Really? You Listened to a Woman?

Gail Wallace

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When my friend Melissa asked the discussion question, I wanted to shrink into the floor.

What do you need to confess?” she said.

There was a long silence while we all considered our answer.

We were at IF:Gathering, or more specifically, at one of its 40,000 off-site streaming locations. Our conference center was Melissa’s living room, which sat eight women from around San Diego’s North County. IF: impressed me. The speaker list was a rundown of powerful women in the church. They spoke with grace and candor about our callings and about the love of Jesus. I drank in the power of a global sisterhood. That sense of belonging was why the question was so unwelcome.

Often, when I’m surprised by my sin, my first reaction is sullenness. That day, I folded my legs up to my chest as my sisters in Christ confessed. I looked down at the upholstery. I picked at my cuticles. I was over the question.

I am just fine, I thought. I don’t need to confess anythingThe ridiculousness of that idea settled in my chest. That’s when Jesus opened up his hands and showed me my sin. And it had to do with the very venue that was asking me to repent.

I realized I was harboring a deep mistrust of men.

Women are my safe space.

I run a blog targeted at them.

I interview them once a month.

They’re the primary audience of all publications I write for.

When I read fiction, it’s generally written by women; my favorite non-fiction books of last year, especially Christian ones, were too.

And when I heard about an all-women conference with a line-up of female speakers, I thought count me in.

All that is great. It’s not surprising that the issues I identify with most are related to my femininity.

But there on the pillow, my arms wrapped around my knees, I realized there was more to it than that.

As in: I recommended a book to a friend of mine, and he was surprised to find out that it was written by a guy. “You just don’t seem like you read very many books by men,” he said.

I wanted to get angry with him. But I realized he was right. And it wasn’t just about choosing women. It was about avoiding men.

Last year, during a feminist synchroblog, I felt incredulous when one of the organizers, Preston Yancey, explained that his feminism was inspired by Sarah Bessey, the author of Jesus Feminist.

Really? I thought. You listened to a woman?

The sexism in my head surprised me. Here was a man who self-identified very publically as a feminist, and I was surprised that a woman’s wisdom had reached him? I was surprised that men could learn from women? I realized I was uncomfortable with the idea of him helping run the synchroblog at all, even though men and women partnering as equals is something I supposedly long for.

Deep down, I didn’t think men could care about feminism. I didn’t believe that men needed to care. In fact, I preferred to keep them out of the conversation altogether.

Why?

Well, even though I haven’t experienced it first-hand, I’ve seen men wreak sexual and physical abuse on people dear to me throughout my life. I’ve seen victims get blamed over and over, and abusers never answer for their violence.

I have just a teensy-tiny trust problem.

Let me be clear: I think it’s smart to have boundaries. There’s a wisdom and carefulness that witnessing abuse has given me.

But there are problems with assuming men can’t be interested in feminism, that they won’t challenge their unhealthy thoughts, or advocate against abuse.

It means I think men can’t learn anything from me.

It means I don’t have to challenge them about it.

And most importantly, it’s not loving.

I’m seeing that there’s no way to leave someone out of the discussion without silencing myself. I’m recognizing there’s no way to love half-heartedly.

Since that afternoon, I’ve been thinking about God calling Jonah to Nineveh.  I can understand why he ran away. I love many men in my life—my husband, my father, my friends and extended family. But even with these trusted men, it’s hard for me to speak up. And speaking up in public venues that aren’t specifically for women, or to men that I don’t have long histories with?

I’d rather go to Tarshish.

Truthfully, I wish I could just write men off and not challenge the power structures that hurt all of us. But I’m seeing there’s nowhere to run. That not speaking is hurting me too. That the call to love is serious. That to love men as my brothers is empowering.

I need to stop thinking feminism is a “women’s” issue. I need to start raising my voice in love to preach to my brothers—whether or not they are ready to hear me. And I need to take seriously Jesus’ call to love everyone, with all of my heart.

