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It’s the Little Things…

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 4.09.22 PMThat Tertullian, he’s a wily one.

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.

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Sending a Message

mWe423KSomeday, when I grow up, I want to own a bookstore.

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:

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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.

On Quotas and Monocultures

mRByrdsMaybe you’ve heard of the Rooney Rule.

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.

What it Says

oGfRR2uFirst, if you are one of the more than 10,000 people that read my Junia Project post the other day, welcome! Thanks for reading that post, and thanks for checking out Challenging Tertullian. Feel free to grab some coffee and stay for awhile, and, to get the big idea, you can find this blog’s first post here.

For this blogger, last week was equal parts fun and overwhelming. Thousands of page views, who knows how many retweets, Facebook shares, blog comments…at one point, I canceled something I had planned in order to keep up with social media.

Add it all up, and one thing is clear:

The message of the post, that gender-based jokes from the pulpit are unhelpful, struck a chord.

Or perhaps we can go a step further? Maybe it says something deeper, that folks long for pastors and preachers who are careful with their words? That gender equality is something worth fighting for? Or maybe the response indicates that people are hungry for honest and real conversations about gender in the church.

Honestly, I hope it says each of these things.

One of my favorite things about last week’s experience was interacting with people who found the post to be life-giving and affirming. One comment in particular really grabbed me, in all of its heart-breaking vulnerability. In good part, the following words capture one main reason I’m doing what I’m doing on Challenging Tertullian and elsewhere:

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May the Junia Project post, and more like it, catalyze a deeper conversation about gender in the church.

“5 Reasons Not to Use Gender-Based Jokes in the Pulpit”

5-Reasons-FBI’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

Welcome, Bishop Lane

mhOnBt8Every once in awhile, I read a gender equality-related story and I think, “wow, I’ve been blogging for a long time.”

Case in point. I’ve blogged before (here, and here) about the journey that the Church of England has been on regarding gender equality. In fact, I seem to post about said journey every year at this time.

And so I’m happy to report that yesterday was another milestone on their way, as Rev. Libby Lane was named as the first female Bishop in the 500 year history of the denomination.

Find the full story here.

I’ll just mark this latest (and greatest) chapter of the Church of England’s story with the new Bishop’s gracious and humble acknowledgment of the moment:

“On this historic day, as the Church of England announces the first woman nominated to be bishop, I am very conscious of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for decades have looked forward to this moment. But most of all, I am thankful to God.”

Me too. Amen.

Olives, Trucksters and Women in Government

In our family culture, we have a tradition we call Family Fun Days. The only rules for FFDs are that we spend them together, that we do something fun and that we try to spend as little money as possible. Oh, and it’s always my goal to have us visit something random.

Basically, think Clark Griswold without the family truckster, Aunt Edna or Wallyworld.

Recent Family Fun Days have seen us visiting the American Graffiti monument, the world’s largest bulldozer, the world’s largest box of raisins and a collection of Swedish dala horses.

Now, don’t you wish you were a Dixon?!?

Several years ago, our FFD adventures took us to Lindsay, CA. You may never have heard of Lindsay, but you might well have eaten its primary export. You see, Lindsay is California’s olive capitol. In fact, Lindsay is home to the world’s largest olive.

Not kidding. Here’s photographic evidence:

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Yesterday, in the paper, I noticed something else about Lindsay, CA:

The Lindsay City Council is majority women.

This is noteworthy on several levels.

First, because it could be a first here in the central valley. From this article: “it’s uncertain, but Lindsay’s council may have been the first in the central San Joaquin Valley to achieve the status of a majority of women.”

It’s also noteworthy more broadly. Again, according to the article, in our state, “until the November election, 12% of the 482 cities in California had city councils that have a majority of women members, according to the Women’s Caucus of the League of California Cities.”

Further, it’s also out of the norm nationwide. In my just submitted DMiss paper, I cited this fact sheet out of Rutgers University about women in government in 2014. It notes that women hold only 18.7% of the seats in the US congress, only 22.6% of statewide elective executive positions, and only 24.3% of state legislative seats.

Finally, from a global perspective, the Inter-Parlimenary Union notes that in 2014 the United States ranks 83rd in terms of women’s participation in parliament (data here). For those of you scoring at home, that puts us behind places like Rwanda (the leader), Cuba, Nicaragua and Serbia.

So, what’s the bottom line? Tragically, when it comes to U.S. politics, Tertullian continues to have his way in our country’s mayor’s offices, statehouses, and on capitol hill. It’s like he’s having his own perpetual Family Fun Day.

Except that evidently he doesn’t like olives…