Gender


The gym bleachers never become more comfortable to sit on. For five years of college I sat on them twice a week and now, as a staff member, I shifted to find a comfortable position as the Gospel Choir exited the stage on the gym floor. I turned my attention to the speaker being welcomed to the position of authority: behind the podium. A White male with multiple graduate degrees and a terminal degree, he represented the most common type of speaker to be seen in chapel. The epitome of knowledge and power, the hope of the future for championing conservative family values, this man was here to challenge university students to become godlier.

As they often do, the speaker opened his talk with a joke. …Except this was a joke about abusive husbands. Laughter immediately filled the gym but trailed off as the words sunk in and students paused – “Wait, was that…okay to say?”

I sat on that wooden bleacher – knees twisted, back aching – seething. Students I knew looked at me with shocked expressions; shaking their heads they whispered to each other. I think I croaked out “Not. Appropriate.” loud enough for several rows of people around me to hear. Hardly an adequate or appropriate response. But I was mad.

How often do we idolize those with Ph.D’s and decades of work experience as having all the answers? Of being the most valuable in our communities? Of being the most like Jesus?

My mind was with the students in the room that had experienced or were currently experiencing abuse. Their stories, their lives, their pain had been trivialized and reduced to a sound bite for entertainment value.

As chapel progressed I fought back my anger and resentment towards well-educated White men that seem to be championed as the future of the Church. I can’t say that I was very successful in doing so. But I was very aware that all that simmering ugly-junk was very much boiling in me, and that it was keeping me from listening to everything else the speaker was saying.

I had a choice. To write this man off as not having anything worthwhile to say, or to acknowledge that God may still speak through him despite his massive ignorance and lack of compassion. I wrestled with myself the remainder of the chapel.

Until I could see myself in him, I didn’t want to listen. Until I could acknowledge that I’m just as broken, I tuned him out. Until I could believe that God chooses to still speak through humans the moment after we wrong him and others around us, my ears were closed and my heart was cold.

Every day we choose who to listen to, and how to listen to them. We can write others off as not being experts, as not being eloquent, and as not having common ground with us. We can give into mockery and disregard of those who aren’t adept socially. We can choose to listen more readily and give more weight to the words of those who are wealthy, White, male, extroverted, and able-bodied.

Or we can believe that God can speak truth through anyone. Even those who are offensive to us, those who have no alphabet soup behind their name, and those who we disagree with. Those who stutter, those who don’t speak up, and those who are so different than us we don’t even know how to begin to get to know them. Those who smell, those whose physical disability makes us uncomfortable, and those who can’t quite seem to read the cues that we have somewhere else to be.

The image of God is in everyone – but we can choose to treat others with dignity or not. We can choose to take uncomfortable or angering situations and humanize all who are involved. We can choose to listen for God’s voice in the voice of others.

When I saw myself as that man, my ears cracked. When I remembered all the times I’ve offended and angered others, my heart thawed. When I owned the grace God gave and gives me, I began to hear him.

When we listen, we can know. When we know, we can understand. And when we understand, we can begin to love.

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.” – Jesus (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus teaches that loving our enemies brings life. Perhaps a step in this direction is to begin to listen to those we struggle with wanting to hear.

The following are a compilation of photos I’ve snapped in the day-to-day. Some looked innocent at first glance but upon further thought I found they served to perpetuate stereotypes that ‘capture’ and render us limited in our identities. Others are a glimpse into a life that can so easily be seen as ‘normal’, that is in fact, just one of many ways of seeing the world. We must acknowledge that our paradigms shape how we see the world, and the world shapes our paradigms. My intention is not to call out any person, company or organization but to call all of us to a greater level of examination of our paradigms and what shapes them.

Difficult times indeed. First world problem?

Missing: Donkey. Lost during the Modernist/Fundamentalist Split.

White men this way!

I’ve seen another (probably more recent) version of this sign that says “crew working”, utilizing gender inclusive language.

I saw this ad in an airport and literally stopped in my tracks, mouth gaping open. If we assume the astronaut is male (especially based off of the proximity and intimacy with the main child) then there is only one woman portrayed in the image as a role model, hero, or someone to look up to. And she’s a princess. Note how the color differences in their outfits point to their gender.

Those who hold privilege in society are granted the ability to assume that their experience is ‘normal’. We assume that others’ experiences are like ours. While R.A. Torrey may have intended this book to be about evangelizing both men and women, he most likely overlooked the ways the genders experience the world differently. Non-inclusive language assumes that the experience of women is the same as men.

