Why gender equality matters

I have had a strange week. It started with some discussions with an organisation to explore doing some work together. In the middle of the conversation they asked me what I thought of women in leadership. I thought it a strange question, answered that I believe in equality and we moved on. The joint work didn’t work out. I think that question had something to do with it.

Later in the week I sat with an amazing and accomplished young woman who was fighting back the tears as she explained how she felt so marginalised and patronised by male colleagues. She would say something and be ignored. A male colleague would make the same point and be viewed as the voice of an angel. Her contributions were often overlooked while ‘the buzz’ was around a male co-worker. And yes, part of it was her learning how to present herself. And yes, part of it was her personal confidence and security. But yes, part of it was that she was trying to operate in a boys club and the bar was set much higher for her than for the men. Sadly I don’t expect most of the men understood the culture that they were creating and sustaining. I can only think that they did not realise that there were losers in their game.

The week ended with me crying in a business meeting. I was working with an organisation and we were talking about gender. I was trying to reflect some of the realities of gender awareness in that organisation, trying to share a little of what I had observed and what I had heard directly.

And I cried.

This is unusual for me and has led me to wonder why.

Part of me feels shame. Shame for where I have colluded with a male dominated culture, used humour to marginalise rather than build up, overlooked outstanding contributions or potential and been part of the boys club rather than a truly empowering and releasing leader. Shame that too often I have been blind to my own privilege and failed to transcend my background.

Part of it is me beginning to empathise with the pain that many of my female friends and colleagues often feel. And anger that they have to be better, try harder and adopt false persona’s and ways of communicating. Part of me is frustrated that so many of my male colleagues simply don’t see. And I am really angry that some of them do see but don’t think it matters. I am tired of the patronising comments that women need to toughen up, not be so sensitive, learn how to take a joke. All said by men of power who have absolutely no sense of humour when their own positions and contributions are threatened or not recognised.

And while I am depressed by every new testosterone fueled, ‘leadership as domination’ man that I meet (and I meet a depressingly large number of them) I am in awe of the amazing women leaders around me who thrive and soar high despite the odds. And I am encouraged and motivated by the male leaders around me who are embracing complementariness, grace and servant-heartedness. Jesus was unique as a Rabbi in welcoming, including and commissioning women as well as men. How far we have fallen.

And it is this fallenness that I think made me cry. In the beginning God made men and women. Both were equally an expression of his image, character and love. Men and women were commissioned together  for both child rearing and ruling. Then the fall happened and what was meant to be together got broken. The world has been crying ever since. Men and women were supposed to be together- equally. We still need to be together if we are to fully represent God, understand His will and live His ways. Male dominated leadership cannot do this. Strict gender based roles cannot do this. And when we belittle, marginalise, overlook and make life harder for women not only do we fail to represent God faithfully, we also destroy a little bit of  His image in one of his very loved children.

It’s enough to make you cry.

Friends of mine have set up a new organisation that works on related issues. You can find them at www.restoredrelationships.org


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20 Comments on “Why gender equality matters
  1. Dave, thank you so much for this. It makes such a difference when men like you speak up for the equality of men and women. If anything significant is going to change, then we need to be working together on this.

  2. Well said Dave. The Kingdom of God is advanced by women AND men. In Christ there is no male and female. May we each become the unique gift of God He created us to be, and together demonstrate the unity that only agape love can create. Then God will be honored by true power – the power of servanthood, nurture, and love.

  3. Thank you for your honesty in sharing what was a raw moment for you. I too have cried when I have seen female friends of mine treated appallingly just because they are women and ‘men know best’. I have my own experiences of trying to fight my way through ‘the old boys club’ and it is a painful place to be. I had to really cling on to the fact that as you stated above, in God’s eyes we are all equal.

