My Hidden Advantage When it comes to Gender Issues

I have been commenting on a blog by Mike Duran entitled 'Are Christian Feminists Hurting Their Cause?' In which he suggests that the recent response to Emily Weirengy' piece called 'The Lost Art of Servanthood (letter to my feminist sisters)' has pushed him towards complementarianism.
One or two comments have been overtly against how I see the world - even suggesting that t might be noble for a woman to stay in an abusive situation. I have been misunderstood in some of my response. I don't particularly mind this but it does show you how we all come to such issues from diverse points of view.
I have tried to suggest to Mike that the hiddenness of our prejudices make it almost impossible to not be affected when we engage in debate. In light of this it is important for us to recognise the advantage we have before we look to comment on how another group might respond to a particular issue. In one sense, as a man, I may well be sympathetic towards feminism, I may even call myself a male feminist, but I cannot truly be one because I have been given the invisible advantage of being male in a patriarchal society. The thinking goes like the:
1. When two people engage it is highly likely that one person will have an advantage over the other that they may not be aware of; but it exists. In a patriarchal leaning society the male will have travelled through life with an invisible passport not possessed by the female; this will have given access to areas in education, work life, church, and wider society that operates in an invisible way. It is not overtly expressed but is conditioned by all of the images around us.
It is not just with gender but also with race, sexuality, education, family background. So many ways. It is said that doors will have been opened more for a good looking person compared to someone less visually appealing by societies standards. This is about advantage.
2. There's is a saying in Britain that the Queen thinks the whole world smells of fresh Magnolia paint. This is because when she is about to visit a place someone will have just painted. Because of this she cannot know what the world smells like for the rest of us. At one level this might be said to be not her fault because she doesn't write to people to ask them to paint. The people do it because of some conditioning about what a queen should expect. At another level, even though she can't change it, any comments she makes will either be unconnected, if she doesn't acknowledge her privilege, or connected, if she does acknowledge her privilege.
3. When men comment on how women have reacted to an issue (as Mike has done with his blog) he does so from a position of privilege. I am absolutely certain that he has not intended to cause offence to anyone. In fact I feel very sure that he writes about what he sees as a genuine issue for Christian communities. It is, however, the lack of acknowledgement of privilege that makes the words that seem reasonable from one perspective unreasonable from another perspective. Has Mike done this on purpose; no. Is he being intentionally patriarchal; no. But the positions we have that are fuelled by the advantage we have use the patriarchal system that has given them the advantage.
So when Maya (one of the commenters who challenges the main thrust of Mike's blog) expresses her frustration that somehow there is a mismatch between how she might be treated as a woman and how I might be treated as a man, it is fuelled by the hidden advantage.
I know this because I have journeyed to try to work through my own hidden use of the patriarchal advantages that I have been handed. At first I wanted to react against it because I have always seen myself as being against sexism. The problem however is far deeper than we can often see.
Mike responded thus:
'Alan, so is there any way, any man, can suggest any woman, is ever wrong w/out having it “charged with hidden advantage”? I apologize, but this sounds more like feminist theory psycho-babble. And if you “have been where some of the men are who are commenting” and have overcome your “privileged status,” isn’t it possible that some men have overcome that bias too…but just disagree with you?'
My response was as follows:
1) Of course we can offer critique and challenge. We just have to be aware of our advantage.
2) You might want to dismiss it as feminist theory psycho-babble but I would encourage you to think again. It is wider than just a feminist issue. If I take my own context as a white, western, educated, male, church leader, then I look to be aware that:
- When I meet with my UK Asian friends I have had doors opened to me that they haven't.
- When I speak to those from say Africa I have a western advantage of both resource and opportunity.
- When I meet with those who have not had the educational opportunities that I have had I recognise that doors have been opened to me not based on intelligence but on being able to convert my thoughts in to exam results.
- When I speak to church members I try to recognise that I am afforded treatment in our community that they do not receive.
Now it is of course true that each of these advantages can have negative aspects: a bit like the fact that the queen doesn't have some of the freedoms to roam that her subjects have. She can't just pop out for a walk. But any complaint about these tends to sound like the millionaire pop star who is annoyed that his fans keep asking for autographs. It must be annoying but it is nothing compared to the privilege of their wealth and fame.
3) I don't feel I have overcome my privilege and really that is not the point of what I am saying. How much I try to work to level out the gender injustices I know that I cannot make enough difference to change the way we are conditioned to view people in certain ways. It is however the ongoing acknowledgement of the advantage and the continued debate that can make us aware of its affects upon us all.
By the way it is worth noting that you and I can also be subject to the negative affects of this hidden advantage given the right context. I am from the north of England and and have a distinct accent - in the UK there is a perception that Received Pronunciation (posh accent) opens doors that would not be readily opened for me. In a similar way it would be highly unlikely that I would have studied at Oxford or Cambridge because the top 5 private schools fill more places than the next 2000 UK schools.
I know you might want to dismiss this as psycho-babble but it is worth considering further. Alan

What this thought process does is to frame all of our comments in a context that makes us aware of the magnolia paint.

