I’m honored today to be over at The Junia Project with a post about gender-based humor. You know what I mean, the quips and jokes that pastors tell during a sermon that revolve around gender. My argument is that the chuckles in the moment aren’t worth the potential damage to individuals, to our witness, and to our faith communities.
Find the post here, and an excerpt is below.
Recently, a friend mentioned his pastor’s habit of occasionally peppering his sermons with gender-based jokes.
You know what I mean, the quips about women shopping, or men hunting, or the woman “wearing the pants” in the marriage, or about blonde women being ditzy and men being emotionally distant. And maybe a million more.
My friend wanted to know my thoughts on this brand of humor. Here’s what I think:
If you’re in Christian leadership, and you find yourself with a microphone in hand in front of a room full of people waiting on your every word, do everything you can to avoid using stereotypical gender jokes.
Here are five reasons to steer clear of these kinds of jokes:
#1 It’s likely you’re alienating someone in the room.
Unless you know everyone in the room and their backstories, it’s likely you’re alienating someone every time you tell such a joke. You might offend someone who is like the stereotype but trying to change. Or you might offend someone who is not but wishes they were. Or you might offend someone, like me, who cares deeply about gender equality and finds such jokes distasteful. A church service should be a place of hospitality and welcome; alienating someone through an ill-advised joke thwarts that purpose.
#2. You’ll be perpetuating a culture of gender brokenness.
In all gender-based humor, someone is the punchline, and most gender-based jokes paint women in a negative light. My question is, why would you want to do that to a group that has historically been marginalized by the institutional church? Indeed, every time a pastor makes a crack about the stereotypical bossy/shrill/emotional/nagging/etc. woman, the status quo is reaffirmed and women are pushed back toward the edges of the church.
Read the rest of the post here.
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.
Imagine being given an opportunity to really advance in your career, a once-in-a-blue-moon invitation that comes with compensation and, more importantly, a public soapbox to share your perspectives. Imagine the honor, the prestige, the platform.
And then imagine turning it down.
Because of your convictions. About gender equality.
That’s exactly what U.C. Davis Biology Professor Jonathan Eisen did recently, when he opted to turn down an invitation to present a lecture at a prestigious university.
After doing some poking around, he noticed that the lecture series had an awful gender ratio. Far more men than women would be presenting. And this in a field, biology, where the gender ratios tend to be pretty even. For Eisen, the skewed lecture ratio wasn’t good enough, and he decided to act. According to this article,
“On his “Tree of Life Blog” and elsewhere, Eisen has championed diversity, highlighting the lack of diversity at scientific seminars and conferences, where speakers and organizers tend to be white males.
“We need to think about whether or not we’re creating systems that are biased or supporting things that have some sort of discouragement,” Eisen said. “Every single one of these things is discouraging participation and advancement of certain groups.”
“In 2012, he publicly shamed a quantitative biology conference for a male-to-female speaker ratio of 25:1. As part of his campaign, he submitted an abstract called “A quantitative analysis of gender bias in quantitative biology meetings.”
This year, the conference had a 7:6 invited male-to-female ratio, and next year, 12 male speakers and five female speakers have been confirmed.
Upon refusing the lectureship, Eisen received a reply from a representative of the institution; Eisen calls it one of the most positive responses he has received to his criticism, asking for his suggestions about whom to invite. He sent along four names: Ruth Ley at Cornell University, Katie Pollard of UC San Francisco, Jessica Green from the University of Oregon and Julie Segre at the National Health Genome Research Institute.”
There’s a lot to appreciate here.
First, Eisen’s awareness about what’s happening with the lectures. He did his research, and, based on his discovery, he acts. Gender equality is something that is on his screen. He is curious about it, and he’s on the lookout. To me responding in a godly way to privilege begins with admitting that it exists. Eisen does exactly that.
