|Posted by God Loves Women on June 7, 2014 at 6:35 PM||comments (0)|
The other week I was chatting with my wonderful friend Helen and her housemate. Still pyjama-clad and vaguely sleepy, the conversation moved onto single-sex Christian events and not in a good way. I felt it called for a bit of a Google of the names Christian women's and men's events are given. Here is a brief overview:
It seems, in general, fighting is for men and feeling is for women.
I know those who run these events are passionate about what they do and that many people gets loads out of single-sex events, and not all of them are hideously bad, plus it would be unfair to invalidate whole events based on their name. The question is, are these events solely using stereotypes to attract their audience, or are they perpetuating the very boxes which restrict women and men from becoming all God is calling them to be. I've spoken to so many women and men who find the current single-sex conferences alienate them and leave them feeling either inadequate or under pressure to conform.
I'm not sure what the way forward is, but surely there's got to be a better way than this...?
|Posted by God Loves Women on May 12, 2014 at 4:10 PM||comments (0)|
It seems at the moment that everywhere you look there are debates on the issue of gender boundaries categories for children’s toys - challenges of Lego’s recent addition of ‘girl’s’ Lego, comments on how some stores layout their merchandise or complaints from authors regarding how book covers try to suggest which gender of child ‘should’ read their books.
Quite rightly so, a lot of people would say. But why does it matter so much? Some people might think that ‘making a fuss’ over something like this is overkill, but the answer is it really does matter.
Now don’t get me wrong - I am not saying that we cannot admit men and women/girls and boys are different. As Jenny Baker says in her excellent book ‘Equals’:
“We’re clearly different in lots of ways. We have different body parts, grow hair in different places and the difference in our chromosomes is reproduced in every cell of our bodies. In almost all sports, whether it’s running, cycling , swimming or jumping, men are consistently faster than women: they jump higher, lift heavier weights, throw further and score more. That pattern of men and women achieving differently is repeated in lots of different spheres of life. How can we say that women and men are equal?”
There are clearly differences between men and women, particularly if you look at physical - that is ‘body’ factors. There have also been argued to be cognitive - that is brain - differences between males and females as well, although this remains a hotly controversial topic. But two vitally important facts need to be emphasised.
The first is that although there are some differences, there are a lot more ways in which we are NOT different. This is particularly true if you consider that differences claimed in scientific research look at averages - the statistical centre of natural variation along any given skill/measure. Taking that natural variation into account there is an awful lot of overlap - plenty of women who do not demonstrate the more classically ‘female’ trends; plenty of men who find that they identify with some ‘female’ stereotypes.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the fact is that equality does not need to assume that there are no differences. Quoting Jenny Baker again, she says:
“Equality is the belief that all people have the same value, regardless of any other defining characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, sexuality, disability and age… equality is about treating people fairly without prejudice or assumptions and it’s the essential foundation on which all fruitful relationships are built. Equality particularly when we’re talking about women and men, is about being free to choose the direction your life takes and having the encouragement and opportunities to enact that choice, rather than being constrained by stereotypes or cultural convention. It’s about everyone being able to flourish.”
So why do these gender stereotypes matter so much? Why not create brands and toys which are pink and feature more classically ‘female’ play types like cooking, fashion or looking after babies? Why not separate ‘boys’ from ‘girls’ toys in stores and supermarkets? Why not brand and design books according to which gender is more likely to want to buy them?
There are lots of answers to this, but one compelling one lies in the psychology of humans. One thing that cannot be denied about humans is how we prefer to simplify the world by making generalisations. One way we display this is in our tendency to form ‘groups’ in our minds for people. We tend to classify these groups fairly simply - as either ‘in-group’ (that is, of the same group as us) or ‘out-group’. You can see this in all kinds of things - social class stereotypes, our love of forming and supporting specific football teams, what newspaper we read - it happens all over our society.
