I’ve been reflecting a bit on the conversation about the ‘Year of Opposition’, and the comments in particular that dealt with gender imbalance.

What has really struck me about the above conversation is that all the voices are male. And I wonder whether the language of “thrashing things out” and the imagery of the boxing ring might have something to do with this? I had originally written that “the contributors can’t be held responsible for the lack of female participation” but on reflection, if the debate becomes couched in the language of aggression – which is often evident above – then they can. In my experience, a lot of women will simply walk away from that.


As per the ‘year of opposition thread’ though, this is again pretty culturally blokeish. What I’m not sure about is whether that’s something it’s okay to indulge — perhaps only so if we critiqued the idea as we went. The way many blokes have come to be made has made them want to express their Christianity differently to women, who are a vast majority in churches. If those churches didn’t have a (continuing) history of sexism, we’d be allowed to be open about that. I can’t decide if it’s right to ignore it.

So here’s the question – which I mean very sincerely – if ‘blokes’ are ‘blokeish’ is it wrong to write posts that are ‘blokeish’? If I was a woman writing a blog, would she be expected to reduce her feminimity to make her site a place where men felt more comfortable to comment?

I think the point above (made by Simon Jones of Third Way) about the long history of sexism and patriarchy may be key: in order to bring balance we do need some affirmative action the other way. But… sometimes it just feels ‘wrong’ to be a man. Mark Driscoll I’m not, and I’m not about to go into the woods and bang a drum while wrestling a wart hog, but neither do I want to be ashamed of masculinity.

The question I’m not sure about is why women don’t post much on blogs, or submit so many applications to speak at events, or offer to write articles so much. Is this still part of a history of being oppressed, or is it something else? It seems to matter, because if it’s the latter, then perhaps men and organizations/publications need to feel less guilty about gender imbalance. On the other hand, balance is possible – and very refreshing when it happens. For a long time In Our Time have had extraordinarily balanced panels, and not gone about it at all. It’s subtle, but powerful.



17 responses to “Is it wrong to be a man?”

  1. rodney neill

    Hello Kester,

    When Johnny Baker wrote a review of a book about the emerging church called ‘Church in the Present Tense’ back in March on his blog there was a fair degree of passionate criticism in the comments section from women about the lack of a female contributor (they were 4 men and no women)- it seemed to hit a raw nerve about women feeling marginalized in the emerging church conversation. Certainly the Emerging Church in the States has received a lot of negative press about being dominated by straight white males to the exclusion of other voices. I offer this as only very indirect ancedotal evidence – I think you would need the opinions of a range of women involved in the EC conversation to provide any sort of answer to your question.

    My reactions to EC discussions to be honest can be a bit like a partisan football supporter rooting for ‘my side’ against the other in an competitive senario……I wonder if this type of reaction which can appear in ‘blokeish’ conversations is a turn off for women.

    a few ramblings


  2. Quite a lot of Christian organisations I’ve been in seem to make only a token effort to get a woman speaker. There are often about 6 men and 1 or 2 women. I think part of the answer is that because women don’t get as many opportunities, they are less well known, so they get less opportunities. I do offer to speak, but I sometimes don’t make the final list because a more famous male is available and will pull in the punters! And I think women still have to be much better than the men they ‘replace’ to stand a chance of doing so.

  3. So here’s the question – which I mean very sincerely – if ‘blokes’ are ‘blokeish’ is it wrong to write posts that are ‘blokeish’? If I was a woman writing a blog, would she be expected to reduce her feminimity to make her site a place where men felt more comfortable to comment?

    Is it wrong? No

    This is your space, you should be able to write as you wish (but please within boundaries of respect so no Mark Driscoll imitations).

    Your identity is important and the way you write needs to be natural for you.

    Is it wrong? Yes

    Both the lack of variety in the “stars” involved (and referred to) in the debate and the lack of variety in the people commenting clearly demonstrate that not all feel welcome, encouraged, supported and able to engage. Hence the voices of many are clearly silenced, even if it is not deliberate/intentional. While voices are excluded the credibility and authority of any “conclusions” is reduced.