It’s impossible not to draw conclusions between the feminine brand name of the wine and the reference to promiscuity. What does this suggest about women who drink?

I thought I may have been looking too hard for objectification in this billboard (“she” + “thing” + “beauty”) but a friend told me about another ad (below) that confirmed my suspicions.

While searching for a picture of this billboard, this one popped up. Originally the billboard has the same caption: “She is a thing of beauty.” Is it referencing the beer, the woman… or both? I think we know. What does this say to men about permission to gaze at women in this way? The Billboard Liberation Front “improved” this sign to clarify the impact that it has on its viewers. It’s also important to note that the upper or upper-middle class individuals in this photo are both White.

Perpetuating the lie that women who hold positions of power hate and are a threat to men. Of the six professionals portrayed in this billboard, five are men and all are White.

A White female jockey, wearing pink and white. Is she whipping the horse or… ?

Spotted at my local lavanderia. Congrats, women! We can now choose a laundry soap that fits with our personality! Calm, passionate, or sexy. No overlapping allowed – you must choose one.

Every time I attempt to tell a friend about this video I end up laughing so hard I have a hard time explaining it. So it’s best you watch it yourself.

As I was driving home from work today, various men on the street and in nearby cars at three separate times yelled “hii!”, whistled, and made lewd noises at me – all in a matter of 30 minutes.

As a child I was taught that it’s rude to stare at, point at, or talk loudly about other people. Even if you are pointing out something you like about that person, you just don’t it. It’s rude.

So why is it that some men feel that they have the right, the permission, and the authority to comment on, point out, judge, and – the absolute worst, to me – assert publicly what they want to do to my body – to my face?

Now, I know there are differences culturally when it comes to some of this. Some women feel affirmed by being whistled at. I don’t think there’s anything intrinsically wrong with this, but I’m also concerned that, as women, we don’t attempt to empower ourselves with the tools that are being used to oppress us. We are not objects; we are beings with a soul. We are not for anyone’s viewing pleasure and we are not for anyone’s consumption.

Not to mention the fear that is perpetuated by every comment or whistle. “How close is he?” “Where’s the nearest store I could duck into?” “Are there enough cars driving past that someone would notice if he grabbed me?”

A whistle may be just that – an acknowledgement, an affirmation. Or it could mean more. One can usually tell by the pitch, intonation, and length of the whistle.

A “hii!” seems simple enough but in my experience, this is usually a distraction technique so that once you look over, blatant vulgarity is expressed.

I don’t think I need to, or care to, define lewd noises.

Most of the time I ignore the comments. Sometimes I’m caught off guard and I do look – and then berate myself for doing so. Occasionally I stare them down. Most rarely do I actually say anything in response.

A few months ago as I was driving home from my Life Group, I was stopped at a stop light and a man in the car next to mine started yelling “Hey! HEEY!!” over and over at me. I put on my “death face” and stared straight ahead pretending not to hear him. Eventually I realized that I recognized the voice – it was one of the men from my Life Group. I rolled down the window and yelled, “Now you know what I do when men yell at me from their cars!” Even after I realized it was him, I was still shaken up from tornado of emotion inside of me. We had a good laugh afterwards, but it was a rare moment in which he was able to experience the toll that these sorts of occurrences have on me as a woman.

Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany

I’ve had quite a few conversations with Christian men who express their frustration that Christian women aren’t able to take a compliment. I definitely have problems in this area. But I don’t think it stems from insecurity of self or distrust of that specific man as much as it does from building a fortress around myself so that anything a man says about my body or my appearance is unable to penetrate its thick walls.

Because usually, the comments that are made towards me should have been checked long  before they made their way out of a man’s mouth. It’s a necessary fortress. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be sensitive to when I should let the drawbridge down (and maybe stop the archers from shooting). I’m thankful for the grace men have offered me after giving me a compliment and I shoot them a funny look or there’s an awkward pause before I say “thank you”. It’s challenging to let moments like that sink in and take the men at their word.

So what can we do to change this?

Men, you can talk amongst yourselves about making comments or whistling in public. You need to be having these conversations. You should be as outraged as some women are at this reality. Discuss the attitudes men hold toward women. Explore why men feel they are justified in letting their opinion about our appearance be known publicly. Educate yourself on concepts of privilege, power, and internalized superiority. Keep each other accountable. Confront men who do this. And continue to give compliments and the needed grace to accompany them.

