The other day, a friend of mine texted me about an HBO documentary on gazillionaire investor Warren Buffett. I get these kinds fairly often, where someone sees something in the news about gender equality and clues me in.
Most of the time, it’s about bad news; often, Tertullian’s patriarchal fingerprints are still fresh at the crime scene. And let’s face it, in the age of Trump, there has tragically been a lot to lament!
But this text about Buffett was different. It was more of a “hey, this dude gets it” kind of text. Evidently, in the documentary, Buffett confesses his male privilege and discusses the untapped capacity of women in the workforce.
This all sounded intriguing to me. A wildly successful male business leader acknowledging privilege? In my experience, that’s no small thing!
So I googled it. I typed in “Warren Buffett male privilege.”
And you know what came up?
There it is, the second search result down on the page. It’s this post here, from May 6, 2013.
Returning to the text exchange, I told my friend about the search result, and he apologized. He wrote: “Oops. Sorry. Missed that post by you.”
Gracious of him, but here’s the thing:
I had forgotten that post as well.
I suppose this could reflect a few different things. Perhaps it means that I’m old and starting to lose it. I think my wife and kids might affirm this as a viable reason.
Or, maybe, this forgotten post from almost four years ago could tell a different story.
About a passion that has not waned. A fire still burning.
And a focused determination to understand this thing called male privilege and to keep challenging Tertullian until I figure out what Jesus would have me do with it.
When was the last time you were led by a woman?
Over my 2o years as a campus minister, I’ve had two seasons where my direct supervisor was a woman, and many more where I served under the leadership of women in other capacities. It’s true to say that those positive experiences have helped to propel me into reflection on issues of gender and faith, including on this blog.
If the latest polls are correct and Hillary Clinton is elected president in just under two weeks, on January 20, 2017 we will all be led by a woman, for the first time in our country’s history.
And for lots of Americans, and for many male Americans in particular:
That will be a first.
That’s certainly true for Clinton’s running mate, Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine. Here’s Kaine from the other day, from this article:
“Other than supervising attorneys on occasion, this will be the first time I’ve had a female boss,” Sen. Kaine told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview to be aired in full on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. — and he was a little taken aback by the realization.
“Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” he chuckled.
Again, I don’t think Kaine is alone in this. And I wonder how the nation will respond to a woman in the oval office. In particular, how will American men, long accustomed to the privileged position in this country, respond as “Hail to the Chief” serenades a woman?
Perhaps Kaine himself can give us a roadmap how men might engage a President Clinton. More from the article:
A civil rights lawyer and self-described feminist, Kaine said he “relishes” the idea of reinventing gender norms in the White House alongside Clinton, who could be the first women elected president of the United States.
“I get to be now, play a supportive role — that’s what the vice president’s main job is — to a woman who’s going to make history, to a president who will preside over the centennial of women getting the right to vote,” Kaine said.
He added that as much as Clinton could normalize the idea of a woman in the White House, his vice presidency would normalize the notion that “strong men should definitely support strong women.”
Of course, there’s bound to be some confusion, Kaine acknowledged. For instance, he said: “Is my wife Second Lady if there’s no First Lady?”
Nevertheless, Kaine said he was excited to create a new model.
“There’s no complete playbook for this, but that’s cool too,” he said. “There’s traditions that you honor, but it’s always something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. So you got to make your own traditions.”
Three comments on Kaine’s posture here.
First, it will be important to acknowledge the novelty of the situation. This will indeed be something new. For the first time, a woman will hold the highest office in our government. And, the truth is that new things can take some getting used to. So each of us should expect a bit of internal dissonance, particularly at the beginning.
Second, I appreciate Kaine’s posture towards the new thing. He is predisposed to be supportive. Now, he’s her VP choice, so of course he’s going to say that, but what about the rest of us? When George H.W. Bush left office, he wrote a note to his successor, Bill Clinton, and here’s how he closed the letter: “your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” In the current political morass, this brand of civility feels like a pipe dream. But what if we find that within ourselves, committing to be supportive? What would it mean for Clinton? What would it mean for us?
Third, Kaine calls us to a paradigm shift. Here it is: “strong men should definitely support strong women.” Friends, that is a vision we can and should get behind. To go a step further, I’ll say that “strong men definitely supporting strong women” is a vision that the Bible affirms. You see, the message of Scripture is that women and men are called to jointly steward our world. Sometimes, that means men will lead, other times, women will lead, and, all in all, joyful support should mark the partnership.
If the trends continue as the campaign (mercifully) winds down, Hillary Clinton will make history on January 20th. Indeed, for the first time in our 227 year history, the country’s daughters will have someone placing their hand on a Bible who looks and talks like them. It will be a powerful occasion.
And the country’s sons? May we respond like Tim Kaine.
“So are you saying that men should voluntarily give up power?”
In a word: YES.