  4. Excellent post, we need more men to speak out on this and say clearly where we stand. I discovered at the weekend that the story of Mary and Martha is not about ‘contemplative vs activist’ clichés of Christian life but is about Jesus welcoming Mary – a woman – to sit and learn at his feet as only men did. This was a radical challenge to the culture and one that Martha was astonished by. Disciples learned in order to teach and become leaders – this was what Jesus was affirming. And we are still so often siding with Martha, conciously or otherwise. I hope some more men read this as well!

  5. Great blog. Thanks for your openness, honesty and revealing your heart. I hope and pray more men and women see the heart of God on this issue and have the courage, like you, to acknowledge it and work that out in actions.

  6. Hi Dave, thanks so much for your comments so refreshing and encouraging that there are men out there who really do believe in the equality of women and see the fall as the possible beginning of male dominance. It grieves me that so many men that I know appear to look down on us – again and again. I have been where your friend/colleague is and particularly found the bit where she said something in a meeting for it to be ignored for it then to be said by a guy and thought to be an amazing idea – how sad, how bizarre and how short sighted. We woman always have to earn and prove our worth threefold where as a man is just accepted as he it is. If women are gifted to lead they should lead, if men are gifted to lead they should lead – it is the gifting that is key not whether we are female or male. Please keep speaking up fo us …! Miriam

  7. Thankyou. Thankyou so much.

    Please keep talking about this in the organisations you work with. We need men like you, who are respected by their male peers still engaged in these boys club mentalities, to speak this truth. You can have a voice in this that we cannot always, due to their prejudices.

    Thank you.

  8. Thank you. As others have said, it is so good to have a man say this. In particular this: “And I am really angry that some of them do see but don’t think it matters. I am tired of the patronising comments that women need to toughen up, not be so sensitive, learn how to take a joke.”

  9. Fascinating. Very much agree. Churches and Christian organisations sometimes feel like we’re in a 1970’s timewarp, that other NGOs and plenty of other places left behind long ago.

    I’m often struck at my current Christian workplace, and my current church, that when getting engaged, would-be grooms often ask their potential bride’s fathers for permission, and it freaks me out that people who otherwise seem perfectly normal and to have equal relationships in most areas of life just seem to accept it. Maybe it’s the 1870’s we’re stuck in, not the 1970’s.

    Do you think next time you come across an example of boys club exclusivity in leadership positions, you could give the boy responsible a slap? I will if you will.

  10. Good post, but many of us who support male headship in the church would agree with the majority of what you write. I know male headship churches where women are completely involved in leadership and management, but the buck stops with a bloke. There are plenty of us who will fight night and day against misogynistic attitudes in the church, but will still take a particular line on the interpretation of “kephale”.

    If you’re going to convince me to change my mind on this then it needs to be more that just emotive argument. I’ve walked away from homosexuality precisely because I wouldn’t accept the emotive argument on that issue. In the same way, I’m not going to shift my position just because of an emotive argument in another field. While it’s absolutely right to name misogyny where it occurs and to wake men up to the fact that they perpetrate it without even thinking, that doesn’t in itself mean that godly loving male headship is wrong.

  11. Pingback: Why gender equality matters « Judy’s research blog

  12. Thanks for the post David – keep it real. The reason that people respond to the post is the same reason that the situation moved you – you saw tears and it struck you; people read about your tears in a business meeting and it moves them.

    Emotive is important. This matters. The political needs to become personal.

    We need an integration between feelings and structures – when you are in leadership roles the points of ’emotive’ feelings need to be points of corporate repentance – of turning around and committing to embedding justice into organisational culture and structures – ‘What love requires, justice demands’.

    I think the problem in British Christian culture lies in situations in many churches where there is a vague, ‘nice’ form of misogyny – where women’s roles are not equal with men’s but its not really talked about. Often women are leading homegroups and involved in leadership in a whole host of real ways but the preaching is roped off. It leads to a vague sense of a the lower authority of womenwithout really having to bottom out what people atually believe and live out or be really consistent. It is a breeding ground for a very ‘nice’ form of hypocrisy and the kind of frustration that leads to tears.