I LOVE that God made me a woman and could certainly spend a lot of time expounding on the positive experiences I’ve had of being made in His image as a female. However, when I think of the lives of women world-wide and throughout history, unfortunately the word that comes most strongly to my mind is…disappointment. For the all the power, strength, dignity and beauty that women carry, we are all too frequently a disappointed group.
Just from reading Lean In, I think of all the women who fought for equal pay, yet never received it. But it goes beyond that. I think of the women who asked eager questions, yet were belittled or patronized. Women who spoke up against harassment, yet were unheard or harassed further. Women who showed up, yet were ignored. Women who were denied justice over rape or abuse. Women who were bright and competent and hilarious and kind, yet were asked to stay in a box. Women who were beautiful, yet shamed for their looks. Women who were intelligent, yet disliked because of their brains. Women who were powerless and fearful, and given no one to speak up on their behalf. Women who gathered their courage and found their voice, only to be called curse words. Women who dreamed and risked and wondered and studied, all in vain.
The silent multitude of disappointed women cram and even burst our history books, our offices, our churches, our homes.
This seems like something worth talking about, right?
In her penultimate chapter of Lean In, Sandberg addresses the simple significance of beginning the conversation around gender issues and equality in the workplace (and to a lesser degree in the home and in society at large.)
Shutting down discussion is self-defeating and impedes progress. We need to talk and listen and debate and refute and instruct and learn and evolve.
She shares the usual convincing slew of anecdotes and research statistics that show more satisfaction, productivity and health occur across the board in both men and women, when both sexes are working as equals and engaging in the gender discussion. So not even landing on a perfect solution, merely talking about it makes a difference! Sandberg’s entire book, and specifically this chapter, urge women and men onward to start new conversations and continue old ones, to press on from disappointment.
Here are three words I pulled out of the major theme of the chapter that I think are key to encouraging this conversation.
First, the nasty “F’ Word.
Okay, it’s probably for the best that I whisper this one……feminism.
It’s hard to have a conversation about equality between the sexes without this one flying around #amiright? Sandberg herself says she avoided the label of feminist in her early days..
“It sounds like a joke: Did you hear the one about the woman taking a feminist studies class who got angry when someone called her a feminist? But when I was in college I embraced the same contradiction. On one hand, I started a group to encourage more women to major in economics and government. On the other hand I would have denied being in any way, shape or form a feminist…we accepted the negative caricature of a bra-burning, humor-less, man-hating feminist”
Post-college and in the early years of her career she still struggles with the label even in the midst of trying to have this dialogue…
“It was a no-win situation. I couldn’t deny being a woman…and defending myself just made me seem defensive. My gut and the signals I received from others cautioned me that arguing the issue would make me sound like a strident feminist. And I still did not want that. I also worried that pointing out disadvantages women face in the workforce might be misinterpreted as whining or asking for special treatment. So I ignored the comments…”
If I talk about women’s issues on my blog, will I be labeled a feminist?
If I highlight injustices and inequalities, will it be assumed I am a man-hater?
If I share my own hurts and experiences, and those of my sisters, will I be called whiny and divisive?
It’s hard to advocate for change and not be called a trouble-maker. It’s even harder to advocate for women’s rights and not be called a feminist (as an insult).
But thanks to women in the secular world like Sheryl Sandberg and others, I think that word is being reclaimed for good.
I mean, Hermione Granger is talking about it…
Internet memes are talking about it..
And everyone shuts up and listens when Malala talks…
But what encourages me even more is the way Christians have added their voices. Even if one is not comfortable with the F-word, (many) men and women in the American evangelical church are realizing that things are not quite right between the sexes and even if they stumble and struggle and disagree on the nitty gritty, earnest conversations are happening. Christians like Author Sarah Bessey even attempt to reclaim the idea of feminism:
One needn’t identify as a feminist to participate in the redemptive movement of God for women in the world, The gospel is more than enough. Of course it is! But as long as I know how important maternal health is to Haiti’s future, and as long as I know that women are being abused and raped, as long as I know girls are being denied life itself through selective abortion, abandonment, and abuse, as long as brave little girls in Afghanistan are attacked with acid for the crime of going to school, and until being a Christian is synonymous with doing something about these things, you can also call me a feminist.
So, for some it is a badge of honor, for some it is an insult. I suggest, and I think Sheryl would agree, that we don’t let the lingo get in the way of the issues.
What are your thoughts on the F-word?
