First, a word from April.
Chris is the real deal. He doesn’t give himself as much credit as he deserves in this post. Chris is an ally for women and other marginalized people, especially the LGBTQ and homeless community. He’s actively fighting against systemic injustices everyday and intentionally using his privilege on behalf of those who don’t have the same access. He’s got important words for us to to hear.
Oh, and we’re actually from the same area of small-town Illinois. I love how connected we all really are.
I love pizza rolls. Seriously, I could eat them daily. They are best when they are baked in the oven but I’ll even eat the soggy microwaved version. My favorite is three meat and cheese. I swear, when the Bible mentions God dropping Manna from the sky, in my mind, it’s actually pizza rolls. It’s an understatement to say I love pizza rolls.
The problem: so do my kids. They clearly got that taste from me. I have twin girls and these little monsters will wait until I go to bed for the night and eat a whole bag between the two of them. I’ve started hiding them to protect my own stash. It’s become a game of hide-and-seek and if I caught them with my beloved pizza rolls, they would have to deal with a hangry dad who no longer had his favorite snack! Oh, the travesty!
Over the last few years, I’ve come to see power and authority (social and relational) in the same light. Just like my kids and my pizza rolls (see the toxic ownership evident in my thinking), we tend to see power as something to hide and protect. I’m struggling with how I have been taught (conditioned) to protect the power I’ve been given simply because of my gender.
What is Male Privilege?
A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by men in the church beyond the common advantage of women; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities
A special advantage or benefit of men; with reference to divine dispensations, natural advantages, gifts of fortune, genetic endowments, social relations, etc
A privileged position; the possession of an advantage men enjoy over women
As a male, I have other sources of power and privilege; race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ethnic, and national. All of these are inherent to me simply because I exist. This reality does not mean I haven’t suffered in my life, but it does mean it likely hasn’t been because of my gender or race.
At churches we have attended over the last 20+ years, my wife and I have experienced:
Even though my wife and I served together, most people assume I’m the one in charge
People ask my advice about things I have no idea but they assume I must know
Invitations to preach/speak at other churches or attend leadership events are addressed to me
I am offered opportunities to serve that my wife was not even considered for
I can lead and facilitate any groups, programs, or events without anyone questioning whether I should be doing it or not
With increased awareness of this reality comes cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is the state of having inconsistent thoughts, beliefs, or attitudes, especially as relating to behavioral decisions and attitude change. Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. For example, when people smoke (behavior) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition), they are in a state of cognitive dissonance.
In this case, when I make more money than a female colleague for doing the same work (behavior) and I become aware of it (cognitive), I enter a state of dissonance. In order to resolve this cognitive tension, I have to do one of two things: 1) I address the inequality and therefore compromise my privilege, or 2) ignore it and justify the gap by creating a narrative about how she is less deserving and I am more deserving. Remaining in a constant state of dissonance is intolerable for the average person. If I refuse to move towards changing the power dynamics (using my power/privilege to restore justice) then I will likely use my power in a toxic manner to neutralize the conflict.
So, what can I do about male privilege and power once I become aware of it?
Lay It Down. Jesus is our example of laying down power. Everything about Jesus is about laying down power. Jesus tells us in the gospels that the way to abundant living is by giving of one’s self, by dying to one’s self, and by the sacrificing of one’s self. In doing so, Jesus raises others up!
Not Making Power an Idol. I see so much jockeying for power around me. I even get caught up in it. I feel powerful when I’m asked to sit on a Board of a local nonprofit, or when I’m asked for counseling advice from a neighbor having parenting problems with their child. Politicians, almost immediately upon being elected, begin planning on how to be re-elected. I’ve met many Sr. Pastors and CEOs who have overstayed their tenure due to hubris and not wanting to relinquish the power and privilege that comes along with their position. Comedian Dennis Miller once said, “Power is the most sought after, addictive substance in the universe. Power makes crack look like candy comparatively.”
Multiply Joy. When I finally reached a point of sharing my delicious pizza rolls with the twins, I actually experienced a multiplication of joy with them and now have a shared love of pizza rolls that brings us together. I know this example sounds trite, but don’t underestimate the power of shared experiences. Imagine for a moment that we, as men, willingly lay down our privilege and power so that others might flourish. Can you begin to see the world that would grow from this? The alternative is Gilead from The Handmaid’s Tale.
Understand it was Never Ours. If the guy down the street offered to sell you a new SMART TV really cheap, and you buy it only to find out later it had been stolen, could you in good conscience continue to enjoy the perks of this technology? I know it’s awesome: Wi-Fi-connected, all the apps, DVR, Roku, Alexa-enabled, and all the other bells and whistles. It would be hard to give all that up and go back to the “old” set you previously had but that’s exactly what’s happening culturally. We’ve been given power and privilege that wasn’t solely meant to be ours (men). Armed with this awareness, we have a responsibility to partner with the Creator to restore things to how they were meant to be.
Full disclosure: I am not good at doing any of this. My ego wants all the power and attention available. My reflexive reaction is focused on maintaining power, every time. But, some days I get it right.
Some days, I just do the dishes because they need done and not because I’m “helping my wife”.
Some days, I actually ask for consent before hugging one of my three daughters.
Some days, I turn down an opportunity to do something I would really enjoy and instead defer to a female colleague who is equally interested but wasn’t asked.
Sometimes, it means I don’t expect sex just because I’m awake or act entitled when my advances are rejected.
It’s hard to intentionally divest from privilege and power. It’s hard to be vigilant against privilege. But, it is so worth it. When I get out of the way, I get to see the actualization of the full potential women carry within. If I’m honest, I think I’m scared of it, like it threatens my ego and claim on power.
Sexism is always about power. And pride is the root of misused power. In the Beatitudes, Jesus challenges our understanding of power and privilege and offers us a solution—humility and sacrifice. The remedy to Male Privilege is humility. Look at what Paul says in Philippians 2:1–7:
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”
If our narratives about others followed Christ’s example of equality in the Kingdom, the world and culture would be transformed.