So last week I look through my twitter feed, and come across a ton of articles on feminism and exploring what it means to be a woman. I discovered information about Sarah Bessey's soon coming book Jesus Feminist. I read a very insightful article on feminism by Bell Hooks critiquing Sheryl Sandberg's claim that Lean In is "a (sort of) feminist manifesto," a book I thoroughly enjoyed but would not call a feminist manifesto. I also saw this piece by Osheta Moore called we are pierced women, and this piece called Dear Patriarchy by Idelette McVicker. Then I ended the week unpacking evidence of white, male privilege in the church with a girlfriend. Its been quite a week!
After all of this, here is an incredibly simple conclusion I've come to: patriarchy is not the obvious purple dragon I want it to be. Instead it is subtle, insidious and often resides just under the surface. It is only occasionally overt and mean-spirited. In the evangelical church I have found that the "he-man-woman-haters club" has adopted some much subtler language.
When I was a child, I remember attending churches where women were not permitted to preach or teach, being relegated to the kitchen and nursery room. There were churches who would not allow ordained women to sit in the pulpit, instead deciding the first row is as close to the cross as we were allowed. While I am aware that these churches and these rules still exist, the kind of patriarchy I find myself casting off now just isn't so clear.
Instead the patriarchy I am encountering doesn't tell me that I am not permitted to teach, only that my style is not as familiar, captivating, or desirable as my male counterparts. It makes men the standard for my success.
It includes me in the speaker line-up at conferences, the elders in leadership, the voices leading worship but not with any conviction. My presence is little more than an effort to stay out of trouble. The voices of women are not sought after, pursued, or chased.
It doesn't tell me that an all-male line up is acceptable, but that I only need one female representative at the podium, the table, the microphone. After all, there were many sessions, meetings, and emails trying to find that one woman. Our names, our efforts, our experiences don't easily come to mind. In order to find us there must be twitter shout-outs, google searches, combing the websites of other churches to find someone who can represent that elusive female voice.
Its in the music- God as male, masculine, fighting, battling, winning
Its in the prayers- God as male, masculine, fighting, battling, winning
Its in the sermons- God as male, masculine, fighting, battling, winning
It doesn't ban me from leading, but it often questions my authority, always looking for the wizard pulling the levers behind me. It asks insulting questions like, "Who is really in charge here?" or "Who should I really be talking to?"
It thinks my ideas are truly brilliant, but only after being repeated by a man.
It doesn't tell me I won't be successful, but it needs to protect me from myself because I am, of course, incapable of success without it. I am too emotional, trusting, and inexperienced to make it on my own.
Here's the kicker, my complexion only complicates things further. I must also work around its whiteness, affluence, assumptions. I must hold my culture in tension. I'll bring that "black mysticism" to the table- the eternal prophetess of the Matrix, handing you all the insight you need to succeed, but I won't go overboard. I wouldn't want to make our largely white audience uncomfortable with my blackness.
So best not be too sing-songy, too loud, too outgoing. I won't talk directly about race or anything that might be code for race- you know words like "hip-hop" and "urban" and "collard greens"… really black things. I mean, who can relate to any of that?
I'll be mindful about my language, too. I wouldn't want to get on stage and "sound white" so its really important that I use just a dash of ebonics, so that people can see I really represent the black voice. But its also important I sound educated (whether or not I am is of little importance), here it is all about the privilege of affluence. So many rules.
And I promise not to forget about style… I mean there is only one black style, right, so I had better get that right, too.
No, this is no dragon. It's a slow and steady poison that will produce symptoms of insecurity and indentity crises so large that losing oneself, hating oneself is a real possibility. As much as I want to break out a sword to slay this thing, I have come to realize that the only anti-potion for this poison is the truth.
So, Sarah Bessey, keep reframing our place in the gospel story. Bell Hooks, challenge us to always analyze the system. Sheryl Sandburg, call us to claim our space. Osheta Moore, remind us how we've been pierced. Idelette McVicker, keep challenging patriarchy. And to all my girlfriends, I am so grateful for the ways you have spoken truth with me; perhaps one day the truth will set all of humanity free.