Speaking as a Woman

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Hardly anything bothers me more than women dismissing other women’s concerns.

“Oh, come on. You’re not that oppressed. No woman know deals with that. Women and their victim complexes these days….”

And I get it. Sexism, misogyny, and oppression are not often words that describe my personal day to day experience as a woman.

I have never experienced workplace discrimination. I am paid the same wages as my male counterparts. I have never been catcalled, sexually harassed, sexually assaulted, or raped. I have never felt slut-shamed or body-shamed. My husband wouldn’t even think to tell me to submit or remember my place as his wife. I can think of only two guys in my life who treated me differently than they treated men (or perhaps I imagined it).

The only real sexist discrimination I faced came from a fundamentalist church that I no longer attend and ideologies from my past that I no longer submit to. I notice sexism around me, but it doesn’t cut too deep. I see that my Christian school asks only men to pray at our meetings, for instance, but I would guess they would welcome a woman praying in public as well. And I didn’t even attempt to look for a teaching position that corresponded to my major (Christian studies), simply because I’d never heard of a female religion or Bible teacher in a secondary school.

I don’t feel that I am actively oppressed. I don’t often blame the patriarchy or think of the patriarchy or discuss the patriarchy outside of critiquing explicitly patriarchal views circulating in fundamentalist Christianity. Except in the Christian community, I feel free to be who I am and do the work I’m called to do, .

So if you asked me, as a woman, to weigh in on whether my plight looks like the oppressed female life feminists bemoan, I’d have to say no, not really. I notice sexism around me, of course, and how it sometimes ripples up in my direction, but it’s not screaming in my face at all times in all places. (Except in the Christian community. Gosh, I hate having to clarify that.)

But if the theoretical you that asked for my experience as a woman stops there, you would get a very privileged, lopsided view of what women face in the world, your country, your state, your city, even your circle.

I am, after all, only one woman among billions. And women’s issues is comprised of more than my experience and the women who chime in, “Me too!”

***

Women have incredible power to shape discussions on women’s issues. They have the power to create empathy and awareness in men and other more privileged women, and they have the power to dismiss, deride, and distract from real issues women face.

Almost everybody nowadays is somewhat sensitive to minorities, somewhat aware that things weren’t always done right by minorities, that white, male, cis, and/or middle-to-upper class people need to tread a bit carefully before speaking authoritatively about what minorities experience.

People get it.

And at the same time they don’t, because they grab hold of the stories and the experiences that fit their narrative of how things are — usually a narrative that downplays or denies the experience loudly protested on the streets and social media.

If women aren’t careful or if the conversationalist is on the hunt to hijack narratives, one woman could end up representing the whole of female experience.

“Well, my wife gets paid even more than the men at her workplace.” “My female friend has never been catcalled in her life.” “Bailey’s a woman — a feminist, even! — and she doesn’t consider herself oppressed.”

But worse than a man using one woman’s experience to gloss over other women’s problems? A woman doing the same thing.

I’ve seen women use their minority status to completely dismiss real problems women face. You have too — every time a beautiful woman films herself giving an anti-feminist rant, every time a confident woman writes the why she doesn’t need feminism trope, every time a woman implies or says straight up, “Well, I’m a woman, and I don’t feel that way.”

I wrote a letter to that fundamentalist church about how it felt to see only men in visible church positions — greeting visitors at the door, passing out the offering plate, reading the announcements, leading worship — and how it felt to slowly realize that nobody ever asked me to read the Bible on Sunday morning like the other teen boys got to, not because I wasn’t capable or even more capable of doing so, but because I was a girl. (Yes, I do realize that the full rationale was “because you’re a girl and the Bible says only men should lead and God wouldn’t say something unless it’s for the best,” but that extra reasoning doesn’t negate the utter sexism of the first part.)

I expected the men to get upset about it. (They did.) What I didn’t expect was the women feeling just as offended and incredulous. Women do all kinds of things in the church! Here’s a list! And you failed to address these Bible passages! Here they are! And even if this was a real problem, there are so many bigger problems to worry about.

And a woman can say that.