Second, for Eisen it goes beyond awareness, to a conviction that things are unjust. And what’s the solution? By not accepting the invite to the event, two things happen. One, Eisen makes a statement about injustice. He’s in the news. He sends a message. Next, Eisen makes that slot available for women. Simply put, by him not going, the ratio can be better. On top of that, he has 4 names of women who can fill his abandoned slot. In responding to the reality of male privilege, men need to commit to lay down their privilege in order to empower the women around them. Eisen provides us with a prime example.
Finally, in the big picture, Eisen knows that his discipline, biology, is better served when women and men are both empowered. He knows everyone is needed to, in this case, advance the body of academic knowledge. In the article, Eisen’s boss, Linda Katehi, the UCD chancellor, is quoted. She notes,
“While this is just one lectureship at one university, the reality is that this gender disparity has broad repercussions for our entire society, especially when you consider the loss of discovery and innovation due to a large segment of our population’s either not pursuing or ultimately leaving careers.”
Come to think of it, according to chancellor Katehi, this is beyond just the advancement of academic knowledge.
It’s about the advancement of our society, our culture, as a whole.
I was going to post today about Mark Driscoll and his recently surfaced diatribes about women, but, frankly, my heart can’t take it. So I’ll save the Driscoll post for next Monday, when my rant will be a bit more (but only a bit more)…tempered. In the meantime, if you want a take on Driscoll’s latest shenanigans, let me send you to Rachel Held Evans here. For today, enough about Mark Driscoll…
Instead, allow me to introduce you to F. Pierce Beaver.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t usually associate “prophet” with “professor.” I mean, for me professor conjures images of leather briefcases, slightly boring lectures, tweed sports coats, and perhaps a pipe.
Prophets, on the other hand, are sometimes cranky, often loud and always provocative. And, in my mind, they don’t seek tenure, publish research or attend symposiums (unless it’s to rant and rave).
And so this is the thing that in my mind made Pierce Beaver unique.
He was both. Prophet and professor.
I was first introduced to Beaver in a journal article celebrating the 40th anniversary of the American Society of Missiology. One glance at the following quote, and I knew I had a new friend, and, more than that, I had my new mission statement:
“The missiologist is called to be the pioneer and to blaze the trail. The missionary will not escape from his (or her) uncertainty until the missiologist points the way, and the church will not move ahead in mission unless the missiologist sounds a ‘prophetic call.'”
See? Professor and prophet.
Dr. Beaver had a distinguished academic career. Beaver did his graduate studies at Cornell, gaining a Ph.D. in history. Next, after several pastoral assignments, along with a short stint as a missionary in China, Beaver spent 7 years as the leader of the Missionary Research Library in New York City before settling in as a professor at the University of Chicago, a post he held from 1955 until his retirement in 1973.
All in all, in the words of one of his former students, Beaver was “a modest, intellectually meticulous, warmly hospitable, academically demanding, genuinely spiritual man” whose primary concern was the advancement of the church’s mission in the world.
And, of course, as an academic, Dr. Beaver wrote a few books. Most notably, for this blog, in 1968 Dr. Beaver published a book entitled All Loves Excelling.
All Loves Excelling chronicles the remarkable story of the rise of the women’s missions movement in the 19th and 20th centuries. According to Beaver, the movement was sacrificial in nature, empowered by a high degree of zeal and conviction, able to persevere through misogynistic pushback and successful in producing funding, a paradigm for single, unmarried women serving in the missions field, and an awareness about the global plight of women and children.
But maybe the most compelling thing about All Loves Excelling are the names. Page after page of names. Names of previously anonymous women who sacrificed everything to follow Jesus to the ends of the earth. Names of women who pushed through the patriarchy of their day to push open doors to create a channel for women to serve alongside men in the work of mission.
As we know, when you remember someone’s name you honor them.
And, in All Loves Excelling, Beaver certainly did that.
In the end, I’m not sure what I love more about F. Pierce Beaver and All Loves Excelling. On one hand, there’s the content. Who doesn’t love a collection of missionary stories and testimonies, particularly ones you’ve never heard before?
