creating me [using words]

The Scariest Thing I Have Ever Written

I write this blog with fear and trepidation, not because I am afraid of coming out as unreservedly feminist (honestly, that much should have been obvious already), but because it is nerve-wracking to dare to offer a critique of a professor whom I very much respect, a man with undoubtedly more knowledge and expertise than I.

So let us be clear from the outset: I am not attacking his character, I am not calling into question his motives, and in fact, I nearly always agree with his theology. The singular issue at stake is that in the midst of an otherwise thoughtful reflection, I noted the unfortunate choice of some careless words. I think that carelessness matters and should be amended. (His review of Rachel Held Evans book concludes with sweeping generalizations concerning the feminist movement, and the generalizations continue in the comment section.)

For example, Dr Olson wrote in one of his responses, “If you’re caught in a patriarchal church culture, leave it. Find one that isn’t (patriarchal),” and later said he doubts you could find a hint of patriarchy in his church. I mean no offense, but this is just plain silly, like a white person declaring we have successfully eradicated racism, or insinuating that minorities should quit complaining and just find a safe community where racism isn’t as pervasive. No one can guarantee there isn’t a “hint” of racism left in their church. Likewise patriarchy is everywhere, but you might not be aware of it if you are a man, seeing as how patriarchy exists to keep you comfortable. Telling women to “leave” the patriarchal culture in which they are trapped would be to tell most women to leave their marriages, and I am not just talking about abusive, unhealthy marriages. Telling women to leave patriarchal culture would be to encourage them to leave the Church altogether. Feminists are those brave souls who face patriarchy rather than retreat from it.

My very own congregation whom I dearly, dearly love and where I, a female, serve as pastor, is still softly and subtly patriarchal. Not on purpose, not because anyone there is mean or power-hungry, but because patriarchy is ingrained in our psyche. Patriarchy is something I live with on a daily basis even though my church is progressive and egalitarian, even though I have “made it” successfully as a female pastor in a man’s world. Patriarchy is something I confront on a daily basis; most people are so enmeshed in it they don’t even know it is still draining their lifeblood away. Most egalitarians I know are still uncovering the patriarchal residue within themselves. It is a lifelong process, and why shouldn’t it be after centuries and centuries and generations and generations of repressive habits? So far, it has taken my husband and I approximately 6 years of being theoretical egalitarians before we really began to shed in practice and in attitude the most toxic elements of patriarchy. I suspect we have further to go, and let me be clear this has been a joint and entirely voluntary journey, in which we have held hands, and the further we travel, the lighter and happier and closer we have become.

There is simply no reason why educated people should remain in denial that feminism is diverse, just like Christianity, just like the Baptist tradition. I certainly do not agree with every feminist author or leader. I am not that simple-minded, and it is a little insulting that anyone would assume that I am. There is a wide-range of people (both women and men) who agree wholeheartedly with the movement of feminism and not one of us embraces every single expression of it.

Let me just tell you a little bit about what it is like to be a woman in a patriarchal world. As a woman in seminary, you have to be the best. No one would admit that, but it is the unspoken requirement and I guarantee you the women know exactly what I am talking about. As a woman, I have to master the perfect blend of masculine assertiveness and feminine charm. If I am too assertive, I will considered a bitch. If I am not assertive enough I will be labeled “too timid” and therefore not quite mature enough for ministry yet. (Thank God I have male mentors to show me the way.) When, as a woman, I try to talk about the unique difficulty of finding my authentic voice as a female, as a preacher, a man always pipes up to gently remind me that men struggle to find their voice too. It is a little presumptuous of them—these men who have been largely affirmed since the first day they walked the aisle with a Call—but I just smile and nod, smile and nod, smile and nod because I know they didn’t mean to minimize our struggle. When I meet older progressive men who learn I am a pastor, they treat me like their granddaughter at her first ballet recital. They have never met me before, but they practically hand me a bouquet full of their pride. And while I truly appreciate the sentiment, I merely smile and nod, smile and nod, smile and nod. Yes, I am sweet with a voice to match, yes I certainly weigh the same in pounds as your twelve-year-old granddaughter, and yes, in many ways I am innocent and perhaps even cute. But you, sir, are innocent in ways I am not, being a man of privilege. I am an easy person to talk over—my loud voice is quieter than your inside voice. I am an easy person to overlook—I get mistaken for a middle-school student on a regular basis (I am, in fact, 27). But I am smart. And I work hard. And I am passionate, and I am sincere, and I take my work seriously, and I am a damn good preacher. (There, I said it.) I have lost family and friends by following this call to ministry; I am a heretic to folks just for preaching the Gospel. I have gotten passed up for opportunities I was more than qualified for. I admit, I sometimes get attention now and again for my young success—I’m the tiniest bit of a “star” in certain small circles, the “token” female if you will, but I sure did not get into ministry for the strange popularity of it. I became a minister to do the work and preach, and that’s what I was repeatedly shut out from doing until I worked my ass off in pursuit of the Call that pursued me first.

One final note. My husband is one of the most pure-hearted feminists I know (granted I am biased). He would tell you that he never would have become a feminist if it weren’t for knowing me. But he would also tell you that with or without me, he’s never going back. I did not exert feminism like a dogma over his head to emasculate him. I simply am a feminist, and that moved him, inspired him, transformed him. If you’ve met him, he’s not what anyone would call girly. But he’s not afraid of his feminine traits either, and as such, he is a more integrated, more balanced, more healthy individual. He wasn’t emasculated by my feminism; he was set free.