YOUR TURN: Heather shared her awareness of something we don’t often talk about; coming to terms with our own brand of sexism. How do we overcome our tendencies to build up prejudices towards those of the opposite sex?

Bio_Heather-Caliri

Be sure to check out Heather’s blog heathercaliri.com and get a copy of her free e-book, Dancing Back to Jesus: Post-perfectionist faith in five easy verbs.

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19 Comments

  • Perhaps the phrase we use and is used at the end of the blog is telling – “opposite sex” tells us something. Looking in my built-in Oxford English Dictionary and Oxford American Dictionary, it seems to me that “opposite” can have positive meanings, negative meanings or more neutral meanings. For me I tend to view it negatively. Here are some examples – “completely different”, “of a contrary kind”, “totally different from or the reverse of someone” AND “in a position facing”, “facing the speaker” AND “in a complementary role to (another)”, “Botany (of leaves or shoots) arising in pairs at the same level”.

    I am left pondering which meaning or meanings of “opposite” I bring to the phrase “opposite sex”.

    • This is incredibly insightful. And, because of the curse, we are in a relationship of power struggle. I have to remember that when I’m discouraged at how hard it is to be loving.

  • Heather, thank you – this is a brilliant post.

    Confession time? On my long journey to egalitarianism, I experienced a temptation to despise “men”, because of my deep sense of injustice. My theory is that patriarchal society – a result of the Fall – came about uniquely because of the superior physical strength of men. In a struggle, the strongest wins! Perhaps the ultimate expression of this is the use of rape in war / marriage. Despite not being a victim myself, I know victims, and this painted a picture in my mind of “men” as testosterone-fuelled brutes.

    And we shouldn’t be surprised if some secular feminists end up hating “men” because of what they have suffered.

    Thankfully, with all the men I know, there is an abundance of evidence to the contrary! We cannot label all “men” as violent brutes. Such inverted sexism would be wrong.

    Much more subtle is the resentment that can build up towards men who devalorize women in the church – by jokes, comments, ignoring, looks of surprise when a woman chips into a conversation on a theological topic, by not believing a woman can receive a genuine call to ministry etc etc. All of which is daily fare in my denomination at large, and the real challenge to my heart. But having an egalitarian husband, and reading books and blogposts by egalitarian men goes a VERY long way in healing the hurt. (Thanks Tim and Greg!)

    Many of these men are not deliberately mistreating women but are locked into their interpretation of the Bible. Even out-and-out complementarian men! That is (really!) big-hearted of me (given the years of heartache!) but we mustn’t let resentment win the day.

    A couple of years back, after my husband as pastor introduced our local church to biblical equality, I felt the Lord saying ‘there is a blessing for the men too’. And I felt He showed me that Satan, instigator of the Fall and enemy of mankind, hates men at least as much as he hates women. A man who degrades women is himself degraded – for both share the image of God. A man who rapes his wife damages his own flesh. The more ‘aggressive’ side of masculinity has lead to millions dying in war and gang fights and fast cars – that risk-prone behavior.
    And in the church, men are depriving themselves of their ezer kenegdo – of their Deborahs and Abigails and Priscillas, and suffering the consequences.

    For me it was like a revelation – I had only been looking at one half of the picture.

    “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood” Eph 5 – Satan is the enemy and we should believe that our prayers against all forms of oppression are effective, as we also act in practical ways.

    For at the heart of biblical equality lies a message of reconciliation.

    • An excellent insight in Heather’s comment: “I felt the Lord saying ‘there is a blessing for the men too’. And I felt He showed me that Satan, instigator of the Fall and enemy of mankind, hates men at least as much as he hates women … And in the church, men are depriving themselves of their ezer kenegdo [strong, co-equal helper] – of their Deborahs and Abigails and Priscillas, and suffering the consequences.”
      How weak the church must be because of this discrimination!. Similar to the weakness of major league baseball before integration by Jackie Robinson and others.

