“You’re a white American male with a college degree. The world is your oyster – don’t ever forget that!”
I’ve been thinking a lot about male privilege lately. Well, not just lately. I overheard that conversation at a Starbucks in Washington, D.C. more than a year ago, and it still haunts me. The Oxford Dictionary defines privilege as “a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group”. Simply put, privilege has to do with how groups in society accommodate and cater to you.
I think many Christians are becoming more aware of racial and class privilege, but I don’t see the same level of awareness about male privilege.
Over the past few months I’ve had several conversations with male friends who disagree that they are “privileged” in their communities of faith and that women are at a disadvantage as a result. I had been praying and mulling over how to break through this impasse when I came across The Male Privilege Checklist. There are a lot of these lists floating around, but this one had a lot of examples that I think are also true in church contexts. I’ve rewritten a few from my vantage point as a woman in the conservative evangelical church.
1. A person’s male privilege is reflected the second he wonders why people are still talking about gender.
It is reflected even more if he acts offended or annoyed when another person calls out and questions that male privilege. “We should all look past gender” is a statement often made by someone for whom gender is not a daily issue or negotiation.
2. Male privilege means never having your intelligence or qualifications questioned because of your gender.
It probably won’t be assumed that you aren’t good with money, that you’re more easily deceived, or that your ability to make important decisions is dependent on what time of the month it is.
3. If you apply for a pastoral staff job, you can be sure your gender won’t be an issue.
In fact, unless it’s a children’s or women’s ministry job the odds are skewed in your favor. The more prestigious the job (think “senior pastor”), the larger the odds are skewed in your favor. The decision to hire you will not be influenced by assumptions about whether or not you have young children at home or if you might be starting a family soon.
4. If you perform the same task as a woman, chances are people will think you did a better job even if the outcomes were the same.
And if you preach a Sunday message, you can be sure that your entire sex will not be put on trial (and you won’t have to worry about where to put the mic pack or the message your wardrobe sends).
5. The governing boards of your church and denomination will be composed mostly of people of your same gender.
The odds are 10:1 that the senior pastor, associate pastor, worship pastor, and board chair will be male as well. Every time you attend a service you will see people of your own gender widely represented on the platform.
6. As a man, you are more likely to be trusted with responsibilities, even if you are new to the church.
You are likely to be asked your opinion about key issues in the church. You will be listened to when you speak, and your opinion will be taken seriously. (If you’re married, your wife is more likely to be asked to serve in children’s ministries or bring refreshments.)
7. When you attend church meetings you can be emotional or assertive without being thought of in a negative light.
You are more likely to receive eye contact from men in the group, and on average, you will not be interrupted by women in a meeting as often as women are interrupted by men. You probably don’t worry about going to your car in the church parking lot late at night alone.
8. Male biblical characters will be featured as primary subjects and positive examples 90% of the time in the educational curriculum.
Male characters will be featured in the majority of lessons in the children’s curriculum, and in the youth group curriculum, and in the Sunday morning sermon, and in the small group studies…you get the idea.
9. You can be confident that the language used in all aspects of corporate worship will clearly include you.
This will be true of any scripture that is read (regardless of the translation used), the quotes that are cited, and the worship songs that are selected. You will not be expected to translate or interpret when gendered pronouns do or do not apply to you.
10. God will be pictured as male and described in masculine terms 90% of the time.
I recognize that there are situations in life in which men are also disadvantaged, and know that the fact that male privilege exists does not mean that a man’s life is carefree. But the reality is that when one group is privileged over another, the other group suffers and we are not fully living out the gospel message. While it’s encouraging to see more and more men advocating for the full inclusion of women in the church, we still have a long way to go. I believe that for the most part men have good intentions towards their sisters in Christ.
But brothers, until you acknowledge your male privilege and the impact it has on us, it’s hard to have a productive conversation about what we can do to make the Kingdom here on earth look more like the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Junia Project is blessed to have some amazing male advocates speak up on the blog. We’re thankful for Brandon Chase, Bob Edwards, Tim Evans, Tim Fall, Dominique Gilliard, David Hayward, Mark Kubo, Patrick Mead, Tim Peck, Nicholas Quient, Rob Dixon, Sean Thompson, Sam Vaudrey, Larry Walkemeyer, Brian Wiele. Thanks for recognizing your privilege and for living out what it means to be one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
Graphic credit: David Hayward.
Thanks for all of the great dialog on this post. This has been one of our most popular topics, with almost 40,000 views to date! I was pleased with the overall tone of the discussion and appreciated the thoughtfulness of the responses. There were only 2-3 comments that were too snarky or discourteous to post, which is amazing for this kind of traffic. We are turning off the comments today because after 11 months of blogging we are taking a break until after Labor Day! Look forward to engaging with you again in the fall. Blessings, Gail
I am the mother of two white males, so I’m not trying to be pejorative. But in my experience as a Christian woman who attends church and has long worked in secular environments, white men are born into such an entitled privilege in our society, Christian or otherwise, that they take it for granted and fail to recognize it as privilege. In fact, it’s mostly males who are white who push back against the points Dr. Gail Wallace has made in this blog. Males and females of color, as well as white women, rarely do because the rest of us in those other categories recognize and have experienced the negative (albeit perhaps unintentional) effects of white male entitlement.
It is never Jesus’ maleness that is emphasized but rather His humanity. “Head” likewise does not imply “boss of” “leader of” “authority over”(although Jesus is these things for the Church because He is G-d), but rather depict a connection, a source. There were many Greek words that are used to imply authority. “Kephale” isn’t one of them.
I’m honored to be mentioned. Gail, Kate, all the other people, ya’ll are awesome. Keep on “gospeling!”
Gail I understand your point, but what about Jesus himself, is he not a male, and is he not referred to as the “head” of the church? There is no ambiguity of his gender.
It is interesting to note that in scripture, Jesus is only called the “Head of the Church” after He has died for the Church. It seems to be His sacrifice, not His gender, that qualifies Him as such. It is also good to remember that He is God, and not only man. I don’t think any other “man” would have been given this title.
Jesus being male and being head of the church also pertain to his nature as fully human and fully God, but they are not conflated natures, of course, and so his being male is not to be conflated with his being God the son who is head of the church. It’s all part of the incarnation.
Kate, I don’t think anyone’s saying He is head of the church because of His gender — just that He is both male and Head of the Church. Point 10 seems to suggest that God being described in masculine terms is evidence of male privilege. I get that feminine imagery for God is in the Bible, but Jesus (male) said to pray to Our Father (male). So, are we blaming God for male privilege because YHWH (I’ll avoid a pronoun) became flesh and dwelt among us as a male? For me, this weakens the case being made.
Brian, I can assure you that no one is blaming God for male privilege here! I really don’t see how you could get that impression from Kate’s response. We humans are solely to blame.
As far as #10, the point I was trying to make (not very successfully, apparently!) is that pastors and other teachers are choosing to teach and preach using the male metaphors for God almost exclusively, and ignoring the female metaphors. Even John Calvin noted “God has manifested himself to be both Father and Mother so that we might be more aware of God’s constant presence and willingness to assist us.” (Commentaries, Volume 8, Isaiah 33-66.)
There are good reasons Jesus came to earth in male form, but that’s a topic for another post (he was also Jewish, single, and of Middle-Eastern descent).As my friend Marg writes in “Is God Male or Masculine”: “It is important to note that while Jesus is a man, his male-ness is never emphasized in the New Testament. For instance in Philippians 2:7, 1 Timothy 2:5, and 1 Cor 15:47, the Greek word translated as “man” (anthrōpos) actually means a “person” or a “human being”. In fact Jesus is rarely referred to in the Greek as anēr (man); he is most commonly referred to as anthrōpos (a human being). Jesus became our saviour and mediator primarily because he became human, not because he became a male human.” http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/is-god-male-or-masculine/
Ronald, could you explain how Jesus’ gender excuses male privilege in the Church? Christ is the head of the Church, not men.
Great point Kathy!
Ronald, it is true that Jesus is unambiguously male. and yet he is only referred to as an aner (adult male) two times in the Greek New Testament (that I can find.) On all the other occasions the word used is anthrōpos which means “human”.