Can we all please be more careful with our words, I beg you?

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14 thoughts on “The Scariest Thing I Have Ever Written

  1. For such a time as this…
    You are a much needed voice for your sisters; you quietly and resolutely pull apart marginalization thread by thread.
    Thank you for being bold and brave and willing to speak and okay with making mistakes and attempting to learn and loving yourself and being proud and being humble and interceding for those who have no agency.
    Brave words to match a passionate spirit.
    And I love you all the more

  2. Fantastic, nuanced thoughts. Dianna E. Anderson pointed me this direction, and I’m glad I stopped by.

    • THANK YOU for the encouragement. I am a pretty quiet person, so I’ve been quaking in my boots a little since writing this yesterday–to make this much honest feeling public. Thank you for reading.

  3. Yes! Thank you for saying this Kyndall. I love Dr. Olson too, but calling out oppression in all its most subtle forms is what we need to move forward and we must believe that there is room to move forward. I struggle with this in our multicultural congregation particularly as a white male, living with privilege but moving toward something more kin-dom like. Keep it up and take heart! your words ring true and you are on the right path.

  4. m.j. gallop on said:

    As a gay Christian male, I concur totally with your thoughts concerning the suggestion that the oppressed should just take up and leave. While there are certainly always some better places for one who is discriminated against to be–places that are at least tolerant and safe, where one can thrive–it is indeed very often as if we are being asked to completely give up or rip out of part of us that goes even deeper into our soul than the discrimination we face. Im not sure straight, white males are ever asked to make such a sacrifice.

  5. John I. on said:

    I appreciate your respect towards Olson. I think he deserves kudos for raising the issue and for being pro-women. I think it must be also recognized that both his initial post and his reply comments are made in a blog, not a book or journal article, and the brevity of a blog does not lend itself to nuances.

    No person or set of people is completely free from either the personal or structural effects of sin on relationships and power. No one will ever be until Christ returns. Hence we need to identify victories where they occur, continue to affirm right ways of relating to women (by both men and women), and continue to work on restoring God’s intentions for us and this world while we wait for Christ.

    Keep up your blogging. It’s quite interesting.

    • John, I do greatly respect Dr. Olson, and I agree with you. My hope is that the exchange of dialogue–even when passionate–can remain respectful and help us all grow. It is a fine line to walk: raw honesty tempered by a dogged respect for persons, and I can only hope to walk this line with grace, gently forgiving and correcting myself when needed, but choosing boldness over fear at every turn. Thank you.

  6. “… and I am a damn good preacher.” My thoughts exactly. I am surprised you said it first ;)

  7. Pingback: When I Get Feisty « kyndallrae

  8. This was an important piece for me to read, Kyndall, and it is a piece that resonates with much that I hear from Tina as well. (I have shared this with her on her Facebook page: soul sister to soul sister.) As a professed feminist of some 40+ years standing, I find myself more and more being confronted by my own blindness: nowhere was this better confirmed than with your statement, “Likewise patriarchy is everywhere, but you might not be aware of it if you are a man, seeing as how patriarchy exists to keep you comfortable.”

    I’ve been long capable of pointing out the rampant patriarchy “out there,” but only recently have been increasingly seeing my own comeuppance, as I sit in the “comfort” of “pointing out,” while lying in my own comfy patriarchal hammock. And, Lord, have I more recently been a gently reminding piper-upper (the gentle remindingness is perhaps the most diabolically patriarchal of all) of “our own struggles” to find our voices, too.

    Part of this, I’m sure, has been reinforced of late by my (mis)reading all of Charlotte Brontë’s fiction, a complete body of work that echoes your own themes here. Her characters dig deep, and suffer deeply, in pursuit of their self-knowledge, their purpose, and the manifestation of their dreams. That resonates deeply with me, as a man who feels on some deep level that I, too, struggle to dig down within heartache and disappointment to realize my as yet unclarified dreams. So, as I read Brontë, I have felt as if she were mapping out all our struggles, both for men and women, and that our “commonness” of experience was somehow important to apprehend. But, my identification with Brontë’s heroines is misplaced and misguided. She maps the reality of both men and women who yearn and ache and struggle, but we are coming from different directions on the map.

    Men and women are indeed both trapped by patriarchy, but differently trapped. Jane is invisible in her world (how interesting that she comes to be most fully seen by Rochester once he is blind). Rochester is very visible in his world, and though he does indeed suffer and struggle, he has also been made “comfortable” by the patriarchy that exists to make him so. Conflating struggles is, as you rightly point out, an egregious, and entirely patriarchal, error.

    • Jane Eyre is one of my most favorite novels.

      Patriarchy is subtle, hard to untangle, and difficult to define, often having a felt-presence though not always an overt one. I sometimes wonder about this piece I wrote, seeing as how I wrote it in a fit of passion, not with any detachment or purposeful scholarship or even editing, and yet, perhaps that is how we get at patriarchy, exposing our raw feelings? Thanks for joining the long and arduous untangling.

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creating me [using words]

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creating me [using words]


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