      • I agree–this is incredibly insightful. I too have found blessing in thinking about the ways patriarchy limits, harms, undoes men, not just women. We must care for, love, affirm all of us as feminists.

  • Well said, Heather. It’s so good for us (and so very painful) to recognize our hidden fears and prejudices – to take them out in the light of day and examine them. Thanks for sharing a piece of your own light-shining here.

  • Yes, it’s surprising when a man listens to a woman. And it is completely necessary that men listen to wise women and learn from them, and tell their brothers that they are learning and being discipled by women with gifts from God.

    THIS is how the brothers who get it can show those who don’t. And it’s a crucial part of the battle.

  • “I need to stop thinking feminism is a ‘women’s’ issue.” It’s a hurdle a lot of people need to get over. Feminism is a people issue, and both women and men need to listen to women and men who are leading the way forward.

  • This is an important post for me. I have had some of those things you mentioned happen to me personally. I am in a marriage with a very traditional husband, attending a very traditional church, so some of the emotional woundings of being treated as second-class continue to occur on a daily basis, and it is incredibly hard for me to love as you’ve described. But I know I need to love and forgive in a superhuman way.

    When one group is accusing another of being power-hungry for wanting an equal place at the table, while that accusing group is working hard to have *exclusive* access to the table, that presents a special challenge. Only God can work on my heart and make it possible for me to deal with people like this day in and day out.

    I know you were talking about equalitarian men in this column, but I don’t deal with any of them on a daily basis, that I’m aware of. And yet the calling of God to love is still incumbent on me. I am deeply thankful that God’s callings are enablings. Thanks for this essential reminder that our broken human trust must be overflooded and overcome with God’s love.

    • Blessings to you, and strength and power as you struggle to love in difficult circumstances. Jesus’ call to love is HARD–really, it’s impossible without his power in our lives. I pray that for you and for me.

    • Dear Zoe, my heart goes out to you.

      I hope that you are not experiencing abuse, verbal or otherwise, at the present time, and that if you are, you know where to get help.

      Sometimes women in abusive situations are told that ‘love’ will change their husbands – but I’ve never seen it work in practice. My dear friend Christine, while pregnant, was told that more love and more submissiveness was the answer – and she ended up on her face on the floor with cracked ribs and a dirty boot on the back of her neck.

      Whilst forgiveness brings healing, a victim should never be ‘forced’ to forgive in a way that implies the abuse doesn’t matter, or allows it to continue. Forgiveness is something God does in our hearts, it can’t come from our strength, and the one who forgives STILL also needs healing.

      I’m not sure what situation you’re in (and I’m not asking you to say) because ‘very traditional’ could mean a variety of things. I just can’t bear the idea of a precious sister in Christ – perhaps another woman reading this blog – feeling that forgiveness is the answer in an ongoing situation of abuse.

      You mention ‘the emotional woundings of being treated as second class’, so I do hope that in your case the worst is firmly in the past.

      I also apologize if I’ve responded by letting my heart take over from my head!

    • An excellent comment by “Zoe”: “When one group [men] is accusing another [women] of being power-hungry for wanting an equal place at the table, while that accusing group [men] is working hard to have *exclusive* access to the table, that presents a special challenge.” I might add this is a “special kind of stupid”. I can say that because I was that stupid for a long time, thinking that only men could lead in some ways, although not a hard-core patriarchalist.

  • I really appreciate this frank and honest sharing. I’m certain that many women advocating or fighting for women’s place in the church equal to men may secretly harbor similar fears or distrust. It’s hard not too since our society imposes on us to take sides. Yet Jesus did not waiver to the right or to the left, he looked heavenward and enter into the deep abyss of hell so that we won’t have to conform to the ways of this world. May this open up women and men to seek a deeper understanding just as Jesus went out to seek the Samaritan woman, intending to offer free unlike any the world has ever thought or fathomed.
    Thanks!

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