The first time I experienced misogyny I was in the fifth grade, working on a series of logic puzzles with three boys. Together we comprised the advanced math group in our class. Stumped on one of the problems I asked my teammates if anyone else had gotten it yet. Jim replied, “Of course you can’t do math. You’re a girl.”
Words abandoned me.
I can’t do math? I’m in the same skill group you are, Jim. I can’t do math because I’m a girl? What do my genitals have to do with my ability to manipulate numbers? (Wish I’d had the presence of mind to say these things out loud at the time.)
I thought that was the stupidest, most out-of-order thing anyone had ever said to me. I’d considered Jim a friend—a cohort—until that moment. I assume he meant it as a joke, but even so, it was a demeaning joke and one that damaged our relationship to some degree, as he afforded himself and his gender higher status and respect than me and mine. It forever impaired my ability to fully trust him.
And it tainted my future interactions with males with the underlying question, “Am I being discounted? And is it because I’m female?”
I was reminded of this episode last week, following a Facebook conversation with a friend from a church we used to attend. Charles, I’ll call him, is an evangelical Christian who buys into a number of conspiracy theories I find unreasonable. When I cited several points in opposition to one of his assertions, he replied, “Maria, I say this kindly and very respectfully, you really have no idea what you're talking about.”
I consider it neither kind or respectful to dismiss a person and her argument based on little more than fact that you disagree. And saying so does not make it so.
Why do I link Charles’s disrespect to misogyny? Because of something he said the last time I engaged him in debate. I’d realized that my husband knew more about the subject than I did, so I included him in our email conversation. Charles’s response to my husband? “Hopefully you're not writing because you felt I influenced your wife inappropriately.”
Do some men really believe that women cannot participate in cross-gender dialogue without being inappropriately influenced by their wiser and more powerful male counterparts? (That’s some sarcasm there, in case you didn’t hear it in your head.) And that it is the husband’s responsibility to protect his wife from such potential mental sway? What a conveniently comfortable position from which to dismiss the viewpoints of half the world’s population.
Sadly, that’s not nearly the first time I’ve experienced condescension from a man who claims to respect and value me.
I’ve been increasingly dissatisfied with the too-pervasive male-Christian party line on gender. A pastor I heard this year gave an eloquent sermon on the honor and full equality of women as evidenced biblically by Christ’s esteem and inclusion of women in every aspect of his ministry. Yet that church has no females in its upper level of governance, and when asked why, or queried about the presiding leaders’ stance on the issue, only vague deflections—or the outright lack of any response at all—are ever proffered.
In one unapologetically patriarchal denomination I attended, I sat down with the pastor to discuss women and the church. I was told that Deborah was allowed to be an Old Testament judge because the men God selected ahead of her refused to step up. (If anyone has Scriptural evidence to support that claim, I’d like to hear it.) And he argued that the feminine name Junias, who is listed as one of the apostles, was actually the mis-transcription by an early Bible scribe of a male name. (Again, some scholarly documentation, please.)
The women reading this need no further explanation of what the past year has meant to women in the church, but to those Christian men for whom recent political events seem unrelated to gender, I’ll say simply this: Many of you gave your distrust of and distaste for one candidate greater gravity than the oft-declared, God-attributed mandate to protect and defend your weaker, damsels-in-distress (sarcasm again) sisters, wives, and daughters. You sold us out to a man (and I call him that only with respect to his XY chromosome pair) who brags about sexually assaulting us as a pastime.
You’ll understand if our confidence in your honor, integrity, and guardianship have eroded past belief. Rachel Held Evans put it succinctly: “The Religious Right: where calling a woman ‘pastor’ makes you a heretic, and calling one ‘a nice piece of ass’ makes you president.”
Some may wonder if I’m losing my religion. I’m not. God is still God, and that he is the eternal, omnipotent, and omniscient El Roi, ‘the God Who Sees Me’, I have no doubt. He has not changed, nor will he ever.
A number of the men claiming to emulate him, however, really must examine their attitudes and prejudices toward the other half of the church body if they hope to be anything but obstacles and enemies to women’s right to respect, reputation, and full participation in the life of Christ and his church.
If we disagree on this point, I expect we’ll both have the opportunity to discuss it with Jesus when we meet him.