Okay next, the awful “B” Word…
Bias. Something other people have, certainly not me! (<– sarcasm font)
Sandberg illustrates how delicate this subject is – NOBODY wants to be told they have a bias! But she shares some important research:
A 2012 study found that when evaluating identical resumes for a lab manager position from a male student and a female student, scientists of both sexes gave better marks to the male applicant. Even though the students had the same qualifications and experience, the scientists deemed the female student less competent and offered her a lower starting salary and less mentoring.
This study was a killer:
When evaluating identically described male and female candidates for the job of police chief, respondents WHO CLAIMED TO BE THE MOST IMPARTIAL actually exhibit MORE bias in favor of male candidates. This is not just counterproductive but deeply dangerous. Evaluators in that same study actually shifted hiring criteria to give men an advantage. When a male applicant possessed a strong educational record, that quality was considered critical to the success of a police chief. But when a male applicant possessed a weaker educational record, that quality was rated as less important. This favoritism was not shown to female applicants. If anything, the reverse happened. When a woman possessed a particular skill, ability, or background, that quality tended to carry less weight.
That’s crazy! As an added challenge, when the idea (or gentle accusation?!) of being biased is brought up, people either discredit that as not being true, or at worst are put on the defensive and made angry. We are seeing this a lot in the race discussions happening in our country right now, but I firmly believe it is absolutely essential to be humble enough to admit that entire systems, and our own human hearts, are riddled with bias. It’s actually 100% natural and to be expected as a result of living in society. Being able to admit bias not only removes the huge burden of pride and the desire to pretend we are perfect and live in perfect communities, but it is also necessary to move the conversation forward in a productive way.
How do you react at the suggestion that you might be biased in some areas?
And lastly, The Beautiful “S” Word
Shalom. So Sandberg doesn’t use this word, but it is the Hebrew word for Peace and she is Jewish so, um, it sort of belongs?
Harmony, Wholeness, Peace, and Unity between men and women, what a vision to behold!
Truthfully a lot of what Sherly Sandberg talks about in Lean In such as board meetings and private jets and working with congressmen feels so far away from my life. I don’t even own a blazer or a pair of sensible pumps! But I am drawn into this conversation because of my faith, because of God’s heart for Shalom, for The Blessed Alliance of his Sons and Daughters. So while I can’t really name any CEOs, male or female, I can share my passion for God’s creation.
Long before Sheryl and Malala and Hermione (sorry, I know her name is Emma, I just am a Harry Potter super fan) and long before the Suffragettes and Gloria Steinem…there were two men engaging in this.
The first is the apostle Paul who based on little snippets of scripture seemed to work quite well alongside women and who, while honoring the uniqueness of the genders, was talking about some pretty counter-cultural things for his day. The Message version of his first letter to the Corinthian church puts things like this:
0-12 Don’t, by the way, read too much into the differences here between men and women. Neither man nor woman can go it alone or claim priority. Man was created first, as a beautiful shining reflection of God—that is true. But the head on a woman’s body clearly outshines in beauty the head of her “head,” her husband. The first woman came from man, true—but ever since then, every man comes from a woman! And since virtually everything comes from God anyway, let’s quit going through these “who’s first” routines.
And then he writes to the Galatian church,
In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal.
And then there is the certain somebody called Jesus. He’s my favorite.
His love for women, treatment of women, honoring of women and inclusion of women brings me to tears.
Every. Single. Time.
My personal belief is that God’s vision for men and women is one of Shalom that is characterized by intimacy, equality, joy, and partnership to reflect the very heart of our Creator. I wonder what our relationships and spheres of infuence and world would look like if we embraced this, if we started talking about it more?
Where do you see glimpses of Shalom between the sexes? Where do you long to see it more?
Gender equality is messy because we live in a broken world, and it is so awkward to talk about even in the healthiest and most well-intentioned situations. It’s easy to feel accused, demonized or misunderstood as men. It is easy to feel like man-hating, whiny troublemakers as women. Add the many layers of religious ideas, cultural norms, pride, ego, fear, privilege, race (and throw it all on the internet for good measure!) and oh my goodness what a HOT MESS we have!
I hope we can, ahem, Lean In to this hot button issue because as Sandberg writes (regarding office dynamics) “while gender was not openly acknowledged, it was still lurking below the surface”. So talking, even if it is a heated debate, is always better than lurking.
Issues for women across the globe range greatly from extreme ones like gendercide, spousal abuse and sex slavery to things like equal pay and breastfeeding in public – but regardless of the degree or severity, there is a robbing of dignity and an inflicting of trauma that occurs with each and every instance.
While I can cling to hope for the day when there will no longer be disappointment, inequality, or oppression for women because of my faith in Christ and a coming Kingdom that is promised, I am also called here and now.
So, I talk about it.