    You say “The question I’m not sure about is why women don’t post much on blogs, or submit so many applications to speak at events, or offer to write articles so much. Is this still part of a history of being oppressed, or is it something else? It seems to matter, because if it’s the latter, then perhaps men and organizations/publications need to feel less guilty about gender imbalance”

    My personal opinion is that yes this has it’s roots in a history or oppression. But if you think that oppression is over in the “Christian” world, especially on the internet then you are looking at a very small part or hiding your head in the sand. There are so many places (and yes Driscoll is one of them) where women are routinely oppressed by Christians that I am continually impressed by the courage of women who do blog despite the attacks they get (and if you listen to their stories they get huge volume of criticism and attacks that no male blogger ever gets.

    After all the only comment on your post that you have replied to with a whole defensive post (this one) is one written by a woman pointing out that the language excludes her. I wonder how she will feel reading this post? I wonder how the women who did not feel able to respond the first time will feel now.

    Make your choice

    I suggest there is a choice.

    Option 1: Use the “masculine” language of aggression and imagery such as boxing so that you feel you are expressing who you are. However, recognise that this will exclude significant numbers of people from the discussion. One consequence will be an appearance of an unholy alliance between the EC and the Male Headship touting “Evangelicals”. But that is ok, this is your place and your choice.

    Option 2: Change the language and imagery so that while it may not be as powerful for you it gives others more freedom to engage. Seek out the voices that are missing and invite them to respond. Find the blogs by women and link to them as much as you link to the big stars. If “In our time” is a model then follow it (never listened to it myself so don’t know what it ‘s model is). In a sense adapt the advice of Paul in Romans 14 particularly verse 13.

    And finally (at last) the word radical seems to be used in two different ways. One is about deconstruction “Look how radical I am in rejecting old things and doing/thinking new”. The other is about self-giving “I want to be a radical disciple of Jesus who gave himself for us all”. I know I find the 2nd more attractive and I have never seen the 2nd in a boxing ring.

  4. Thanks for the comments. In terms of your options Dave, I don’t actually think that my imagery is particularly aggressive. The boxing metaphor was a bit of a joke in the comments, and I did tweak my use of the word ‘aggressive’ in the original post. I’m not into the ‘Headship’ thing at all, but do feel that there is a danger of things going too far the other way.

    Interestingly, the Turkish Football Association are considering banning all men over 12 from games – just women and children able to watch – because of crowd violence/aggression.

  5. “I don’t actually think that my imagery is particularly aggressive.”

    It may not seem particularly aggressive. But we have clear evidence that some people perceive it as agressive. What value do we give them and their views if we simply say you are wrong and dismiss their views and their lack of participation?

    “I’m not into the ‘Headship’ thing at all, but do feel that there is a danger of things going too far the other way.”

    I have posted about this in the past. This is the slippery slope argument and I think it only works in one direction. There is a hateful slippery slope of inequality of which Male Headship is one part. When you step onto the slope of inequality it is incredibly slippery and no brakes.

    However, the opposite is not true. There is no slippery slope of equality. You cannot treat people too equally. There is no terrible place to end up if you start valuing others as equals and including them as equals. No scary images, no scary stories of people rising up out of the terror of being valued as equals and murdering you in your bed. There is no such thing as dangerous extremist equality, the very idea makes no sense. (of course you have to be aware of the slur that equality means being identical but that is weak attack rather than a weakness or danger).

