It is essential that we find out what women think and what their experience has been. We also need to look into the detail of how men and women relate to each other.
One Princeton research team set out to measure how much less women talk. Male and female volunteers were put to work solving a budget challenge. The study found that in some cases women, when in the minority, spoke 75% less than men did. But it’s not just speaking.
According to this research in The Economist, “Men are disproportionately more likely to ask the first question at a seminar. If a man has asked the first question – men are then more than twice as likely to ask a question afterwards. But when a woman asks the first question, men and women both ask around 50% of questions afterwards”. This article highlights the massive inconsistency in men and women asking questions in seminar groups.
This intrigues me. I want to find out if these statistics are present today. I also want to see how this impacts women around me. I particularly want to focus on the church and what can be done to help both men and women flourish.
Katty Kay, author of The Confidence Code writes, “Do we (women) believe our words are less valuable, but we don’t have the nerve to say them? A man in a room with mostly women talks just as much as he always does. When men are in the majority women speak 75% less”.
So, to start my research I posed an open question on my Facebook feed. Over 100 comments and many private messages came in. The majority said they identified with what I was asking. They then went into painful detail of their experience. Here are a few examples:
“I’m a physicist and have similar experiences! You learn to adapt in male-dominated environments. The default is that women’s voices and opinions are viewed as less important. Sometimes you have to be ‘difficult’ to be heard”.
“What I find so interesting about this is that the accepted perception is that women speak MORE. I’ve actually wanted to record meetings and count words so I could challenge that stereotype. It is so easily thrown around – to demonstrate that the women present were not talking lots more than the guys in fact”.
“I have seen and experienced this so many times. Women don’t want to be rude and talk over someone else, male or female. Men don’t necessarily strive to be rude but they’re used to being listened to. This has led to many conversations where I or another woman in the conversation stops speaking when interrupted. Even if she perseveres to finish her sentence, but I/she then doesn’t interrupt the person speaking with her”.
Let’s pause for a minute. Think back to your last prayer meeting, Bible study, leaders meeting or Q&A after a talk. Who spoke first, second or third?
I’m committed to seeing both men and women flourish in the local church. If these statistics & anecdotal comments are true, then leaders need to start asking some hard questions.
Back to the initial research from Princeton, the statistics change when a woman goes first. If a woman asks the first question then men and women both ask around 50% of questions afterwards. On one level there is a simple answer. Academic lecturers have taken to directing their first question to a woman. Next time you lead a prayer meeting you could just simply ask a woman to pray first. Or maybe this is about good group dynamics or having a good Chair. All these things will help.
But I’m not sure the answer is that simple.
Firstly, we need recognise there is a problem and understand it within our own context. It is essential that we find out what women think and what their experience has been. We also need to look into the detail of how men and women relate to each other. Secondly, we need a revaluation of how we relate to each other in the church.
This article by Jen Wilkin describes the three female ghosts that haunt the church. These are named: The child, The usurper and The temptress.
She describes more here: “These three ghosts glide into staff meetings where key decisions are made. They hover in classrooms where theology is taught. They linger in prayer rooms where the weakest among us give voice to hurt. They strike fear into the hearts of both men and women, and worse, they breathe fear into the interactions between them. Their every intent is to cripple the ability of men and women to minister to and with one another”.
I asked friends to see if they had experienced any of these ghosts. A wide range of women admitted they had been treated in this way. Here are some comments:
“Yes – I have definitely felt at times like all three. In particular the temptress and usurper”.
“100% usurper. Particularly if I disagree with my vicar in a meeting or throw in completely left field ideas”.
“All 3 at some stage. It’s only with certain males though not all. I find I have to play a fake role for fear of the guys thinking I am any of those three”.
If you’re still unsure what this looks like, then ask women around you what their experience has been. Then read these three check lists written by Jen Wilken.
Secondly, we need to change our culture. We need to stop viewing women in this way and instead treat each other, with absolute purity as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Take a look at how Jesus treated women (The ursurper, The temptress, and The child). Or look at how Paul treated women as co-workers in Christ.
Aimee Byrd says, ‘it is by seeking the brother-and-sister closeness we are privileged to have as Christians. True, godly friendship between the sexes that embraces the family we truly are in Christ serves as the exact witness the watching world needs.’ (Why can’t we be friends)
As women and men proclaim the gospel together, we have an opportunity to show the world to show what restored, sibling relationships look like. Men and women working together adorns the gospel and points to a better story!
In the light of the recent scandals in the evangelical world it’s been said that the church needs Revival. What would a revived church look like in terms of: latent misogyny, the three female ghosts and women’s gifts being ignored?
We’ve got a lot of work to do, but please, can we do it together?
Find out what women think in your church, send them this blog and ask them about their experience.
Have you ever viewed women in your church as a child, usurper or temptress?
Imagine now women in your church as sister in Christ. Ask her what does she need to flourish in the gifts that God has given her. How can you help her do that?
Have you experienced any of the female ghosts? If so, please talk this through with a close friend. Read Romans 16, Luke 10:38-42, Mark 14:3-8, Matthew 9:20-22 How do Jesus and Paul view women?
What change would it make if you viewed men in your church as brothers? Send this blog to your pastor/leader and ask them if you could discuss with them your experience.
Find out what your female friends think about this. Send them this blog and ask them about their experience.
Have you ever viewed women in your church/workplace as a child, usurper or temptress?
Imagine her now in your church/workplace as sister in Christ. Ask her what does she need to flourish in the gifts that God has given her? How can you help her do that?
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