Think about how this changes the way we speak and deal with others who do not share your advantage.

What are your thoughts on this important issue?


Unknown said...

Comment part one: I’ve been gone from the institutional church for decades but have recently returned for another look via the intertoobs. Been poking through women’s issues and just finished the long comment thread at Mike’s. W00t When I read comments like yours, I remember why it is so lovely to be a Christian. Thank you!

Having a few thoughts, and not knowing where else to put them, I hope its ok that I put them in your comment thread.

First, Mike insists that daily prayer for ever-increasing love for God, and love to others, adequately fulfills the Two Great Commandments. In so saying, he adheres to abstraction.

In order to obey Second commandment, we need to walk where others walk or we have no place to put real love. Loving an “abstract other” is loving only an idea, and makes a rigid distant love. The expression of abstracted love is slapped on top of reality and will be hit/miss because real people shift/bump and carry a thousand nuances.

Unknown said...

Comment, part two: For most Christians, and I assume Mike, the other part of the Second Commandment, about self, is met similarly, with an additional twist. Many seem to think that “crucify self” and “lay down one’s life” means that we should not even get to know ourselves (it’s selfish!). Add the deep shame that some of the sin doctrines lay on us and we believe we must despise ourselves in order to obtain salvation. The only way we know ourselves, then, is through all that we do wrong. Since we are also commanded to love ourselves, we flop straight from all that sin into abstracted love without getting to know the real self. Thus, as for others, we never discover the thousand nuances in our internal realities, including our inherent advantages/disadvantages that create bias towards the world. (That we additionally ask a woman to lay down self before even knowing what she is laying down is tres bizarre!)

In a way, working out the Second Great Commandment shows us the nature of God who we love in the First Commandment. By loving the real self/others, we discover the nature of this God and how He/She functions. Since our love for self/others is abstracted, our view of God will stay abstract, too.

In sum, Mark’s approach creates a disconnected faith, similar to that of the majority of US Christians, milder than many.

Unknown said...

Comment part 3: How confusing this kind of faith is, at core, because life dishevels the abstract with its grit. It bursts out, will-nilly: tumultuous with flying emotions, messy thoughts from everywhere, overlapping contexts. When confronted by all of it, a person with a disconnected faith will naturally feel overwhelmed and then protest, “Well, then, is there any way I can ever say anyone is wrong?” It’s an honest question, actually, even though also snide. But how to answer? One’s relationship to God and world needs reconstruction. Ach….

A second thought I want to mention regards the commenter who insisted that women who stay with abusers bring glory to God by their pain. Her proposal is also at the core of Emily’s post. I do not understand how people can be so confused about what Christ did! He took on the brokenness of this world and healed it. He submitted to suffering/death in a one-time and now-completed act. It is a travesty to think that “sharing in Christ’s sufferings” means that we ought to repeat that action a hundred little ways in each life! It is also pointless in itself because none of us have the weight of God and perfection to make it effective. The ideas behind “WWJD” seem to be that we are little Christs running around this earth. So arrogant in it’s abstracted self-sacrifice!

I don’t know what “sharing in the sufferings of Christ” actually means but it certainly doesn’t mean that we should offer S&M to God. What essential difference is there between a god who would want that and a Baal who wanted sacrifice of first-borns in her red-hot ever-lovin’ arms? Christ unlocked the chains of sin and our job is to slowly work those chains loose and find our way out of prison. There is no way that walking back into the cell, shutting the door and heaving on those chains brings glory to God. I think it mocks Christ, no how hard and honorable the intentions.

Thanks for listening.

Alan Molineaux said...

Hi. Thank you so much for your excellent comments. I agree with you about the dysfunctionality of the world of such churches. I think they tend to have a mechanistic view of God rather than a relational one.

I am glad to say that there are many evangelical churches that are reshaping their ecclesiology to be more nuanced and dynamic.

I hope perhaps you manage to find one near to you but if you don't I don't feel it is essential as there are plenty of people to engage with via the web.

Please keep in touch. Al

Anonymous said...

I know I am way, way late to this discussion, but I just recently discovered the post and comment thread on Mike's blog. I found your blog from the "It's Not About the Humour" article you linked there.

I just wanted to thank you for being so persistent, clear, and reasonable in your presentations of privilege and your appeals for understanding. You wrote about it in as concise and relatable a way as I've ever seen.

I noticed the commenter who insisted that he doesn't see race or gender, he just focuses on serving. If the discussion weren't a month old already I would have asked him: "How do you know how to serve someone if you refuse to see them as they are?"

"Servanthood" is not an abstract set of attitudes; it is deliberate action which is relative to the person being served. It requires acknowledgement of privilege in order to do well.

I know I'm preaching to the choir, but I just wanted to say, thank you so much for sticking with the discussion.

Molineaux said...

I understand what you mean Amanda.

Thanks for the encouragement.

It did feel like an up hill battle.