Did you know that, in current gender studies, gender is something we ‘perform’? That is one hypothesis from recent theory, which has moved well beyond the nature/nurture debate into post-modern realms of choice, continuum, and inclusiveness.

Elaine Graham, Grosvenor Professor of Practical Theology at Chester University led us from our current variety of understandings about gender and why it matters into thinking about where the academic world is now, where society is now (which of course varies globally – in the West men don’t wear skirts, in Tonga and Samoa, where some participants came from, they do) and where the church is now.

We looked at how we know what gender we are, how different genders relate to each other, and how male and female particularly are represented in current media.  It was salutary to recognise, yet again, how far behind the institutional Church is on this issue. Or is it? As we discussed (mostly with horror) the pinkification of girls, and the statistics on women in leadership in the UK,  as well as the effect of the latest welfare cuts on women, there were reminders of the re-emergence of ‘male headship’ as a teaching that is spreading from the US into our churches. Maybe the church and society are in step in encouraging women back into primarily caring for the home and family.

This day was therefore a useful reminder of how far there is still to go in enabling women and men to flourish together, along with all who do not fit the ‘male/female’ norm. And that the struggle for gender equality within the churches is far from won.

Hilary Cotton