Monday, October 29, 2012

Women out of Place

Growing up I did not face gender discrimination. In fact, at my church in Alhambra and in my home the ability for women to become leaders was not argued for, it was the norm. When I had questions my dad would encourage me to look into the Bible and sort through the passages with him. Even though he gave me his position he taught me how to read the Bible for myself and to arrive at my own conclusions while drawing from other people’s strengths. He would also learn from me as I learned from him. At church my questioning of ideas was only encouraged more and I was never made to feel out of place in many of the discussions the adult men were having. Women also regularly expressed their ideas and took initiative. Our assistant pastor was female. Nothing seemed odd or out of place on that account. I was not told it was ok. The issue did not come up in my environment. All of this to say, I never got the impression that anything was out of the ordinary. I never had a gender crisis or confusion over who I was as a girl or how as a girl I fit into God’s plan. I never thought of myself as acting or thinking like a boy or not being like a girl either. Boys were different from girls, but not over which was supposed to be more active, take more initiative or lead. Even now, my church in Santa Ana has readily funded my seminary education. However, many women in the church have not had my experience or upbringing.

I started to notice that something was a bit different when in an introduction class (special class to meet people and get situated) at Biola I realized I was the only girl. I hadn’t noticed at first since I was too busy engaging in theological discussions with my classmates much as I had always done at church. It was only when the teacher arrived that we all realized we were in this intro class because we were Bible majors. The first thought that occurred to me was: “That’s why we all started talking about theology!” Next I wondered why I was the only girl in the class. The reason did not occur to me. The reason also did not occur to me later for why some people at the school treated me as incompetent (read my stories about sexism). This was generally not the case, but looking back, there were enough “isolated” incidents to make them not so isolated. What also began to be strange to me was when I would hear backhanded compliments about how smart I was—smarter than any other women the person speaking knew. I also began to hear various people describe my own theological interests as masculine. One friend suspected I was just pretending to act feminine sometimes to cover up my masculine tendencies! At the time I had mentally dismissed him as a bit out to lunch since 1) I was a female and so probably was not pretending and 2) Nothing in my previous experience told me only men did theology and debated. I didn’t know it, but the experiences of other people were shaping how they saw me and how they read the Bible.
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