The NT doesn’t highlight his gender. But Jesus himself emphasizes his humanity be preferring the title “Son of Humanity (anthrōpos).”
Excellent piece Gail! Privilege is such a difficult concept to reveal, because it seems to require exposure to lots of alternative perspectives before one can see their own biases. In my own journey, it took many years “outside the church”, being exposed to very challenging research in the fields of Sociology and then Biology.
I always appreciate your work here at The Junia Project. Peace!
My initial thought was “Well, when you have a religion with a long tradition of patriarchy, much of it baked in to its holy book, of course Male privilege is going to show up… a lot.” Which isn’t an attempt by me to minimize or excuse the behavior, it just seems to meet my expectations.
Kind of disappointing that churches have typically (not saying all mind you) reinforced prejudicial cultural norms of the time (racism, classism, sexism, the list goes on..) instead of bucking the trends as many of the writings about what Jesus commanded suggest he might have wanted. It seems almost as though the Bible is more of a Rorschach as people seem to use it to justify whatever it is they already believe, be it slavery or the abolishment thereof.
In some churches today, women literally can’t speak during the services. In others, they can’t read the Bible from behind the pulpit. In some, they must cover their hair, or they will allegedly “cause” men to lust. Many churches bar women from leadership positions: pastor, elder, bishop, deacon, priest. Some will not allow women to sit on committees related to church doctrine or discipline.
Why do women—and only women—face all of these restrictions? Simply because they are women. Historically (beginning with commentaries from the 2nd Century A.D.), the church has portrayed womanhood as something that is either defective or dangerous—hence all the restrictions. Generally the proposed solution to the alleged “problem” of womanhood has been “submission” or “subjection” to male authority. This solution was, of course, proposed by male theologians, who lived in dramatically patriarchal cultures that tended to blame women for their social problems. Rome, for example, blamed women (in general) for military defeat in the Punic wars. Most of these restrictions on women in the church can be traced to Roman traditions dating back to the 2nd-4th centuries A.D.. The only literature I’ve ever read that is similar to this can be found in Adolf Hitler’s treatment of Jews in “Mein Kampf.”
The irrational scape-goating of women by the church reached its zenith in the Inquisition. I don’t have the heart to recount that appalling history here.
It was carried into the Reformation by theologians like John Calvin, who insisted that women be submissive to the “more distinguished sex.” Calvin repeatedly quotes 4th century church leaders like St. Augustine to support his conclusions.
We have a sad history of Bible translation that has literally changed female names to male (e.g. Junia) and has translated words one way for men (e.g. minister, deacon, leader) and another way for women (e.g. servant, servant, servant). That’s what happens when you have all-male translation committees drawn from cultures that accept male-governance as a social necessity and attribute it to God’s design.
Today, many churches continue to perpetuate an irrational fear of womanhood that is expressed through male control, wrongly portrayed as “God’s will.”
Every time I see a particular church break from this oppressive tradition–and I’m seeing that more and more–I say a heartfelt prayer of thanks.
I am extremely fortunate to be a 4th gen female minister in my family (my grandma reminded me of this at my ordination). 1/2 of all ministers in our denomination are female, and have been since the beginning, 149 yrs. ago. (Though the highest levels of administration still are heavily male) It is disturbing how mankind has hampered God’s call to make disciples of all nations and peoples.
Joel 2:28 “”And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions.”
Acts 2:17 “”‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams”
I believe we’re in those days and … Sons and DAUGHTERS will prophecy (preach).
Let us ALL lead into the world, and churches, bringing the Word of Truth to all. AMEN
Amen, Sister! Thank you for that prophetic word 🙂
Who knows what his intent was? Doesn’t matter. He ripped with “darling.” First thing that came to his mind was that, and it immediately put Gail down.
Female privilege has *never* been seen in the church. I’m a PhD and this is my specific research area. Gail, I love that you give people an opportunity for examples. But I’m convinced you will get nothing meaningful.
I don’t doubt you are right, Marti. I have learned from this conversation that some men who don’t fit the current “macho man” mold being promoted in many churches also feel marginalized, but I think that is a separate issue. Would love to hear more about your research sometime!
The other side of the coin: In every egalitarian evangelical group I’ve ever been in — ever — the women pretty much run it and the less-than-desirable men are completely shut out. It’s a reason why, for example, black churches are about two-thirds female; many make little, if any, effort to reach out to men.
Rick, there are churches where women dominate, and churches where men dominate. We are not advocating for either one. We need mutuality in our churches, not domination in any form. This idea, however, doesn’t change the fact that we should do everything in our power to eliminate sexism in the Church.
I belong to an egalitarian evangelical group and our president is a man.
Wonderful! I am a female minister, but as a Children’s Minister, my leadership is “only with the kids.” My colleges and superiors are all white men that are at least twice my age. I am so thankful for women like you who can be our voice! Blessings.
I feel like this isn’t quite Biblical. The reason 90% of the examples are men is because that accurately reflects the Bible stories themselves. I as a woman pastor have never even thought I was being put down or couldn’t relate because the Bible has more stories about men than women. The nouns used are reflective of the Greek it was written in. I feel that this seeks to undermine the leading role men play in marriages and the church by telling them they are overstepping their bounds when they are not. We aren’t victims and putting men down by making them feel that they are doing something wrong is not the way to fix this.
“the leading role men play in marriages and the church” – You’ve got me curious. What leading role do you see men having in marriages and the church?
I agree with Tim’s response to Pastorsadie. What leading roles?
We are in an orientation right now with a group of new members in our (small, home based) church. The point being made (and this is my belief) is that God is both male and female. “In His image He created them male and female”. However, Pastorsadie is correct. The Bible was written with male pronouns, and the Hebrew cultures were paternalistic and followed the law of primogeniture. This meant that the first born son was given the rights and the inheritance of the family, or at least the “first fruits”. The interesting thing is that God chose to express Himself in the breaking of this law, by establishing the lineage through second born sons like Jacob. See Matthew 1. So we are given to think that God chose to exalt the lowly, and not those in positions of power and influence. Additionally, with Paul’s comments in Galatians, we are allowed to believe that gender, along with class or position, were not recognized in the new Kingdom that Christ was establishing. “Men are to be brides, women are to be sons”. We use the term “Son” in our church without regard to gender, and only to recognize the inheritance that we share in Christ, brothers and sisters both.
‘Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church’?
All, the eldership passages…?
Is the husband passage about leadership or sacrifice? I think the latter when taken in context.
And on the eldership passages, is the fact Paul framed the qualifications in reference to men culturally based or spiritually mandated?
Ah yes, primarily about sacrifice, you are right there! (And ‘lead your wives’ is not in the passage!) But don’t make the distinction too great! Leadership and authority in the NT is sacrificial! At least the right kind is.
Re. eldership passages: I have a sneaky feeling you’re going for ‘culturally based’? Do i have that incorrect? Apologies if I do!
I think they are spiritual qualifications address to men. By spiritual I mean they are based primarily on godliness. Yet they are intended for men who lead as elders.
I’m assuming (and again, apologies if I’m assuming incorrectly), that you’d say they are spiritually mandated qualifications which, in ‘our culture’ are now open to women.
If I have you wrong, then would you allow me please to repost an answer? 🙂
Grace and peace
Ryan, thanks for joining the conversation! I can’t speak for Tim, but as far as the eldership passages, while there were certainly cultural factors in play (like no education for women and women being considered property) I think the bigger issue is one of inaccurate bible translation. Most of the male pronouns you read in your English bible in those passages were added “for clarification” by the translators and do not appear in the original Greek manuscripts. For example, a more correct translation of 1 Timothy 3:2-7 would read something like this:
“Now the overseer is to be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money; must manage their own family well and see that children obey, and do so in a manner worthy of full respect. Must not be a recent convert, or may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. Must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so as not to fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” The only gendered phrase is “husband of one wife”, which was a metaphor for fidelity in marriage.
But even beyond that, I see no indication that Paul meant for church leadership models (if we can even call them that)to be continued infinitely into the future without adaptation. I doubt the New Community was even thinking about that! This is probably why we don’t find consistent restrictions on women in the epistles. Paul was aware that there was chaos in public worship in Corinth and heretical teaching in Ephesus (women being culprits in both situations, apparently) and took steps to correct those problems. On the other hand, the churches in Rome and Philippi seemed to get it right. I think it’s fair to say that Paul did not intend to establish a gender-discriminatory policy for all churches for all time.
