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.
The other day, I found myself in Berkeley with a spare hour to kill, so I did what any 20-year veteran campus minister would do and walked the campus at Cal.
What a beautiful place. Stately architecture, a wonderfully diverse student body, and pleasantly surprising pockets of nature throughout.
Unfortunately, I also caught a subtle glimpse of Tertullian. Here:
Do you see what I saw?!?
Evidently, Cal has two faculty clubs. Well, and an eye center, but I digress…
There’s a “Faculty Club,” and then there’s a “Women’s Faculty Club.” The nomenclature is significant in good part because of what’s missing:
You see what’s happening here? Cal is lacking a “Men’s Faculty Club.” Instead, it has a “Faculty Club” alongside its “Women’s Faculty Club.” Evidently, there’s no need to explicitly designate the Faculty Club as “Men’s.” Why?
Because in our world masculinity remains the default setting.
Friends, this is male privilege. To not have to clarify that the Faculty Club is (or was) for men only is the epitome of bias.
I did a bit of research this morning, and let me fill out the picture a bit. According to this history, Cal’s Women’s Faculty Club was formed in 1919. Why? You guessed it. Because women weren’t permitted in the other, male only Faculty Club. Instead, the Women’s Faculty Club offered Cal’s female faculty “a place of their own.”
As for the Faculty Club, well, the building looks pretty amazing, and the website does note that “women have enjoyed full membership benefits for decades.” How many decades? The site doesn’t say. We don’t know.
But we do know this:
It’s time to be done with the masculine default.
This morning, my wife Amy labeled yesterday a “falling off the horse” kind of day.
She’s right. And I wish that comment was only about our daughter’s failed soccer tryout…
In this election cycle, the Dixon house was a pro-Clinton house. No candidate is perfect, but we were for Hillary for lots of reasons, including her qualifications, her temperament and the historic nature of her candidacy.
Ironically enough, for those very same reasons we were united against Trump.
And so as the election returns came in and state after state went red, dread started to fall on our little house. Our youngest daughter said, “I’m scared.” Of what? Of the “meanie” that was going to be living in the White House. Our middle daughter, she of the “Girls Rule” T-shirt collection, burst into tears, her dream of a woman achieving the highest office in our land shattered. And our oldest daughter decided she’d join me in what we hoped would be a tension-relieving lap around the neighborhood; the “Walk of Angst” we called it.
Toward the end of the evening, our son walked by on his way to bed. He’s a teenager and, as such, he squarely inhabits his own little world. So I was pleasantly surprised when he stopped to offer what he intended to be words of comfort:
“Don’t worry, Dad. Life will go on. We’ll just keep doing what we’re doing.”
I started to mumble back something like “thanks, Son, good night,” when it occurred to me:
This is the time to talk about privilege.
So, more or less, here’s what I told him:
“Buddy, you’re right. For our family, I don’t think much will change with Donald Trump as our President. After all, we’re a white, evangelical, middle-class family. On top of that, you and I are men, and, as always, that will work in our favor as well.
But here’s the thing…it is our privilege to not have to worry so much about an America led by Donald Trump. Millions of Americans, including many of our friends, have a lot to worry about in Donald Trump’s America, from losing health care to deportation to just knowing that the President of our country has mean feelings in his heart about who they are as people.
So, yes, we’ll be fine, but it’s important to know and then do something about the reality that many more won’t be.”
Really, who knows how much a 14 year old can grasp about the toxic realities of privilege in our world? Seems like our son’s brain is full of high school, video games, and trying to consume as much milk as possible.
All I know is this: it is my sacred task to help our kids understand. And lament. And work for change. It is my duty as a Jesus-following father to call out and decry racism, sexism, xenophobia, and every other way that our world does violence to the image of God in people.
Sadly, it looks like the next four years will provide me with lots of opportunities to teach my kids about privilege.
God help us.
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.
Mr. Phelps is great and all, but it looks like Tertullian has been working on some newspaper headlines…
When people ask about sports in our family, I always tell them we’re a soccer family. And it’s true. Last Fall, for instance, every Saturday we had 3 kids playing on 3 different teams, and 3 of us were coaching 2 of those teams. And if that sentence confuses you, imagine living it, especially that one Saturday morning when all 3 games coincided…at 8am.
But the truth is that we are a sports family more broadly. And right now it’s volleyball season. Two of our kids are on teams at the moment, so the talk at our dinner table is about sideouts, platforms, sets and spikes.
And, clearly, the volleyball gene in our family comes from my wife. She the one that comes from a family of volleyball geniuses.
And, thankfully, they don’t hail from Iran. A couple of weeks ago, I came across this article, about a pending FIVB (that’s International Volleyball Federation) volleyball tournament being held on an island off the southern coast of Iran.