I mean, if we’re going to eradicate the scourge of privilege and balance the gender scales, power is going to have to be redistributed. And that means women gaining more power and men giving up power. As I’ve said before (here on The Junia Project blog, most recently), releasing power is not necessarily a bad thing. Heck, if it was good enough for Jesus…
It’s good enough for me.
And, evidently, it’s also good enough for a tithe of Adventist pastors. According to this article, after their denomination voted to not ordain women, a group of male pastors decided to voluntarily downgrade their clerical status from “ordained” to “commissioned,” as a way to stand in solidarity with Adventist women, for whom commissioning is currently the only permitted ministerial option. Here’s an excerpt:
Mike Speegle, senior pastor of an Adventist church in Fulton, Md., said Wednesday (Oct. 14) that he requested and received a change in his credentials late this summer as his way of supporting his female colleagues.
“In our structure, I can’t make them equal with me by ordaining them, but I can make myself equal with them by taking the commissioned license, which is exactly what they have,” he said.
Pastor Kymone Hinds, the leader of a Memphis, Tenn., church, took similar action. He and another minister, Pastor Furman Fordham of Nashville, Tenn., received permission from their regional officials.
“Though I am not in agreement with the position that you brethren have taken on this issue, I admire your willingness to act on your convictions and fully support your right to do so,” wrote Elder D.C. Edmond, president of the denomination’s South Central Conference, in a September letter to them.
Cool, right? And costly as well. According to the article, the choice these men have made comes with clear costs:
Hinds said it was worth it to him to lose access to certain privileges of ordination: presiding over regional conferences; organizing churches; and ordaining elders, deacons or deaconesses.
Imagine that. Out of a place of conviction that gender equality is God’s creation intent, and out of a concern that their denomination was erring by not allowing the same access to power that they enjoyed, these men choose to willingly lay down their ordinations.
Friends, solidarity is a powerful thing.
I’ll give Pastor Hinds the last word:
“I wanted to stand in solidarity,” he said Wednesday. “We realize that our female ministers do the same work and have the same education but there is a glass ceiling over them.”
I mean, it seems to me we’ll do almost anything to avoid the appearance of bias. It’s like we have a built-in allergy to anything that implies that we are anything but, ah, fair and balanced.
Which is a problem, because we surely do have biases. Lots of them, and some that we aren’t even aware of. And recent evidence from a Harvard study suggests we have a clear gender bias. The full article is here, but here’s an excerpt:
The research found that 23 percent of girls and 40 percent of boys preferred male political leaders instead of female, while only 8 percent of girls and 4 percent of boys preferred female political leaders. Similarly, 36 percent of boys preferred male business leaders to female. (There was no significant difference between girls’ preference for male versus female business leaders.)
So what are we teaching our kids? The same things that may be holding women back today. The data suggest that awareness of gender discrimination may be related to unconscious bias against female leaders, and that this may also be true for racial bias.
Bias “can be a powerful — and invisible — barrier to teen girls’ leadership,” Weissbourd said. “Yet parents and teachers can do a great deal to stem these biases and help children manage them.” [Read the full report here.] Which would mean, yes, more future leaders who are women.
So what do we do? The article suggests five helpful ways parents can seek to counteract gender-based bias, and I recommend parents in particular take a good look. In particular the last two seemed helpful for me.
Want another option? I noticed the other day that the folks at Facebook have produced a series of videos exploring unconscious bias in the workplace. I have yet to listen to them all, but, right off the bat, Vice President of People Lori Goler comes right out and says it:
One important thing that we’ve talked about here at Facebook is that we all have bias, every single one of us. It’s just part of the human condition. And the reason it is important to acknowledge that, is if we don’t acknowledge it, we can’t do anything about it.”
Friends, the first step to overcoming our unconscious biases are admitting they are there in the first place. That’s why when it comes to overcoming the bias of male privilege, I think it starts with admitting that privilege actually exists.
So, let’s all take a good, long look in the mirror. We’re all biased, and those biases run deep. Most of the time, we haven’t consciously bought into the bias, but they are there nonetheless. And while they don’t automatically make us bad people, they do demand our attention.
May we have the courage to face our biases and, eventually, put them to rest.
I certainly think that was the case last week at Fresno Pacific, where I had the joy of speaking to the men at two chapel services, on Wednesday and Friday mornings.
Together we wrestled with the notion of male privilege, and I challenged them to respond by admitting that male privilege exists, submitting their privilege to Jesus, and then committing to use their privilege to empower and advocate for others (find an older post about this three-fold response framework here).
It’s that first one, admitting that privilege exists, that I find to be the biggest challenge for men. At least that’s true the first time they engage teaching on this topic.
Why is that?
I think there are at least three reasons.
First, by its nature, male privilege is extraordinarily subtle and therefore difficult to spot. Male privilege sort of lurks in the culture. Because of this, it takes intentionality to locate, and that intentionality can be difficult to come by. On Wednesday morning, I told the men this story, of Tommy the bug guy. In hindsight, my male privilege becomes clear, in the stark contrast between my experience with Tommy and Amy’s. On the other hand, if Amy and I hadn’t intentionally made space to debrief the experience, it’s quite possible that we would never have been able to see (or feel) it.