The fact is that women exercised significant leadership in the early church, filling the roles of apostle, prophet, deacon, evangelist, and teacher. You can read more on women deacons and elders here: http://blog.cbeinternational.org/2013/09/but-what-about-women-deacons-elders/ and I’ve also written on this here: https://juniaproject.com/six-reasons-women-on-board-1/
You are right. The Bible has more stories about men than women. The Bible has more males than females in leadership. The Bible says Jesus chose only men as his favored 12 to leat when he was gone. God is referred to as male 99% of the time. Our savior is male. You are right.
Is this privilege is grounded in our holy book? If so, what are our options as women if we want to be fully human?
Stephanie, everything you have said is correct except for Jesus telling the Twelve to “lead”. Jesus never told them to lead, but he did authorize eleven (not twelve) of his disciples to make other disciples of all nations. In making disciples, Jesus authorized them to “feed” and baptize, etc, but he didn’t use words like lead. (Please lest me know if I’ve overlooked a verse where Jesus does in fact tell the disciples to lead.)
And then Pentecost came, and the Holy Spirit equipped both men and women for ministry. The New Testament tells us that prerequisites for New Covenant ministry are essentially spiritual and moral, and not physical like in the Old Testament priesthood.
In the Old Testament priests and temple workers could be corrupt, but as long as they passed the physical requirements they could serve in the Tabernacle and Temple. The New Testament tells us that in the Church, ministers must be moral and spiritually gifted. More on this here: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/old-testament-priests-new-testament-ministers/
We are New Covenant people, not Old Testament people. Even the Twelve were still under the Old Covenant before Jesus died and rose again, and sent his Holy Spirit. So we need to be careful that we don’t bring old, obsolete patterns on ministry and worship into the Church.
Also, God is never referred to as a male. He is described metaphorically as a father, a warrior, and a king, but never as male. Moreover, God describes himself as a woman in Isaiah 42:14, but of course he isn’t female or male. These are just descriptions to help us understand aspects of nature or character.
Great points, Marg. And thanks for especially for pointing out that Jesus’ followers before the crucifixion were still living under the Old Covenant. The book of Hebrews is clear that the New Covenant didn’t start until Jesus shed his blood. This fact should be in the front of our minds when discerning his teachings in the gospels. Not everything he said was about New Covenant life. Some of it was said in the context of speaking to people about life under the Old Covenant.
The Bible naturally has more stories about men than women, that is true, Pastor Sadie. But oftentimes the women that are mentioned in the Bible are overlooked entirely. How much teaching to we get about Deborah, Huldah, or Abigail? Mary Magdalene, Priscilla? I think the article makes a very valid point in that regard.
Exactly, Greg. A woman recently preached a wonderful sermon on Exodus 2 and featured Miriam as the “main character”, pointing out how we need to be considering how we are going to position ourselves to be available to be used by God just as she did. It was so powerful! I suppose if it were just a matter of underrepresentation that would be one thing, but far too often women characters are presented as one-dimensional or in a way that emphasizes their negative characteristics.
Fair call on most of that Gail (especially the one dimensional elements).
I suppose some of our fears of which gender is taking the “main role” would be helped by remembering that God is the main character of every part of the Bible, even if the passage does have a Moses or Miriam or Paul.
Very good post! I agree with you completely, here is a headsupp: males have to deal with the fact to be called ‘bride’ of Christ for eternity!
And women have to deal with being called sons of God for eternity.
You know, Greg, that used to bother me until I learned that by calling all believers sons, Paul was, in effect, raising the status of women to be equal with men since in those days daughters usually could not inherit 🙂
Hi. I appreciate this site and this post in particular. It can be hard to ‘see’ privilege, even from the margins, so I value your insights.
When a friend posted this on facebook I pondered when someone would write a post about how married/parent privilege shows up, and it was suggested I should do it, so I did kick off with some thoughts.
Joining you in the conversation:
Excellent post, Emma! Yes, when the church puts too much emphasis on gender roles we end up with a status system in which married women and mothers are sometimes valued above unmarried women or women who don’t have children. What a shame. Thanks for sharing that link!
What a wonderful discussion and greatly needed! As a woman who has pioneered “non-traditional” positions for evangelical women in a very conservative church, I relate to the discussion.
In seminary, I asked for female role models and my Dean seemed offended, asking why men could not role model for me. My first response was that when we take on the mannerisms and behavior of our male role models, we are tagged as being too aggressive, too manly, too “butch.” My second response was to question: 1) what attire do you recommend when I baptize, full immersion (I date myself here): traditional skirt that would float up and become inappropriate attire or slacks that, at that time, were considered inappropriate attire in the conservative evangelical church? 2) If I am pregnant, do I continue to preach, especially in the last trimester and “showing”? A few of these questions later, the Dean reluctantly agreed that women ministers might need role models who are women. At some point, there must be successful female clergy to role model for the younger females.
Female ministers traditionally have two roles in the evangelical church: 1) garbage can ministries (those that men throw away) and 2) birthing ministries. In the latter one, similar to traditional families, once the ministry “comes of age” (becomes successful), a male takes over the ministry. While this discussion focuses on female clergy, I often am amused that the evangelical church finds it inappropriate for women to act as an usher, taking the offering in a worship service. I once told a colleague that I was the epitome of the end time, fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy!
The brother from UMC that addressed the reversal of privilege is living through a time that women in the evangelical church would like to experience. In those churches, often referred to as the “high church” (higher emphasis on liturgy), there was an intentionality of breaking male privilege. Those in ecclesiastical hierarchy in the “high church” intentionally placed women in leadership and on strategic committees in order to quickly become egalitarian. It worked but, as their male clergy now cite, perhaps there is now a prominence of female privilege; something the evangelical female clergy would like the option to experience. I often cite this as a model for the evangelical church. I have witnessed very few senior leadership follow this model through 1) ensuring a female is represented on every committee, 2) requiring pastoral search committees consider female candidates, 3) modeling professional ecclesiastical relationships with females to address those that argue male and female clergy cannot be seen together even if it is a professional luncheon (I heard this argument this past week), 4) appointing women to positions that are open, especially those of leadership, 5) teaching and preaching that women may be deacons, ushers and especially leadership of male clergy.
It is with great disappointment that in my own faith group, where our highest elected official is a “known feminist,” he has never taken the moral courage to appoint a woman to a non-traditional position so that the denomination may experience the successful leadership of a female clergyperson. There are many well qualified, even over-qualified, women clergy who are overlooked in favor of men. This is also true of women who are asked to preach at national conferences. These women are not in leadership of men but are in traditionally “female” roles, leading fellow women. Perhaps the leadership finds that these women will be more palatable to male clergy in the audience and, therefore, are seeking to delicately introduce the possibility of women in leadership.
For those of us living out this painfully slow process, the continued marginalization of our calling serves to limit the furtherance of the Kingdom of God. While it is a consolation to hold onto the belief that if God calls, it is His responsibility to ensure the fulfillment of that calling, the evangelical female clergyperson ultimately knows that we will stand before God and give account. The desire to fulfill our call does not lay in a desire for earthly recognition; it is firmly rooted in the knowledge of eternal consequences. I long for the day when I no longer pioneer non-traditional roles for women, for a day when male and female operating together for the Kingdom of God is normative, fulfilling our callings through the skill sets endowed by our Creator!
Priscilla, thanks for adding more to the story and for the insight into the history of the UMC. As you note in your last paragraph, we aren’t bringing up because we want to demand our “rights”, but because it is “right”. Not fully including women at all levels of representation limits our ability to advance Christ’s kingdom.
If you’re experiencing these kind of issues, why complain. Leave and find a different church.
Jeff, I agree with that advice, although some folks have made a commitment to stay and support change. We are hearing in our inbox that in some areas of the country it is hard to find a church with more representative governance. For example, in our geographic location it is mostly mainline denominations who include women on the board or in the pulpit. We just had a reader email asking if there are any conservative evangelical churches in the Boston area that are egalitarian, as she moved there recently and hasn’t been able to find one. Have heard that about the Colorado Springs area as well. What is it like in your neck of the woods?