  6. Hi Kester. As the author of the original comment, I feel under a certain obligation not to cut-and-run from this debate. I fully support you in asking the questions you subsequently pose because I think they are very important to the future of debate within the body of Christ, and have sympathies for the predicament you describe.
    Time is very short for me this morning and spare brain space minimal, so I’d like to address the question of “why women don’t post much on blogs” from a purely personal perspective. I am a woman (!) but of course I’m not claiming to be representative and, indeed, I think many of the factors below are not gender specific. Furthermore I would like to point out that I’m not making value judgements below, nor holding “men” responsible – this is just an attempt to explain where I’m coming from in the hope that it may be illuminating:
    1. It’s really important to me that people understand where I’m coming from. When, in a phone call, I can’t use body language to promote understanding, I feel massively disadvantaged. When, on blogs, I can’t use my tone of voice either, that disadvantage is magnified one hundredfold. And furthermore, I’m lacking all the cues I usually rely on so much to help me understand where you’re coming from – the way you’re standing, the look in your eye…..
    2. All this makes contributing to blogs completely exhausting if it matters to you to be understood. Case in point is the preamble to this list – so much explaining – which takes me to point 3
    3. Time is short. I’m aware of the hugely public nature of this space. I feel a deep anxiety about expressing myself in it without weighing every word carefully. I simply cannot dash things off (though this morning, I’m having to)
    4. If somebody puts an opinion to me, my instinctive mode of action is to begin by seeking common ground and affirming it. I then build on this initial affirmation by offering my own alternative points of view (NB “offering” rather than “stating” – and keep on remembering, I’m not making value judgements here!!). You could take the way I’ve begun this comment as an example, and it certainly wasn’t consciously designed to be one. I suppose I do this because that’s the way I want to be engaged with. But most blog discourse seems to proceed by way of identifying points of disagreement and then maximising them. It’s easy to miss the joke of a boxing ring analogy when a boxing ring is the last thing you want to enter
    5. Much is made of the way that discourse on the internet is disinhibited (is that a word? no time to check) by the fact that participants are disembodied. I am all too aware that I am engaging with real people who I may hurt and may hurt me. And all this in full public view! That’s nearly always enough to make me press delete rather than “submit comment”

  7. rodney neill

    Hello all,

    Blog comments are a very imperfect medium of communication at the best of times as often it seems that people talk past each other and do not really engage (back to my supporters at football match analogy). In contrast to Rachel I can tend to go into rant mode in comments with a combative edge and then wish I never sent the comment in the first place when I reflect on it.

    Can men indulge in a kind of pissing contest to see who can come out on top sometimes in blog comments and discussions? Not certain

    a few more ramblings


  8. I resonate with the strapline used for the One World Action list ‘unseen, powerful women’ found on Sophia Network blog. Their 6 point definition is worth some consideration. Women, quietly getting things done.


  9. I’ve been thinking a lot about this since reading your blog post a few days ago and here are a few thoughts. It’s not wrong to be a man or ‘blokeish’ if that’s what you are. I think we all benefit from being enabled to see a different perspective from our own so it’s worth regularly asking if the way we present ourselves and our ideas excludes others – but I don’t think you should feel you have to be inauthentic in order to appeal to a stereotype, or an imaginary reader who might be put off.

    I really dislike universal statements about what men are like and what women are like because they are never true (how’s that for a universal statement :-)!) I think generalisations can tell us some things but for every woman who is put off by a boxing ring analogy, there is a woman who will be spurred to contribute – they just obviously haven’t found your blog yet. I think most of what we attribute to masculinity and femininity is culturally conditioned, and it can be profoundly unhelpful. In May I did a three day cycle trip in Scotland which I absolutely loved – the physical challenge, being outdoors, persevering when I wanted to give up; I was the only woman cyclist in a group of 18 but actually gender seemed irrelevant and I don’t think there were any concessions for me because I was female (I hope not anyway). It saddens me if that kind of activity gets labelled as ‘blokeish’, as if it’s natural for men and somehow alien for women, that I was weird for wanting to be part of it. There’s a need to recognise the diversity of men and the diversity of women – we don’t fit neat boxes nor should we feel constrained to behave in a certain way because that’s what’s expected of someone of our sex.

    I rarely contribute to blog discussions because I feel I don’t have much time, and I’m frustrated by the limitations of that form of communication. Looking at the conversation that sparked this post, I don’t feel I have anything to contribute because of the intellectual nature of the debate and the credentials of those taking part – is that a gender thing? I don’t know.

    I do think that as a woman I need to toughen up and become more resilient in this kind of context, to not worry so much about what people think and about keeping people happy, to not fear disagreement and conflict and to have confidence that my opinion is worth hearing – is that a gender thing? Would be interested to know what other people think

  10. Thanks Jen, really glad you’ve taken the time to comment.

    I too think people need to be a bit more resilient, but that can be tough if there has been a long history of being put down, and told your views are not acceptable in public. My honest question is, when does the point come where we need to move beyond that and actually stop refering back to it? I honestly don’t know when that point is, but it surely needs to come at some point?