A woman can say hurtful, sexist, dismissive things, she can openly support a patriarchal system in a way a man cannot. A woman can say them in an authoritative manner. A woman can say them bluntly, shamelessly.

She can say them, because she is a woman, and what woman would actively support her own oppression? She wouldn’t (the thinking goes), and so the thing that another woman (or many women) feels is sexist or oppressive is deemed acceptable. And if a man is looking for an excuse to keep his ideologies the way they are, he can gently point all “oppressed” women by the way of the women loudly and proudly defending his ideologies.

I truly believe that little will change in communities where women, speaking as women, shut down other women’s experiences.

There’s already incredible pressure to not look like a chauvinist pig, so men are careful. I’ve noticed that many complementarian or patriarchal men honest-to-God respect and honor their wives, daughters, and other prominent women in their communities. If every woman spoke up against complementarian or patriarchal views, men would have no choice but to listen and conform.

If their wives were opposing it, if their daughters and their sisters and their mothers and the woman next to them at church and the pastor’s wife and their liberal coworker and the conservative neighbor across the street — if everywhere men turned women were vocally opposing or questioning certain ideas and practices that discriminate against women, communities would change.

But that isn’t happening. Men, genuinely curious about women’s experiences, can hear a feminist painting a picture of female oppression and go home to his wife, who rolls her eyes at feminism and the modern victim complex.

That is the danger and the responsibility of speaking as a woman.

P.S. Why reasonable, confident women support benevolent sexism

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33 thoughts on “Speaking as a Woman

  1. Laura Jinkins

    Hardly anything bothers me more than being dismissed for disagreeing with another person’s viewpoint. (See what I did there?)

    My issue with the current feminist mania is that it’s much too narrow. We ought not be protesting how women are treated or discriminated against, but how human beings are treated or discriminated against. And how some give the appearance of demanding that all women (and men) subscribe to the newest version of feminism (I believe it’s being called “Third Wave”?)

    I tried to copy and paste from your post, but my iPad is not letting me to that — I’ll try to paraphrase as closely as I can to your comment regarding complementarian/patriarchal men and women — you said if enough women spoke up, men would have to change, to conform.

    If these people (both men and women) devoutly believe, and build their faith in God, on an understanding of Scripture that promotes or requires complementary, patriarchal roles — what kind of hypocrite is it that changes that belief to “conform” with what a bunch of other women are demanding?

    If an individual, through their own study and conviction, decides maybe the Bible does offer an egalitarian option, wonderful! But if they never arrive at that conclusion, then I think that has to be respected.

    I think there are women who have truly been discriminated against. I also believe there are women that have shouted “discrimination” where none exists. There’s a convenient mechanism in place for manipulators to claim they’ve been wronged, and sadly it diminishes the real claims of those who truly have been wronged. Do you think it’s possible, or has ever happened, that a woman accuses a man of rape where none has occurred? Because things didn’t go the way SHE wanted them to go? (Thinking of a Old Testament story where this exact thing happened — Joseph and Potiphar’s wife…) If we are not allowed to even question the woman (or individual) who claims they’ve been wronged in some way, then the accused has no opportunity to defend themselves against alleged accusations.

    Just some things to think about.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Justine

      I agree with you, Laura. Bailey, I appreciate your point that people should acknowledge and not dismiss other people’s experiences and perspectives. However, telling someone who genuinely believes something that they have to defend or at least not speak out against and opposing viewpoint is in itself oppression. If you expect everyone​ to either accept feminism or stay quiet about the issues, you’ve destroyed freedom of speech, and since complementarianism is often based on Scripture, you’ve also gotten rid of freedom of religion.
      Just my two cents ☺

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bailey Steger

        Waiiiiit! :) First of all, this post is addressed to egalitarians, not complementarians. It was descriptive of a problem, meant to direct how egalitarians engage in conversation with others. I am certainly NOT suggesting that I expect everyone to agree with me or else stay silent, or to follow along with egalitarianism without believing it. I am so confused about where you thought I was suggesting suppressing those who don’t agree or getting rid of freedom of speech and religion? Where can I clarify?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Justine

