or “How Patriarchy unintentionally saved me”
(feel free to listen to this song in the background for inspiration.)
There are a few guys in my circles of radical clergy with a certain public following. I love their tweets and facebook posts because they’re sometimes funny and sometimes biting, and they’re almost always so certain.
Which, for those of you who have known me for a long time know, is exactly how I used to sound.
One of the big ironies of my life is that my biggest bump in with patriarchy is what started me down a path that I wish was available to my incredibly certain brothers: the path into humility in the midst of the righteous cause.
The reason this matters to me is this: the big, fancy, daunting word “postmodernity.” As we transition out of an era where facts and science won the day (the modern era), my theory is we’re moving into an era that is not at all resistent to facts and science (which would be anti-modernity, which we see in fundamentalism of all religious stripes) but into an era where facts and science aren’t all there is, where mystery and humanity and the complexity of our lived experiences interplay in important ways with data. In other words, we’re moving into an era where having the facts doesn’t allow you to be a dick, especially when your interpretation of facts may not line up with someone else’s interpretation of the same facts. Again, this is different than anti-modernity, where someone’s facts come into conflict with someone else’s opinions. To make a long story short, I believe that the postmodern era demands voices that embrace complexity and maybe a little grace, too.
Back to the story, though…
When I was in seminary, ministry candidates had to go through a three-day intensive psychological evaluation with lots of tests, small group discussions, one-on-one time with a psychiatrist, and feedback about our strenghts, weaknesses and growing edges in order to serve well in the ministry. On the enneagram, I was apparently the 8, the power personality type. The justice seeker. The Martin Luther King type. “And obviously with your voice and your size, you could easily dominate people and bully them into your position,” the evaluator said to me as if all of us in the small group couldn’t help but notice it. And obviously it logically followed that I had to work really hard not to dominate my congregation during my ministry.
I remember sharing that story with a colleague of mine a few years ago and him saying “That’s one of the most sexist things I’ve ever heard.”
The interesting thing is that I think they were both probably right.
In addition to being an 8 on the Enneagram, I’m also an ENTP. Extrovert, intuitive, thinker, and not always a thoroughly linear and organized individual. (Apparently, this makes me the Weasley brothers in a recent online post that correlates Myers-Briggs types to Harry Potter characters.) I’m a thinker. I rely on logic more than on emotion, and if something’s practical, my inclination is to move it forward and assume it makes as much sense to others as it does to me and that we’re all functioning out of what makes the most sense.
I have seen that work for male colleagues of mine, sometimes, but it definitely didn’t work for me, and it also didn’t work for the kind of community I wanted to be a part of.
My ministry colleague was right; he wouldn’t probably have been cautioned in the same way, because, well, patriarchy.
But that caution ended up making me a little more humble, a little more open, and a little more willing to engage emotions and mystery in dialogue with my hard nosed practical (let’s call it what it is) self-righteousness.
- I think about this when I see my male colleagues’ clever, righteous and aggressively confident posts about issues I care about just as deeply.
- I thought about it when I attended a meeting of the International Socialist Organization, where I agreed with everything everyone said and also found myself thinking “ah, so this is why they’re not reaching all the people they should.”
- I thought about it when I read the post of a local political operative who was enraged at people’s opposition to our mayor’s enforcement of a (likely unconstitutional) ban on after-dark protests, her intent being to stop shop windows from being broken. He saw this as a completely different issue from police reform, which he supports, and didn’t understand how anyone could oppose her ban unless they supported breaking shop windows.
The guy I’m dating and I have lighthearted debates about whether the differences between men and women are physiological, genetic, socialized, or some combination of those. (He leans towards physiological with a little genetic and socialized mixed in; I lean towards almost completely socialized…I know I might be wrong, but until we lean too far in that direction, I’m going to keep all my weight on that side in the hopes of moving us a little more towards balance.) I’m not sure we’ll ever agree. What I can say, though, is that I was given one advantage over my male counterparts because of socialized gender norms:
I was told that I couldn’t get away with just logic and loud voice. I had to cultivate a little empathy and a little complexity. I had to tap into some traditionally feminine values if I wanted to be embraced by the community I served.
And I think it’s given me some advantages as I live and work in a complicated, complex community with lots of feelings as well as facts and a lot of mystery as well as science. Sometimes it means I don’t sound as certain as I would like. But I’ve discovered that opens doors that help me be in conversations I couldn’t otherwise participate in. And it means that when I actually articulate something forcefully, people know to pay attention.
In some ways, patriarchy pushed me into a less patriarchal way of being. Chris Crass’s new book Toward Collective Liberation reminded me that this kind of freedom is available to both men and women.
I wish all of my male colleagues the same kind of liberation I experienced, because I think uncertainty is a less lonely place to live.