I was at a party. Someone broke the silence at the drinks table by asking me what I did for a living. I answered by telling them I was a Minister.
“Oh that’s interesting, one of my good friends is a pastor,” they replied, but what I said next is what was really telling,
“Where does HE work?” I asked.
“He, is a girl called Sarah,” they laughed as my cheeks turned red.
Stuttered and stammered apologies ensued.
This was an ultimately inconsequential exchange, but it did cause me to take stock of the latent prejudices that lie somewhere in my brain.
We all have prejudices. Even if we feel that we are the supreme liberal, accepting of all, we are always fighting our bias. In spite of our best efforts to seek equality across a range of issues, if we have grown up in this world, with a family and within any form of society, we carry preference and prejudice based on the experiences of our past. These are not unassailable but they do exist. One of mine is that I carry a remnant of misogyny that regularly rears its head.
Until the age of 25 I had never been in a church where a woman held a senior leadership role. I grew up around Christians who held strongly to a ‘traditional’ understanding of gender roles. If I was asked today what my theology of gender is I would say I am an egalitarian and I have tried in every leadership role I’ve held to keep parity at the centre of my work. It pains me to admit, that in spite of my belief and effort, I am regularly faced with the reality of the beliefs I have worked hard to undo bubbling to the surface again.
I have found myself listening to a seminar or sermon and thinking, ‘she speaks so well,’ but with a sense of surprise; as if her gender would dictate her ability to prepare and deliver a talk. I have caught myself considering how I was framing my point of view in meetings when speaking to a female colleague, when I wouldn’t have even considered that when talking to male colleagues.
It’s hard to accept the truth, but I am a misogynist in recovery. I have always worked hard in any arena in which I have held leadership roles to build teams with a balance of male and female members. I’ve always tried to be aware of whether I was giving equal opportunity to men and women. Yet, in spite of all of this, I recognise my bias. Much of this inherited from the complementarian church culture of my youth, much of it is absorbed from culture, some of it is the remnant of beliefs held in the past, but nonetheless, there is a fragment of sexism within me that I still need to lose.
I believe that being aware of our faults can help us repair them. It is hard to admit or own prejudices; that we are still overcoming our racism, our sexism, our homophobia etc. but when we do, we can begin to address the issue. Once we have seen the bias within us we can begin to see how it affects our thinking and behaviour and we can begin to think differently and act in new ways. We so often hope that the face we see in the mirror will be the face of a tolerant and enlightened person, but when we look we are often faced with the scars and marks on our face that we had hoped were gone. It’s only from a place of honesty that we can clean up and heal.
Here is an example, I refer to myself as egalitarian and feminist, that is, both sexes are equal and should be given equal opportunity. Yet, I realised recently that somewhere in the shadow of my egalitarianism lurks the belief that equality is mine to give to women, that men like me control equality and that women receive it from us as a gift or concession to progress. This, of course is misogyny dressed in feminist clothing. Equality is only a reality if it is not owned by anyone. The truth is, that equality is not men’s to give to women, it is something that was always theirs that we have often choose to steal from them through systemic patriarchy for centuries. Equality is actualised when it is not considered; we have only built an equal world when gender is no more relevant to the discussion than eye colour.
Whilst that example is a little esoteric, it has shown me that, despite my progress from my short-lived buy-in to hypermascuchristianity, to a conscience effort towards parity, I have a long way to go. I have little to conclude in this blog apart from this, if you like me, are a man who believes in equality, don’t allow yourself to be fooled. The roots of sexism run deep, we must work our whole lives to weed them out. Yet, every time we make conscious choices to let our bias go, we take steps away from our past. Keep taking those steps, the world will be a much brighter and wonderful place if we ever break of our gender bias. The work we do to honestly face, and ultimately undo this in our lives will create space for our children to grow in a more equal world.