        Ok, this post makes a whole lot more sense now that I realize it is directed at egalitarians.
        However, here’s where I’m getting what I was saying from: “If every woman spoke up against complementarian or patriarchal views, men would have no choice but to listen and conform.” You’re right, if every woman protested complementarianism, men would have to change. However if these women genuinely agree with and embrace the ideas/theology of complementarianism, for them to speak out against it would be hypocritical. It just sounded to me like you were saying these women should not defend their complementarian views.
        I agree we should speak out in solidarity with those who are oppressed, even if we haven’t actually experienced it ourselves. I think the point where complementarians and egalitarians disagree is on what qualifies as oppression.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bailey Steger

        I’m glad it makes more sense now! With what you quoted, I was speaking about if the majority of women who opposed or felt uneasy about complementarianism was vocal about their questions or opposition, egalitarianism would win the day. Basically, egalitarians need to win the women over moreso than the men, in my opinion, because I think women really do have great influence in patriarchal/complementarian communities. It’s just suppressed or renamed. This is in opposition to a lot of other feminists who suggest that it’s men who are always oppressing women or holding them back. I didn’t mean to suggest that complementarian women who have no complaints or opposition to complementarianism should speak out against what they believe is right. :)

        And yes, I agree — the crux of the issue between complementarians and egalitarians is indeed what counts as oppression, sexism, discrimination, etc. — particularly if you’re doing it for religious reasons.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Laura Jinkins

        Bailey, I so appreciate that you don’t just shut out the readers that either misunderstand or don’t agree — the fact that you asked “Where can I clarify?” adds so much to your credibility! Thank you for wanting a true conversation. You’re aces! :)

        Like

    • Molly Rose

      Haha, YES. I see what you did there, you dismissed Bailey by claiming victimhood. You then followed it up by misunderstanding the topic of the post, and dismissed her further using the same “dismissal techniques” that she outlined in her post.

      However, I believe that I agree with you. As long you mean that people are discrimination against people, instead of human beings being discriminated against by . . .aliens? animals? I think that that is an issue that plagues our world today, one group putting down another. Wait, is that not that what woman equality is trying to do, or is that not important because they are just woman after all. What makes other groups discrimination, White against Black, Rich against Poor, Christians against Muslims, more important? Is not discrimination equally worth protesting regardless of the form it takes, or where it happens?

      I also think that the objection to the patriarchal/complementary beliefs is directed towards how churches use it to implement many extra-biblical teachings and rules towards women and their functions. I also feel that when men and women, accompanied and guided by a man, read the Bible, that the beliefs founded from that study should be respected.

      I believe that everyone can agree to the last part, that this culture, and any culture, can be taken advantage of and abused, but that is a non sequitur to what this article is addressing.

      Love to all!
      Molly

      Like

    • Bailey Steger

      I am sorry you felt like your opinion was dismissed, Laura. I tried to make this a thoughtful piece exploring why a woman would not support egalitarianism and why I disagree with that evaluation.

      A few clarifications. I could argue that feminism is broader than you describe it (and in my experience, it is), but I’ll just say that I completely agree with you. Where feminism is so narrow that it cannot see the suffering of others — especially the greater suffering of others — I would disappointed to call myself a feminist. Fortunately, intersectional feminism is a thing. :)

      Regarding my comment on men conforming, I’d like to explain a bit further. I now think the Bible makes the most sense when interpreted through an egalitarian lens, but I was not motivated to give it a serious hearing when I was patriarchal until my eyes were opened to the discrimination occurring within that framework. And I don’t think that’s a unique experience, from what I’ve observed of the ex-complementarian/ex-patriarchal crowd. Complementarianism and/or patriarchy has been so engrained in so many God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians that to question it thoroughly is to (seemingly) question belief in God and the Bible. My hunch is that men, who are not as directly affected, and some women, who don’t feel like they are or aren’t directly affected, have little reason to seriously reexamine complementarianism because they see no urgent need to do so. I certainly did not, for a very long time! I am not suggesting a mass defection from complementarianism just because women say so; I’m suggesting that if people were motivated by the concern they keep hearing other women express, they will look at the egal/comp issue with new eyes (as a justice issue) and change their mind.

