One of the risks of initiating an online discussion on a book I hadn’t read was running into issues that are hot buttons in Christian circles. For me, it was a calculated risk because the issues in Sheryl Sandberg’s book are so important and worth discussing openly.
This week’s topic is no exception, although some will need to buckle up, as Sandberg bookends this week’s chapter by weighing in on feminism—a curse word in many Christian circles that, like it or not, more and more young Christian women are embracing.
Author Sarah Styles Bessey provides a bold example in her post, “Reclaiming Feminist”. Sarah’s book on the subject comes out in November: Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women.
I realize feminism is controversial in the American evangelical community, but we should not condemn or avoid a topic simply because it is controversial. Instead, we can take courage and boldly launch into the gender issues raised in this Lean In chapter. So as we launch into Ch 11: Let’s Start Talking About It (one of Sandberg’s longest chapters), don’t be shy about thoughtfully engaging these important issues.
Jesus did not give us a spirit of fear, but of freedom.
Having grown up in a world of firsts for women—Golda Meir in Israel, V.P. nominee Geraldine Ferraro, Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and astronaut Sally Ride—Sandberg entered college assuming the feminists of the 60s and 70s had succeeded in achieving equality and that the days of feminism were over. Sandberg embraced the mindset sociologist Marianne Cooper observed in women students in her 2011 article, “The New F-Word.”
“Even though her students were interested enough in gender equality to take an entire class on the subject, very few ‘felt comfortable using the word “feminism”‘ And even ‘fewer identified themselves as feminists.’ . . . it was as if ‘being called a feminist was to suspect that some foul epithet had been hurled your way.'” (p.142)
This reluctance was due in part to the “negative caricature of a bra-burning, humorless, man-hating feminist.” (p.142)
Yet, in the workplace, Sandberg found that “while gender was not openly acknowledged, it was still lurking below the surface.”
She was blindsided when someone attributed her promotion to her being female vs her merit. Yet defending herself risked sounding like a “strident feminist.” Pointing out the disadvantages women face in the workplace was often perceived as “whining or asking for special treatment.” Then, because she wasn’t “one of the guys,” there was always the pressure to “fit in.” At a company outing—a deep-sea fishing trip—she went so far as to smoke a cigar. (p.143)
Everyone has their a-ha moments. The resulting nausea and cigar odor that lingered afterwards gave Sandberg one of hers.
So instead of keeping her head down and trying to fit in, Sandberg decided to speak out about the gender barriers that still limit women—”to talk about gender without people thinking we were crying for help, asking for special treatment, or about to sue.” (p.145)
She challenges women to speak up with their male colleagues about gender bias.
“Shutting down discussion is self-defeating and impedes progress. We need to talk and listen and debate and refute and instruct and learn and evolve.” (p.149)
Sandberg wraps up by embracing the feminist label, defined as “someone who believes in social, political, and economic equality of the sexes” and warns that “progress turns on our willingness to speak up about the impact gender has on us.” (p.158)
Gender issues are out in the open in both this Lean In series and the series I’m also doing on Spiritual Abuse.
Sandberg challenges us to become full participants in the workplace and to build stronger more collaborative relationships with the men with whom we work. She encourages women to bring their full-selves to the table and argues that it is better for women and for men when we do that.
The spiritual abuse blogs take up the dark side of this engagement, reminding us how badly things can go, how destructive this can be, and striving to create awareness that will prevent abusive, intimidating situations from getting started in the first place.
Gender bias issues Sandberg raises focus more on the cultural personal often subliminal dynamics that inhibit women in the male dominated work place. Of course the male dominated workplace may include abusive behavior (or spiritual abuse in a Christian workplace).
To my mind, gender dynamics in the workplace are a microcosm of the much deeper theological issue of how men and women work together, no matter who is on top (no pun intended).
Ultimately, this is a creation/gospel/kingdom issue. For followers of Jesus, these are the deeper questions. God’s vision in the beginning was for his male and female image bearers to join together in doing his work in the world. The alliance between male and female is a powerful kingdom strategy that the Enemy dismantled in the fall by dividing us from God and from each other. Instead of a Blessed Alliance, it has been the battle of the sexes ever since. Jesus’ gospel restores our broken relationships—with God and with each other—and puts us back on mission.
The stakes are high for how well men and women work together. The potential for God’s kingdom is limitless.
I found it reassuring when Sandberg cited the study at Harvard Business School when by intentionally encouraging collaboration among men, women, and international students they found “overall student satisfaction went up, not just for the female and international students, but for American males as well.” (p.157)
I’m not sure, but has someone at Harvard Business School been reading Half the Church? I’d like to think so!
A frustration I share with many other Christians is that we aren’t leading the charge when it comes to gender issues—that we are not the first to speak up fearlessly against injustices of any sort within our ranks, as well as within our culture and beyond. In a very real sense Sandberg’s chapter is about courage—the courage to be strong and speak truth to power as we encounter it. When we do so, we are not merely speaking for ourselves but for a myriad of others. What may seem like relatively minor struggles, compared to what other women and minorities are enduring, are actually related to their struggles. Speaking up in the workplace can free us to invest ourselves in those larger issues.
Like it or not, we are daughters of those first courageous feminists. The legacy of those Christian suffragettes who stood up for women’s right to vote and battled against slavery belongs to us. Their courage should inspire us all.
It can be hard to speak up and to risk being misunderstood, but our Christian brothers need us to be courageous and will be all the better for it. Besides, courage is contagious. Little ezers will face a better world tomorrow if we talk down fear today and they learn courage from us.
That’s the beauty of the ezer.
So let’s start having those conversations and see how God might work among us.
So What’s Your Take?
It is particularly important in this blog to hear from you. This is an opportunity for us to en-courage one another. So feel free to jump in with your thoughts on these and other questions:
How have you encountered gender issues within the evangelical community? Are we in denial of the presence of gender bias within Christian circles? Why or why not? If you could speak openly to our Christian brothers about gender issues, what would you want them to understand? Why do we avoid these kinds of conversations? How do negative attitudes toward feminism stand in our way? Why do you think feminism is a subject we need to thoughtfully engage or to avoid?
Lean in with your comments!
Here is the complete series on Spiritual Abuse:
- It all started with Lean In: Seek and Speak Your Truth
- Part 1: This Can of Worms Must be Opened!
- Part 2: The Perfect Storm
- Part 3: The Many Faces of Spiritual Abuse
- Part 4: Identifying the Triggers of Spiritual Abuse
- Part 5: Standing Up to Spiritual Abusers
- Part 6: The Underlying Belief System of Spiritual Abuse
- Part 7: The Enablers of Spiritual Abuse … or When Silence isn’t Golden
Dr. Phil Monroe on Spiritual Abuse:
- Spiritual Abuse: What it is and Why it Hurts
- Why Do Some Spiritual Leaders Abuse Power?
- What Factors Support the Use of Spiritual Abuse?
- Four Belief System That Support Spiritual Abuse
- Do You Enable Spiritual Abuse?
- Failures to Act—Why we don’t always blow the whistle on abuse