But the other thing I love is that Beaver wrote it at all. You see, here was one of the world’s foremost missiologists collecting and codifying the stories of obscure, long-deceased missionary women. At another level, here was a male scholar diving into a topic that few others did or presumably would.
So, sign me up. As a man following Jesus and thinking about my male privilege, I want to be less like Driscoll.
And more like F. Pierce Beaver.
It’s been awhile since I’ve revisited my male privilege response framework, but for men my draft rubric continues to be three-fold:
Admit, submit and commit.
That is, first we need to admit that male privilege exists and systematically exerts influence not only on our culture and society, but on each of us as individual men. Next, once we have identified male privilege and its repercussions, we must submit that privilege to Jesus, seeking to understand how we might redeem the power that culture gives us simply because we are men.
Then, thirdly, we commit to put our privilege to work to bless others, and, in particular, to elevate and empower women. When we commit to leverage our cultural privilege to bless the women around us, we choose things like advocacy, sponsorship and intentional inclusion.
The other day I came across an interesting example of this third step in the response process.
Maybe you’ve heard of ultimate frisbee?
In another life, I played a lot of ultimate, and it’s a terrific sport. Nothing more fun than tossing the disc long and seeing a teammate run onto it for a score. Turns out the sport of ultimate frisbee is not immune to the effects of male privilege.
Thankfully, in this open letter, one player thoughtfully and eloquently calls out his community. And, in the process, he gives us a good example of what it looks like to commit to a posture of advocacy. Here’s an excerpt:
“As men, we have been conditioned to believe that we matter. We’ve been told that we are great. We think we can make the huge throw or the big defensive stop. It is our job to make the big play.
So we show up to ultimate, and many of us play the hero. Some of us give unsolicited advice, shout about how open we are, throw contested hucks, and, all too often, we ignore the women on the field–especially at pick-up games. Maybe we throw to them once. Twice if we think they’re really good. Too often we never even find out whether they’re skilled, because we never give them a chance–as though the chance was ours to give in the first place.
Men: ultimate does not belong to us. The disc is not ours. The game is not ours. Being male does not give us a right to ignore our teammates. When it comes to sports, we are privileged. Women must prove themselves worthy, while men must prove themselves unworthy.”
Not long ago, someone asked me about male guilt, as in “aren’t you just going to make men feel bad about themselves?”
To the contrary!
Because writing a letter like this one, or doing countless smaller things, is a positive thing. It’s prophetic. It’s freeing. This one guy can potentially affect healthy culture change in an entire community. As I’ve said elsewhere, when men commit to advocacy, we benefit and are blessed as well.
Simply put, committing to use our privilege to bless women around us can be empowering for men.
And there’s no guilt in that.
Maybe you’ve seen the former president making the rounds lately promoting his new book A Call to Action? He’s gone toe to toe with Colbert, and then I really appreciated his turn on Letterman. I’ve watched a lot of Letterman in my day, but I’d never seen an interview like the one Dave did with Carter. I mean, how often do Dave and a guest talk about topics like honor killings and forced marriages?!? I found that interview to be a powerful exposition of Carter’s core message about empowering women.
Interested, I picked up a copy of A Call to Action, and I’ve been reading it over the last week. Carter’s challenge is really to religious leaders, and it’s a call to forgo the traditional interpretation of holy books where women are portrayed as second-class citizens. Because when women are second-class, and when that status is reinforced by religion, it is all too easy for them to become victims of violence.
Here’s a bit more of Carter’s thinking:
“There is a similar system of discrimination, extending far beyond a small geographical region to the entire globe; it touches every nation, perpetuating and expanding the trafficking in human slaves, body mutilation, and even legitimized murder on a massive scale. This system is based on the presumption that men and boys are superior to women and girls, and it is supported by some male religious leaders who distort the Holy Bible, the Koran, and other sacred texts to perpetuate their claim that females are, in some basic ways, inferior to them, unqualified to serve God on equal terms. Many men disagree but remain quiet in order to enjoy the benefits of their dominant status. This false premise provides a justification for sexual discrimination in almost every realm of secular and religious life. Some men even cite this premise to justify physical punishment of women and girls.