Gail, I don’t have “conservative” and “liberal” or “evangelical” designations on the list, but I would encourage you to have people take a look at my directory when looking for churches. There certainly would be some that are egalitarian that would not be on the list…but this list of church where the SENIOR leader is a woman are certainly ones that are egalitarian. There is one in the Boston area. I don’t know which of these churches might be near Colorado Springs since I don’t know the area.
Is there any church in the world that *doesn’t* experience these kinds of issues? I’m Episcopalian, a woman is our Presiding Bishop, women are, in theory, equal to men… yet even in my diocese, a very progressive one, we have never had a female Bishop Diocesan, Cathedral Dean, and many of our largest churches have never had a female rector.
Too many times, women’s gifts are shunted off towards “coordination,” bringing food, supporting male leadership, rather than being invited to lead ourselves. It grows wearisome.
Jeff, I appreciate your pragmatism. I did that. And then it happened in my new church. So I left again. And again. And again. And then I left the church entirely. Because I was so tired of being dehumanized. Until men and women are able to address this issue, the church is going to continue to hemorrhage both men and women who desire to be fully human.
I suggest that we appreciate and support those people who can manage to stay and try to change things. Kudos to you.
I’ve got news for you darling. There’s also such a thing as women’s privilege in certain denominations, particularly the UMC. Dozens of times I have witnessed women be appointed over men to churches with deep pockets in the name of gender equality. In many cases men who have been serving for years were passed over in order to appoint women fresh out of seminary to high positions. One in particular went right to work for the bishop fresh out of seminary because her mother was a district superintendent. While the rest of us “average white guys” serve small rural churches who have no money, and we often have to work a second job just to make ends meet. And don’t get me started on the fact that I have to do yard work, take out garbage, etc, many jobs a female pastor will never have to do. My rant is over. I’m just tired of hearing about injustice only for certain people.
There’s a difference between injustice and institutionalized privilege. Gail’s post is about the latter while your comment seems to concern the former. They’re not synonymous but they’re both bad.
Tim, that’s a great way to put it. There is probably no injustice that happens 100% to women and never to men. But these inequalities generally happen to women much more than to men. A man’s individual experiences or the anecdotal stories that we hear that are exceptions don’t change the fact that overall, men are still the default in power positions in most conservative evangelical churches.
Gail starts out telling us that, “I’ve rewritten a few from my vantage point as a woman in the conservative evangelical church.” As someone who just graduated from a UMC seminary in the Northeast US, the UMC generally does not count as a “conservative evangelical church.” I grew up in the Southeastern US, however, and my experience of UMC’s in that area definitely fits with much of what she says in this article. Seeing the difference between these two regional areas of UMC’s, I have come to realize that a lot of theology is actually regional rather than denominational, and theology in the Southeastern US tends to be more conservative than theology in the Northeastern US. Thus, I never saw a female pastor growing up, though I know many up here. At any rate, I think an argument could probably be made that some (not all) of these things are changing in progressive/mainline congregations.
This is not to say that what you describe is unfair – I agree with you that it is. However, the unfairness you describe is not limited to “average white guys.” Many of my female friends who just graduated seminary and got appointments are serving part time in rural churches (one friend moved to another conference because the only thing she was offered was a quarter time appointment in an urban [i.e. expensive] environment without a parsonage). They are also single, which means that they will be responsible for doing the yard work at their parsonage (if they have one) and taking out all the trash. (In fact, I’m the one who takes out the trash in my married household – my husband almost never does it.)
Perhaps more progressive/mainline congregations are making too much of a pendulum swing the other way, but I personally have not seen this to be the case in conservative evangelical churches. Trying to make people aware of male privilege does not mean trying to negate the negative experiences that some/many men have in our society. In fact, Gail points this out in her second to last paragraph. However, she is right that a first step toward understanding what women are complaining about is understanding that being male in our society is being privileged in some ways.
Great point, Kristi. I do think that there are pockets of the U.S. where gender bias is more prevalent in the church, for example, the Bible belt and Southern California, which believe it or not, has sometimes been called “the Bible belt of the West”. I don’t have time to look it up, but my understanding is that most female clergy are paid less than male clergy, and serve in smaller churches. Maybe someone out there can point us to some stats. And thanks for making the point again that we really want men to listen and try to see things from our perspective. If they showed up at church on a Sunday morning and all of the genders of the people involved at church were switched – there was a female pastor, female associate pastor, female youth pastor, female worship leader, all female elder board, etc., I really wonder how long men would stay in the church.
Here are some stats that show the inequality that persists even in denominations that formally recognize gender equality.
(1) A bit dated now, but a 1999 study found that women clergy in the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) were over-represented in positions of lower-status and that this inequality was consistent over time and clergy career [Paul Sullins, “The Stained Glass Ceiling: Career Attainment for Women Clergy,” Sociology of Religion 61, (2000): 243].
(2) Of the 1,163 senior pastors surveyed for The 2012-2013 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff, only 3% were women. Of the 719 solo pastors surveyed, only 8% were women. Additionally, they found that women earned only about 80% of compensation men earned. [Richard R. Hammar, The 2012-2013 Compensation Handbook for Church Staff (Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today International, 2011)].
(3) In the PC(USA), approximately one-third of pastors are female, while almost 60% of members are female. [Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Research Services: A Ministry of the General Assembly Mission Council, Comparative Statistics 2010: Information About the Membership, Ministers, and Finances of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (Louisville: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 2010), 29.]
Thanks, Kari! I’m thinking it would be really helpful for someone to research this across denominations. Anyone need a good research project for a class?
I’m trying to find the stats and can’t, but there is some research showing that when an under-represented group begins to approach parity with a more dominant group, the dominant group begins to perceive them as “taking over”. I wonder how that dynamic is played out in churches…
“Darling,” if I may (Oh, the irony of a man responding to a woman pointing out male privilege, disagreeing with her and calling her “darling”… #sigh)
What you are describing is not gender privilege, it’s class privilege. Look up “intersectionality.”
In the situation you’re describing, those with the gold are making the rules–and in that system, MEN STILL HAVE PRIVILEGE OVER WOMEN. You provided ONE example of a woman getting preferential treatment over others because of her mother’s position; let’s pretend we had two powerful parents with children graduating seminary, one with a daughter and one with a son. Who would be more likely to get the cushy job, if both parents are equally rich or powerful?
Criss, I agree with you that the situation “grumble” described sounded more like catering to deep pockets than anything having to do with gender! Hard to imagine the daughter getting the job if the scenario had been as you described. And I refrained from responding to being called “darling” by a total stranger, which was obviously condescending and patronizing. I decided it did more to discredit the writer than anything I could say in return, but I appreciate you pointing out the irony!
Grumble, others have addressed your comments already, so I’ll just add that I would love to hear any stats you have to back-up your opinion. I took two minutes and found these stats on the UMC official website:
“As of December 2006, there were 32,742 active clergy appointed to local churches, to settings beyond the local church, and to extension ministries. The majority are male (73 percent 23,848, and 27 percent (8,892) are femaleii. A small percentage of the clergy are Black/African American (7 percent 2,184), almost 3 percent (895) are Asian, and 2 percent (559) are Hispanic. The majority are White/Caucasian (88 percent, 28,837), and 1 percent (267) are Native American, Pacific Islander, or multiracial.”
A 2008 study showed that “the number of female pastors has increased from 20% in 1998 to 29% by 2008”.
I think it would be safe to say that UMC women clergy are probably around the 30% mark today. It is true that this is probably the highest of all denominations, and even so, it seems to be a long way from your perception that women are more privileged, since the numbers for men are more than double that of women. One can assume that in the conservative evangelical denominations I was referring to in the post the numbers are much lower.
Hi Gail, I really appreciate your article and the balanced replies you give. Interesting that you mention women in UMC are at about 30%. In all the reading I have done this is the maximum representation that women achieve in male dominated industries. At this point it seems that they appear over represented so that the percentage is very unlikely to increase.
