It is almost a cliché to discuss the amount of social change in the 1960s and 1970s, yet the topic is relevant to the Images of God Project. The feminist movement that was a central part of changes that reached into every corner of American life, whether one rejected the idea of women’s equality or marched in the street supporting it. In The Feminine Mystique (1963), Betty Friedan showed women that other women shared their frustrations with the legal, economic, and social restrictions on women’s lives.
Women organized and lobbied for changes in state and federal policies that addressed a wide range of inequalities, including access to education, financial credit, jobs, and housing. Attitudes changed toward rape and domestic violence. Childcare became more available. Abortion became constitutionally protected. Divorce became easier. Looking back, it is difficult to understand the jolt in American life that the feminist movement gave the country.
Even language changed. State legislatures and Congress remedied many of the blatantly sexist laws in the codes and statutes. They also scoured the laws for gender-based language—all those feminine and masculine pronouns and nouns. Workmen became workers, firemen became firefighters, and so on. Teams considered the implications of the gender-based language and whether it created an advantage or disadvantage to anyone based on sex.
During the 1960s and 1970s, it was still acceptable for the word man to imply woman, but only in certain situations. There were, however, times when man meant the male human being—you just had to know the culture well enough to discern the situations when it did and when it included female human beings. It was tricky and women objected. Women wanted to be present as females, not as pseudo-males or occasional males, or semi-males. Those with female body parts and hormones wanted to be acknowledged.
The Images of God Project has its roots in the turmoil of new ideas that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s. During those decades, feminist scholars, philosophers, and theologians like Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Reuther challenged the androcentric hierarchy of Christian institutions and the exclusively male images of God. The decades since have brought surging energy and then seemingly little interest in expanding our imagery and naming of God. Perhaps the 2010s and 2020s will be another time of change.