This is one of my spontaneous posts, and it is one of those posts that may well disappear from this blog once I have had a chance to think about it more deeply!
So I was recently discussing with a male someone, and it pretty much turned into an argument, and truth be told, I was fuming, but doing my best to hide it.
He made an assertion, and I flat-out contradicted him. And then he went quiet.
And then thinking on it, it occurred to me that many men are just not accustomed to being contradicted by women. My upbringing has been so different so much so that I pretty much say what I like, how I like, to whomsoever I like. That is, I am usually unfailingly respectful, but if I wanted to flat out contradict someone – anyone, or if I felt it was necessary, then I would. Unfortunately, I often fail to appreciate how much of a big deal that can probably be to many men. I am absolutely sure that for many men of African or Nigerian heritage and other traditional cultures, as they grew up, they never saw their mothers flat-out contradict their fathers even once. In some very traditional cultures, I’m sure some men have never seen any woman publicly contradict any man, and the fact that I do it so freely is probably a sign of my “ultra-liberal Western upbringing” in that I don’t even know how to give a man proper respect! That said, there are probably quite a few men from traditional Western backgrounds who might struggle with this too.
To make matters worse, what I contradicted this man over was a matter of opinion, rather than a factual question where a contradiction might be more easily forgiven. On the matter we were discussing, trust me, I was right, hands down, and 99% of right-thinking people would agree with me, I’m sure. However if I’d been thinking of that dynamic, that many men are simply not used to be so flatly contradicted, then I would definitely have approached the whole conversation in a more diplomatic way. By the way, I’m not suggesting that a man is sexist just because he might not be used to this!
The only men I would automatically put on an elevated position relative to me are my husband and my father – and God, and anyone else in a similar position of authority – to God! (Technically speaking, God does not truly have a gender, but He presents Himself as our Father, rather than our mother, and Jesus was definitely male as a human being…and we refer to God as “He”…so I tend to leave that particular argument well alone!) Other than those men, I would not defer to a man’s opinion or even pretend to defer to a man’s opinion simply because he is male. Even with my own husband, my natural inclination would simply be to tell him he was wrong, if indeed he was wrong. That is a discussion that I will have to have with my future husband but as a person I’m all about candour. I like to say it as it is. Many times the words will already be out of my mouth before I even remember to stop myself. This entire blog, and equally Tosin’s Bible Blog have been years long exercises in the practice of candour, where I have pushed myself to greater and greater heights in just saying it. So after practising this for so many years to me it just does not make sense to unlearn this for the sake of a husband who might be taken aback by this.
I also can’t help thinking that cultures where this “don’t contradict a man” attitude is most prevalent will also happen to be those cultures where women are most subjugated, where (dis)proportionately, behind closed doors, there is the biggest incidence of domestic and sexual violence, and where men are confident that they will be able to get away with these things; where on a societal level there is not the slightest effort made to pay women equally for their labour, relative to men. That is, societies where men are treated as being inherently superior to women, and where consequently many men in practice feel that they can treat women anyhow, and the fact that as a woman you would not publicly contradict a man demonstrates that men are considered to be superior.
The dilemma I want to talk about is this. Apologies if this pulls on a few tired or outdated ideas. Let me say first of all that I KNOW that just because a woman is ambitious in terms of career does not mean that she cannot be submissive. or respectful to her husband, or diplomatic in disagreeing with a man, in public or otherwise. Conversely, just because a woman is unfailingly respectful towards men does not mean that she cannot be ambitious in terms of career – although, to be both candid and pragmatic, in many traditional cultures, the prevailing idea is still that a woman’s rightful place is in the home. Or in many of these cultures, women will be “allowed” to participate in the world of work and the public domain, but with the underlying understanding that this public doman belongs to men, really, and the woman’s true domain remains the household and managing it, bringing up the children, and doing the housework or delegating it to servants.
So this is it. I was putting myself into the mindset of men I have disagreed with or men whom I consider sexist, or who have been publicly denigrated as being sexist – that is, trying to see things from their perspective. (And this is a bit of a digression, but it is something I remembered while writing this post, something I’ve wanted to say for a while: I honestly do not agree that “that Peloton advert” is sexist. I consider myself to be
the biggest feminist in the world hugely feminist and I honestly could not see what was wrong with it. I could not help thinking that many people were jumping on the bandwagon to condemn it just because it was fashionable to jump on the bandwagon to condemn it – but that is a topic for another day!)
I was thinking that these men, as sexist as they are, will still get married! And I was asking myself – so whom would they marry?!
And I was thinking that maybe they would look at women like me and consider that we are not “real” or “proper” women or not genuinely feminine. And then they might look for “real” women to marry – that is, women who know not to contradict men etc. This might be the part of my thinking that might represent generalisations: but I also could not help thinking that many of these men might marry women who are somehow insecure or lacking in confidence, and then call these negative traits by positive sounding names, falsely thinking that these traits equate to “real” womanhood. So if a woman was timid, for instance, they might call that “humility”. What I’m really trying to say is that some traits that might make it look as if a woman is respectful, like an exaggerated deference to everyone, or being unable to look her husband in the eye, might actually be expressions of lack of confidence or low self-esteem. Now I have to make it clear that just because a woman is deferential and respectful does not mean that she is necessarily lacking in self-esteem. And conversely, just because a woman is extremely confident does not mean that she cannot be deferential and respectful and diplomatic. In fact at times even I’ve been known to be respectful and diplomatic – this is what I endeavour to be all the time – not so much deferential though!