Nome, thanks for your kind words. And yes, I’ve also read that women are perceived as over-represented when they get to 30% as well, and am trying to track down some of that research. A quick search last night turned up a lot of studies that show people consistently overestimate how much women speak in meetings, perceiving them to speak more than men, when the opposite is true in most cases. You might appreciate this article which discusses a study showing that women are often disadvantaged in speech participation, whereas men are never disadvantaged (p.12) and that women speak substantially less than men in most mixed-gender combinations (p.13). http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20131112-do-women-talk-more-than-men
Yeah, you starting your comment to Gail with a condescending “darling” pretty well shows where you’re at on this topic. Also, what you’re describing is not privilege, but apparently a poorly executed attempt at leveling a playing field that has excluded women complete as a matter of policy for many, many years.
From one average white guy to another, consider listening to the experiences of people unlike yourself.
Even responding with “darling” is sexist, grumble bumble. Unless you’re married to me, you’re being pejorative, treating me or any woman dismissively.
That was a telltale sign, indeed 🙁
‘Darling’ was so stereotypical, it made me laugh. I’m sure the gentleman wasn’t trying to be funny, or be a stereotype, but … got it on both counts.
Gail, thank you for your thoughts!
As a woman in seminary, I have noticed that any argument is considered more seriously when it is supported by academic research that can be cited. It is easy to refute generalizations and statements that seem to be subjective. Like it or not, as women we must be even more careful to keep our arguments away from “feels like.” White males won’t listen otherwise, and that’s the whole point.
Yes, Michelle, I agree, and typically we do that here on TJP. But as I mentioned in the post, this was an adaptation of lists circulating on the internet – most are written by men and do not include support. The research is certainly out there, although as far as things like men on governing boards, in the pulpit, on the platform, and in key staff positions, I think even a brief look at any conservative evangelical church website will tell the same story. It would be fun to have readers assess their churches one weekend and report back! Hmmmm…
There are plenty of studies about discrimination against women when it comes to job selection and performance. When I have time I may go back and add a link for each point I can find research for, but in the meantime, these findings are applicable:
1. Biernat, Tocci, and Williams(2012) found that women had to be 2.5 times more productive to be judged as equal to men in a performance review. (The Language of Performance Evaluations:Gender-Based Shifts in Content and Consistency of Judgment. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(2), 186-192.)
2. Rouse and Golden (2000) found that concealing the gender of musicians auditioning for spots in symphony orchestras significantly boosts the hiring of women. http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/aer.90.4.715
3. I didn’t include pay differences on the list, but in churches the pay gap shows up across positions, from a $25,000 difference in full-time senior pastor salaries to a $10,000 gap in full-time custodial salaries. http://blog.managingyourchurch.com/2014/01/the_pastor_pay_gap.html
What research are you looking at in seminary? Are you aware of any groups studying this issue? Would be a great dissertation topic!
Thought your article got right to the point. I have tried to get some people to understand this myself. Even some women do not see a problem with the manner in which things are done in the church settings centering around men, I have come across a few.
This is Margie Murphy. Patrick is my husband. Him and I play out battle of the sexes and it comes down to the matter no matter what the jobs are they have to get done. Bluntly speaking, it doesn’t matter who has the male or female gonads. As we see it, gender roles have been met and bent and overcome throughout time and worldwide. However, the way mothers and fathers raise their kids is what matters most. The chapter of Ephesians in the Holy Bible (check each version) brushes over this particular subject.
I stumbled upon this post this morning in the middle of studying for this Sunday’s sermon, which happens to be on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16. What are your thoughts on Paul’s assertion that men and women are created equal but have different roles in the home, church (also referenced in 1 Corinthians14), and society? Thanks so much!
Christians for Biblical Equality is a WONDERFUL group of men and women who have been studying and publishing and teaching on the subject of gender. I know you will find them helpful and kind. So much of the discussion is not kind. CBE is the kindest group of human beings I have ever met. Best wishes on your journey.
Yes, CBE is featured on our resources page and is the “mother ship” so to speak for biblical egalitarianism 🙂
Michael, that question is obviously not related to this post, but the short answer is that while men and women certainly take on different roles (and often more than one role at a time) I don’t agree that Paul ever said much about roles at all, at least not in terms of limiting women from church leadership – that’s really the question here, isn’t it? I think it’a logical fallacy to say that a group (women) can be equal to another group (men) yet but under that group’s authority. That’s not roles, that’s hierarchical rank. The best information on this is in Phil Payne’s book, Man and Woman: One in Christ. And here are a couple of articles I think help explain the passages you are asking about and that also give more resources:
On 1 Corinthians 11:
And on 1 Corinthians 14
I think that first reference on 1 Cor 11 is awesome! 😉
In light of this post, not sure if anyone has seen this:
Jamin, I had seen that before, but loved reading it again. Such an interesting phenomenon. Austin Channing has a great post about how her parents intentionally gave her a gender neutral name: ” “We knew that if you ever applied for a job, wrote a resume, filled out an application for school, people would look at your name and assume you are a white man. We knew you’d be smart and charming enough to make it through anyone’s interview. But we had to get you to the interview.” Her parents were trying to level the playing field. http://austinchanning.com/blog/?offset=1394596487395
I’m assuming you also saw: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/09/14/1211286109
“A person’s male privilege is reflected the second he wonders why people are still talking about gender.”
This is also true of race or any other differences we have. I believe people with privilege unconsciously see themselves as “normal,” not “privileged,” so they don’t understand that those lacking privilege have a genuine beef.
I’m glad I haven’t seen most of these in my church, but #7 comes into play not only in church meetings but in the workplace. If a guy gets angry he’s being assertive. If a woman gets angry she’s “losing control.”
Gail, I so appreciate this blog post! It really helps clarify for me what male privilege looks like in the church. I’ve experienced people saying some of these things but I wouldn’t have been able to put a name on it – so your words are very helpful. It also gives me some talking points, perhaps, for the future.
I also wanted to say that peoples’ comments show such depth of thought. I think when we start to speak of privilege, so many of us are privileged in one way or another and it can be hard to hold all of that in your mind and words. One wants to be very careful not to exclude anyone’s perspective. At the same time, if we’re speaking of a specific form of privilege, it helps to be specific about how that form plays out. And Gail, I think you did a great job if keeping the focus where it needs to be in the venue of the Junia Project. Thanks!
Bravo! I have seen many of these issues crop up in seminaries as well, even those that are more on the progressive side as far as women in ministry. It is so encouraging to see these issues called out for what they are, and in a loving manner.
My greatest catalyst to becoming egalitarian was when I attended a Conservative Baptist church that had an all-male elder board in their 30’s and 40’s, many who were also young Christians. The older men had all been cycled through the board many times and were tired of the responsibility, and the women of the church were not even considered for leadership because of their gender. Well…conflict hit and the church ended up in a huge mess because these young men seemed to be more interested in winning than in healing the congregation and shepherding everyone to reconciliation. It angered me to no end that the wise women of the church, who would have neutralized a lot of the conflict and been more team-oriented and nurturing in their leading, were sidelined because of their gender. The role of women in that church was meal prep, music, cleaning, and child care. I think if that church had given equal standing to their women, it would have benefited everyone.
Sadly Ruth, it sounds like that church deserved to fail.
I appreciate your ongoing addressing of this issue, Gail. It carries with it a real clarity and wisdom and helps to identify the issues faced by those who are looking for gender equality in the churches.
I loved the first point… ‘why are we talking still talking about gender?’ … ahhhh… cause we still need to.
Thanks, Bev. The interesting thing about the first point is that it’s the one I keep running up against in my church circles 🙁
Don’t know what else to say other than great post Gail!
Evan, it means a lot that you would take the time to comment. Thank you.
Great provocative post! Like! And thanks for using my cartoon 🙂
Thanks, David! Sorry we didn’t let you know sooner 🙁 Always appreciate your work and how it packs a punch. This one was exactly what the post needed!
I don’t disagree with you, per se, but I do feel that I can add a bit more perspective to some of your points.
Some (not all) of your “gender privilege” points can also be seen as “fits-gender-expectation privilege”. Let me explain.
1. You implied that for men, gender is not a “daily issue or negotiation”. I think that only applies for men who fit the cultural expectation of men. I don’t. I’m a man who is not what the culture (or my church’s men’s ministry) expects a man to be like. As a result, I am almost constantly considering how I am perceived because of my gender and negotiating how to translate myself into a culture that expects me to be different than I am.