Another factor contributing to the abuse of women and girls is an acceptance of violence, from unwarranted armed combat to the excessive and biased punishment for those who violate the law. In too many cases, we use violence as a first rather than a last resort, so that even deadly violence has become commonplace.
My own religious experiences and the testimony of courageous women from all regions and all major religions have made it clear to me that as a result of these two factors there is a pervasive denial of equal rights to women, more than half of all human beings, and this discrimination results in tangible harm to all of us, male and female.”
When you’re challenging Tertullian, it’s nice to have a former president on your side.
How do I know?
This note, left on an airplane, spelling out an anonymous passenger’s conviction that the cockpit of an airplane is no place for a woman. Here’s the transcript of the note:
“To Capt./WestJet,” the note says. “The cockpit of airliner [sic] is no place for a woman. A woman being a mother is the most honor not as “captain” Proverbs 31 (Sorry not P.C.) P.S. I wish WestJet could tell me a fair lady is at the helm so I can book another flight! Were [sir] short mothers not pilots Westjet.”
Outrageous. Indefensible. Atrocious. Don’t get me started about the Bible reference.
And I wish the attitude behind were less common.
After all, there are so few women pilots. Think about it. When was the last time you were on a flight piloted by a woman? Heck, when was the last time you saw a woman pilot on the airport concourse?
The statistics demonstrate this reality. In 2010, nationwide, fewer than 7% of commercial pilots were women. It was even worse for “airline transport” pilots, with women constituting just 3.92% of the population.
On it’s website, American Airlines celebrates the facts that it was the first major airline to hire a female pilot (in 1973), to have a female captain (in 1986) and to have an all-female crew (in 1987). Still, in 2011, American’s pilot corps was over 96% men.
Amelia Earhart once said, “Men do not believe us capable, because we are women, seldom are we trusted to do an efficient job.”
It seems like decades later, Earhart’s observation remains accurate.
At least I’m inclined to see it as true.
Obviously, I’m someone who cares a lot about gender equality. Every time I blog, I try to identify and call out the male privilege embedded in our culture. And, daily, I am working hard to bring to Jesus the male privilege embedded in my own soul.
But on the rare instances when I’m on an airplane and it’s a female voice telling me that “we’re first in line for take-off,” to be honest I pause. In fact, I do more than pause. What happens is that my sense of personal safety drops a bit. Not a lot, just a bit.
That’s right. When a woman is piloting my plane, my gut reaction is to feel slightly less safe.
All evidence to the contrary of course. Women pilots are just as competent, just as trained, as their male counterparts. That I know of, there is no data to suggest that I am in any way in more peril when there is a woman behind the controls. In fact, once my initial, millisecond reaction passes, I’m perfectly comfortable with whoever is in charge of my plane.
So what’s happening here?
Simply put, since my youth I’ve been breathing the foul air of culture that tells me that women are less competent, less trustworthy, and less safe when it comes to important things like flying airplanes. I’m at 41 years of having that message reinforced day by day, and old habits die hard.
You see, I’m on a journey. And I’ll always be on a journey. It’s a journey that is taking me from a blissfully unaware and privileged man to someone who recognizes privilege and seeks Jesus’ guidance for how to use it to bless others. It’s a journey toward shedding my biases and honestly it feels terrific.
What’s that old quote? “I might not be where I want to be, but thank God I’m not where I used to be.”
So here’s my pledge. Next time I’m on a plane being flown by one of the 4%, I’m going to find my nearest napkin and write a different note. One of affirmation. One of encouragement.
One of personal repentance.