      And that’s the thing — egalitarians view this as a justice issue. Complementarians don’t. That’s a big area of disagreement that I wrote about on Monday. So I certainly respect anyone who has seriously studied the issue and come out complementarian. I don’t think complementarians are misogynistic or motivated by sexism. I sincerely think they are believing what God thinks best. BUT, because I believe this is a human rights issue and not merely a theological issue, because somebody’s opinion on this directly and negatively affects many other lives, I cannot say I respect complementarianism. I respect the person. I understand how they came to that conclusion. But I will speak against complementarianism and patriarchy. Because somebody saying, “Well, I’m personally more comfortable banning women from leadership for theological reasons” is akin to someone saying, “Well, I’m personally more comfortable theologically with slavery” — akin in the sense that it’s choosing discrimination for others, not that being unable to be in a leadership position is as grave as being enslaved.

      I do understand that you do not see complementarianism as a human rights issue, a justice issue, and again, I want to clarify that I respect your experiences, thought processes, and intentions in coming to that conclusion, and I believe that you have a right to be heard and understood too. Your experience as a woman is just as welcome here, and I have made it a point in my posts to direct a feminist conversation that includes and comprehends women’s viewpoints like yours.

      Regarding female manipulators…yes, I would imagine, humanity being what it is, that women have cried wolf about rape and sexual assault. Certainly, the truth matters, and a woman’s accusations should be evaluated on evidence rather than assuming a woman is always right. But I don’t think the majority of women are lying or manipulating the system because things didn’t go their way.

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      • Allison Caylor

        I hope this interjection is helpful rather than otherwise. :) Laura and Justine interpreted this post as saying that complementarian women who feel happy, comfortable, and free in their positions should keep quiet about their experiences, so that oppressed women are listened to. I myself had to re-read three or four times to make sure that *wasn’t* what you were saying, and I’m still not 100% certain. You specifically said that un-oppressed women *dismissing women’s opposing testimonies* was the issue, and I have no beef with that, but then you seemed to have a non-feminist saying “I’m a woman, and I don’t feel that way” as an example of “hurtful, sexist, dismissive things.”

        Feminism — maybe not all shades, but certainly the loudest shade — claims that womanhood as a whole is disrespected, controlled, ignored, abused, and put-upon by men, just because they’re female. People yell that this is incessant, ubiquitous, and disgusting. So It’s perfectly legitimate for a woman to look around at her own life and her own experiences, and stand up and say, “That’s not what I’ve seen.” Just as it’s legitimate for someone else to stand up and say, “I have experienced this and I’ve seen this.” Both need to be credited based on the truth of their experiences, not whether or not they support our personal beliefs. I’m certain that you acknowledge this too, and so I hope I’ve helped clarify where some of us are confused by what you wrote.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bailey Steger

        Oh my! I had no idea this post came across this way! I thought I was validating a woman’s right to say, “I haven’t experienced this. I don’t feel this way.” I spent a good amount of words explaining that I don’t feel oppressed or put upon, that I don’t encounter the world in the way many feminists claim. My point was that I can’t use my experience to dismiss the claims of other women or to argue that no sexism, oppression, or discrimination is occuring.

        So, to clarify, saying, “I don’t see it this way” or “I haven’t experienced this” is NOT inherently dismissive. (I myself said those things in the first part of my post.) What’s dismissive is when a woman means or implies or is taken as meaning or implying that “because I don’t see it this way, it’s not happening. I would know, because I’m a woman.” I would also consider it dismissive for a feminist to pronounce every complementarian woman oppressed when the comp woman on question feels she is not.

        Your interjection was helpful, Allison. Thanks. I’m fascinated that so far only my complementarian readers have taken away a meaning I didn’t intend — the same meaning — while all the egalitarians who read it understood it instantly. The ideological gap between egalitarians and complementarians feels so massive sometimes. :(

        Like

    • David

      Hi, Laura! I can’t speak for every other feminist on the planet. Shoot, I’m lucky if I can speak well for MYSELF. :) So if what I have to say is, y’know, jerk-y or makes you feel attacked, please blame me in particular, not feminists in general.

      That said, you write:

      “My issue with the current feminist mania is that it’s much too narrow. We ought not be protesting how women are treated or discriminated against, but how human beings are treated or discriminated against.”

