I am a man and because of this I have never been subjected to negativity concerning my gender.
I am fortunate. Growing up my parents taught me that men and women are different but equal. They ensured I knew they saw me and my sister as different but equal.
I am fortunate. I grew up in and now work in my home church – an Anglican church - which has over the last twenty years visibly supported the ministry of women suggesting that it sees men and women as different but equal. Two women from our parish were members of the first group of women to be priested in the CofE back in 1994. One of them was then curate and has gone on to become the current Dean of Women’s Ministry in the Diocese of Bath and Wells while the other was a non-stipendiary minister who continues to support ordained ministry in our town today. In the subsequent twenty years our parish has appointed a number of women as clergy, mostly curates, whose ministry has benefitted the faith community here. Several have been key people in my personal journey of faith and ministry. I think the ministry of women is brilliant!
I am fortunate. But I have not always realised that I am. I am fortunate that I have not had much direct experience of the discrimination that women have suffered at the hands of patriarchal societies and organisations. But it is because I realise that I am fortunate that I recognise the importance of encouraging and supporting environments or cultures of gender justice. It is my relative good fortune that motivates my passion for advocating and supporting gender equality. I am aware that for some women their circumstances are less than equal, that their ministry is viewed as somehow less significant if, in fact, it seen as a ministry at all. For some, their opportunities are severely reduced and the challenges that they face to make their voice heard seem insurmountable. And they live in a context where some men still don’t feel they can acknowledge the leadership of women both inside and outside of church. It is a difficult situation and we are called to minister in the mess, to advocate, to challenge, to listen, to speak, to seek to understand all perspectives and ultimately to lead people forward.
I am fortunate that as a youth worker I know the importance of participation, empowerment and advocacy and how these can have a significant effect on the lives of young people. I believe that these values and approaches offer practical tools that can assist men in our attempts to work in partnership with women as we strive for full equality.
a) Advocacy – The problem that many women face is that they simply do not have a voice – and when they do have a voice it can be difficult for them to make it heard. When we read the words from Proverbs 31:8 – ‘Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable’ (CEV) – we don’t automatically think of the women in our world and our churches. But, if we look carefully at the situations and circumstances throughout the world we notice that women’s voices remain stifled today. There are times when as men we are called to speak out for women in the same way as a youth worker is called to speak out on behalf of young people. For example, in an all-male boardroom it falls to the men present in that space to advocate on behalf of women and in the all-male church staff team it falls to the men present to advocate on behalf of women in their congregations. This is far from ideal. We need to realise advocacy is not the same as speaking for others. Advocacy involves listening to the women who are part of your organisation/church and then taking their thoughts, ideas, opinions and needs into those places where decisions are made and presenting these views.
b) Empowerment – Although there are times when as men we need to speak out on behalf of women, we need to take care to ensure that we are not actually adding to the noise preventing the voice of women being heard. There is a role for men in standing back and allowing women the space to find their voice, but they will be unable to do so if men are filling the space with words, even with the best of advocating intentions. An interesting example occurred recently during a break in one of our choir practices. We were talking about baking cakes to sell in the interval of a fundraising concert and one teenage boy said ‘I will get my mum to make a cake.’ This was challenged by one older male who suggested that he should make his own cake, but he was then told by another older male that ‘baking is women’s work.’ Several of the women, especially the younger women, were disgruntled by this second comment and wanted to challenge such a sexist comment, but there was no opportunity to do so because the conversation rapidly but naturally moved on. When reflecting on this situation with my wife Sarah later, we concluded that there are times when talking with men who are so ingrained in this way of thinking that other men are called to ‘amplify’ the voice of women, to support them publically, to endorse their feelings, to challenge the viewpoint of others, but not to go so far as to advocate for them, because in speaking on behalf of women in this context we are confirming what these men already believe, that women should not have a voice of their own.
c) Participation – The ultimate aim of the egalitarian is to see men and women participating equally in life, be that in the context of the world, work, or church. The way we participate is important. This is much more than identifying a ‘token woman’ to be involved in leadership conversations or to preach or to be involved in the children’s work. It is also not about positive discrimination. It is about a journey to full and equal participation that starts with advocacy and progresses through empowerment to participation. This is a model that I am aware of through my youth work and what is interesting is that to the current generations of young people equality is not a question, it is an expectation. In our youth work we have conversations, hold activities and develop projects that are open to all young people regardless of their gender. It is this, I believe attainable, goal that we should be working towards.
So what do you think? How easy is it for a man to support environments or cultures of gender justice? What would you add to the list of tools? Are there suggestions that you disagree with? Let’s keep the conversation going…
Dan Crouch is youth worker in the parish of Keynsham, an MA student with CYM and a trustee of Sophia Network.