As the article makes clear, volleyball is big in Iran. Who knew?!? And the men’s team is one of the world’s best. Hence FIVB’s decision to award international tournaments to the country.
So what’s the rub?
Evidently, Tertullian plays outside hitter. Or, perhaps more to the point, Tertullian is running the Iranian sports ministry.
According to the article:
The upcoming men’s beach volleyball tournament could be a celebratory occasion not just on the volleyball courts but also for equality in Iran — if authorities reverse the discriminatory ban keeping women out of matches.
The irony is that volleyball was once an established public space for women, who could attend men’s matches in Iran until 2012, when the decision was made to ban them, without any clear explanation. Since then, gathering online and outside stadiums during the volleyball matches, Iranian women have tried to reverse this ban. Their efforts led to harassment and even arrest.
In 2014, Iranian authorities arrested Ghoncheh Ghavami and some 20 others when they sought to attend a Volleyball World League match at Tehran’s Azadi (“Freedom”) Stadium complex. They were released soon afterward, but Ghavami was rearrested and charged with “propaganda against the state.” She was held in the city’s notorious Evin Prison, including a stretch in solitary confinement, for nearly five months.
To sum up, if you happen to live in Iran and are a woman, you are not allowed to watch a volleyball match. And the penalty for doing so can be solitary confinement.
It turns out that FIVB’s own charter, along with the Olympic Constitution, prohibits discrimination of just this kind. And so the article ends with the following exhortation:
Now is the time for the FIVB to tell Iran watching volleyball is no crime for women, and insist on a formal overturning of the ban. The Kish Island Open should not be closed to women.
The above picture is of our daughter Lucy, serving at a recent tournament. Not pictured? Her mom and two sisters, watching from the stands behind her.
As it should be.
Because ours does. This summer, as we’ve driven some 6,000 miles around the western states, Lucy has been Taylor Swifting her way through her journal jotting down lyrics and song ideas. It’s fun to watch her express herself through writing.
But, then again, she’s a Dixon. She has writing in her blood.
According to the kids, Dad writes the boring stuff, pieces that require lots of dusty books and hours in front of the computer. Worse, Dad writes the stuff that gets…graded.
Put it this way…I’ve never had a child ask me to read them what I wrote before bed, but that feels like it’s a daily occurrence for Amy.
And as Amy has traveled the children’s publishing world, we’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned that the writing process can be anything from brutally difficult to wonderfully cathartic. Or we’ve experienced the reality that getting a manuscript onto the desk of an editor is perilous quest worthy of Indiana Jones. And then we’ve learned that once it makes the desk, you’d better have a thick skin. Because rejection can be a writer’s constant companion.
But one thing we have yet to learn about is any sort of gender bias in the industry.
This piece tells the story of a woman’s journey of submitting a manuscript for consideration from a variety of editors. It’s a social experiment, whereby she submitted her work as herself, Catherine, and then as a man, George. Here’s what happened:
Almost all publishers only accept submissions through agents, so they are essential gatekeepers for anyone trying to sell a book in the traditional market rather than self-publishing. There are various ways of attracting an agent’s attention, but sending query letters is the most accessible. The letter describes the novel, the author, and usually includes the first pages of the manuscript itself—the equivalent of what a reader might see picking up a book in a store. Agents can let silence speak for itself, write back with a rejection, or ask to see the novel.
I sent the six queries I had planned to send that day. Within 24 hours George had five responses—three manuscript requests and two warm rejections praising his exciting project. For contrast, under my own name, the same letter and pages sent 50 times had netted me a total of two manuscript requests. The responses gave me a little frisson of delight at being called “Mr.” and then I got mad. Three manuscript requests on a Saturday, not even during business hours! The judgments about my work that had seemed as solid as the walls of my house had turned out to be meaningless. My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me—Catherine.
I wanted to know more of how the Georges of the world live, so I sent more. Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.
Crazy, right? Who knew Tertullian was a book editor?
Now, as the writer speculates in her piece, it’s possible that other things are going on here. For instance, an editor could well be wooed by the prospect of representing a novel featuring a female character written by a man.
But it’s also possible that we’re talking about good, old-fashioned male privilege as well. She writes, “maybe the agents were subconsciously friendlier to George. Unconscious bias is difficult to overcome.”
Indeed it is.
Which leaves me to hope that one day, sometime down the road, a book of songs, or poems, or short stories, or–what the heck–academic research, will be published not by Luke…
But by Lucy.
To be clear, that’s kind of a new phenomenon. He hasn’t always been this sneaky. After all, what Tertullian actually wrote about women is anything but subtle. In case you need a refresher:
“You are the Devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first foresaker of the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not brave enough to approach; you so lightly crushed the image of God, the man Adam.”
Pretty in your face, I’d say.