  11. Good question – this is an interesting perspective from a woman in the US: http://tribalchurch.org/?p=2120

  12. rodney neill

    I have read the very informative and interesting article Jenny refers to plus the comments – it appears that many womens commonplace and enduring experience of being involved in the post-evangelical movement is a feeling of gender exclusion and marginalisation….we cannot deny, ignore or dismiss this reality as it is a sad reproach for the EC movement as a whole with our emphasis on Gods Reign as one of radical egalitarianism.

  13. rodney neill

    We’re not welcome at every table. Nobody’s a blatant sexist (well, almost nobody…), so we have to look for cues. When a PEW sees the leadership of an organization or the splashy landing page for a conference, and we notice that the gender ratio is 14 to 1, it causes panic. We think, I thought this movement was different! I thought I was welcome here!
    This is a selection of points from this blog to back up my previous comment.

    Forgive me, but there’s no delicate way of saying this. I’ve spoken at conferences where I have as many credentials as the guy standing next to me. Sometimes more. I’ve gotten paid fifteen times less than he does. You know what makes things more awkward? The conference leaders congratulate themselves for flattening leadership, overturning hierarchies, or unbinding the church. The guy next to me is known for his hard-core social justice work. I’m here to tell you… no one’s overturning hierarchies at a conference where a woman gets seven cents to a man’s dollar.

    .” Sometimes on Twitter or blogs, a person might point out an appalling gender ratio. The PEWs who bring it up get the smack-down. I’ve been the recipient of coordinated pummeling twice by organizations who care about gender issues. I don’t understand why they did it, other than defensiveness. Ironically both boot parties were orchestrated behind the scenes by other women. If you care, please stop.

  14. rodney neill

    One last quote from a women about her experience from johnny Baker blog…..sorry for number of posts and I will now shut up

    Do the math and it’s clear that the US tea party has more women on the national stage than do progressive evangelicals/emergents. For all this talk of inclusivity, the leadership in even the most progressive of these circles still remains almost exclusively white, male and straight. Yes, a few speakers and workshop leaders at some conferences may be female or a person of color and some church plants do attract hipster queers but do the math and it’s clear the men own the chessboard – they control the game in terms of who gets published and put on center stage.

  15. Thanks Rodney and Jenny – this is important stuff. I’m also interested in the comment in the article above:

    I’ve been hosting a podcast for a couple of years, and I regularly receive emails from men who ask to be on the show. I rarely get them from women. Women may be less willing or less able to self-promote. We’re harder to find. But we’re here. We’re writing, speaking, and preaching.

    This seems to be the double-whammy. It’s just way too easy for men to continue quietly discriminating because women are not self-promoting. And we need to work this out… but work it out without women having to prove themselves ‘manly’ if that makes sense.

  16. Patriachy skews the world in favour of traditonal masculinity. Until the values of patriachy, like power, privilage and postion are addressed then it will be very difficult to move forward. I was talking to my wife yesterday who works in a hospital and she was telling me how a female consultant has become very ‘spiky’ which is a result of having to constantly be on her guard against the underhand sexist assaults on her from here colleagues and juniors. I work in the therapy world and it is clear at the moment that certain cognitive/ rational/ thinking types of therapy are beeen promoted over and against the more so called ‘feminine’ softer ways of working with people. I think it is the same in theology where it is mainly men who write theology, have the power, position and privilage in church settings. Until this is seriouly addressed – I can’t see much changing.

  17. From the Sophia network, I note that Jenny and Vicky Beeching will be part of a panel debating whether the online world is a male one at the Christian New Media Conference on 15th October. Sorry I won’t be able to be there, though a colleague will. A number of the women I’ve spoken to about this in the last week have mentioned the time-consuming nature of participating in online debate and their impatience with it as a form of communication, particularly because of the lack of cues they normally rely on heavily from body or voice. So a face-to-face debate will be a good way of continuing some of the thinking above.