problem with women working. But, she says, “we can easily fall into the trap of going along unthinkingly with our culture because evaluation of a societal norm can be uncomfortable.”

She goes on to offer several reasons, a couple of which relate closely to the roles and interrelationships of men and women.

1. In this economy, the role of clerk would give men a job. I know that it is controversial to give a man job priority over a woman, but let’s face it: in spite all the feminism, men are still the primary breadwinners in families, and they should be (I Tim. 5:8). What about single women, you ask? As primary breadwinners, shouldn’t they have jobs, too? Of course. But there are women working as secretaries whose income supplements their husband’s. I’m not saying that they don’t need the money, I’m not saying they should not work. I’m saying that where a man could support himself and maybe a wife with the job that is simply supplementing a married woman’s household income, then the man should get the job, competence being equal. No, this is not politically correct. But it would enable more men to provide for themselves and their wives.

4. Replacing secretaries with clerks would also reduce the opportunity for work place adultery. Secretary jokes are standard in our world because people know it’s a reality. We know women whose husbands have left them for their secretaries. Think about it: having a woman who is not your wife helping you day in, day out opens up a huge avenue for emotional entanglements which often lead to physical ones. A clerk, while not removing the sin in your heart, will remove the opportunity, and that’s half the battle (Matt. 5:28-30).

I have written on this blog before about the danger of viewing the problem of lust and adultery as a problem that is to be solved by reducing the social interactions between men and women. And in an excellent response to VanDoodewaard’s article Rachel Miller points out that the ordinary workplace is already far too integrated for VanDoodewaard’s proposal to make much sense in most circumstances. But Miller also raises excellent questions about the level of paternalism required in VanDoodewaard’s approach.

I am greatly disturbed by Mrs. VanDoodewaard’s belief that women in secretarial jobs are “simply supplementing” the household income. She does note that the income may be needed, but she goes on to say that men should be hired preferentially, all other factors being equal…

How exactly should businesses go about determining if woman is working to “simply supplement” her husband’s income or working because without her income there wouldn’t be food on the table or a roof over their heads or clothes on their backs? …

While I’m sure there are women who are working for purely selfish reasons, the majority of women who work low-paying, secretarial jobs are working to help provide for their families. What does Mrs. VanDoodewaard suggest these women do instead? In the current economy, two incomes are often a necessity, not a luxury.

These are excellent points. Should employers be probing prospective employees about their marital status, relationships with their husbands, or their family finances? Rarely are two job candidates entirely equal. Just how high up the list of job criteria should gender and marital circumstances be?

I wholeheartedly affirm the importance of encouraging mothers to focus their best time and energy on raising and teaching their children (Titus 2:5; 1 Timothy 2:15). There is no doubt that children do best when both Dad and Mom are not distracted by full-time jobs that leave only the marginal hours for the family. And especially in the early years there is no question that a mother is capable of the kind of nurture that no one else can provide.

But I also think that the sorts of questions VanDoodewaard is raising are best answered by each particular woman and her husband rather than by the paternalistic second-guessing of prospective employers. It is somewhat denigrating of the dignity of a woman who has thought long and hard about whether to seek employment and come to a difficult decision on the matter only to have to answer to the probing of an employer who does not even know her. And who is he to think he is the judge?

Yet aside from the invasive and paternalistic nature of these sorts of questions VanDoodewaard’s argument comes up against a further obstacle that Christians need to take very seriously. Her proposals are not simply politically incorrect and counter-cultural; they seem to be illegal. According to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:

It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer –

(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or

(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

Now Christians and business people might find this law unnecessarily obtrusive. Some might believe that the law goes beyond the proper authority of the federal government, or that it prevents them from using their employment opportunities to shape society as they desire – whether in terms of religion, race, gender, or whatever. But it does remain the law of the land, designed to secure a measure of justice in part for women who wish not to be subject to the sort of paternalism VanDoodewaard urges us to consider. Unless the law forces us to disobey the commandments of God, which is not the case in this situation, we need to obey it.

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on October 29, 2012, in Equality, Jobs, Uncategorized, women and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Why discrimination against women in the workplace is a bad idea for Christians.

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