It’s international women’s day! I love that! I think it’s bizarre that we get a day, but I won’t complain about the opportunity for women to celebrate being a woman!
This day inspires me to poke one of my favorite bears, and see what happens. Let’s talk about…
The Boys Club. Oh no! Oh YES! This concept is probably best highlighted by Chris Traeger on Parks and Recreation. Leslie’s team attempts to put together a gender equality commission, but only male government workers show up. Chris has a poignant realization after acknowledging that he didn’t invite women, and stunned, says, “I am part of the problem.” Boys Clubs exist at the top of most hierarchies. The cage that I want to rattle is church.
“Don’t look it in the eye,” the church cautions, staring down and slowly backing away. “Look at the solution, not the problem,” religion chides condescendingly, with it’s hands behind it’s head. “Sexism and racism aren’t an issue anymore,” retorts denial to a room full of white men. All those statements really tell me is that you’re not feeling this problem, the urgency of it, and you’d like for me to sit down, shut up, and wait for the boys to hand me a solution.
I love church, and I love my life liberated from sexist, limiting interpretations of the Bible that leave many living smaller than they were ever intended to be. I grew up in a church where women couldn’t hold leadership roles. As a result, I never attempted to ready myself to hold those roles, I absolutely hated church, and I dreamt of finding success in any other arena. I never thought that I would love God and live the life I’m living now, so finding out you have a leadership/teaching/preaching gift has ran me into to some brutal realizations.
Many speak of the female leadership deficit saying, ‘we can’t promote women who aren’t participating in our field.’ There is logic to that. No, you can’t immediately make a business CEO from someone who had farmed their whole life.
What you can do is began to mentor promising people who are currently not widely represented in your group.
I don’t believe I’ve seen any women groomed the way that I’ve seen it done with men, largely because most often you’ll see church leaders are male and are trying to do integrity well. All respect due, women tend to get the message that they’re ticking sexual time bombs to you if you avoid investing in them because of their gender and relationship status. I see women serving their hearts out every week and never seeing any promotion, when as soon as a man expresses interest in an area, more often than not they immediately get promoted to join the club.
If you choose to mentor someone, sometimes even the most incredible women may need you to believe in them before they believe in themselves. That’s not as easy, huh? But it’s true. Where men were taught that to conquer and chase leadership was normal, women are taught that to be the boss means to be bossy. This causes many to shy away.
From someone who spent most of her early life aiming at perfect and ‘pretty’ instead of seriously considering my actual potential, I know this need to believed in firsthand. As an adult, I find myself grieving wasted time and reexamining what’s actual possible for me, when all the sudden there are more options than I’d thought.
Growing up, when I would hear the men around me being asked incredible questions like “what do you want to do after college/with your life?” I was hearing girls asked low level questions like “who’s your best friend right now? How is your boyfriend?”
Women are socialized that a women in leadership who is assertive, outspoken, and intelligent is more of a problem than a solution. Later in life women can find themselves playing catch-up, as they work against the grain to make their way in a gendered field.
Sexism is revealed by how many women are currently standing in your boardroom, whether that be a church office or a laboratory. You may not have actively participated in the fact that there are 0-2 women in your sphere, but if you aim for equality you are now responsible to influence change.
If you say “we love women,” I actually need you to show me how you’re doing that. Saying kind things to us, giving us a rose once a year, then applying 5th century rules of engagement in your interactions with us is not love.
This conversation isn’t intended as a ‘woe is me’ proclamation. I’m also part of a great church. This is simply an honest glimpse into an area that seems to function as a blind spot in many or most groups I’ve been apart of. Well-meaning people who have never questioned their beliefs or actions create systems that are limiting, and I’d love to clear off the windows for a second.
If you’re interested, here are some things you can do:
-Find out how male/female-dominated your field is.
-Assess what you can do for the women in your life to believe better for themselves. Realize that you might be the first person to fully believe in them. Ask them beautiful hard questions about the future. Ask them in depth questions about their passions. Let them know their dreams are a tangible reality.
-Check your own assumptions about women. Why aren’t there any in the room right now? If they’re here, how am I treating them? Am I offering them a platform? If there are none, how have I contributed?
-If your church or community has been anti-promotion in attitude towards women, dare to ask good questions. Put yourself in a woman’s shoes. Find out how fun your life would be.
-Read Fashioned to Reign by Kris Vallotton.
-Stand with women: A very bizarre phenomena is happening. From a political stance, I’ve observed the church invalidating and demoralizing women who have stood for gender equality. I did not say abortion. Those two are often closely tied in our rhetoric, but it is possible to separate equality (equal pay, well-being) and abortion. People cast ‘victim minded’ aspersions on those who have a heart for healing and who are genuinely concerned about the actions of people in high authority. It has gotten ugly, and makes me very sad. Christian women need your voice saying “that’s not okay” along with them. Even pure kindness in the face of an opinion you disagree with is a salve to an unsettled heart.
-Realize that it’s not only unpopular to say something like “I want equality” right now, in religious circles it’s often socially frowned upon. Ask yourself why, and what that might contribute to in the future. Honor those people who speak up, whether or not you agree with them. Validate their experiences. Listen.