Q: So, I identify myself as a feminist (or “man who supports feminism” depending on who I’m talking to), and I’m a christian. I’m worried that I might be silencing people inadvertently, but I don’t think I am. Can you provide some examples of what you’re talking about?
As a privileged straight white male, things like this are frustrating to me. Because I’m really opinionated, and I think I’m pretty decent at articulating those opinions.
I’m trying to figure out the line between expressing my opinions about things without being a privileged asshole. Quotes like this make it feel like my opinion is not welcome or less valuable. And maybe that’s the case, but I think that’s kind of shitty, if it is. I realize there are things I need to just shut up about (abortion, for example, since I have no idea what it’s like to be a pregnant woman, and never will), but I reject the idea that every gender related issue or socio economic related issue falls into that category. I’d like to be an active part of the solution to these problems, not just sitting back and shutting up all the time. Where’s the line?
A: I’m really glad you’re curious. I can tell you that it’s very likely you’re silencing women without being aware of it, and that’s because we live in a patriarchy. Men speaking over women and women allowing themselves to be spoken over is ingrained in our patriarchal culture, and it’s difficult to notice when we’re doing it. We usually don’t notice it until it’s pointed out to us (and even then many argue against it). I didn’t notice it for years and years. When I got married I said I’d obey my husband. (Turns out I was lying, and it turns out he’s very okay with that.) I didn’t see anything wrong with the complementarian model of marriage and it certainly didn’t register when men talked over me. I even went to a Presbyterian (PCA) church for 12 years, until 3 years ago when I was in a room full of male church elders who blinked uncomprehendlingly at what I was saying, then when my husband said the very same thing I said, they agreed with him. (They then told me that my intuition was wrong, which is the main reason I knew I had to leave their church, but the sexism became glaringly obvious during this.) You asked for examples of what I’m talking about, and that is just one. I can’t begin to name all the ways I am talked over daily by men in the workplace and on the street, let alone in Christian circles. Men habitually take the floor and women habitually hang back. Women are often complicit in this. It’s what we were all taught. Make a point of noticing who is speaking when and with what kind of tone and assertion. This will tell you tons. But this may be the most telling example I can give you: whenever I want to be taken seriously online in a theological or philosophical forum, I use a male pseudonym. Even in progressive circles. I’ve done experiments in which I use my real name and then make another comment under a male name saying the same thing with slightly different wording, and every time the male comment is given much more weight and is engaged with even when it disagrees with others in the forum. My girl name doesn’t command that. I’m now at a church that is markedly more progressive than the PCA and it is aware it has its blind spots in the areas of gender roles and that sort of thing. What makes it safe for me to be there is that they are open to hearing about how they could be marginalizing people and playing into unchallenged, ingrained sexism they grew up with. That to say, thank you for your curiosity around this. Men with this kind of curiosity and openness to being shown their unrealized sexism are what will make the difference in this particular battle for civil rights. When the people in power realize the way they marginalize others, movement can finally happen. So again, thank you so much for asking and listening.
I’m going to say something that has the potential to put you on the defensive, but that is not my intent. It’s just a truth and if we’re going to make progress I need for men to make room for what I’m about to say and I promise something beautiful will come of it. You guys ready? Okay. It is frustrating for me, a woman, to hear you, a man, say that when you are asked to make room for the female voice that you feel as if your opinion is not welcome or valuable. The fact is that men’s voices are given priority in our culture and we make room for their perspective all the time, as we were taught. I need you to understand how frustrating it is for me, a woman who is talked over daily by men to the point of using male pseudonyms to be taken seriously, to hear that a man feels his opinion isn’t valuable. Please hear my frustration and see it from my perspective and don’t shut down. Just hold my perspective and make space for it. It might be the first time you’ve ever been asked to do this, to hold someone’s frustration without being personally threatened by them, and it might feel strange, and that’s okay. Trust me that this is the first step towards internal change and progression of civil rights.
I would say there are two major steps to confronting the sexism I encounter so much of in progressive Christian circles. The first is that men need to make space for the ways in which they haven’t even considered they may have marginalized women. We, men and women raised in a patriarchy, weren’t exactly taught that possibility or that we should make a category for it, so it’s something we need to become aware of. The second thing is to be willing to be wrong. Be willing to be told you’ve marginalized someone. It really, really sucks to hear that you’ve done that, and the typical response is to become angry and defensive, because that’s a protective posture to keep you from feeling sadness and hurt and disappointment in yourself. Feel those vulnerable emotions and show them to the people that you’ve marginalized. Trust that it won’t break or diminish you but will make you and your brothers and sisters stronger because this vulnerability and willingness to see what you’ve done and to want to change is the very definition of building bridges. It’s counterintuitive, but it is what makes peace and wholeness and it is the posture that will change the world.
[The entire original thread is here.]