A series of studies both historical and more recent demonstrate how easy it is to induce people to form these kinds of group identities. Perhaps the most famous, called the robbers cave experiment, took a bunch of 11 year old body on a summer camp in the USA. When these kids arrived, they were randomly allocated to one of two groups. At first on camp, simple steps were taken to enforce these group identifies. Each group didn’t know the other existed, but they ate together, took part in activities and chose group names and emblems. Its not that surprising that the kids really took on this group thing and started to share a real sense of group ‘togetherness’.
What’s interesting about this experiment is what happened next. When the camp organisers revealed the existence of the ‘other’ group, what developed was almost immediate hostility - mainly in the groups calling each other names. Once the groups then started to compete against each other this inter group rivalry got more significant. When one group eventually won the ‘camp cup’ this sense of superiority was marked and the hostility increased. It wasn’t long before the groups refused to even eat in the same room as each other.
This famous study then began to explore how best to break down this inter group hostility. But the reason I’m talking about it now is to look at what happens when we strengthen group identity and draw attention to or exaggerate perceived or real differences between two groups. Very quickly a sense of hierarchy develops, particularly if one group, for whatever reason, can be perceived as ‘weaker’. Once that sense of hierarchy is there, it grows. The outcome of this can be very powerful - more than once psychologists, researchers and even school teachers have attempted repeats on different scales of this kind of experiment, and had to interrupt their plans because the degree of hostility was alarming and unexpected.
There are differences between men and women. But the more we exaggerate these by slipping into stereotypical shorthand in order to simplify our world, the more we risk building an ‘in-group’ mentality that can foster and encourage feelings of hostility, negative behaviour and unhelpful beliefs about the ‘other’ group. The more we teach people - however implicitly - that boys are totally different from girls, the greater the chance then members of one group will start to foster and justify cynical or unpleasant beliefs and behaviours toward the other - and thanks to the historical discrimination against women it is usually this group that comes off the worst.
There’s plenty of evidence for this happening. Take some of the classically quoted stats about men and women - such as the claim that women use thousands more words per day than men as a fairly non-controversial example. I know I’ve heard this quoted so many times! And yet, as Deborah Cameron explains in her very interesting book ‘The Myth of Mars and Venus,’ this statistic has no empirical basis at all - in fact studies tend to find little or no difference in the average numbers of words used per day by men and women. So why is this so widely believed? Because those subtle, subliminal messages we see everyday teach us that men and women are much more different than they really are, making us much more likely to believe messages like this that then exaggerate a difference that was never really there in the first place.
Genesis 1:27 states clearly that men and women are made in the image of God. The Message puts it beautifully translating God’s command ‘make them reflecting our nature.’ We need to be really careful about how and when we subconsciously or deliberately separate two groups of people who were created, not identical, but equal. It is in the combination of men and women, in the God ordained harmony of both working together and in real equality that we see the entire reflection of the image of God, not in separating them.
It isn’t just gender stereotypes in kids merchandise that risks this. I’m urging caution on a whole realm of ‘for women’ or ‘for men’ stuff. Of course there’s no harm in us meeting sometimes as guys or women only - sure, we have stuff to talk about that the others may find a bit bewildering or irrelevant. But lets work together and not be defensive to good challenges where perhaps things need to change. Lets take appropriate caution that we are not slipping into lazy stereotypes that risk at best alienating those who do not conform or excluding some who would otherwise have benefited, and at worst building up group identities that may foster and encourage very negative attitudes. Lets celebrate our amazing, God reflecting, common humanity rather than separating what God made equal.
Dr Kate Middleton is a church leader & psychologist with a passion for applying psychology and faith to real life. Although working mainly in the UK, she is currently based in Paris and balances commuting back to the UK with building links there. Kate is one of the leaders of ‘Mind and soul' & regularly writes for their website. She also speaks across the UK on a variety of topics & has written several books. In the UK Kate works with the Hitchin Christian Centre where you can find articles, talks etc by her. On Twitter she is @communik8ion.
|Posted by God Loves Women on March 24, 2014 at 8:20 PM||comments (2)|
“But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.” Luke 24:11
The first people entrusted with the truth of the resurrection were women, and when they evangelised that truth they were ignored.