2. This is also situationally-based. I don’t deny that men are culturally expected to be better at the things that are more important. But, as a man that is great with kids and loves to be nurturing, I often have to fight the assumption that I have no idea how to hold a baby and that I’m unable to take care of myself and my kids without a woman’s help.
3. This is true, and I don’t disagree with the importance of your point here. But, I don’t want a pastoral staff job. I want to work with kids. I can, sort of… but my church has extra hoops that I have to jump through since I am a man, and I always have to co-teach with a woman.
5. I don’t disagree with you here. There’s a (more minor) corollary that I face. In every church I’ve been part of, the young-child support groups are specifically for women, named things like “MOMS”. When I was the primary caretaker of my young children when my wife had mono for nearly a year, I had nowhere in my church to go for support where I would not have been the only man present. Again, because I did not fit into the gender expectations for my gender, I was on the outside.
7. I was surprised at this one. Maybe small signs of emotion, in a mixed group. But at a men’s retreat? Showing significant signs of emotion in a male-focused gathering is considered a sign of weakness for a man, and will get you ostracized very quickly. The cultural expectation of men is that we will be stoic, just as the cultural expectation of women is that they will be blubbery. Both are false caricatures of the great variety of individuals, but those of us who don’t fit the cultural expectation are constantly working to adjust and negotiate the difference.
8. Yes, most biblical characters are men. Also, most male biblical characters are warriors or kings or prophets. They are mostly AGGRESSIVE, LEADER-TYPE men. The list of nurturing men represented in the Bible stories is very short. Nearly all of the nurturing characters in prominent Bible stories are women. As a nurturing man, I also have to look in the marginal parts of the Bible to find stories and heroes that relate to who I am, because I don’t fit the cultural expectation of “manliness”.
I hope this doesn’t come across as either disagreeing with you or minimizing what you had to say. I am hoping to add another layer to this conversation, beyond just “women and men”, to a wider goal of deconstructing our gender expectations. I want our churches to allow everyone to be who they are, to express their genuine identity, giving space for the full variety of character types regardless of gender.
Mark, I ALWAYS appreciate your comments and the way you bring important nuance to these issues. Of course you are exactly right that the place we want to get to is one that gives space for both men and women to be free to fully express their gifts and callings without these gender expectations. In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure out what I can say to get some of the men around me to recognize that male privilege even exists. If we can get to that starting point, then maybe there’s hope to move beyond it to something more ideal. I am well aware that a list like this oversimplifies things to an extent, but at the same time, I have to say that its frustrating when men come back with a reply like this, because although your experience is certainly valid, such a response redirects the conversation back to men and so serves to maintain male privilege. Did you see the comment from Young with Allan Johnson’s (Privilege, Power, and Difference) list of ways of maintaining privilege? I haven’t read the book but it seems to me could fit into the category of “but I’m one of the good ones”, which of course you are! Love to hear your thoughts on that.
1) Deny and Minimize
2) Blame the Victim
3) Call it something else
4) It’s better this way
5) It doesn’t count if you don’t mean it
6) I’m one of the good ones
7) Sick and Tired
8) Getting off the hook by getting on
I’m sorry that my response was frustrating and that it comes across as an example of male privilege. I thought I was enhancing the conversation, not hijacking it. I apologize. I’ll be more careful what I say in the future.
Hey, Mark – no need to apologize or be more careful! Just had to point out that from my perspective the response essentially moved the conversation away from the experience of women to the experience of men. Would you agree? And regardless of your experience, you still enjoy the benefits of male privilege, right? Would love to continue the conversation if you’re up for it 🙂
There are some ways and areas that I have privilege as a man, yes. I’m sorry for moving the conversation away from the experience of women. Since I can’t have that perspective, by definition, I will return to a listening position.
Mark, that is a very gracious response. Sorry if I came off as harsh!
Ways of Maintaining Privilege
If #8 complete? Otherwise, I don’t understand it.
Sorry that is not clear, Doug. I was trying to point out that it’s hard to find a curriculum or sermon series that has a focus on women characters in the Bible. When I had the responsibility of selecting curriculum for grades 1-5 I had to go out of my way to supplement with lessons that had positive messages about women. Part of the reason is that there are fewer named women than men.
I recently reviewed one church’s messages for one year and only two sermons were about women. One was about Mary, the mother of Jesus (and it was an Advent message). The other was about the woman at the well, and there was an emphasis on her sinfulness. The speaker chose not to mention that this is one of the longest theological conversations Jesus had with anyone, male or female, or that Jesus seemed to have sent the disciples away intentionally so he could speak with her, or that she evangelized her entire village. It was all about Jesus knowing her sin and using her anyway. That’s a long-winded answer to the question, but I hope it explains what I was trying to get at. If not, let me know!
My Dad subbed as a Sunday School teacher a couple weeks ago for the 5-6 year old class. He got the call Saturday afternoon and was told he’d have a group of three boys. He prepped the lesson for the next morning. When he got there he saw the three boys. He also saw nine girls.
He chucked his prepared lesson aside and decided to teach on Ruth. From memory.
A dozen kindergartners, nine girls and three boys, teaching Ruth from memory, all at the last minute.
My Dad is 90 years old.
I love that story! He sounds like my dad who is 80. He just finished a home bible study on Mark a group of retired/disabled men. When I last saw him he said he was thinking of doing a study on women of the bible for the next session, and he was going to use original material. What a rich legacy we both have. Give him a hug from The Junia Project!
Tim on the story about your dad – Tell him he’s awesome. For many reasons.
Thank you very much for your post. I feel that it nicely encapsulates the way male privilege manifests itself in church. Your comments, too, have been very helpful.
That said, I take exception to your response to Mark. Privilege is privilege, even when it is held by women. Mark is facing a lack of privilege because of his gender liminality–he is male, but acts in ways that his church defines as female. He does entirely not fit in with either men or women, and is socially punished for it.
To invoke male privilege to rebut him (“although your experience is certainly valid, such a response redirects the conversation back to men and so serves to maintain male privilege”) ironically invokes your own cis privilege, which is just as powerful and entrenched as male privilege.
The conversation that ensued after your response reminded me very much of a caricatured 1950’s household: the dominant, respected voice expressing anger and controlling the conversation, while the submissive, unprivileged voice apologized for speaking out of turn.
In all this, please do not get the wrong idea from what I’ve written. I agree with you 100% that male privilege should be critiqued and deconstructed; I am a staunch, stubborn feminist, and I believe gender hierarchies are antithetical to the Gospel. However, in your quest for gender equality, please–PLEASE–do not allow yourself to marginalize Others.
I think Mark is right on the mark. Please don’t be silenced! Your experience has the same root cause as ours: patriarchy. Prescribed gender roles. And you are in the very unfortunate situation that you have even less support. Women have feminism and feminists. But what do men have when they want to live outside of gender norms? Where do they speak their pain? Wow–it must really be awful to know that you aren’t allowed to be alone with kids bc your gender has been deemed untrustworthy.
Keep speaking, my brother. Your words are welcome. Your journey is appreciated. We are suffering under the same system of oppression. Continue to walk in courage.
“But what do men have when they want to live outside of gender norms?”
Feminism. They have feminism.
Feminism is about equality for ALL men and ALL women, and a huge step to achieve that is demolishing the gender roles created and dictated by patriarchy.
Men who don’t fit into those prescribed gender roles have feminism fighting for them. This is what we do. This is how I’m raising my son.
Also, I think there are great resources in Paul for those who live outside typical gender roles. He describes himself as being in labor with the Galatians (Gal 4:19), as a (wet) nurse in 1 Thess 2:7, and as giving the Corinthians milk (breast feeding) in 1 Cor 3:1-3. For more on that, I highly recommend the book Our Mother Saint Paul by Beverly Roberts Gaventa.
Also, wanted to add that #7 was about church meetings, like committees, elder meetings, etc., not at “male-focused gatherings”. I have no idea what happens at men’s retreats, but I’ve observed men raise their voices and show emotions like anger, disgust, disdain, etc. in meetings.
