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Published Date: February 8, 2016

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The Invisible Knapsack of Male Privilege In the Church

This is a list based on Peggy McIntosh’s now famous article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” In her article, McIntosh examines how racial privilege impacts her everyday life, expectations, and experiences. Her article inspired others to create “privilege lists” of their own.

So, in this tradition, I’ve decided to create a list of the daily effects of male privilege in the context of the church and Christian community, or the knapsack (backpack) of male privilege. This list seeks to address gender privilege in the Christian sphere, not in the broader world. Based on my observations as a woman and conversations with men, I have constructed a list of conditions that a man can count on at church.

Disclaimer: Factors such as race, geography, ethnicity, and class all impact how a person experiences privilege or lack of it, but for the purpose of this list, I have attempted to focus exclusively on male privilege in the church.

As a man in the church:

  1. You can be pretty sure that the majority of leaders in your church will look like you.
  2. You can expect to see your gender represented at all levels of leadership in your church.
  3. If you attended seminary, you can be fairly certain that your gender will not negatively impact your academic pursuits or your future job search.
  4. You will have a fairly easy time finding a mentor to advise you about your next steps as an aspiring pastor or church leader.
  5. You can be fairly certain of meeting other Christians who affirm your desire to use your gifts as a leader in the church.
  6. You can expect seminary professors to take your pastoral goals seriously.
  7. You can evaluate your own professional goals with no attention to the limitations of your gender.
  8. You can be pretty sure that the clothes you wear will not be labeled as a “temptation” for the opposite gender.
  9. You will not be expected to endure abuse from a spouse for a season out of submission.
  10. If you are sexually assaulted, you can expect that the attack will not be blamed on your clothing, appearance, or behavior.
  11. You can be fairly certain that, alone with a member of the opposite sex at church, you are not at risk for physical assault.
  12. You can walk to your car in the church parking lot after a night event and be fairly certain of your safety.
  13. More often than not, you can expect unqualified support from your church if you are the victim of a violent crime.
  14. More often than not, you can expect your pastors to use metaphors and tell stories that are relevant to your life.
  15. You can expect that classes, sermons, and conversations about church history will highlight the contributions of your gender.
  16. You can expect to hear sermons that are empowering to your gender.
  17. You can be fairly sure that the pronouns used in a hymn, song, or sermon at your church will be specific or inclusive to your gender.
  18. You can expect that the Bible translation used in your church will use language that is specific or inclusive to your gender.
  19. You can offer opinions on the behavior of the opposite gender and not be seen as controlling or manipulative.
  20. You are not perceived as needing a “covering.”
  21. You do not have a human “head” that you are required to submit to.
  22. You are not expected to remain “silent” in church to whatever degree the leaders in your congregation deem appropriate.
  23. If you want to, you can perform stereotypically feminine tasks for the church and not be accused of violating God’s order. 
  24. You can expect your contributions to the church to be recognized as valuable.
  25. You can expect your perspective to be heard at a church meeting.
  26. You can be pretty sure of having your voice heard in a group in which you are the only member of your gender.
  27. You can speak in public to a powerful male group without feeling like your gender is on trial.
  28. You will have more power/authority than the opposite gender to point out sexism and gender inequality in the church.
  29. You can expect to be seen as the authority figure in your household because of your gender.
  30. You can expect other church members to be interested in your passions and career, beyond your role as a parent.
  31. You can make decisions unilaterally without consulting your spouse.
  32. You do not have to consider the opinions and voice of the opposite gender, in general, when making decisions.
  33. You will not have to worry about being perceived as overly-emotional because of a physical process in your body.
  34. You can lose your temper and not have to worry about how your gender will be perceived because of that mistake.
  35. You can have a family and be a leader or pastor and be fairly sure of no one questioning how you’re balancing those responsibilities.
  36. You can expect that the state of your home will not directly reflect on your abilities as a spouse or parent.
  37. You can be fairly sure that you will not be expected to help out in the kitchen, nursery, or with cleaning at church.
  38. You do not have to consider whether your gender has negatively impacted others’ perception of your competency and capability.
  39. You do not have to be aware of the ways in which sexism impacts the experiences of the opposite gender in your church.
  40. You can be pretty certain that if you should argue with a person of the opposite gender, the majority in your church will take your side.
  41. You most likely do not have to worry about being excluded from various church traditions based on your gender.
  42. Church culture will make it possible for you to ignore the concerns and critiques of the opposite gender.
  43. You can expect to be accepted in a church community regardless of your physical appearance.
  44. You will likely not be accused of being selfish if you promote the interests of your gender.
  45. You do not have to worry that your gender will make you feel invisible, silenced, or worthless in your church.
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