Fast forward 2000 or so years and there is an evangelism conference happening in 2015 announced by Revd. Canon J. John on Twitter earlier today. If you look even briefly at the line up for the conference you will discover that there is a group of people not represented in either the speakers or those MCing the day. That would be women. You know, those people who make up 51% of the UK population and 65% of the church.
This conference was brought to my attention by @zoebunter when she pointed out the lack of female speakers. I tweeted J.John to ask why there were no female speakers:
So far he has not responded to me directly, but he has tweeted the following:
I recognise that the conference and the work J. John does is enormously valuable and that hopefully the event will be a great opportunity for those attending to learn and grow. My challenge regarding the lack of female speakers is not about invalidating the work the conference will do, however a conference that hopes to “renew, inspire and encourage” while not including any representation of half the human race is highly problematic.
That J. John chose to describe my legitimate concerns about the lack of representation of women as “chatter” greatly saddens me. This is further compounded in his assertion that they asked women and that no women were available. To state that out of all the female evangelists working fulltime on sharing the Gospel across the UK, none were available is outrageous. Though perhaps what J. John was actually saying is that of the women that were asked, weren’t available. My question is: Why didn’t you ask more women? When none of those that you asked were available, why not ask for other recommendations? Why not do a shout out on Twitter, or through professional networks to seek out female evangelists?
I have only been shouting about this stuff for the last few years and I am already tired of it. There are those who have been shouting for decades longer than me and I don’t know how they keep going. We need a seismic shift in people’s thinking about women’s representation at event, about the reality of gender injustice and the need to change this for both women and men. That in 2014 it is possible to organise an event about evangelism and it not occur to the organisers that it is both legitimate and important for there to be women speakers and women MCs at the event shows just how far we have to go. That good men like J. John (who has a positive reputation for the inclusion of women) could suggest that asking women is enough, shows us that this is going to be a long hard journey.
We need to get to a place where it is assumed that not having women on the platform, on the programme of an event will be seen as controversial. That doing so will cause hurt, disappointment and a reinforcement of patriarchal structures. We need to speak out and stand up, because women are people too.
And just as Mary, Joanna, Mary and the other women were ignored by the disciples, women are still ignored today. And yet sisters, Jesus chose us to be the first to carry the good news. Let us hold that in our hearts and continue to tell people the good news, praying and acting for a different world.
Other people who've written blogs about this:
|Posted by God Loves Women on March 18, 2014 at 9:55 AM||comments (0)|
This is a guest blog from Dave Meldrum. He offered to write this blog after writing this piece on restitution.
There once was a woman. Think of a name for her.
She lives in a decent area of the city, attends a lively local church and is an enthusiastic runner. What does she do for a living? That's also your decision. For the purposes of our story, it should be a job in a company or firm of some kind. She's not high-up, but she is a step or two beyond the lowest rung.
She's a good networker, so she's one of the first to hear news of an impending vacancy. Richard, the man who's moving on, is well-liked and respected and no-one bears him any ill-will for taking the lucrative offer made to him by a rival company. Everybody feels he deserves it, as well as a new challenge, what with the third child on the way.
When the job is advertised, our heroine's CV and letter of motivation is ready to go; hers is in fact the first to land in the appropriate inbox. She knows she won't be the only applicant, but this company has a policy of seeking to promote from within and she knows she's the best qualified on her level. Interviews come around; two external applicants, and two other internals competing with her. The internals are, as she expected, good workers but not on her level. Ian is too new to the company and a little too inexperienced in the field to be a realistic contender - he's probably applying to get a feel for how things work round here. He's ambitious and in the future he'll do well. Stephen is an able and affable kind of guy; sharply dressed, a touch less experience than her but with a winning smile and charm interpersonal manner. Her results have been better than his, consistently. She is not worried that he'll compete with her for the promotion. All things being equal, she's the best suited.