Next, no one likes to be told that they have more power than someone else. That’s not exactly a popular message, and it’s almost like we have an allergy to the idea of privilege. In our perfect worlds, we’re all equal and there’s no such thing as a power differential. Sadly, the world doesn’t work that way, and yet I find that coming to grips with that reality can be a difficult paradigm shift.
And the kicker is that that is particularly true if you are the person with the privilege. In the same way that it’s hard for white people to see white privilege, it’s hard for men to see male privilege.
Finally, male privilege is tough to see because few people or institutions are pointing it out. During Friday’s talk, I offered to buy lunch for anyone who had heard teaching on male privilege before, either in class or in their churches. Needless to say, I only paid for myself. Perhaps this is a post for another time, but I think part of the reason for the silence is that, deep down, as men we like our privilege. After all, when the system is working in your favor, there is risk in pointing out its flaws. With this in mind, I think it’s incumbent on those of us who see male privilege to point it out to others.
In the end, on Friday I exhorted the men to step out of the river. I think culture can be like a river, carrying us all along. And, from time to time, we all need to swim over to the bank, get out onto the shore, take a long step back and contemplate at the river. When we do that, we’ll undoubtedly see good things, beautiful things, things worthy of praise.
But we’ll also see broken things. Things that cause others (and ourselves) pain. Things that must be redeemed.
Things like male privilege.
Junior high, people. Heaven help us!
And so we’ve been adjusting to this new experience, including the academic step (or two) up. For instance, last week he brought home his English reading list. And let’s just say it’s full of some pretty fun books. Like Lemony Snicket. Or The Maze Runner. Or a couple of Lois Lowry titles. Heck, forget the DMiss, sign me up English Composition!
One other book on the list bears mention:
The Hunger Games.
It’s where he wanted to start, so we recently hit up the library for a copy.
And, of course, he’s been eating it up. The other day we drove from our house to Jamba Juice, a trip of all of 3 minutes. Yep, he brought the book. Or the other day the family van suffered a blowout on the side of the freeway. The wait for AAA was at least 55 minutes. Did Josh notice? I think not. His head never surfaced from the pages. In fact, I think 8 tributes died while we waited for the tire change…
One of the distinctive things about The Hunger Games is the female lead Katniss. Actually, maybe that’s not particularly “distinctive.” After all, there’s Tris from Divergent and Cassia from Matched. Come to think of it, if you’re going to endure a dystopian future, you probably want to be a young woman!
The other day a friend sent me the following meme depicting Buffy the Vampire Slayer creator Joss Whedon:
I like the answer. Perhaps because it’s similar to my answer to the question “why are you blogging about male privilege all the time?”
And here’s the caption, from A Mighty Girl:
Although there has been some progress, the need for prominent female characters in TV and films is still huge. According to a study by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, only 29.2% of 5,554 speaking characters in 122 family films they recently analyzed were female — the same 3 to 1 male/female ratio that existed in 1946.
Friends, that’s not good enough.
In the end, I’m grateful for strong women in media, in books and on the screen. For our girls for sure.
But also for our junior higher.
Want a bit more of Joss Whedon on writing strong women characters? Try this link.
I mean, really, what is to be gained by personifying potentially catastrophic climactic events? Why couldn’t we name them after, say, fruit? Or geometric shapes? Or even animals?
The other day a friend sent me an article that posits the following conclusion:
“People don’t take hurricanes as seriously if they have a feminine name and the consequences are deadly, finds a new groundbreaking study.”
When I first glanced at it, I thought it was the Onion.
Here’s the rest of the piece:
Female-named storms have historically killed more because people neither consider them as risky nor take the same precautions, the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concludes.
Researchers at the University of Illinois and Arizona State University examined six decades of hurricane death rates according to gender, spanning 1950 and 2012. Of the 47 most damaging hurricanes, the female-named hurricanes produced an average of 45 deaths compared to 23 deaths in male-named storms, or almost double the number of fatalities. (The study excluded Katrina and Audrey, outlier storms that would skew the model).
The difference in death rates between genders was even more pronounced when comparing strongly masculine names versus strongly feminine ones.
“[Our] model suggests that changing a severe hurricane’s name from Charley … to Eloise … could nearly triple its death toll,” the study says.
Sharon Shavitt, study co-author and professor of marketing at the University of Illinois, says the results imply an “implicit sexism”; that is, we make decisions about storms based on the gender of their name without even knowing it.
“When under the radar, that’s when it [the sexism] has the potential to influence our judgments,” Shavitt said.
On this blog, we’ve uncovered male privilege in lots of different contexts, from politics to economics to sports to the church.
Now, we find it embedded in how we deal with the weather.
So, allow me a friendly public service announcement:
Until the day when Tropical Storm Pomegranate, or Hurricane Rhombus, or SuperStorm Chihuahua is barreling your way, your response should be the same, whether the system is named Wayne or Rhonda: