In the face of grim statistics, the Church needs to offer something better

Written by Bonnie Pue

Earlier this year, Time magazine released an article titled, “Teen Girls are Facing a Mental Health Epidemic. We’re Doing Nothing About It.” The Center for Disease Control reported that nearly one in three high school girls considered suicide in 2021, which is a 60 per cent increase in a decade.

I’ve seen these statistics playing out in my own circles too. Just last summer, a friend of mine was preaching at a youth camp for girls and came home with harrowing tales of 11 and 12 year olds who were confessing suicidal ideation and debilitating levels of depression and anxiety.

Certainly boys are suffering too, in their own ways and with unique ramifications. However, there seems to be an increased risk in young women.

In the book of Jeremiah, the young prophet calls out to his people, confronting anyone who called out “peace, peace” when there really was no peace. He prefaces the rebuke by saying, “They heal the brokenness of the daughter of my people superficially” (Jeremiah 6:14, MEV).

Essentially he was saying, “They’re pretending that everything is fine, but everything is not fine!”

The wounds of the daughters of Canada go deep; research, stats, and anecdotes make this evident. Sure, girls are going to university, awing the crowd with sports achievements, and showing up in new professional territory, but they are also struggling to fall asleep without medication, struggling to wake up without stimulants, and struggling to tell their friends or parents how they’re really doing.

Femicides are rising steeply according to a recent study, with a woman or girl being murdered every 48 hours in Canada. Physiological differences between men and women are part of what leaves women vulnerable to violence. (Males make up over 80 per cent of those accused of the crimes.) According to a 2021 Statistics Canada report, women are five times more likely to experience sexual assault.

The question we must ask is, What will actually bring peace to these women and girls?

I can think of at least three ways we can begin to that answer that question. One, relational security, two offering a more holistic view of women’s sexuality, and three, better protecting women’s physical safety.

Relational security fosters thriving

There is subtle (and not so subtle) messaging all around us that tells girls that they need to be independent, tough, and self-sufficient in order to make it in this world. But the pressure to carry the load alone is beginning to crush girls. No one ridicules the majestic oak tree for needing a secure root system; it’s time to push back on the cultural narrative that “going it alone” is true strength.

Girls are designed to have relational security. They thrive when supported by attentive, invested parents or guardians who are available for regular conversations, and who take an interest in how they are really doing.

Girls need to know their parents and caregivers will show them consistent affection, affirmation, and attention. Just as some plants are heliocentric, seeking out the warmth and light of the sun, so will young women lean towards the attention of those who have turned towards them. There are those who prey upon this tendency, and so if we want young women to experience true peace, we’ll need to help them identify the difference between authentic love and the self-serving methods of others.

Sexuality has a relational context

The culture we swim in wants us to believe that a woman’s primary identity is her sexuality, and this messaging is picked up even when girls start wearing makeup, branded with taglines like “Nude Obsessions” and “Kitty Likes to Scratch.”

Cosmopolitan magazines boast that they can teach her “40 New Tricks to Keep Him Satisfied.” TikTok reminds her constantly about thigh gaps and exercises to grow her glutes. Trending songs announce that “Spilling secrets to the stranger in my bed, I remember nothing, so there’s nothing to regret.”

The underlying expectation is: You will have to participate in this if you don’t want to be left behind, if you don’t want to be alone.

Yes, women have sexual desires, but they more freely and joyfully express that part of themselves in relational contexts. Covenant relationships are meant to create environments where women are embraced in the fullness of who they are rather than be grasped only when they perform.

If we want girls to experience peace, we must emphasize the value of their entire personhood—body, soul, and spirit—and teach them the life-giving context for their sexuality.

Many people see something good in the efforts of feminism to ensure women are treated as autonomous and capable, yet they shy away from the importance of protecting women or teaching young men to show women different treatment.

Protecting women’s safety is becoming even more urgent

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, femicides are rising. According to a 2021 Statistics Canada report, women are five times more likely to experience sexual assault. According to Manitoba’s provincial website, “The single greatest risk factor for experiencing sexual violence is to be a woman or girl or perceived as feminine.”

Yet at the same time, in an attempt to respect the efforts of feminism to see women treated as autonomous and capable, many people shy away from or reject the idea of protecting women or teaching young men to show her different treatment.

“Mind your own business.”

“She doesn’t need your help.”

“She wants equality doesn’t she?”

In recent years I’ve watched young women reject and flee from their femininity, I suspect in part because they intuitively understand that to be female is to be at risk. If we want our girls to be at peace, we need better protections for women, including men who will rise up with the firm conviction that women will be safe in their presence.

The heart of God towards the daughters of earth has always been the same. His will and desire is that each woman would know she is not alone, that she is delighted in, that she is more than her sexuality, and that she is safe.

God gave His laws to enforce these values. He suffered a brutal execution and overcame the grave to redeem the broken, and He sent His Spirit to dwell in our hearts and remind us of these truths. When we really see girls as He does, it will inform our daily interactions and transform how we reach out to those who are oppressed.

Bonnie Pue is a mother of six and co-founder of the Union Movement living in Mission, B.C. Read more from the “Making love matter(s)” column.