(But perhaps some of these “humble” women are exactly the kind of women who would stay put eg when their husbands beat them, “praying” rather than fleeing for their lives – and thereby justifying the reason why their husbands chose them in the first place.)
To finally get to my point, I was thinking to myself, that the traits that might make a woman look adequately “ladylike” to a sexist husband, like not asserting yourself or immediately deferring to other people’s opinions, might be exact…
OK, let’s start again! I was thinking that many supposedly “unfeminine” traits so frowned upon by men who may or may not be sexist, but who can definitely not be described as “feminist”, might be those traits that most coincide with feminine career success. For instance, you know how some women are negatively termed “bolshy”, but might positively be called ambitious, or assertive? So for instance traits such as confidence might mean that you apply for more ambitious, better paid roles. Being able to speak up for yourself might mean that you can argue your case for a pay rise confidently, and insist on of course getting the same pay as your male colleague where you do the same job as him, just as well, and where you are equally qualified with him. (Like Samira Ahmed, who recently won her equal-pay case with the BBC – except of course that she arguably did a far superior job to her male colleague, because her programme pulled in far more viewers). Feeling able to contradict a man, or anyone else, might even lend itself to particular high-flying careers, such as being a barrister/attorney – or an auditor. In some careers, being able to confidently use your voice might literally mean the difference between life and death, for you, your team, or for others. This might be a cliched example but I’m sure I’ve watched so many medical dramas where a male surgeon/doctor is confidently/arrogantly doing something and getting it very wrong, and it is the female doctor that has to be the voice of reason, telling him that he is administering an incorrect dose or using the wrong technique etc.
So this, then is the dilemma – and actually it is a dilemma from a (possibly sexist) man’s point of view. You might want to marry a woman who is sweet and lovely (by your perspective) and docile and mouldable and “humble” (timid), but those traits do not tend to lend themselves so much to career or financial success. It will be the supposedly “bolshy” woman who is career driven and assertive and supposedly “unfeminine” in various other ways, that is more likely to achieve, and retain, the type of success that you as a (possibly sexist) man will want to control. So what to do?! Do you go for the sweet angel, who looks like she would be easy to control, or do you go for the “unfeminine” but powerful woman who has actually achieved something that you would actually want to control? Remember that this is a big part of being a sexist man, that they feel that women and their achievements “should” somehow be theirs to control…
You know what, I have personally been on the receiving end of this apparent dilemma so many times. Most times it has been a dynamic that has played out in church, but there have been times where it has played out in romantic contexts. Invariably I am cast as the overly-assertive woman who refuses to recognise her place. So there will be men and pastors who apparently despise everything that I stand for as a woman, and will bend over backwards to show me how much they despise me, and how inadequate I am as a woman – and yet will still desperately try to keep me in their church, because of everything I bring to the church… which I have been in a position to bring through my confidence and ambition… which is exactly what they apparently despise. So it is as if they try to put me “in my place”, and yet simultaneously try to benefit from the fact that thus far I’ve refused to know my place. In practice this is even more awkward than it sounds. Please believe me that this has happened in at least 3 , or arguably 4, or arguably even 5 churches that I have attended, four of which I attended for a year or longer!
In one romantic situation, after I admittedly turned him down for failing to respect the stupendous amount of effort I was investing towards him, one man married possibly the most naive individual that I have ever met in my life – smart, educated – but naive, as if he deliberately went out to choose someone who was the complete opposite of me. (I daresay that now, a few years later, she is no longer that naive.) And then, despite disrespecting me and my effort, the hubby apparently continued to check me out quite intensively, even years after they got married! There has even been one quasi-romantic situation where I have played the parts of both women – both Miss Demure and Unassuming, and then later Ms Confident and Outspoken (because female confidence is ALWAYS presented as a Ms, never a Miss!)
This is only a dilemma from the man’s side. It presents no dilemma to me whatsoever. Both my husband and my pastor are going to have to be feminists almost to the point of aggressiveness. FACT! Actually no, they do not have to define themselves as feminists. However they are definitely going to have to be fully and sincerely immersed in Christ and genuinely pursuing Him with their whole heart. I don’t want to have any interaction with sexist or quasi-sexist, possibly sexist or arguably sexist men, period, whether as pastors or romantic suitors. Precisely because I am ambitious, there is absolutely nothing that I would want or need from these men, as I confidently reach out to get everything I need direct from the source, God Himself, so I walk away from them or their churches with the same confidence with which I walked in in the first place. And then years after I walked out of their churches, these men/churches are still trying to get me back (into their churches), sending me text messages, sending me emails (at least until GDPR happened – hallelujah!), sending me messages on LinkedIn – at least I’m guessing that that is what that latest message on LinkedIn was about, from one of those pseudo-pastors that I have previously blocked surely at least 3 times on LinkedIn. He apparently just keeps registering new email addresses. Concerning this particular individual, I have consistently ignored him for at least 7 and a half years, yet he apparently cannot bring himself to give up.
So come on men, think about it! So I am apparently the least sincerely feminine woman that you know, and yet I remain the woman that you are all chasing the hardest?! At all this, a woman could get a big head!!! That said, there might well be a lesson in all this for me too, to make sure that my confidence, and my assertiveness are always tempered with humility and grace. You know I’m just saying that because I feel I have to say it, because you probably know as well as I do that I don’t sincerely think that I need to change anything!!!! Joking aside, I sincerely admire women who seem to have struck that balance, that they are clearly go-getters and undeniably successful in their career endeavours, and yet they know how to interact with men and especially their own husbands, diplomatically conveying their points, without making their men feel undermined.