Women, I’m afraid I have no simple answer. Be willing to consider that there may be cultural differences at play. Sometimes responding to men in the moment only incites them more. Most of the time I want to flip them off or yell a profanity or “would you say that to your sister?!” back at them. It’s more complex to think of a gracious response that takes the higher road, stripping them of the power they’re wielding. Sometimes a long stare might be enough. Other times there may be opportunity to start a conversation. We need to work harder at receiving compliments well too. Be slow in your response. Be willing to take the complimenter at his word. I think practicing giving compliments to men may also assist in the process.

“With [the tongue] we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. Blessing and cursing from the same mouth. My brothers and sister, it just shouldn’t be this way! […] Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. […] What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine.” James 3:9-10, 13, 17 (Common English Bible)

I have a soft spot for period dramas – particularly ones based on novels by Jane Austen. I’m not sure if it’s the long dresses or the beautiful shots of nature or just the ‘simplicity’ of the portrayal of falling in love but somehow these types have films have escaped the grasp of my embarrassed conscience and I continue to watch them.

But as I watch Sense & Sensibility I identify the extreme polarization of two of the main characters. Marianne is a naive woman of 17 who is a whimsical, romantic idealist. Colonel Brandon is an experienced military man old enough to be her father, who hasn’t loved since his wife died. Upon meeting her, the Colonel immediately falls in love with the young Marianne, but, of course, she fancies someone else. She follows her heart and he steadily loves her from afar.

Maybe though, what attracts me to stories like this is not the superficial aspects of clothing and screen shots but the deep rooted desire to have a love story that follows that of Marianne and Colonel Brandon. Maybe, what attracts me to this story is that I secretly wish the immaturity of someone like Marianne could truly attract a man like the Colonel; that I need not be anything other than my naive self to gain the respect of a mature, moral man.

Marianne’s almost-engagement crumbles and in her dramatic emotional state she goes out alone in the rain and falls. Colonel Brandon saves her (*surprise*) and she begins to realize how foolish she’s been. His steadiness tempers her and she becomes worthy of him.

And I’m wondering… where does this sort of fantasy love story turn into an expectation?

This isn’t just a story – I’m absorbing lessons from it. Such as, that it’s reasonable for a quality man to love a fickle, undeserving girl. That it’s okay or even normal for growth in relationships to take one path: the man teaches the woman/the woman learns from the man. That regardless of what the woman does to negatively impact her life, the man will be there waiting for her.

Hold up. This is sounding a little too close to my relationship with God.

When we get down to it, Marianne is an immature child. Colonel Brandon is more like a father figure – or God figure – who guides her development than a loving, equal partner. Granted, this story has context in its time period, but if women (and men) make this love story an ideal today, then it can be pretty destructive. Women abdicate responsibility for their personal growth and development while feeling entitled to a near-perfect man. Men strive to be an unwavering, emotionless provider/protector and don’t believe they have anything to learn from a woman.

I’ve thought a lot more about the repercussions for women than for men at this point. And I think there is a lot for us to consider. First, I think that a lot of young Christian women moan about the lack of quality men around when we aren’t doing a whole lot to pursue our own character growth. Second, we shouldn’t be pursuing our own growth only because we want to make ourselves deserving of a quality man. Third, we aren’t entitled to or promised a near-perfect man or even a man at all.

Don’t get me wrong – marriage is wonderful and I don’t think it’s wrong to want to be married. But as a wise, single woman in her 30’s said, “I know a lot of women who’s desire to be married is so strong that they are unable to live the abundant life that Jesus has given to us to live now.”

So, single ladies, if you so desire, join me in striving to be a well-rounded, accurately self-perceptive, confident in my giftings, deeply and intentionally loving woman regardless of whether or not a man is waiting for me at some point in my lifetime. I don’t think it’s going to be easy, and I’ll be in need of some company. Single gents, you can do the same. I hope and pray that, single or married, we can all experience the reality of the abundance of the Kingdom now, which is ultimately incomparable to these love story fantasies.

