“i just feel like i’m one of the guys” and other subtleties working against equality

blog i'm just one of the guys

last week i read a post on a friend’s facebook page about the emergence christianity gathering in memphis. i wasn’t there so i can’t speak into anything that happened there, but she made an interesting observation that caught my eye.  when addressed with a question about gender inequality in emergence christianity, several of the female speakers responded with “well, i don’t feel unequal, i feel like i’m just one of the guys.”

i know some women who have made it very far in their craft and passion and are sought after as female speakers and leaders in certain circles. i have deep respect for how far they have come and love that their voice is being heard.

but this kind of statement makes me feel really sad because it tells a story that reflects reality for so many–the guys have the power and for the women to play they must learn how to blend into them.

it also reflects that when women have “made it” they sometimes forget there are a lot of others who haven’t.  and really won’t unless there is deep healing in the roots of many of our systems and structures.

i know how to hang with the guys and have said the exact same statement before. i have been on many teams over time where i am the only woman, far before i was involved in christian ministry. when i graduated from college i was an engineer for the phone company as part of a management fast-track (yes, imagine me, the one who never had a math class in college or graduate school trying to design engineering plans for phone cables in new neighborhoods & buildings). i was the only woman on a team of good old phone company boys, and they treated me so well and i did feel part in a lot of ways. but i was kind of like their daughter, not their equal.  later, after i had kids & got more involved as a lay leader at several churches, i intersected all the time with the guys. and as much as they wanted what i had to bring, they were the ones who controlled the table; no women were part of the real inner circle. years later, when i finally made it to senior leadership in a big church and ended up being the only female pastor on a team of men, i learned how to be more comfortable in my own skin with them.

but the reality was that to play, i’d have to adjust to them, pick up on their cues, listen to their jokes, blend into their culture.

yeah, i am more clear than ever that i don’t want to “just feel like one of the guys.”

i want to feel connected fully & freely as people trying to work together, dream together, collaborate together, live together, learn together, love together, as equals and as friends.

i know so many guys are working so hard at creating greater inclusivity when it comes to gender & race & sexuality & a whole bunch of other things. i am grateful, and i know it’s so easy to have white men in a double bind; no matter what they do it’s not good enough.  and i know so many women are doing the best to step up to the plate and can’t be held to every word they share or don’t share.

but part of our responsibility is to never dismiss gender inequality (or any other kind) for others.  even if it’s not an issue for some, it is an incredibly painful and real issue for countless others. being dismissive about it and saying “well, i just don’t feel it” is a way of making it seem like it doesn’t exist.

and it does.

but it’s easier to pretend it doesn’t and that we’ve come further than we really have and play with people who won’t rock the boat too much.

what it often boils down is power continuing to attract the same kind of power with a different twist of a few strong women who know how to be “one of the guys.”

i think our best hope is to be brave enough to create completely new wineskins.

we keep trying to pour new wine into old wineskins and that’s why it all tastes so bad.

instead, we need flatter structures, shared leadership, teams of equals–men & women & black & white & rich & poor & gay & straight & liberal & conservative & married & single & educated & uneducated & extroverts & introverts–around bigger tables, in living rooms & coffee shops (instead of golf courses & seminaries), who are planning events, cultivating communities, and leading initiatives together side-by-side in all kinds of creative ways.

we need to throw away the old template of a bunch of guys with power inviting a select few into their select group to maintain their select culture and start creating a new story together.

a story of innovation, where we don’t rely on the way it’s always been and start making something new.

a story of equality, where we learn how to be together as friends and partners and teammates, not commodities.

a story of healing, where we are actively restoring the brokenness so many have as it relates to being included & valued.

a story of dignity, where we are participating in stepping into the full image of God in us and calling it out in others.

a story of humility, where our goals aren’t centered on money or success in the world’s eyes but on caring for others, relationships, and fanning others freedom into flame.

a story of justice, where we bring a little taste of heaven to earth, here, now.

please, let’s stop saying “we let women lead” and “i just feel like one of the guys” and start living out a new story, together.

it’s time.