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World Cup of Privilege

GirlsAround our house, we are World Cup obsessed.

We’ve got a poster with the brackets on the wall. We’re plotting a trip to the pub to watch England later today. We yell at the TV (OK, Amy does). And we’re watching the games with a critical eye (’cause, you know, coaching Under 10 soccer makes us experts in the Beautiful Game).

It also means that for Father’s Day, I scored the official FIFA World Cup trivia game.

Between matches, our family played the game on Sunday. Amy took our son and one of our daughters, and another daughter and I took up the challenge. Wow, was it difficult. I’m guessing that together we maybe answered 8 out of 50 questions correctly…and we were playing the easiest level! Here’s a sample:

“What innovation did the ball for the 1998 World Cup France present?”


If you guessed, “layers of foam rubber for more precision,” give yourself a round of applause.

Tough, right?

Anyhow, as I was looking through the game’s instructions and I noticed Tertullian:


Did you catch it?

Evidently, though this is a mixed gender game, the players that answer questions correctly will certainly be men. See the masculine pronoun?

Is it a typo? Sure. But, then again, perhaps the proofreader is revealing his/her bias in missing that one.

All I know is that, in our case, we bucked the trend. When all was said and done, when the trophy was awarded, the parent left standing was…

Not me.

Jesus the Storyteller

nlJBpmgYou’ve gotta love Jesus the storyteller.

In particular, who doesn’t appreciate Jesus’ ability to develop a compelling character?!? In even a short Bible story, Jesus is able to give enough texture and detail to simultaneously help us identify with that person even as we’re being discipled by their story.

In his book Experiential Storytelling, Mark Miller writes:

“Jesus could have opened the Hebrew texts, read every passage flawlessly, exegetes every paragraph with precision, and explained every verse in minute detail. But he chose not to do any of that. Instead, he chose to tell stories. He told stories based on the experiences of the people. He told stories of things people had never thought of. He told stories that caused people to think. These provocative tales made his audience wrestle to understand what he meant. A Samaritan is a hero? A king extends invitations to commoners? And what is with a landlord who doesn’t seem to mind killing one of his servants? These are not trim, tidy, well-edited messages. They are raw stories aimed at the heart by way of the ear.”

And some of Jesus’ most vivid characters are women.

For instance, there’s the woman who searches for her lost coin from Luke 10:8-10. Jesus holds her up as a model for the intensity and the intentionality it takes to seek and save those who are lost, as well as the joy that comes in the finding.

Or there’s the one verse parable in Matthew 13:33 about the woman who uses a little bit of yeast to make bread. As the yeast permeates the flour, so too does the Kingdom of Heaven permeate everything it touches.

And then there’s the persistent widow from Luke 18:1-8. This week some friends and I spent some time with this woman and, wow, did she teach us! Such an example of persistence in prayer, of guts in the face of power, of relentlessness in advocating for what is right. Here’s what theologian Darrell Bock says about this woman:

“I am sure all of us know someone we would call a nag. Such persons are always complaining about something, and if there is an important issue or principle involved, they will not let it go until it is fixed. Such a woman is the example in this parable. We are to pray just as she nags, especially when we desire God’s vindication of our commitment to him. We are to pray and keep praying for this…the woman takes her problem to the judge again and again and again and again! Like a great defensive lineman rushing the passer or a famous goal-scorer sweeping down the goal, she just keeps coming.”

To be sure, using women as positive examples in teaching parables would have been revolutionary in Jesus’ day. After all, these were the men who daily prayed this:

“Blessed are you for not having made me a Gentile, Blessed are you for not having made me a slave, Blessed are you for not having made me a woman.”

Today, in Christendom, no one (or very few) are praying a prayer like that. And yet may say that men can’t learn from the teaching of a woman.

Clearly, Jesus felt differently.

A Phrase I’m Ready to Be Done With

meXW5y8Admittedly, when it comes to gender exclusive language, I’m a bit, ah, sensitive.

As I’ve said before, I’m ready for our culture (and our church) to progress when it comes to the words we use with regard to gender. You know what I’m talking about, the gender exclusive terms that unfortunately litter our rhetorical arsenals. Perhaps the most common example would be using words like “man” or  “mankind” instead of “people” or “humans.” Words matter, and, in the case of gender exclusive language, they can too often cause damage.

Of all the gender exclusive words, terms and phrases that we use, there’s one that’s really starting to bug me:

“You’re the man.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like I’ve been hearing this little gem a lot lately. Like when I’m watching a tournament and a golfer tees off to the sound of someone in the crowd yelling, “you’re the man!” Or when someone posts a picture on facebook of their son doing something good and some commenter chimes in with a, “he’s the man.” Or when the pastor preaches a whale of a sermon and the overheard comment on the patio afterward goes something like “wow, pastor was the man this morning.”

It sucks. And here’s why:

It equates success, victory, achievement and accomplishment with being male.

And that’s a problem for women. Because what it says is that if you have the wrong chromosomes, then you’re out of luck. In the “you’re the man” framework, women are sequestered to the realm of the inferior. They are the contrast, the other. And it’s a one way street. After all, no one’s saying “You’re the woman!” when an LPGA golfer stripes it down the middle.