I really appreciated this point Mark, and I think it probably deserves a topic of its own- the negative experiences that people who don’t conform to gender stereotypes experience. Its a subtly different type of privilege concern thanks this post (which I found spot on in insightfulness and bringing things to light- thanks again Gail!)
I also appreciate your humility in returning the topic to the viewpoint of women in the face of male privilege as well 🙂
It seems to me many women face the same frustration of acting out of their expected sphere. It is perhaps more obvious due to the much smaller sphere we are often designated! Those of us outside our expected role, both women and men, face to some extent or other this battle against privilege. Perhaps it isn’t so much ‘gender privilege’ but ‘conformity privilege’? Its something that effects many of us seeking biblical equality though and I’d like more insight into it.
You know, while I don’t disagree with the post itself, I have to say, I see men putting up with a lot of what’s mentioned in this comment by Mark, too. Not sure if anyone here reads Rachel Held Evans’ blog, but her husband is someone, just from her book and his occasional comment on the site, that I really do think I’d like in person, and he gets things like this from people all the time.
The biggest ones I’ve seen for the men are people being afraid to put them in children’s ministry (not so much teens as younger children) and women treating them as completely incompetent with their own children (I’m pretty sure most men could figure out a diaper, heating instructions on an oven, and how to entertain a child for a couple hours).
Funny aside on Mark’s comment regarding male Biblical figures, I think that’s kind of just people not paying attention. Paul was apparently known for being stern in written-form and kind of a softie in person; most of the prophets were extremely emotional; and David could express the full range of emotions in six verses (which is impressive). Jonah, Moses, and Elijah ran away (Moses more than once, mind you). And that’s just off the top of my head. Oh, there was the one king who completely freaked out over an army, took the threatening letter from the enemy king, ran to the altar, and flung it down and begged God for help.
I mean, I’m just saying, without derailing things, don’t let people who can’t read discourage you.
Mark, I just want to point out that the issues you bring up are still due to the gender roles imposed on us by a sexist, patriarchical society.
When we address the issues brought up here, EVERYONE will benefit–women, but also men who don’t fit the gender-roled “norm.”
And as is pointed out in the article, “and know that the fact that male privilege exists does not mean that a man’s life is carefree.” Yes, there are times when you will be at a disadvantage in some situations, but A) you still have male privilege the rest of the time, and B) you still have male privilege (over women) in some of those situations, even when you don’t have “as much” as other gender-normative men.
I certainly agree with this list, and that there is male privilege in evangelical churches (and other churches), but the only thing I’d add – because there is a tad of overlap – is how evangelical (and other conservative Christian) churches and groups also marginalize adult singles of both genders.
A lot of times, churches will not permit an adult, unmarried (whether never married, widowed, or divorced) man to serve in a position of leadership.
Please look up the 2011 New York Times article, “Unmarried Pastor, Seeking a Job, Sees Bias” by Erik Eckholm for more information on the discrimination that adult single men face in churches (single women face the same sort of bias as well).
Instead of apologizing for this mistreatment, when asked about it, Christians such as Al Mohler (of the Southern Baptist Church) doubled down and wrote very long blog pages defending discrimination against unmarried adults.
Churches believe that marriage and/or parenthood (for men and women) is a trait that qualifies a person to preach or lead.
There is a great, great bias against both adult single men and women in evangelical and Southern Baptist communities, though I think the single women are probably several steps lower, for several reasons.
For one thing, women both in secular and Christian culture who never marry and never have children, are treated as suspect.
In Christian cultures, it is often said, unfortunately, that marriage and motherhood are a woman’s only, or highest calling, of God – even though the Bible does not teach these things at all.
Single men do not get anywhere the same amount of pressure or intrusive questions about these life situations such as, “why don’t you have children,” or “why aren’t you married yet,” or, “don’t you want to have children” and so on that single women are confronted with.
People at every church I’ve walked into (I am middle aged and have never married) always assume I must be married with kids or divorced with kids. It never enters the minds of Baptists and evangelicals that some people remain childless and unmarried over their entire lives.
Thanks for that reminder and perspective, Daisy. And I’m glad you mentioned the even more complex issues that single women face as well. It’s a double whammy for women. If you’re not white, then it can be a three strikes kind of deal. I have a friend who was turned down for a teaching job at a seminary because she was single. The man chosen was not as qualified in terms of the proper degree for the job opening, and did not have any experience (she did). This makes me realize that we all have a lot of different biases that impact our thinking, and we need to take those to the Lord regularly and ask the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and open our eyes!
The definition of privilege and the recognition that men are not always treated nicely make appropriate bookends to this post, Gail. It makes me realize that even when a man is not treated well it still rarely has an effect on his privileged status. White males are Teflon coated that way.
Points 4 and 8 jumped out at me too.
#4 wardrobe – When it comes to wardrobe criticism, I think it can happen with men as well but the difference is that it will not necessarily be related to the fact he’s a man. If I preach in an open collar shirt that shows too much chest I sincerely doubt anyone is going to say that I should cover up so as not to tempt women in the congregation to fantasize about what the rest of my torso looks like.
#8 male Bible people – It flabbergasts me that some Christians default to thinking men in the Bible are laudable examples. Except for Daniel and his friends I think all the men in the narratives are tremendously flawed, if not downright horrid people. that kind of thing gives me hope, though. David the adulterer/murderer/liar is the apple of God’s eye? Yay, there’s hope for us all!
Haha! Thanks for sharing your wardrobe observations, Tim. And about #8, it baffles me that when women ARE finally the main topic of a message or study, the emphasis is mostly on their flaws, while those flaws are minimized in messages on David, Abraham, etc. I had not thought about the idea that even when a man is not treated well it doesn’t impact his privilege. So true for all of us in those situations where we are privileged. I so appreciate the way you regularly use your own blog to advocate for women in posts like this one http://timfall.wordpress.com/2014/07/09/why-you-just-cant-trust-a-man/.
Thanks for the shout-out, Gail!
If I had five dollars for every time I heard someone criticize a woman priest’s hair or shoes, I’d be rich enough to retire. OTOH, I have *never* heard *anyone* criticize a male priest’s attire.
This actually reminds me of a church workshop I attended some time ago. I was in a small group with a very high-ranking, ordained, male church leader. Well, we were all invited to give each other feedback. Everyone gave and received excellent feedback… except when it was the high-ranking gentleman’s turn. With the except of me, everyone said, “Oh, wow! We’re so impressed you participated in the activities, just like one of us! Thank you so much!!!!”
Mind you, he had made an excellent contribution, but no more excellent than anyone else in the group – but because he was an “important person,” everyone basically expected him to be a jerk. Interestingly enough, his female counterpart received no such adulation.
Definitely food for thought.
As a black person I can confirm the vast majority of white evangelicals/fundamentalists are largely unaware of race privilege, especially in church
Hreen, I agree with you on that. I brought that up in one of the conversations I mentioned in the post and that was denied as well, but in the sense that the person thought our congregation was all white – we’re not. It was an eye-opener, I tell ya! While we focus on gender equity here, the fact that most of this applies to race as well is constantly in the back of my mind 🙁
My wife and I were part of a conversation like that, Gail. The person said something like “Are there any people of color in our church?”
I stared at her and thought, “You’re asking this question in front of me and my wife. My wife who’s standing right in front of you. Whose family emigrated here from China five generations ago. Who would thus probably fall into the category ‘person of color’.”
Just, wow! Hard to believe. These conversations are making me realize that I probably need to be thinking more about my own privilege blindness and how it impacts other people 🙁
Yeah, the whole issue of institutionalized misogyny and widely perpetuated sexism in the church goes unaware largely because most institutional structures function on male hegemonic rhetoric and function. So, kudos to addressing that issue. My mom and countless other women constantly complain about the blatant misogyny they experience and being treated as inferior; it shouldn’t be so in the body of Christ! Your points are validated by experience so keep it up!
I’m just kind of critical of the opening phrase, “I think many Christians are becoming more aware of racial and class privilege, but I don’t see the same level of awareness about male privilege in Christian circles.”
