Monday, July 13, 2015
Will Men Fight Sexism? A Guest Post
Sexism exists in the United States in the broader culture and within the church and it is not fun.
Personally, I have been forced to think about sexism as a very real issue by virtue of merely existing as a woman studying theology and caring about the power of God and the Bible to change how we think and act. Something that has become immediately obvious is that many men (and women!) are simply unaware of the every day problems women face. This is not any individual man's fault. Part of the reality of being a man in this world means you will not have to face many of these situations yourself. For example, on my way to a conference at Fuller my husband tried to get my attention by honking incessantly. I didn't notice. I explained later that I always get honked at, whistled at or derogatory comments as I walk from A to Z dressed in jeans and a plain t-shirt. They were were surprised to hear it. I was surprised they didn't know. I take it for granted that men think I am the type of thing they can do this to. It is usually best to ignore it and keep walking.
If you (men) want to make a difference in your world then it is time to recognize these occurrences as they happen and be a good bystander and say something even if it has some minor personal cost to you. There are greater consequences if women speak up than if you do. If I speak up or get angry when someone is insulting I become written off as "emotional" or an "angry feminist." What this means is that I am not allowed to get angry and have to be as indifference to what is happening to me as possible if I want to be listened to. Generally speaking, I don't get angry though after several days of more overt sexism it gets tiring.
I remember Allison's fingernails gripping my forearm, causing me to bite my tongue. It worked: she kept me from saying something quite offensive to the gentleman, and we ordered our food and went on our way. It wasn't the first time someone said something mildly sexist that weekend, but it certainly was the most memorable.
[End Nick's comment]
What other instances of sexism am I talking about?
Recently, at a conference I was giving a paper refuting the notion that universalism is taught in Romans 5. Beforehand while waiting in line for lunch at a nearby restaurant with my husband a well-meaning man we did not know decided he wanted to pray for my fertility. He asked if we wanted kids and after saying that we would like to adopt in five years (still not sure either way) he made an off color remark to Nick about Sarah only getting pregnant after Abraham prayed and said he wanted to pray for me to have children. I politely let him know that our needs were financial at the moment. He chose to ignore it and pray for my fertility any way after telling us his theology about God's command for me to fill the earth. Notice that Nick's fertility was not prayed for--I was awkwardly singled out and it was assumed that the greatest need of this person he had never met before was to have children. At the moment neither of us knew what to say. It was not unusual for me to have random weird experiences like this and I did not feel embarrassed at the time. Such is life. It was a good thing that I did not feel offended or upset because there were several other minor instances throughout the next couple of days and I needed to focus on reading my paper.
It is usual for me to initially be treated like I do not understand something and have it repeated to me. Something similar regularly happened to my friend Sarah at a Bible college. Even though she got better grades in class, men would regularly try and explain things to her or "help" her understand. I learned early in undergrad to simply repeat their position back to them along with the initial critique and not to be afraid to cut them off from too much repeating. Generally, I only have to "prove" myself the first time around. Another thing many men take for granted is that they will be automatically or more readily included in discussion in their field of study. I have to insert myself into the discussion and be above average to be considered average. Additionally, my contributions are easily compared to other women rather than other people or other scholars. If I do well I may be considered smarter than any women that person knows or if I do average or poorly I am yet another example of why women shouldn't...can't...don't...do this or that. In lists I am generally put alongside other women (coincidentally). I am compared to other women doing theology rather than other people doing theology.
In academia I am always in a no-win situation. If I show emotion I am written off as "emotional." If I am cut and dry and to the point (which happens to be my style whether by nature or nurture) I will be told I am more masculine--not a good thing if you are not a man and happy to be a woman. Sometimes, people are simply shocked that I have said something intelligent. Several times after speaking in some capacity I have been told how pretty I am along with compliments on my arguments, points, delivery...etc. Its not that I don't like being told I am pretty or that I don't think I am. It is simply out of place and odd given that these presentations have nothing to do with this. This is a problem another female friend of mine has who runs a non-profit. I do not know of any male friends who preach or give speeches who are regularly told they are attractive or handsome after they do well. They do not have this narrow and superficial part of themselves highlighted. Being beautiful just so happens to be something women are highly valued for in this society and it cannot help but make its way into every part of our lives.
