Tag Archives: Feminism

The privilege of experiencing “un-privilege”

I had an experience when I was in an African country last November that I have wanted to write about ever since, but it is one that I have struggled both to fully understand and to articulate.

In some of the churches we visited, men and women sit on separate sides of the room during a Sunday service. We, however, as honoured [white] guests, were often seated separately from both men and women, in the “best” seats at the front or on the side.

This Sunday, as the only white woman present, I wanted to sit with the other women in the congregation. But what actually happened was that when I sat on the women’s side, none of the local women sat with or near me. In fact, as the church filled up, it soon became glaringly obvious that despite the packed house, there was a circle with a radius of at least two metres between me and anyone else.

I felt incredibly isolated. I also felt an overwhelming mixture of frustration, anger, and sadness, which I struggled to contain. At the time, I couldn’t pinpoint who or what I was angry about, or exactly what made me feel so disconsolate.

After returning home and reflecting on the experience, I have come to the conclusion that I was simultaneously experiencing both privilege and what I will call (for want of a better term) “un-privilege.” As a white person, I was given elevated status, to the point that the other women did not feel that it was acceptable for them to sit with me. But as a woman, I did not have the status that would make it acceptable for me to sit with the men.

Now, let me say that I categorically do not wish to make any value judgments about the people I was worshipping with. About the only thing I can probably be certain of is that they were not experiencing this event the same way I was. But I do want to learn from and share about what I experienced in that moment, from my perspective.

The idea of “privilege” is one I know not everyone is comfortable with, but it has become a helpful shorthand expression for something that is very common in our world. Basically, it refers to the advantages that a group of people have due to their social status. As this status is conferred by society, it is not something that is chosen, and it can often be something very difficult for those who experience it to recognise.

Experiencing the world as a white person means I experience privilege. It means that I do not understand what it means to be disadvantaged because of the colour of my skin, and that often I am not even aware that there is any advantage or disadvantage based on skin colour. But when I listen to my friends and neighbours who experience the world every day as “people of colour” (a term that itself reeks of privilege – as if those of us who are white are “without” colour!), I realise that they face many subtle and not so subtle reminders every day that it matters what they are not.

I also experience privilege because I am educated, wealthy, heterosexual.

However, on the other hand, experiencing the world as a woman means that I experience “un-privilege.” I recognise every day that there are ways I am spoken to and spoken about, ways that I am looked at and overlooked, ways that I am valued and evaluated, that are not experienced by men.

Maths

So, why was my experience in Africa so confronting? From my perspective, something about that simultaneous experience of both privilege and un-privilege clarified things. I felt both the miserable isolation of not having the same status as the men, as well as the humbling shame of being given a status above the other women that I had done nothing to deserve.

And I think it was that shame which provoked my deepest anger, frustration and despair. The shame that reminds me that I can go through life so oblivious. To not even know that by what I assume to be my “neutral” experience I am actually both being advantaged and therefore causing others to be disadvantaged. That unless I somehow enter into the experience of those who are not like me, and try in some way to feel what un-privilege is like, I will never understand my own privilege. And so I am grateful for my experience in that church. It was confronting but in a way that I needed to be confronted. It was a privilege in the other sense of the word – a humbling gift and a source of true pleasure.

A good friend of mine was recently the only male participant in a room full of people discussing the challenges of being a woman in a male-dominated profession. He reflected afterwards on his desire to apologise as he recognised that even he, who is a gracious and forthright advocate for women’s participation in our profession, so often did not even see how the ways he spoke and acted could perpetuate the disadvantage that women experience. I felt so grateful that he was able to have that experience. I know that he will be able to make a greater difference because of it. That like me in Africa, his confrontation with the realities of un-privilege was a gift and an honour he will not scorn.

Finally, I am reminded of one of the most profound truths of the Christian faith. Incarnation. The fact that the God who had all the status and privilege in the universe chose to fully enter into the un-privilege of humanity. And the incredible wonder is, that He counted it a true privilege to do so.

Misogyny, bravery, hashtags, and speaking up (a follow up to #YesAllWomen)

I’ve been a little bit overwhelmed by the response to my recent blog post asking how the church can respond to #YesAllWomen.

For starters, a number of people called me “brave,” which while I can understand and appreciate, hasn’t sat very well with me. I guess ultimately because it saddens me that I live in a culture where naming the reality of this experience is rare enough, and can bring enough negative response, that to do so is considered courageous.

I’ve had the opportunity to reflect further on why this is, and I recognise that I am part of the problem. When experiences like I named in my post happen, whether to me or to others, I still tend to respond to them as if they are anomalies, one-offs. Perhaps I don’t say anything because I wilfully forget that they are happening all around me, often to women much younger than I who have much less influence and ability to speak up about it.

My awareness has been raised to the point that I have thought through what I am going to say when (not if) I am in a situation where a woman or girl is being touched or spoken to inappropriately. No more looking back and thinking “I wish I had said something,” or “I was so shocked I didn’t think quickly enough to say something.”

I am so grateful for the incredibly positive responses I have had to my post. What has been particularly pleasing is the way this conversation has been picked up offline in a number of ways. It’s easy to be “outraged” on the internet, and some question the value of hashtags and blogs as “slacktivism” – a replacement for activism that might make us feel better, but doesn’t actually change anything. I’m hopeful that #YesAllWomen is much more. In this case, simply raising awareness is in and of itself “doing something.”

