Friday, February 08, 2008

In praise of women

I need some token women to help me out. Partly because I partly meant that. Last time I checked, I was a man; and I do intend to stay that way. But due to that gift of God and/or quirk of plumbing; I cannot fully know what it feels like to be a woman. As close as possible, I really want to know. Don't get scared off... ..all I mean by that is: it's easy for me to say I believe in, want to respect and honor, women in ministry. I do know there are untold number of ways even we "liberated" men don't...especially when we seek "token" female responses to questions like "What does it feel like to be a woman in ministry?"... We basically say things like "some of my best friends in ministry are women (and some of them are black)". We wind up (literally, see origin of the word) patronizing and patriarchal. But whether by default or design, the fault is mine if I come off sexist or sexualizing when I seek to defend you (Oh man, how sexist is that..the knight is shining armor?? I am more Quixotic, anyway) and learn from you (better). Because I tend to register as an INFP; (and cannot tell you who won the Super Bowl this week), I may have to my advantage certain traits traditionally seen as more prevalant in women (compassion, right brain, ability to connect etc). I hope. How do you, women readers, particularly those in pastoral, professorial, or ministry leader roles, feel short-changed...not necessarily by fighting fundies who chew you out for being "out of God's will" for teaching in a church setting (Have you ever noticed that even the most conservative churches who do not "allow women to have authority over a man" specialize in female Sunday school teachers to train up the church's children...including lots of young men?), but by men who are at least theologically in your court? What kind of dumb things do we say and pray that betray us? (And honey, Don't get me started on men who call women "honey.") Tell some stories. Some have suggested that because I encouraged the first female pastor in our network to join us, which may have cost us certain people dropping out as they couldn't agree theologically with ordination of women, I have taken a brave stand. I don't see it that way. For one, our ministry director (male, of course) took a lot more hits. But I think we both would say "This is just a no-brainer." as opposed to a Luther hero movie "Here I stand, I can do no other." Share some experiences ...anonymously if necessary, about well-intentioned (or not) sexist comments by us well-meaning (or not) male souls. Post something; help me out. PS: readers should know that because this blog is mirrored on MySpace, Facebook and other sites; often the most interaction and wiki-conversation happens not on the "official" blog, but on some of the other versions of it(Blogs are old school and sexist in a way. Though they allow for "comments" at the bottom of the page, it's clear who the one expert is supposed to be... Some of the social networking sites allow for more collaborative conversation. All that to say, check the other sites for other responses.. ...and don't let me take all your answers and then write a "Top Ten Ways to Honor Women" written by a man!(:


  1. The very fact that you ask, and the accompanying disclaimers, reveal a sensitivity that tells me you would be the last person to intentionally offend.

    Generally, I'm suspicious of seeing people primarily through the lens of gender (as if that identity were static and fixed and identical in all people). Consequently, for example, I have declined to contribute to, forums that address women leaders in ministry--because I see them as deepening the disfunctional gender dichotomy by separating the neutral category of leadership in two. (In addition, the "leadership" construct, as portrayed by various leadership gurus, gives me nausea.)

    Having said that, since you ask so sincerely and so nicely, I'll give you one example that comes to mind. My own well-meaning, feminist husband (from a hierarchical background) falls in this trap sometimes: The Strong Women. He said the other day that one reason he likes the Jim Lehrer Show is the presence of strong women journalists there. Like many other well-intending men I've heard use this phrase in church settings, he used the phrase "strong women" to compliment independent-mindedness. Problem with that is the implication of surprise at the strength of women (whatever that strength means). I suppose it's akin to singling out Barack Obama as articulate. That implication pays homage to the old stereotype that conditions us to see women as weaker vessels, of course.

    While this is a minor quibble, I think that it points to the category of mistakes we all make: that of omission of expectations. Well-intended words can hint at the absence of certain expectations that should be natural for egalitarians.

    But as I have said at the outset, Dave, you come across as already very sensitive to these issues.

    In addition, I hope that your sensitivity isn't teased out by people who are playing the identity card with you unfairly, people busy perpetuating their own victimization and projecting it on others. There's so much more people like that could do.

  2. Well. I must say first that I agree with the comment above me from Agnieszka Tennant. Generally I tend to feel that some women perpetuate the perception of women as weaker and less capable by becoming over-sensitized to every feminine reference. I for one AM a "strong woman" who quite enjoys being called "honey", "sweetie" and "sugar britches" --- ok --- go ahead and laugh. I'm secure enough in my strength as a PERSON that I see the intent behind the nickname :)
    One thing I DO absolutely detest tho, is the perception on the part of many many men (even the ones like my wonderful hubby who deny it) that raising children is somehow less of a task or accomplishment or stress inducing endeavor than making money. Strength does not have to be synonymous with money or career.

  3. ok, dave...will do...I don't usually get on these blogs..but for you...

    ok..I can actually say alot about this issue...but for now I'll keep it short. How about this one...
    When I was a Principal of two schools at one asked me 'what does your husband think about this..or feel about this.."but now I find it fascinating, that is the question asked when I've stepped out into 'another type of ministry (prayer related), and one of the first questions is 'what does your husband think about this? or feel about this.." i dont get it...somehow it seems this ministry is more important to have my husbands approval than the ministry in the educational arena.
    I didn't want to believe there were gender prejudices, but having experienced them in the educational arena I realize it is everywhere...

  4. Well, here's one of my all-time favorites: "Your husband sure is a great guy--the way he takes care of your children so that you can be a minister." LOL. As a wife staying home with the children, I was just doing the expected. My husband, however, gets a nifty label (great guy!) as he stoops in humility to enable my ministry! (He actually IS a great guy and a wonderful husband, but we are partners in ministry, each doing what we can to produce the best in our together-ministry AND in our family.) The expectations of roles (woman barefoot and pregnant in front of the kitchen sink and father businessman, breadwinner and home-in-the-evening family man) still form the shadows of our language--and still somehow belittle the woman and elevate the man, even when that woman and man co-labor for the Kingdom.

  5. amazing comments, everyone...keep'em coming


  6. See Nadia's post on women in ministry


Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!