(Retro)sexism in the church

also posted at CENTURY Blog

I learned a new word recently and then encountered it three times that day. “Retrosexism” hasn’t made it into the Oxford English Dictionary yet, but a Google search turns up several thousand hits, and Newsweek noted last month that “the term ‘retrosexual’ has all but replaced ‘metrosexual’ in the lifestyle sections of national magazines.”

If a metrosexual male is all about fashionable clothes, designer hygiene products, willingness to show emotions, and general open-minded eschewing of traditional masculinity, a retrosexual is the opposite. Retrosexuals reclaim the old notion of men who care little about their appearance and harken back to a more classic understanding of masculinity, no hair product allowed.

“Retrosexism” is the sexism that can accompany these retrosexual attitudes. Often this includes an ironic twist: the retrosexual understands that an idea is offensive but persists anyway, assuming a free pass since he knows it’s sexist. Anita Sarkeesian calls this the “I know that you know that I know” approach to unacceptable sexist behavior:

Retrosexism often glorifies sexism of the past with the double logic that, since folks know the attitude is sexist, it’s somehow okay to look the other way. Think of jokes that end with punch lines about what an old-fashioned grandfather might say about gender relations. Or consider an otherwise forward-thinking college guy winkingly telling a female friend to do his laundry.

Call it “retrosexism” or just plain “sexism.” The objectification and undervaluing of women continues to get a pass in our culture. This is wrong; it’s sin. But I’m betting that it will become more common in our churches in the near future. As women finally make significant inroads into equitable leadership and encounter fewer sexist attitudes in the church, there will be a backlash. Congregational presidents will joke about a pastor not truly deserving maternity leave. Masculine homiletics will attempt to crowd out the feminist voice.

Also, since retro culture tends to look backward with rose-colored glasses, perhaps the church will increase—if this is possible—its glorification of the past. This might include snippets such as “Back in the day before woman pastors” or “I remember when we didn’t need female representation on the church council.”

Maybe I’m wrong about this. I hope so—not everything retro is worth bringing back.


  1. says

    fascinating. I hope you’re wrong, too. I’ll be looking for the signs now. It’s a sure bet, though, that a lot of churches are nostalgic for the past. “back when we were successful”, “back when everybody went to church”.

  2. says

    Did it leave? I mean, seriously. Outside of the bounds of the oldline denominations, there’s very little evidence that the cultural sexism that suppressed call for so many women over thousands of years has been abandoned. Take, for instance, the dominant megachurch in my neck of the woods. I live in the DC area, where almost everyone has a college degree. It’s a place where women work, and lead. The big boy church on the block here, though, leaves no question about it’s stand on women in ministry. Though they have tens of thousands coming to their main campus to worship, and many thousands of others visiting their spreading satellite campuses, they have not a single woman in a leadership position.

    It’s not retro. It’s the dominant form of American Christianity.

  3. NIna says

    I agree that sexism has never left our culture. The full personhood and participation of women requires a constant, visible and vocal commitment by all concerned, as progress has brought backlash. Witness the in subordinationism in some denominations, which requires a belief in an ancient heresy to theologically “justify.” Rather than the Triune Godhead being equal, coexistent etc., they make a heretical hierarchy of them which they want to see played out in gender relations!

    “Retrosexism” is SEXISM and should be recognized for the evil that it is! There is nothing hip, or current or attractive about it. We are ALL made in the image of God, in spite of any rationalizations to the contrary.

  4. NIna says

    To respond to the comments, “back in the day when…” you could add that, “Back in the day when we were racist, sexist, elitist and utterly at cross purposes with the Gospel of love and equality, we attracted more bodies for our pews, more filthy lucre for our coffers!”

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