      And when I read this, I thought, “Is that really the core reason she’s Not A Fan ™ of feminism? Well, only she can say for sure. But the heart of /my/ anti-feminism was this… this grim-faced, resentful sense of: ‘don’t tell ME what to think, buddy. And you can take that sanctimony and shove it.’ It felt like I was *protecting* something. And I’ll bet she has that same defensive reaction goin’ on.”

      So imagine my delight when I read your next sentence, explaining that your other major issue was “how some give the appearance of demanding that all women (and men) subscribe to the newest version of feminism.”

      So! Here’s my question. Am I right to think that *this* is where we could have a productive conversation? Like, would you be interested in starting from zero and just airing your grievances? I promise to listen and ask questions, not preach at you. :) Whaddya say?

      P.S. “No thanks” is an acceptable answer, no explanation required. Not that you need anyone’s *permission* to say no, but I’m telling you anyway.

      P.P.S. If you’re like “ah c’mon, I bet this guy was never REALLY against feminism,” lemme know and I’ll link you to something I wrote for my college newspaper. Obviously it’s got my full name attached, so I’m not falling all over myself to put it out there… but doesn’t the fact that I’m ‘fessing *up* to that suggest we could have a good honest talk ’bout feeling judged and/or fearful? :)

      Like

    • Bailey Steger

      Ladies, I was so confused about why you were all interpreting this post in a similar way, so I went back and reread the post with eyes looking for why you came to your conclusions. And I think I get it now. The section where I talked about women speaking as women against feminism seems to be where things started to sound like I thought no woman should be allowed to speak against feminism. I can totally see how you came away with thinking I want to silence all women who disagree with feminism.

      Just for future clarification — because I don’t want anyone feeling like I want them to shut up just because they disagree with feminism! — I write this blog for an egalitarian audience. Of course, anyone is welcome to read or comment, but I lay out somewhere (the community rules, I think?) that I don’t set out to prove feminism or egalitarianism in every post. That’s not the point of this blog. The point of this blog is to have discussions *from* an egalitarian starting point.

      Many of the egalitarian assumptions are very contradictory and offensive to complementarians — I get that, and I wish there wasn’t such a divide between people over this issue. But that’s just how it is right now. I think complementarianism is discriminatory and sexist to varying degrees, so I’m going to say that out loud. I am frustrated and disheartened when I see women supporting it, just as I can sense your frustration with feminism.

      Part of my point was just acknowledging how powerful our voices are as women, no matter our ideologies. I think, in today’s culture, where women are empowered to speak out about what they believe, female anti-feminists are a real force to contend with moreso than male anti-feminists. Feminism has advanced so much that a guy would have to be a real jerk to say what female anti-feminists dare say. I would say male feminists are in a similar position that female anti-feminists are, just as Latino people for Trump or black people opposing the Black Lives Matter movement are in a unique position — they seem more objective, in a way, more driven by ideology instead of self-preservation or victimization or whatever.

      I do not expect a complementarian to share these assumptions or perspectives, and it really does break my heart that feminists and anti-feminists, egalitarians and complementarians have such harsh criticisms of each other no matter how thoughtfully or respectfully we word them.

      But I hope we can agree on this (and I think we do): our voices make a difference when we speak as women, so we need to be vigilant to speak with wisdom, respect, and facts when we talk about women’s issues, lest we ignore or worsen conditions for others in more vulnerable positions. We should never use our experience to dismiss an opposing experience — and that goes for EVERYBODY on the complementarian/egalitarian spectrum. I think that’s lacking on both sides. But I mean, I think it’s lacking on every side of every controversial issue too. :)

      Thanks for reading, ladies. Sorry again for appearing to gag your voice and beliefs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Allison Caylor

        Thank you for this, Bailey! I, and I suspect any other complementarians/conservatives who hang out around your blog, thoroughly relish the opportunity to engage weighty topics with an intelligent, caring person who can disagree graciously. That’s hard to find. :)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Laura Jinkins

        “our voices make a difference when we speak as women, so we need to be vigilant to speak with wisdom, respect, and facts when we talk about women’s issues, lest we ignore or worsen conditions for others in more vulnerable positions.”