In movies women are either damsels in distress or scantily clad super heroes who have sex with this or that person (a trend somewhat diminishing!). Female politicians are often sexualized in some way. Hilary is the "nut-cracker" and Palin is the hot ditz.
In common discussion "being a girl" means being weak, incapable, and emotional (supposedly having emotions makes one less objective). Being powerful as a woman means catering to the sexual appetites of men and manipulating them with it. I am supposed to like being called sexy even in a reductionistic way. Attractive, empowered women wear little. In many Christian conservative circles wearing anything revealing (sometimes just attractive) means you are a slut and on the whole we are regularly told that we are responsible for male lust and sin. "Don't 'cause' him to stumble."
There are consequences for women who try and excel in their fields and have a healthy dose of assertiveness to realize their goals. Their character and person often get attacked.
I was warned by someone at TEDS that my potential mentor for an internship Dr. Mimi Haddad was known to be aggressive. This made me nervous. After meeting her and knowing her for many years after this was revealed to be gender stereo-typing because the woman I met was merely assertive, intelligent and insightful.
I became friends with an old classmates Grandmother who likes to research, study Greek and Hebrew and taught herself Russian when in Russia because she could not afford a tutor. Although witty, she is very soft-spoken, gentle and kind. Curiously, many have said she is arrogant, rude and find her threatening. This labeling appears to occur at Bible studies when she timidly shares something she learned from one of her books or in the Greek.
Anytime I am assertive in any way I worry that I came off too strong. Maybe these experiences are why most of my female classmates (very few in number) at the undergrad and masters level stuttered when talking, or apologized for offering an idea and used many qualifiers ("sorry if this sounds..." "I could be wrong but..."). Anything to appear smaller or couch what was about to be said.
Many women who try to do something about any problems around them know they will be thought of as "the BITCH." This word has come up countless times from older and younger women I meet. Most of us do not swear. We find that if we are assertive this becomes our identity. The choice becomes, do we just take it or do we let ourselves become the bitch. We will be seen as aggressive, spiteful, petty, repulsive, whiny, manipulative, and threatening. Men who stand up for us may have their masculinity challenged.
From an early age girls are taught to be polite and selfless. In the real world we are less likely to interrupt when someone talks over us. I didn't even notice I was being interrupted repeatedly in class until my professor scolded the guy. When leading a table discussion on gender one of my classmates kept interrupting his wife every time she tried to give her opinion after I asked it (5x!). This was of course after he had asked me if I was able to be objective and not get upset about the discussion we were all about to have (he had never met me before). Often women are expected to be the ones to follow their husbands education, career, general wants and needs (though this is changing). Many women feel selfish when they have to speak over someone, insist on their way or even request doing something different than what others want to do. They can also feel rude, mean or selfish if they disagree in a public setting and may apologize.
We are regularly taught in church that God designed us to be the only one who is passive, and/or submissive, and/or self-sacrificing when being abused (think John Piper telling wives to endure abuse for a season).
I hear on the radio or in sermons men talk about how women should know their place. I hear how only I should submit. I hear how I should like being ruled over if my husband is nice to me. I hear about how I should give him sex all the time. Sometimes I hear that only a man is made in God's image. It goes on and on. I will also hear how we women are feminizing or taking over the church how the all male leadership is being oppressed for the convictions that women should be submissive...etc. Usually these men are preaching to the choir.
Sometimes someone who knows I am theologically an egalitarian will try and be shocking and say something about my husband having authority over me...etc. I am never shocked. I always hear this.
Such is life.