The interviews proceeds without surprise. She has acquitted herself well and she is at peace. The next day the email arrives at the expected time. Thank you … good candidate…add value to company … unable to offer …
As she scans the scarcely credible words, Stephen walks past her desk, beaming and gently pumping his fist. It shouldn't make sense, but somehow she's not surprised.
On the train home she sits next to young man lingering over the third page of a tabloid paper. In the stuffy and stuffed carriage she feels middy nauseous; she tries to manoeuvre herself into the hint of a breeze. She momentarily dozes off, awakening with a start as the train pulls into her station. She opens her eyes to see those of the man next to her lingering on her chest. She pushes past him (which seems to be unnaturally difficult to do), and stands on the platform catching her breath.
She'll be late for the church home group. She had thought of skipping tonight, but she wants company and dinner. She can't be bothered to cook for herself anyway. She arrives just in time for a refreshingly simple bowl of soup to be pressed into her hands and sits quietly as the gentle buzz of ten people catching up with each other drowns out her own endlessly circling thoughts. She comes to full attention as they talk about making plans for the arrival of the new pastor. He's married, with three kids and a reputation for growing churches quickly. He doesn't like women preachers - which is a blow to our heroine as the previous pastor had helped her hone a gift of preaching she'd only recently discovered - but that's OK, insists John, the co-leader of the group with his wife Helen (she's in the kitchen sorting out the tea and cake) the new pastor will be quite happy for our heroine to speak to women's groups and Sunday School.
Our heroine doesn't enjoy teaching at Sunday School; and she's never been to a women's group. Which is what she'd meant to say. Instead it came out with a minor (by her workplace's standards but major by this group's standards) expletive and clearly voiced disappointment. She voices a vague sense of wondering if the local C of E place is any different.
John tells her not to get too emotional, there's plenty of opportunities for her besides preaching and besides you don't want to go to the C of E place because the vicar there is a bloke who wears a dress on Sundays. He laughs as he speaks, and the group seems to all join in.
That's enough for her, and she says so.
John's a good guy, at heart. I'm sorry he says. Sorry. I know this hard for you.
Thank you. I mean it, thank you, she says. But what are you going to do about it? I mean, it's alright for you. You're doing well at work, and nothing at the church will change for you with the new man. But what about me? What can I do?
We can pray for and with you, says John, with his kind smile and gentler tone.
And then? And then … what?
Dave was ordained in the Church of England in 2001. Since then he's worked in churches in London, until he and his wife Bev moved to Cape Town in 2010 when Dave became the Rector of St Peter's, Mowbray, a diverse Anglican church in an urban context. He's passionate about justice, films, sports and the interaction between all these (and much more besides) and Christian faith. You can find his blog at www.davemeldrum.com. Bev tells the stories of social enterprises through photography. They have no children and 2 dogs. He blogs at www.davemeldrum.com.
|Posted by God Loves Women on October 25, 2012 at 3:00 PM||comments (0)|
|Posted by God Loves Women on April 23, 2012 at 10:55 AM||comments (2)|
Yesterday I wrote a blog sharing my horror at my children's school introducing a "Battle of the Sexes". You can read it here.
So today I sent a letter to the Headteacher, the reading teacher, the Chair of the Governors and the Equality and Diversity team at the County Council, you can read the letter here.
I recieved a call this afternoon inviting me to meet with the Headteacher at 3pm, which I agreed to do. I went to the school expecting to potentially have a fight on my hands, but actually that was not the case!!! The Headteacher was utterly apologetic and acknowledged that the scheme had been thought about only from an educational point of view, missing out on the wider issues. He thanked me for raising concerns and said that the teacher responsible for reading was quite upset at having not thought through the implications I had now raised.
