This post was swirling around in my head last fall and on the day that my son died I had just put the finishing touches on it and was getting ready to hit “publish.” Then my doorbell rang and the police came to share the worst possible news a parent can ever receive, and we’re crawling our way through each day.
Obviously, it’s been the furthest thing from my mind over the 4+ months, but this past week I realized it was International Women’s Day on Sunday March 8th, and I thought about looking at it again and maybe posting it. Then, Super Tuesday happened and watching patriarchy do its thing so blatantly re-surfaced it even more; Elizabeth Warren dropping out of the race yesterday sealed the deal, and I pulled it up this morning. Like so many others, I feel sick about the pervasive patriarchy problem. It’s exhausting. It’s insidious. It’s worse than we know. Change won’t drop out of the sky; weaved throughout every part of Practicing, change starts with us. And oh, do we have a helluva lot of work to do on this one.
In the book of Acts a blinded Saul has a conversion experience where “something like scales fell off his eyes” and he’s never the same again. My awakening to the realities of patriarchy and our tilted-against-women systems in the churches I was part for years felt a little like that. Once the scales began to fell off my eyes 14+ years ago, I was forever changed.
I couldn’t un-see it.
As time goes on, the ugly more-and-more-apparent ravages of patriarchy continue to come into greater focus.
With this seeing comes not only greater anger and pain, but also a desire to bring it into others’ focus as well.
We have a pervasive patriarchy problem not just in Christianity but in the world.
It’s cemented into our systems, cultures, groups, families and lives in ways we notice and ways we don’t.
It’s always present but often it’s like an iceberg. We see the tip peeking out—the extra sharp and obvious stuff—and we think that’s all it is when underneath lurks a massive force that will take generations to break up.
Sure, we’re making some progress. I’ve been pastoring full-time for 16 years and have seen a lot of changes since I started. Women and LGBTQ+ folks sit at more tables than ever before. #metoo and #churchtoo have raised awareness. Social media movements and strong female political candidates and activists have helped move the needle, no doubt.
We’ve come a long way.
But we’ve got much longer to go.
Power still rests fully and squarely on males in most every culture and system—especially in the places of direction and decision-making.
Women still make far less money than men for equal work.
Most systems are continually tilted against women advancing past a certain point, with faith-based ones by far worse.
Women aren’t actually equal even though people keep saying we are.
Protections for everyone who’s not a white straight male still remain tenuous.
Patriarchy is much more than irritating comments and subtle exclusion.
It’s about a deep and insidious problem of male power and privilege and unawareness of how it plays out each and every day for women and non-binary folks across age, race, industry, education, theology, and just-about-anything.
The Donald Trump travesty and his administration has illuminated patriarchy’s (and white supremacy’s) ravages even more clearly. In church circles, John MacArthur’s Beth Moore comments (and the good old boys club laughing along with him, followed by her “let’s just move on” response) is a recent painful example that has stirred up a lot of interesting conversations. And Elizabeth Warren–the most competent candidate and the kind of leader I believe we need–passed over so blatantly illuminates it even more.
As a married, straight, resourced, master’s-degree-educated white woman co-pastoring an egalitarian Christian community and mission center, I know I have it better than many.
But don’t think for a moment that I don’t bump against the patriarchy all the time when I intersect with life beyond my little community. The stories range from comical to downright disgusting.
Patriarchy is glaring in almost every direction.
Experienced women losing great jobs to men they can run circles around as leaders.
Bright young women being squeezed out of jobs for being “too much.”
Countless male-lead initiatives consistently being fully funded and resourced by donors and supporters while talented gifted women and non-binary friends pay and crawl our way toward our dreams.
Progressive male pastors and leaders with big hearts and huge and blind spots to the insidiousness of patriarchal power.
It’s disheartening, painful, and flat-out wrong.
14 years ago, when I was free-falling out of mega-church I pounded out some of my pain by running while listening to the Dixie Chicks “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice” on repeat.
It helped (and I don’t even like country music).
I’m not ready to make nice.
Those words ring in my ear all the time. Yes, “moving on” can be a response that will help refocus a social media drama.
But I also think it can let a lot of people off the hook–and perpetuates patriarchy. It’s made me think how making nice is praised and respected far more than honest and painful examination and illuminating of patriarchy’s ravages.
We don’t have to move on.
We don’t have to find a nice way to say it.
We don’t have to find one good thing about a dirty rotten system.
Yes, we may be accused of being too angry, told we need to build better bridges, go slower, and also possibly be shut out and ignored in favor of less disagreeable women.
This is a core part of the pervasive patriarchy problem.
It’s underneath the surface.
Male-dominated power, money that always flows the same direction, blindness to male (and white and straight and economic) privilege, and a powerful pull toward a false peace.
Yeah, uncovering, calling out, and working to disrupt the pervasive patriarchy problem is painful, uncomfortable.
The patriarchy won’t go down easy.
It’s going to kick and scream and cry foul and call us whiners and ‘those liberal feminists’ and tell us we’re self-centered and impatient and not-nice-enough and Jesus-y-enough and not-all-kinds-of-things-enough and are never satisfied and that we’re not playing the way they want us to play.
A lot of people liked me more when I was nicer.
But if there’s one thing I feel clear on related to following Jesus—being “liked” was never the idea. To me, it was and is about smashing oppressing systems by embodying a different way, seeing with new justice-and-mercy focused eyes, and creating a just and equal future together.
So here’s to scales continually falling off ALL our eyes–not just women’s.
Here’s to being willing to live in these raw, vulnerable places and not try to run back to comfort.
Here’s to supporting any and all ways to empower women to sustain their leadership despite all the obstacles.
Here’s to grieving the reality of women being passed over and pushed aside when their leadership is what our systems desperately need.
Here’s to practicing chipping away at the pervasive patriarchy problem together–boldly, freely, strongly, clearly, and unapologetically in absolutely every way we can.