Editor’s note: This is a CBE 2021 Writing Contest Top 15 winner. Enjoy!
No one would have said it out loud, but in the white, evangelical, Southern utopia where I grew up, we all knew it was true: men ruled the world. My presidents: always men. My pastors: always men. Most CEOs, elected officials, and anyone I knew who had real power, authority, or influence was, like me, a man. I wanted power, too. I genuinely wanted to make a difference in the world and thought that developing a domineering masculinity was the answer.
Masculinity that Decides Who Women Can Be
American culture taught me that women were sex symbols, subjects for my lust and objects to be taken advantage of, not honored. What I learned from the church wasn’t much different—it just looked more respectable on the surface. Sexism was just as present, objectification just as potent, and the subjugation of women was actually worse because it was cloaked in “godliness.” The Bible was used as a weapon to shoot down any who dared to confront the status quo. “God” ordained women to be men’s servants, body and soul. No one would dare to question “God.” This social structure served us men well, so why would any of us with real power want to change it?
Women were needed, but more as a necessary function than as an equal. They served a vital role: loneliness prevention and sexual release. There was no mention of or potential for genuine intimacy or connection; I didn’t even know that was a real thing. If you wanted sex, companionship, to medicate feelings, and avoid childhood trauma, women were the answer and the solution.
I remember one particular reaction of a well-meaning pastor friend and church colleague. After meeting my powerful, goal-oriented girlfriend (now wife) Christy for the first time, he pulled me aside privately. He sincerely wondered, “But Andrew, don’t you want more of a helpmate? You know, someone who will support your ministry?” He thought she should be more focused on me and my goals and dreams, not her own. I wonder now, why did she need to be small so that I could be big? Are we men in ministry so fragile that we need women to stifle their glorious, God-given true selves so that we can thrive?
Masculinity that Creates Insecurity
The domineering masculinity of American culture and the American church creates a distinct insecurity in men. Never measuring up to the standard creates in us a core sense of shame and fear. I remember loving poetry, theater, and music yet not wanting my guy friends to find out. To keep my social status among my peers, I had to self-police myself to stay inside the confines of domineering masculinity.
Men’s insecurity so bleeds out that we feel we must make others—particularly women—small. Instead of dealing with our core sense of shame and fear, we project it on the women near us to avoid our own inner pain. Our culture’s toxic men’s club is kept firmly in place by insecure men remaining silent in the face of the sexism and discrimination that women face daily.
How Domineering Masculinity Affects Women
In my recent survey of over 2,800 women who have worked in the Protestant church, I learned a lot about how women are living and worshiping within a system that doesn’t honor the fullness of their humanity. Many women said they feel like they are too much. Too many emotions. Too much skin showing in how they dress. Too much anger if, heaven forbid, they get mad at an injustice. Too sensitive if they speak up against an infraction. And if they are too kind or tender, men accuse them of being flirtatious and overly sexual.
When women do break into the men’s club of church leadership positions, they often soon discover that they can’t be too emotional, or men will accuse them of being weak. Yet they can’t be too emotionless, or men will label them with the violent, dismissive term of “bitchy.” Women can’t win. It’s a man’s world, and sadly the church is not much different and at times even worse.
This weighty burden that women bear is not only unfair—it’s evil. And men must be the ones to begin to change these toxic norms. It is vital for those of us with power and privilege (mostly men in leadership positions) to listen and create new systems that uplift women as equals.
How to Shed the Patriarchy and Become an Ally for Women
Men, we have relied for too long on the power of masculinity, stripping the image of God right out of women’s faces. Sin and Satan disempower women, with the unconscious help of many good-hearted men. Here are a few steps we can take to step outside of domineering/insecure masculinity and become secure and kind allies who uplift women and make room for their voices and experiences.
- Seek to serve, not only to be served. Men’s unconscious entitlement has taught us that women should serve us. Instead, let us embrace how Christ calls us to lay down our lives, like Christ did for the church (Eph.5:25), and be ones who serve.
- Learn to be reflective versus reactive. If you are feeling insecure, will you listen to that and tend to that feeling rather than lashing out or becoming defensive? If we want to uplift women, we will need to tend to our inner world and learn to tend to the insecurities within us rather than projecting them outward.
- Seek equity and mutuality over power and control. Letting go of power and control is difficult. I like power. I like control. Yet I have learned that power shared is always better than power over. Seeking out the voices and experiences of those who are different than we are can keep us humble and in a posture of listening rather thinking we have all the answers.
What about you? In what ways are you unaware of your own systematic sexism? Are you advancing oppression that you no longer want to be part of? How will you change your behavior toward the women in your life? In your ministry? We cannot let the shame of realizing how we have mistreated and harmed women prevent us from making healthy changes. Men, we must use our power and privilege to call each other out of our shame and become advocates for women.
Note: This article is an edited excerpt from Andrew’s upcoming book on women’s experience in the church. Learn more on his website at andrewjbauman.com and ChristianCC.org for offerings.
Photo by Elijah Hiett on Unsplash.
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