Twice today I've been nudged into the topic of gender equality. I guess that means I need to do some thinking on it. :-) Here I share a well-written exploration of one woman's feelings of her recent unfair experiences. But I didn't want to share this blog post without exploring and sharing my own views on gender equality or feminism.
Here's the blog post, called Gender, Church, and the Art of Alternate Endings, by Dr. Michelle Garred.
And here are my thoughts as I muse on her post:
I grew up as the product of the extreme feminist generation. I never considered my mom a flaming feminist, though she had her views on equality, I'm sure. But it was everywhere. You couldn't be a young woman and ignore that for which women all over the United States were advocating and fighting. Somewhat naively, and somewhat because I was just plain tired of what I believed to be a broken record, I thought that if we just didn't make a big deal of it, if we just treated everyone equally and ignored the issue, it would be a non-issue. I felt the same way about race. Never understanding how anyone could consider themselves better than, or someone else less than, based on color, I determined that I'd make it a non-issue.
It worked for me. I went to college and then worked in a male-dominated field in a male-dominated company quite successfully. I never felt put down or put out, passed by or passed over, except by those few blatent sexists at whom even other men shook their heads. I felt like I was evaluated on the merits of my work and character, and that was fair.
It works so successfully for me, in fact, that I guess I had my own version of blinders. I didn't understand that some women have experienced gender issues as oppressively as some people have experienced racism. Clearly Dr. Michelle Garred in her story felt some of that oppressiveness (mild as it may have been compared to others' experiences).
The writings of Cornell West, challenging to me, taught me that race does matter. And given that gender is another form of diversity, then gender matters too. It does matter where we come from and whether we have female or male anatomy. It contributes to who we are and informs how we think and act. The sum total of our experiences and the culture in which we were raised, as individuals and as a people, matter greatly. I think when President Obama was elected, and I saw the tears of joy in the eyes of our black brothers and sisters everywhere, I finally realized that until that moment, they still felt less-than as a race.
In 1970, the first woman was ordained in the Lutheran Church. Today, we have 65 Bishops in the United States and only 6 of them are women. There are only 15 female CEOs in Fortune 500 companies (ok, maybe 16 in January when IBM crowns its first female CEO). Those numbers don't suggest equality, and yet in under 50 years - a blink in time really - we've come so far.
I admit that without those flaming feminists shouting until they lost their voices; without people like Martin Luther King, Jr rallying for civil rights until his final breath - we wouldn't be nearly where we are today. So, we can't stop having the conversation. Conversation leads to transformation.
Where the red flag in my brain flies is when we jump to conclusions that every difficult conversation, every roadblock or speed-bump along the way, can be blamed on gender discriminiation or racism. Maybe I didn't get that promotion because I WASN'T the best person for the job! Maybe it had nothing to do with my anatomy or ancestry. I've seen too many cases where women are too quick to blame a situation on the fact that she's a woman in a setting dominated by misogynists or at least the goold old boys club.
And so, being a self-awareness-as-core-to-leadership-development junkie, I have to encourage us to look carefully at situations in which we immediately want to jump to gender blame, and consider the possibility that it's the lens through which we view the situation. We need to ask ourselves: am I overly sensitive to gender inequality, such that my view might be clouded? Could there be another reason why this is happening the way it is? What happens when I view this issue from their perspective?
I'm not saying that Dr. Garred didn't experience discrimination or disrespect. She certainly experienced the latter if not the former. But I wouldn't be doing my job as a leadership coach to not ask us all to consider each situation we encounter with a wider lens.
By the same token, we all (men and women alike) need to examine the biases, baggage, experiences that color the lenses through which we enter the other side of the situation. As Dr. Garred so aptly pointed out, we all - women included - have some of the same biases even toward other women. Where do I make assumptions about other women, and other men, that are clouded by my own experiences? I really appreciated Dr. Garred's self-reflection that allowed her to come to her alternate ending. We'd all do well to examine where our baggage gets in the way, so that we might, too, create alternate endings that ultimately change the color of that particular lens.
I believe in equality. I believe that more women Bishops, who are well-qualified, would make this world a finer place - and more female CEOs, who have proven themselves, can only make Corporate America better. Why? Because, just as extraverts and introverts bring different competencies and attitudes to the table, so too do women bring a balance and perspective that's needed in a harsh world... It's the "sum of the whole is greater than its parts" thing. Let's keep the conversation going, with blinders thrown off, and grace tried on, and we'll all be better for it.