The Long Road to Overcoming Gender Stigmas – An #Awakenings17 Reflection

Written by

Susan Alloway helped plant a house church network (Redemption Church) in Bristol, PA in 2009. She has a M.A. in English & Creative Writing and works in graphic design, advertising, and communications. Susan and her husband, Gary, are the parents of two wild toddlers (August, age 3½, and Rosey, age 1½).

As a Woman, I Begrudge Women’s Breakfasts

This year at the Missio Alliance Conference, Awakenings, I went, begrudgingly, to the women’s breakfast. I say “begrudgingly” not because I had to get up at 5:30am but because I usually avoid women-only things: women might have come a long way but en masse there’s still a stigma there. And sadly, I felt like the stereotypes that create the stigma were encouraged. By the time the breakfast had officially started I had heard 2-3 generalizations by women of women as a whole, things like “I hope the time is long enough because we’re women and we like to chat” and “we’re women so we like to multitask.” As an introvert, I’ve never liked to chat. Small talk has always been hard for me, especially with people I just met and don’t trust yet. And as a parent who works from home, I hate having to multitask. It stresses me out and makes me feel like both my paid job and my parenting job are done poorly. So right away I felt ostracized in a group that I’m supposed to naturally fit into, because if all women like to do these things and I don’t, then there must be something wrong with me. But that’s a lie.

Women might have come a long way but en masse there’s still a stigma there. Click To Tweet

There are reasons why God doesn’t make us carbon copies. I might seem more relatable to person A while you might seem more relatable to person B, and so on. And that’s why the body of Christ can be so powerful: together, we show a more accurate and more appealing picture of Christ than we do on our own. But somewhere along the line we all fall into this idea that in order to be Christians, in order to be women (or men), in order to be Christian women (or Christian men), we have to look, act, and sound the same. And this to me is hell, at least in the sense that it is not as it should be. It is not redeemed. It is not the presence of God, because God, being very present in the act of creating, created people who were different and yet good.

Together, we show a more accurate and more appealing picture of Christ than we do on our own. Click To Tweet

From Stereotype to Stigma

Stereotypes are not necessarily a negative thing; they are merely generalizations that have become widely spread. Things like “women like to talk a lot” and “women are emotional” and “men think about sex a lot.” They’re seemingly harmless most of the time, but they can also morph into stigmas that can cripple entire demographics.

Stereotypes can morph into stigmas that cripple entire demographics. Click To Tweet

“Women like to talk a lot” becomes “women talk too much.” “Women are emotional” becomes “women aren’t rational and so they aren’t good leaders.” “Men think about sex a lot” becomes “men think about sex so much that it is unsafe and inappropriate to be friends with one or be mentored by one or know one at all unless you’re married to him.” When we believe these things, we hurt ourselves and we hurt one another. When I believe that women aren’t going to like me or relate to me because I’m quiet, I deny myself social interaction and affirmation and I deny others the chance to hear a new perspective. If I refuse to mentor a male college student in my church because I believe that all men are unsafe to be around, how is that young man ever going to know how to appropriately and safely relate to older women?[1] And if I believe these things, if I spread them around, I am not only in that hell myself but I am subjecting others to it as well.

What do we do about this? Stop believing the stereotypes and stigmas. Which is impossible, I know.

The Practical Way to Subvert Stigmas

So here’s a more practical thought than just “stop it.” Because I’m an introverted woman I’ve had trouble finding role models that look like me in church leadership. There are introverted men (not an easy thing in itself). And there are the women who are loud enough or bold enough to get in. But introverted women in leadership are rare finds (and are probably there because a whole group of people rallied behind them saying “we know your voice is different, and we want to hear it”). While I can’t change all of society and get rid of stereotypes and stigmas for all, I can suggest that more leadership teams look around to find the voices that aren’t often heard. When you find them, do whatever is necessary to push those voices into the light. And know that it might take a lot of pushing.

[1] Cherith Nordling shared a story about this at Missio Alliance’s last conference, Being Truly Human. Her talk was, Reclaiming the Resurrection. You can download it here.

Check out all the Awakenings sessions, or download the whole bundle!