But it’s also a problem for men. Because there’s a dark side to male privilege. Continually having to embody the gold standard of human accomplishment can be exhausting. It can be stressful. Because it’s unrealistic, and it’s painful when you don’t measure up.

So…what to do? Allow me to propose a couple of alternatives:

First, if you insist on using the term “You’re the man!” to affirm the good works of the men in your life, balance the ledger by using “You’re the woman!” as well. Will it be awkward? No doubt. Maybe it would help to make it a campaign? We could hashtag it at #yourethewomanisjustaslegitasyouretheman

Or, better, what if we all just staring using a hearty “well done” or “good job” when someone does something good?

Regardless of gender. 

Good Advice

o202JyUAs I said, I want to be better about offering solutions, ways both large and small, to overcome the problem of male privilege.

So, today let me offer a set of helpful tips from the blog “Tenure, She Wrote.” The post is entitled “Don’t be that Dude: Handy Tips for the Male Academic.” As the title suggests, the advice is written from an academic perspective, so depending on your situation you’d need to do some translating. In addition, it lacks an overtly spiritual perspective. Still, these 20 suggestions are full of intentionality, thoughtfulness and practicality. Here they are in full:

1. Use the appropriate salutations when writing to a woman academic. Don’t call your female professor “Miss” or “Mrs.” Don’t write to a colleague as “Ms.” when you would otherwise say “Dr.” or “Prof.” There is a long history of baggage around names, and I guarantee that most women are sensitive to this. Show that you’re not One of Those Dudes by respecting a woman academic’s titles, at least in the initial greeting.

2. Don’t comment on a woman’s appearance in a professional context. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are; it’s irrelevant. Similarly, don’t tell someone they don’t look like a scientist/professor/academic, that they look too young, or they should smile.

3. Don’t talk over your female colleagues. There is a lot of social conditioning that goes into how men and women communicate differently. You may not realize that you’re doing it, but if you find yourself interrupting women, or speaking over them, stop.

4. Avoid making sexual remarks (or wearing clothing, etc., that is sexually explicit or suggestive), regardless of whether they are about your colleagues.

5. Make sure your department seminars, conference symposia, search committees, and panel discussions have a good gender balance. If you find that someone turns you down, ask them for recommendations for an alternative; don’t give up. Recognize that if there is a minority of women in your program or discipline, they may be disproportionately burdened with invitations to serve on committees or give talks. Be sensitive to this!

6. Pay attention to who organizes the celebrations, gift-giving, or holiday gatherings. Make sure that it’s not disproportionately women in your lab, department, or organization who are the party planners or social organizers. Volunteer to do it yourself, or suggest a man next time.

7. Volunteer when someone asks for a note-taker, coffee-run gopher, or lunch order-taker at your next meeting. Don’t let this task fall to women, even if they tend to volunteer (we’re socially conditioned to do so). Make sure that women aren’t being asked to do this more than men.

8. Don’t refuse to go through doors opened by women, insist on carrying their field equipment, or otherwise reinforce stereotypes that women need special treatment because of our gender. Offer help, and drop it if help is declined.

9. Take an equal share in housework and childcare duties at home. Women (including academics) are often disproportionately burdened with domestic duties relative to their male academic spouses. Figure out if your household is an equal one.

10. During a talk Q&A session, call on women. Be a good moderator, and make sure men aren’t talking over women. In large lectures, use floating mics, rather than mic stands, to encourage women to comment (this works!).

11. Learn about benevolent sexism.

12. Learn what mansplaining is (I’m not going to get into whether this is a good term or not). Guard against it, and be quick to derail it when you see it in others.

13. Learn what the tone argument is. Don’t use it. Don’t dismiss your female colleagues as angry, emotional, or otherwise not deserving of respect because they aren’t adopting what you think is the appropriate tone.

14. Learn how to apologize when someone has called you out for inappropriate behavior.

15. Don’t leave it to women to do the work of increasing diversity. Be proactive, rather than reactive, in your departments and institutions. Speak out about incidents that promote a hostile environment at your school, to your students and your colleagues. If you observe someone doing or saying something sexist, tell them that it’s not okay. Actively support your female colleagues when they experience sexism.

16. Adopt teaching tools and practices that promote gender equity. Pay attention to the example you set for your students.

17. Pay attention to who you invite to informal work-related gatherings. If you’re often going out with members of your lab or department for drinks, make an effort to include women. You may be shutting your colleagues out from research opportunities or the sharing of ideas that happen in informal settings.

18. Make sure you’re aware of the gender biases in scientific journal editorial practices. If you’re an editor, find out what the gender ratio is among your reviewers. Take steps to make it more equal.

19. Know when to listen. Don’t assume you understand what it’s like for women. Don’t interject with “but this happens to men, too!” Don’t try to dismiss or belittle women’s concerns. Remember that women are oftenreacting to  a long history of incidents, big and small.

20. Finally, if you do all of the above, don’t expect a cookie. Your efforts may go unacknowledged or even unrecognized much of the time. Keep at it anyway, because you’re not out to get special recognition. You’re doing it because it’s the decent thing to do.