the way toward something new

8 ways men can advocate for women’s equality.

kathyescobar church stuff, dreams, equality, friendship, incarnational, leadership, the refuge 15 Comments

Yesterday I had the privilege of sharing on a panel alongside 4 other female pastors & leaders in a room filled with about 25 male pastors & leaders in Denver. Most everyone had evangelical roots, and while some pastored churches others were leading nonprofits and various ministries in town.

There was only one purpose: to listen to what it was like to be a woman in ministry. 

We had told our stories several months before in a similar forum, but last time the number of women listening far outweighed the number of men. This time around, it was specifically for men and some dear friends worked extra hard to invite men to be part.

I admit, I was a little edgy on the way there. It is so vulnerable to share our real stories, not knowing what the consequences might be. Even though I’ve been an outspoken advocate for women’s equality for many years, when the conversations are in a more intimate but also professional setting, there’s more at risk.

The thing that kept me going was remembering change won’t happen unless we are willing to risk, to rock boats, to ruffle feathers, to disturb the status quo. Yeah, Well behaved women won’t change the church.

And it always seems like the way toward something new together comes from a weird combination of humility & openness & discomfort & vulnerability for everyone involved.

While the agenda wasn’t beyond listening, it was clear there was a desire for a lot of the men attending to learn how to become better advocates for women’s equality.

What does that tangibly look like? What helps heal the divide between men and women in the church? How can men better participate in healing the deep grooves of patriarchy?  How can we become equals, true equals?

I’ve written so many posts about equality over the years; sometimes it feels like I’m a broken record. Yet, yesterday I was reminded, yet again, that the path toward change will mean keeping the realities in front of us and working together–both men and women–to create a  better way.

We need each other on this one.

We will need to educate, advocate, agitate (I love these three words together!)

It will require all of us to put our hands and feet and hearts and egos and paychecks on the line to participate in creating a better reflection of the kingdom of God here and now.

It’s so possible. I see it every day in our little Refuge community. It’s truly one of the prettiest things, a glimpse of the kingdom of heaven in such a simple, sometimes-hard-to-describe way.  Men and women living, loving, leading, learning alongside each there as equals.

One of the things I’m most thankful for is the men who have risked a lot as advocates and leaders and friends. When I think of the list below, I think of them because I have seen them do this in all kinds of ways through the years.

Here are 8 ways men can advocate for women’s equality:

1. Listen, listen, and listen some more. Yesterday made that even more clear to me. Stories change everything. It’s so important to listen and not jump to solving and fixing and justifying or rationalizing or a host of other things that prevent true listening for understanding. There’s nothing better than being heard.

2. Cultivate friendship. The road to equality begins with friendship. Healthy redemptive friendships with women change everything. In a lot of circles, there’s great resistance to cross-gender friendships, but to me, it’s one of the most important ingredients for true advocacy and change. We play with our friends. Friends aren’t over or under another. This will take practice but is foundational for true transformation.

3. Speak up. When you see an injustice against women, say something. When you notice that women are missing at the table or in a certain conversation, bring it up. When you see or hear women being sexualized, be bold to call it out.

4. Learn from other leaders who are cultivating equality and integrate their input. What are they learning?  What has the cost been for them?  What have the benefits been? What mistakes have they made along the way?  What are some ideas they might have for your organization, church, or group? There are a lot of people who have been at this for a while and are glad to share their experience and encouragement.

5.   Re-consider the teams you are on.  How balanced are they? Are they all men, or maybe all men with 1 or 2 women? How can you shift things to make room for greater balance?  Building more balanced teams is an important step forward.

6. Keep talking about power. But you can’t just build teams without talking about power, too. Bring conversations about it into the light instead of keeping it underneath the surface. Process it. Honor it.  Re-think itGive it away. Help others discover that it’s not like pie, there’s plenty to go around.

7. Prepare to pay a cost. There’s a cost to equality, there just is. Power never shifts easily, and so you will hear things like “the church is being feminized” or “…but the Bible says…” or “that donor’s not too happy with that decision” or “we’re uncomfortable.” It makes me think of Matthew 5:10 – Blessed are those who are persecuted for doing right, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

8. Lead by example, not words. While it’s great to talk about it,  the truth is “doing it” is the best way to advocate.  Equality is a verb. Share the microphone, invite, submit, share, encourage, advocate, practice.  Help others see men and women leading together as a normal, beautiful, natural part of life together.

This is just a quick list off the top of my head today.

What would you add?

I also want to offer my deep & sincere thanks to all the men in my life who have been such great advocates, not just for me but for so many other women I know, too.

You matter.