        AMEN.

        Like

      • Justine

        After you said your post was directed at egalitarians, I remembered, “Oh yea, you mentioned that in your community rules.” I love reading your blog because it is thoughtful and gracious, and because I like keeping up with views that differ from mine. I find myself in the awkward position of being to feminist for the complementarians and too complementarian for the feminists, and being against patriarchal ideas all together. I feel like I never fully agree with anyone on anything. Well, except for my husband. We have long debates on all kinds of topics and usually come out agreeing.
        Thanks for a respectful and gracious conversation!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Bailey Steger

        I often feel the same way — like I don’t fully fit in with lots of ideologies or groups, either. So I appreciate times like these, where we can discuss our differences and be misfits together in different ways. :)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. pockettreasures

    Unfortunately I see this too often, both by women and men, pointing towards people who are worse of and not complaining. Instead of saying all injustices are wrong they make you feel some injustices come with the territory and you should suck it up and grow a back bone.

    May I re blog this? 💕

    Like

  3. heather

    I think what many fairly privileged women don’t remember is that the reason they don’t feel oppressed by sexism in their day to day lives is that those battles have already been fought and won by generations before her. I was discussing this with my mother recently. My sister in law is a vocal anti feminist. My mother was furious that she was talking nastily about feminism to her husband who was making dinner after picking up the kids while she was at home on family leave from her teaching job. People don’t know their histories.

    Like

  4. Debbie L. Belair

    Hi, Bailey, An interesting post, and a valid point. You don’t have to simply just be “a woman,” to experience oppression. Many people don’t know what “oppression” is until they have gone through a mental health issue, even as simple as depression. And there are people who’s kids are drug addicts who bring oppression to their families.

    Then…there are people will disabilities who never escape oppression, that’s real oppression.

    Like

  5. Laura Jinkins

    Hi, David! I wrote at length a few minutes ago about my personal experience and after I hit the “reply” button, I thought of something else that might help clarify my position.

    I am not anti-feminism. I am frustrated by people (because there are women AND men in this group) who are “pro-choice” when it comes to abortion, but “anti-choice” when it comes to everything else. I am frustrated by the exclusion of pro-life feminists who are excluded from speaking out for women’s rights. But this is not a pro-life or pro-abortion debate. I am frustrated that women who choose to stay home and raise a family are somehow seen as slackers in the fight for women’s rights. These women may very much be egalitarian in that they have a voice in the operation of the family as a whole. I have been a “quasi-stay at home mom,” homeschooling my kid and running my window coverings business with my awesome husband’s support and help. I’ve never had to ask his “permission” to do anything I have wanted to do, nor has he had to ask me. We truly believed (and still believe) that we are “one” as a couple, and also individuals. We are happy doing things together, and also apart. So I in no way feel held back or domineered over by my husband.

    I think ultimately I would like to see a more genuine feminism that promotes respect of personhood, fairness in treatment, and understanding for a woman’s choices — I would like to see the pro-life feminist shown the same respect and inclusion in the next women’s march. I would like to see protests conducted with dignity and intelligence, rather than what was recently displayed (what I have referred to as “pornographic craft projects gone bad”) — we are so much better than that!

    Like

    • Bailey Steger

      Also, two more things: one, if you wrote a long response in the comments on this thread, I’m not seeing it in my comment moderation box!! :(

      Two, I would be curious to know how active you are in feminist circles. I’ve noticed that feminist conversations can be radically different depending on the context and/or who’s moderating it. For instance, there’s one prominent Christian feminist who speaks in a way (to me) that seems to attract the worst of feminism. I often end up leaving those virtual conversations shaking with anger at the ignorance and assumptions and misunderstands these people have of other people who don’t believe exactly as they do. If that was the only feminism I saw, I would have left it by now. Your description of feminism here seems to correspond to those sorts of feminists. But I’m also a part of groups and friends with individuals who aren’t like those feminists at all — they are civil, rational, understanding, and kind, even while being passionate.

      I’m just curious about your experience with feminists, and if you’ve noticed the same thing?

      Like

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