These days, Tertullian’s influence is far more subversive. As I’ve said before, male privilege, the legacy of thinkers and writers such as Tertullian, basically “lurks in the culture.” It’s like air. You can’t always see it, you aren’t always aware of it, but you sure live in it.
Here’s an example, from, of all things, the world of graphic design and iconography.
This article tells the story of Facebook Design Manager Caitlin Winner’s redesign of the site’s ubiquitous friends icon. The original version (and, for some reason, the one that’s still currently on display on my Facebook page) has two figures, a man and a woman, with the man positioned slightly in front of and larger than the woman. Here’s Winner’s experience of the icon:
“Next, I was moved to do something about the size and order of the female silhouette in the ‘friends icon’. As a woman, educated at a women’s college, it was hard not to read into the symbolism of the current icon; the woman was quite literally in the shadow of the man, she was not in a position to lean in.”
The message? Even seemingly innocuous design elements can communicate our cultural bent toward male privilege. Is it subtle? Yes. Is it unintentional? I think so. But does it perpetuate the problem of male privilege?
I say yes.
Like a cool used shop, with lots of old books, furniture for folks to sit on, and a bunch of bibliophiles that come in on a regular basis.
And while I can appreciate those stores where there are books crammed everywhere, two deep and literally flowing off the shelves, a Rob Dixon shop will be the most organized bookstore you’ve ever been in.
After all, it’s my nature. Everything in its place, with clearly marked shelves, fastidiously tidied up at the end of each day. And one thing is for sure:
I won’t let Tertullian influence the relative positioning of the topics.
This morning I walked into a Christian bookstore and saw this:
Put aside the nauseating “Manual to Manhood” title for a second (fourth shelf up on the far right side), with its stereotypical instructions on how to cook a steak, how to throw a football and find a wall stud. That’s stuff for another post.
Instead, look at the juxtaposition.
In an oh-so-subtle way, what could that particular bank of bookshelves be communicating?
You guessed it. That leadership and male-ness belong together. That they are yoked together. Literally, that they share a plastic sign. That of course a bookshop patron would be interested in one if they are interested in the other.
And, in case you’re wondering, the woman’s section was about 15 feet away on another shelf, next to the potpourri, greeting cards and wall hangings.
Can you see what something as innocent as product placement can communicate?!?
As with last week’s post on the U.S. Presidents, it’s important to say that I don’t think anyone is doing anything intentionally here. I’m sure the Presidential poster maker is simply putting faces on a board, and, likewise, this bookshop owner is just putting books where they make sense.
The problem is that when it comes to gender and Christian bookstores, too often what “makes sense” is less about what’s right and more about what Tertullian tells us is right.
Named after former Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, a noted advocate for diversity, the Rooney Rule “requires National Football League teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching and senior football operation jobs.” By and large, the consensus is that the Rooney Rule has been only partially successful; as a result, revisions are being considered.
Basically, the Rooney Rule is a form of a quota.
To be honest, I don’t like the idea of quotas. To me, something feels off about the whole notion of such things, and I think it’s this:
Our need for quotas reflects the presence of biased and broken systems.
Why do we need a Rooney Rule? Because something about how the NFL coach selection system is constructed can’t seem to give potential minority football coaches a fair shot. And because the system is slanted, we need quotas to offer a correction.
Basically, quotas exist because equality doesn’t. Or can’t. And that bugs me. It offends my sensibilities.
In fact, something about needing quotas violates my understanding about how the world, as created by God in Genesis 1:27 and affirmed by Paul in texts like Galatians 3:28, is supposed to work. You see, I think God set the world up in such a way that quotas should be fundamentally unnecessary.
Simply put, in an ideal world, we just wouldn’t need quotas.
And I wish that were the case, because it would mean that everyone had a fair and equal shot.
And so I read this article with interest last week. It chronicles the German Parliament’s decision to establish a gender-based quota for Board of Directors seats in large companies, to the extent that 30% of Board seats would have to be held by women or else remain vacant.
Let’s put aside my immediate reaction of “well, why not 50%?!?” Because, evidently, 30% would represent a pretty drastic change. From the article:
“The executive boards of the 200 largest companies in Germany remain a male monoculture,” according to the study by the German Institute for Economic Research (DIW). “Only around 4 percent of the 906 executive board positions [are] filled by women.”
Clearly, Germany has a long way to go to get to a place where quotas won’t be necessary. But here’s the hope, expressed by Germany’s family minister Manuela Schwesig:
“A change in culture has started. Simply the debate surrounding the law has triggered a rethinking process in society, in the industry and in the public sector.”
A change in culture in this area sounds good to me. And may it be so, in Germany and in other countries, including our own. Someday, may the playing field be so level that artificial assistance is no longer needed.
Until then, it seems to me that a quota like this is better than nothing.