I’m grateful for all the women who have told me “I never realised it wasn’t just me,” and for all the men who have said, “I’m so shocked, how did I not know about this?” Now that we are all more aware, my hope is that next time we see something like this happening, we will all speak up. Men in particular, if you hear other men catcalling women, or making jokes about rape, please ask them to stop. If you see a woman in a situation where she looks uncomfortable, ask her, “Is this man making you uncomfortable?”

I’m incredibly humbled by the women who have shared with me their horrific stories of abuse. Given what I said above, I won’t call them “brave,” but I will call them important, honourable and gracious. 

I’m thankful too for the (male) pastors in my family of churches who have asked how we can continue this conversation into the future. While I’ve always been a little hesitant to be pigeonholed as a ‘spokesperson’ for women, if God has given me the opportunity and influence to bring this issue into the light, I am going to grab it with both hands. This is not a “women’s issue.” It is a leadership issue, a culture issue, a church issue, and a gospel issue.

Finally, I was reminded again yesterday, powerfully and publicly, why #YesAllWomen exists, and needs to exist, in the church. Christianity Today’s online Leadership Journal published a six-page article in which a convicted rapist, writing from jail, was given a platform to explain his actions – which he did by characterising his sexual abuse of a child as a “relationship,” lamenting the consequences he has faced since being caught without once taking ownership of what he had done to his victim. The article was tagged by the editors with the words “Adultery” and “Mistake.” (These have since been removed. They have not been replaced by “Rape” or “Crime.”)

[If you don’t know what I’m referring to and want to, see Tamara Rice’s excellent post].

What has been encouraging is the response of so many men and women, calling for CT to #TakeDownThatPost, another hashtag that has so far caused Leadership Journal to add a disclaimer, and then edit the article (not particularly well). I’m still hopeful they will respond by deleting it, but the conversations it has provoked among a number of high profile Christian leaders about misogyny, victim-blaming, and minimising abuse, demonstrate that when we listen to one another, when we become more aware, we learn and grow and things can change. And if it takes a hashtag to help that process along, well, God has used stranger methods.

 

Update: about an hour after I posted this, Christianity Today responded to #TakeDownThatPost by deleting the post and apologising for publishing it. So pleasing, and so good to see an internet apology that is not, “Sorry you were offended by us,” but rather, “Sorry, we did the wrong thing and we should not have.”

Why do we need International Women’s Day?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
For her

March 8th, today, is International Women’s Day. Lots of countries have some kind of celebration to mark the day, but still plenty of people question whether we should have a special day to celebrate women, or why there is no International Men’s Day.* (I remember as a child wondering why there was a Mothers’ Day and a Fathers’ Day but no Kids’ Day, but as I got older the answer to that question became pretty obvious, as I think the answer to this question should be!)

For me, IWD is less about “celebrating women” – while that is lovely, I absolutely agree we should celebrate the value of all people regardless of gender. For me, IWD is more about recognising that gender inequality exists in the world and it is an injustice that affects ALL of us, male and female.

… and for her
… and for her

A couple of years ago on IWD, I posted a Facebook status with some statistics from the UN – that women make up 51+% of the world’s population but earn 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of the wealth. Those are some pretty sobering statistics that I would hope prompt some reflection on all kinds of injustice in the world. What I didn’t expect was the statistic that was created in response – 100% of the men who commented on my status made light of it in some way. And these are not men I would have called sexist, chauvinistic or people who belittle women in any way. Just ordinary Aussie (Christian!) guys. That’s why I was so surprised. That’s what reminded me that we still need International Women’s Day.

I have previously written about how as a Christian I don’t always like to accept other labels, including feminist, because of the baggage of other people’s perceptions. But as a global citizen, there is no question for me that I need to speak up about what is probably the greatest injustice in the world today, because women are human beings just as men are, and until they are treated as such we are all suffering.

… and for them.

It remains terrifyingly true that 1 in 3 women will experience sexual assault during her lifetime. 75% of the 21 million victims of human trafficking each year are female, with the majority of those forced into sexual slavery.

The new World Bank report notes that despite many improvements, women continue to trail behind men on EVERY SINGLE economic measure.  There is no country on earth where women have wage parity with men. (And this is not simply about a man being paid more than a woman for the same work, although that still happens more often than you might think. The bigger problem is systemic:  jobs typically done by women are far less valued than jobs typically done by men).

This UNESCO report shows that 2/3 of the world’s illiterate adults are women, and that girls are disproportionately excluded from education. The education of girls benefits everyone, and has been demonstrated to decrease infant mortality rates, reduce HIV rates, and generally reduce the factors that lead to poverty. Not poverty for women, poverty for everyone.

So … some good things to share from today. Check some of these out:

1. UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s IWD 2014 message on how equality for women benefits everyone

2. Google’s doodle video celebrating IWD 2014

3. Buzzfeed’s list of 22 inspirational Australian women

4. Reuters article on why educating girls can help eradicate poverty

5. World Vision’s project for the education of girls – how for $35 you can make a huge generational difference and help eradicate poverty

6. And if you’ve got a bit of time, watch Chimamanda Adichie’s 30 minute TEDx talk  … especially for any woman who has ever felt she needs to apologise for being smart or opinionated or just for being female … and for any man who doesn’t understand why we still need feminism. (Thanks Tamie for putting me on to this!)

* For any men still wondering, there IS an International Men’s Day (November 19) but thanks for reading to the end to find out! In many places around the world it’s also pretty much International Men’s Day tomorrow, and Monday, and Tuesday, and Wednesday, and Thursday ….