I agree that male privilege is largely ignored within Christian circles, because as previously mentioned, male privilege is generally upheld within Christian circles and not challenged or criticized. However, to say that Christians as a whole are aware of racial/class privilege is kind of subjective because again, being a black Christian and communing with mostly white Christians, most of my experiences with racism and white privilege comes from white Christians (nominal and born again.) For example, I go to a predominantly white congregation (though we have a visible African-American, African Immigrant, [email protected], and Asian attendance.) I went to camp with the kids in my grade and the pastor’s son routinely mocked and ridiculed the native tongues of the African cabin members. My white cabin mates spent entire evenings coming up with “black jokes” and often times myself and other black cabin members were the subjects of said jokes. For example, when we went outside to see fireworks, they would say, “Where are you? I can’t see you! Show me the palms of your hands or smile so we can see you!”
Considering that the large majority of Western (especially American) Christian rhetoric and discussions are dominated by white people (even more specifically white men,) it’s fairly easy for non-white narratives to be glossed over and even erased. While this disparity is readily acknowledged and recognized by non-white Christians, with white Christians it is not as quickly acknowledged, or worse, it’s defended. Among more egalitarian discourse I am comforted to know that the acknowledgement of white privilege is there, but it’s only with in that spectrum of Christianity and not much else.
Hreen, this makes me so sad! And how sad it must make God.
Gail, thank you again for naming the lospided reality of Christian churches which is quite different from Jesus’ treatment of women 2,000 plus years ago. I have been using a a book by a white male (Allan Johnson), titled Privilege, Power, and Difference as one of the required text at APU. There’s no other person who elucidates how the white male-centered system operates at the expense of other groups. His chapter 8 lists various ways of maintaining privilege:
1) Deny and Minimize
2) Blame the Victim
3) Call it something else
4) It’s better this way
5) It doesn’t count if you don’t mean it
6) I’m one of the good ones
7) Sick and Tired
8) Getting off the hook by getting on
Wow – thanks for sharing that, Young! I will have to check out the book. I’m especially surprised at how often I encounter deny and minimize these days, as I thought we were beyond that. At the same time, I have been immensely encouraged by the men who write and comment on our site, as well as those who are speaking up all over the world for women. I do believe a new day is coming, and that the church will be better for it!
We need many white male allies like Allan Johnson but I am not sure if I have found one like him in the church, especially in Aisan American churches. Johnson is a sociologist. Keep up with your great work awakening folks. I just have to direct my people to your blog:)
I think that list really pegs it. I’ve heard all of those tactics as a way of avoiding responsibility. Who among us hasn’t heard a man make a “women belong in the kitchen” joke (or something akin) and then brush it off as not meaning it – classic #5. Pardon me while my eyes roll..
Kathryn, I think that whole thing about off-handed comments about women could be an additional point on the list!
Like Kathryn, these things make my eyes roll. They also prompt me either to get out of my seat and leave or stay and take notes so I can write a blog post about them – Pastors: stop putting women down with your cheap laugh lines.
Tim, that is one of my favorite posts of yours!
I just read and it loved that post! Thanks for sharing!
I love this list and have experienced several of them, but I confess to being confused by what #5 and #8 mean. Thanks for any clarification!
Glad you liked the list. #5 means most governing boards, senior pastors, etc. are men. #8 means that most educational curricula include very little content on women in the bible. Does that answer your questions? I can add more if needed!
Sorry not to be clear… I meant from Alan Johnson’s list:
#5 It doesn’t count if you don’t mean it
#8 Getting off the hook by getting on
Just would like some elaboration of how those play out
Margaret, I’m not sure about #8 (what he means by “getting on”), but #5 probably refers to “Relax, it was just a joke!” or “I didn’t do it on purpose.”
Some people get really defensive when we talk about privilege because they think it’s a special treatment that they asked for… it’s not. That’s the point of privilege–it’s unearned, and unearnable. If you have it, you have it whether you want it or not, whether you acknowledge it or not. If you don’t have it, there is no way to get it; you can’t work harder or dress nicer or do anything to have access to the things others who do have that privilege have access to.
“It doesn’t count if you don’t mean it” probably refers to “I can’t be privileged or be asked to recognize my privilege if I didn’t ask to have it,” or it could refer to the sexist/racist/classist/ableist remarks that perpetuate privilege (by reinforcing stereotypes, etc.), that we often excuse as “jokes” or “I wasn’t being serious” or “Why are you overreacting? Stop being so sensitive.” Those with privilege continue to discriminate against and oppress marginalized groups, and they get away with that behavior because it’s socially acceptable… reinforcing and perpetuating their privilege.
Thank you Criss! I’ve been experiencing this from people in my church, but didn’t have words for it.
Great writing sister! I always love to read your thoughts. You’re always so gentle too, right before you hit us between the eyes with a theological 2X4. And we need it. I consider myself very aware. I’m proud to be allowed to call myself a feminist. I think “I get it,” but being a white male, a former minister, and still a part of a very legalistic, misogynistic sect of the faith (it’s complicated…) let’s be honest, church is FOR ME! It’s not for people of color, it’s not for the poor (I’m borderline poor…maybe it’s not for me lol), it’s not for women, and it doesn’t seem to be about God. It’s for people who look like me, talk like me, vote (like they think I vote), and have the same “stuff”, like me. I admit that even being a feminist, the sect of the church I’m in is all about me. And it’s hard to admit that, and yes, even for me, it’s hard to say that my ego is not set to pounce on that. But every time I have the “mic” (whatever the actual mic is) I have to be willing to change who the church is for. Thank you for writing like this, and for challenging even people like me to do better. I’ve had enough of the church being “for me.” I’m ready for it to be about God, and all of God’s people again. Thanks sister; keep fighting.
Charlie, thank you for being honest and for sharing the reality that you experience in your church. Yes, the church is to be a place for all of us, not just a privileged few. That applies not just to gender, but also to class, race, age, etc. If we look around us and all the positions of decision-making and visibility are in the hands of one group, then its time to take a hard look at things. I think a great place to start is by sharing the “mic” with others. For example, the last time my husband was asked to preach, he agreed as long as he could co-teach with our daughter. And a friend who had to cancel a speaking engagement at a Christian college recommended one of his female friends to step in. These are small steps, but they would go a long way in helping people envision things differently. So appreciate your comment!
I think this is an incomplete perspective(as most of our opinions tend to be). The idea of privilege can be certainly argued but I think we have to account for the minority of women who even desire positions of leadership
and while I may side with your notion that a woman in a leadership position might be questioned to that of men,,the idea of theirleadership being questioned is both from men AND women
. I think that we also have to consider Ephesians 5 when Paul said to submit one to another and then came back and specified that the man is the head of the woman as Christ is head of the church.
I think when we remove (God’s) purpose within the framework of gender we get caught in this discussion of “equality” that all it really does is divide us more.
Purpose always exceeds preference.
“I think we have to account for the minority of women who even desire positions of leadership”
Is there a lower percentage of women desiring leadership positions than men? I don’t know that there really is, but if so is it culturally ingrained or inherent in sex?
I think that it’s both honestly, cultural and inherent in sex.
Where in scripture do we see mutuality in church leadership? Is there biblically justification of this or is this an idea that we champion because the current culture demands it?
This article has some merit, but I think it’s a slight reach when you say things like “God will be described in masculine terms 100% of the time” thats a biblical issue not a male privilege issue. Secondly there are just as many female privileges that have existed as male privileges that often go unmentioned in these types of articles.
I would love to hear some examples of female privilege–especially if they are in any way NOT the result of patriarchy…
Last time a man talked about female privilege his example was “women can say they have a headache to get out of having sex.”
Criss, I was just thinking the same thing. Mark did mention one in an earlier post – he noted that he has to jump through extra hoops at his church to work with children, and he always has to co-teach with a woman. But I’m not convinced this is a result of female privilege – I think it has more to do with protecting the church from legal liability due to the problems churches have had with men preying on children.
Ronald, where do you see female privilege show up in the church?
Ronald, I would disagree that God being described in masculine terms 100% of the time is a biblical issue. There are many times in the bible that feminine metaphors are used to describe God as well – as a nursing mother, as a mother hen protecting her chicks, as a woman searching for a lost coin. This post gives more examples: http://newlife.id.au/equality-and-gender-issues/is-god-male-or-masculine/.
Male privilege is different from male privileges, though. One is institutional and the other idiosyncratic.