He explained that the scheme was being cancelled immediately, that the children would be spoken to at Wednesdays assembly and that he would include details of the scheme's termination in the parent newsletter on Friday. He also said that the letter I had written was the best he had ever recieved from a parent!
So let us always remember that if we are passionate and persevere, we can make a difference!!
|Posted by God Loves Women on April 22, 2012 at 4:55 PM||comments (3)|
My children go to a local Church of England primary school who have embarked on the noble quest of pushing more parents to read with their children. So far this quest has taken the form of a reading raffle every Friday, in which children who have had the reading record signed by an adult five days out of the week will be entered into a raffle in which they can win a lovely book.
I have quite a lot of problems with this reading raffle business, I feel it misses the point, parents not reading with their children has a deeper root than just a lack of a good reward for their child, but I haven’t felt it is the right battle to fight. Until last Friday.
“Last Friday?” You ask, “What happened last Friday?”
Well, I shall tell you. Last Friday my children arrived home with a letter from the teacher responsible for reading which said the following (and I quote):
“A big well done to all those children who were entered in the reading raffle this week. The children had to read 10 times over the holidays [yes, you read right, over the *flipping* holidays, no rest for the wicked, or at least small children, I say…] and have their planners or reading records signed for each time [their emphasis, not mine]. I was very disappointed however that the numbers of children entering the raffle weren’t higher. Only 34% of girls and 35% of boys were entered in the raffle this week, meaning that 2 in every 3 children seem to no be reading enough at home. To try and raise this we have started a “Battle of the Sexes! [Yes, you did read that right…] The gender with the higher percentage will receive 5 minutes extra play every week. This week the boys won. Well done boys!” [Yes, you also read correctly that they have already started this scheme].
I am utterly furious! Who do they think they are?! Regardless of my issues with the reading raffle and my disappointment at them rewarding children if their parents read with them, that is nothing in comparison to my shock at the decision to penalise 34% of female children even though their parents did sign their book, purely because of their gender. While 65% of male children got extra playtime, even though their parents did *not* write in their books, purely because of their gender.
I work very hard to ensure that my children do not feel their gender is in anyway a barrier to them. Both my 6 and 9 year old know that the broadly speaking the only differences between men and women is that women have babies and men wee standing up. To polarise my children so thoroughly in this way, purely because of their gender is totally unjust.
As someone who works very hard on domestic violence prevention, this could not be further from the actions required of a school in promoting positive relationships. When looking at how we promote positive relationships for younger children, it is about challenging gender stereotypes, not reinforcing that it’s boys versus girls. For every boy in that school who was allowed extra playtime, what the school has said is, your gender allows you privilege, and for any of those boys who live in homes with an abusive man, the school has just reinforced *every* view of women that man is telling that boy.
Since Friday, I have been learning about what I can do about this situation. Firstly I rang up the school to speak with the teacher who has sent the letter out, she wasn’t available immediately. I rang up the County Council’s equality and diversity department to get more information from them (they are going to ring me back). I also looked up the Equality Act 2010, which tells me that gender is a “protected characteristic” meaning that the schools actions are a form of inequality and also that potentially, from what the act says, this could be considered indirect discrimination.
Some may say I am overreacting, investigating things this thoroughly, but I do not want to be accused of being a “politically correct zealot” and so I thought I should get my facts straight.
Tomorrow I am going to the school to request a meeting, and I am going to explain how this “Battle of the Sexes” must not be allowed to continue and ask that an explanation be sent to every parent of the “un-thought through nature” of the scheme, before next Friday (when the next raffle and gender war is to take place). I know the school may not be particularly amenable to this suggestion, but my next stage will involve the Governors, the Vicar, other parents and perhaps even the press if necessary, so I shall keep you updated!
P.S. Since first writing this blog, I have discovered that the boys extra playtime will be awarded on Thursday and hasn't already taken place. I am requesting the school change the scheme before this is due to take place.