Even where no strict injustice is perpetrated against women, they are often plagued by a vague but persistent sense of homelessness. The social world which they inhabit is not constructed according to "their measure"; it is a male world and they often feel as aliens in it. -Miroslav Volf in Exclusion and Embrace
Last week, I finished an article for my legal writing class, in which I dealt with Antonio Gramsci's definition of "hegemony." When power is accepted or legitimated through cultural and political institutions and organizations, a hegemonic force is born.
I appreciate how power is defined, because harmful forces like racism and sexism are usually only recognized in their most blatant forms. Defining a damaging power as "accepted" and "legitimated" includes those who promote that power passively rather than actively, which is just as damaging.
Defining hegemony this way has made me realize that sexism, within the North American evangelical church, is most insidious not when bellowed by Mark Driscoll, but when individuals and institutions who claim to make space for women still engage in subtle marginalization or passively accept "business as usual."
I still find it worthwhile to criticize Driscoll, and institutions like the Southern Baptist Convention who use one's position on gender roles as a litmus test for who is a Real True Christian. But I wonder if I should expend more energy on deceptively hidden, seemingly harmless forces that shut out women, or at least make no efforts to overcome the men-only default.
Eugene Cho shared a post on his blog by Michelle Garred, who pointed out that, even within groups that allow female clergy, marginalization persists. Garred related her experience at a denominational conference:
“So, what do you do for a living in Seattle?” The man looks intently at my husband Brent across the lunch table, and the two become engrossed in a discussion of green building design. I sit and listen, enjoying the conversation, and anticipating that at some point the same question will be directed toward me. But that never happens. Our new acquaintance, who holds a lot of stature at this conference, does not appear to connect the topic of making a living with me as an individual. I don’t know why – the ‘gender vibes’ feel palpable, but I try not to jump to that conclusion. Eventually the conversation moves on. It moves on to the previous night’s sermon, which given by a female pastor who, our new acquaintance proclaims, “preached a sermon as good as any man’s.” Oof.
The next day’s lunch queue is very long, so Brent and the man ahead of us strike up a conversation. Where-are-you-from, and what-do-you-do for a living, etc. After three or four minutes, the man eventually looks toward me…because he wants to know: “Do you have any children?”
...even within this wonderful group of Christians, which has been making ‘space’ for female clergy since the 1970s, there are many people who do not appear to have much space for female professionals.
Garred illustrates the battle is not over the moment an institution formally allows women leaders. It might be more difficult to uproot lingering sexism when a group has taken a stand to allow women in leadership.
I see a lot of parallels with racism: it does not automatically mean one is no longer a racist simply because he doesn't fly the Confederate flag or use the "N" word. And perhaps a white person becomes less open to recognizing her lingering, unintentional racism when she has acknowledged her privilege and reads Tim Wise.
In the same way, I don't think efforts to ensure women are not silenced simply end once male-only leadership is formally outlawed. I'm tired of seeing church after church say leadership roles are not limited to men, yet their entire staff consists of men. The faces seen at worship services are entirely male (oh, except for the backup singer in the band).
I can't hear these churches say they accept women because their actions speak so loudly. The message is still sent to young women: no theologizing for the womenfolk, and male dominance is legitimated by only presenting male faces.
That women made up only 10% of the pastorate in 2009 reinforces male hegemony. When females comprise more than 50% of Christians, yet female theologians are rare, male hegemony is reinforced. Rachel Held Evans threw out a question on Twitter the other day, "Who would you say is the world's most preeminent (contemporary) female theologian?" Many responded that a woman didn't easily come to mind. Despite the fact that women are numerically the majority in the church, Volf is right, it's still a male world and Christian women are often made to feel as aliens in it.
Sometimes, to be honest, I'd almost rather deal with communities who openly exclude women, rather than those who claim to make space for all, but still ultimately present, hire, and mentor all men. But when I start feeling that way, I remember the women and men who are subversively and creatively fighting against this hegemony, and am encouraged...