Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Why Can't We All Just Get Along? (Gender)

Among other fun topics at the "Women's Retreat" recently, a friend and I were discussing gender roles in different areas of society today. We discussed the interesting facts of secular versus "conservative" society and how neither one can really get it right. My husband asked me, half-jokingly, when transitioning from an almost all female workplace, where men were devalued and not allowed to move up when they were clearly the best candidate, to a mostly male workplace, where women are not in positions of leadership. He wondered, "Is there a place where men and women can work together side by side?"

It's an interesting question. The post-feministic society does at times tend to devalue men. At his previous place of employment, a white male would be considered last for the job, despite the fact that the office was 90% female. His boss, and boss's boss, and boss's boss's boss were all female. When he had clearly earned a position of leadership and one was about to become available, they suddenly decided the position wouldn't be created. He left shortly thereafter for a better position with more opportunity for advancement, and it turned out they did need that management position after all, and found a female to take that leadership role.

On the other hand, as a woman in a "conservative" or "religious" based organization, you are almost guaranteed to be denied a leadership position. Very few demoninations or churches are open to female pastors, elders, and staff. A female is more than welcome to an "administrative" role and that's pretty much it. Too bad my skills don't lie in the area of administration.

So why the assumption that "Christian" or "conservative" groups should put women at a lower level? First, this is completely anti-Jesus. If we are truly asking "what would Jesus do" he completely valued and lifted up women. From the Samaritan woman at the well, to the woman who had the audacity to pour perfume on his feet and the woman who gently asked if even the dogs ate the crumbs from under the table. He didn't hold them back or condemn them for speaking up. He also didn't put down men. Although they made mistakes and did the wrong thing, most of those surrounding him the closest were men.

So, how do we peacefully coexist? In a modern society, how do we reconcile strong male and female leadership in the church and outside the church?

  1. Don't make assumptions. It's easy, and often understandable, to assume that women are better suited for nursery or childcare work and that men wanting to be involved in those areas must have something wrong with them. On the other hand, men can be great leaders for children as long as certain safeguards are in place to ensure nothing improper takes place (for the men AND women in leadership or childcare roles).
  2. Don't exclude. When you are making a decision to hire, promote, include, or even ask for volunteers, don't exclude people based on only one factor. This is the very essence of discrimination, but it also means don't include only certain groups. If you consider 95% females for a certain position, you are automatically excluding males, whether you consciously make that decision or not.
  3. Ask everyone for advice. Many times the church will send out a survey about nursery issues to all the women in the church, or send out a notification about lawn care needs to all the men in the church. The same can go for young and older people too. Ask all the people what they need and want out of the church or workplace. It's important to see all sides of an issue, and many times the least likely person will come up with the most creative and useful idea.
  4. Promote based solely on qualifications. My husband left a job that he had been at for over 7 years. He loved all the people there. Yes, the primary reason we gave for leaving was to be closer to family, but a secondary reason was that he could see no opportunity there. He had received several "promotions" in name only (and without appropriate financial advancement) and was passed over time and again for other opportunities, not because of his qualifications but because he "wasn't friends" with the all female management staff. Of course, every establishment has it's own version of "office politics" but they all need to just stop. Put the best person in the best position for them, and don't worry about the politics.
  5. Don't talk bad about your spouse or another person's spouse. This was something I was fortunate enough to learn before getting married. If you join in the husband bashing and behind the back talk that goes on in many female groups, you will start to think negatively about your spouse. When you talk and think badly about your spouse, you will start to disrespect them. This goes both ways, but creates a very negative cycle of disrespect and can influence not just our relationship with our spouse but with all members of the opposite gender.
  6. Respect your spouse. Even if you don't talk badly about them, you may harbor a deep disrespect for the things your spouse does. It's easy to think that you are the one doing all of the work, but it's important to equally respect your spouse's work. Cooking the meals, caring for children, and cleaning the house can be done by male or female, but often the spouse who "typically" does those things will degrade the other spouse when things aren't done "correctly". I certainly have my own way of loading the dishwasher, but if my husband does the dishes, I thank him sincerely and then shut my mouth...
  7. Take someone else's perspective seriously. We've been reading the Burgess stories lately for my Kindergartener's homeschool. In one of the stories, Grandfather Frog was off to see the world, and wouldn't take anyone's advice on how to stay safe. Why? Because when you're used to being the "wise one" and the one other people come to for advice, it becomes so much harder to take the advice of other people. I find this to be very true in my life, as well as in the lives of others. It's important to take the time to listen to the advice other people give, especially when it's something that they know better than we do.
So what do you think? Can we all just get along?
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