The Kingdom of God is:

– not feeling in competition with other women or as if I’m only a potential mate for men

– seeing women (younger and older) comfortable with their gifts of speaking and preaching

– hearing prayers in many languages and global perspectives

– being inspired and convicted by men and women who have traveled the journey of gender equality ahead of me

– being hugged by a professor who’s class was integral in building my foundation of gender equality

– listening to the pain of people of color who were deeply wounded by racism on a campus like Biola

– being affirmed as a White woman in the job I hold

– being asked by a much older, and much more well-educated man what books I would recommend

– much discussion and relating with a passionate, intelligent woman my age

– watching memorial slideshows of competent women who dedicated their lives to go where God called them, regardless of what society would allow

– elevators rides that aren’t awkward

– the grace for being late to a workshop on creating safe spaces

– the process of recognizing the extent to which I have been socialized

– combating the racism, sexism and myths of superiority, inferiority, and meritocracy in my own heart

– having someone I just met share a poem they wrote out with me

– conversations with people of all different races and ethnic backgrounds, in their 20’s and in their 70’s, first-time attendees and founders and board members, experts and beginners, those who paid their own way and those on scholarships…

…this is the Kingdom.

I was determined to make this trip my “vacation” even though I would be having a lot of intellectual stimulation, emotional expression, and very little time to relax. After I arrived at the hotel and explored my room, it hit me.

I’m an adult. I’m a woman. I’m an adult woman.

During life group a few weeks ago I had a conversation with a Sister about why the small group for the high school girls is called “Women’s Group”. Are these teenage girls women? What does it mean if we call them that? It made me realize that I have very specific (and different) ideas about what it means to be a woman. In the adult, “grown-up” sense, “woman” carries a strong connotation of responsibility to me. In fact, I don’t think of much else… Growing up I went from a “child” to a “young woman”. While I was in high school, my parents didn’t like to call us “teenagers” because of rebelliousness, you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do-ness, and out-of-control-ness that is generally associated with the teenage years. Instead, we were “young women” or “young men” who took responsibility for our actions, controlled our impulses, and were respectful to authority. Lack of “teen years” does create issues but it did make us responsible.

So while I imagine that calling teenagers “women” will inspire them to responsibility and healthy adult life, my Sister pointed out that she doesn’t want her young daughter to think she has the advantages of being an adult woman. An excellent and very valid point! But it really made me think about what those advantages are. I’m still thinking, to be honest. Not because there is a lack of advantages, but because I have such a heavily ingrained mentality that “adult woman” = “responsibility” that it’s harder for me to acknowledge them.

Today as I was sitting in a conference room waiting for the first plenary session to start of the Christians for Biblical Equality Conference, I closed my eyes and took a quick spirit assessment. I immediately became choked up. Being the atypical, unemotional woman that I am, it really surprised me.

There was something powerful going on that I’m still not sure I have an understanding of. But I think it has something to do with feeling safe, feeling relief, feeling seen, valued and affirmed as a woman, and feeling the process of my soul healing from internalized inferiority*.

I felt safe because I was in the presence of like-minded community.
I felt relief because I could be real and honest about my beliefs without being told it’s “unbiblical” or “sinful”.
I felt seen, valued and affirmed as a woman not because of what I do or do not do as a living but because others in the room believe that women are full partners in the Kingdom of God – and not just in a spiritual sense.
I felt my soul healing from the damage I have perpetrated against myself that keeps me from believing life-giving truths about myself and from using the gifts God gave me to their full extent.
I felt more alive.

I told myself that on this trip I want to be present. Present with myself, present with others, present with God. No tuning out, no checking out, no skipping out. Fully present. Relaxing, yes. Mind-numbing, no. Fully present.

So far, so good. I realized that while I had been looking forward to the cable, this means that I won’t be turning on the TV while I’m here. And there are TWO of them in my room (??). I intentionally brought only one book with me, a novel. Purposed to be opened in long periods of transition (aka on flights). I thought my computer might be a distraction, but I hope to use it for times of process, like this one.

I praise God that his Kingdom is so wholly other. It’s so outside of what I can comprehend. There is so much freedom and so much affirmation and so much purpose and so much grace. The boundaries that he does give us provide us with health, life, and ironically, even more freedom.

I love being a part of creation that is being reconciled back to the Creator. Back to the way things were intended. Back to being fully woman, fully human.

——

*internalized inferiority: a deep psychological belief that one is inferior to a privileged group; subscribing to the value system created by those in power who deem themselves superior and others (you) inferior. This can happen to people of color because of the system of racism, as with women because of the system of sexism (and so forth). As I struggle with internalized inferiority as a woman, I also struggle with internalized superiority as a White woman.

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