Saturday, June 07, 2014

Gender Presuppositions

As part of a Continuing Ministerial Development day on gender issues in leadership, led by the excellent Kate Coleman (KC), I found myself reflecting on my gender presuppositions. Many of these are ingrained, or operate '...under the level of our faith' (KC).

I grew up in a household where Mum looked after the home and children and Dad went out to work. This meant that cooking, washing and shopping became female jobs in my head. A lady came each week to help with cleaning. Gardening, DIY and car washing/maintenance were male jobs, again, in my head.

I had a younger sister.

I was sent to all-boys schools, primary and secondary. I think pre-school may have been mixed but I cannot recall. My first five years at school I was taught by women. From then on I was only taught by men.

There was little physical contact at home. My Dad was of the school that men shook hands. That is all. Sons did not hug fathers after a certain age, and vice versa. I think my Mum would have preferred a more touchy feely approach. As I was born ten years after the end of World War 2 it is inevitable that those relatively recent experiences coloured my parents' behaviour. But, by and large, we didn't talk about the war, apart from some hilarious moments in aircraft missions, probably my Dad's way of not talking about dead friends.

My inherited views were therefore very middle-England. But the curate and church youth group leader under whose influence I fell, despite still making errors of exclusive language, was utterly in favour of women's ministry

At theological college in1981 the college worship book had an apology/explanation that male pronouns were being used generically. This was obviously designed to placate somebody but in my three year generation it became obvious that, for many of the female students, this wasn't enough.

In Nottingham 1984-1988 I was profoundly touched by a group of women doing 'Women's Studies' at the University. One of these, on hearing me tell my sons to wait for the green man before crossing, corrected my language to 'person'. I have done the same ever since. Correcting our language, however annoying, is an acknowledgement that there is a deeper correction, of the heart and mind, that needs to take place.

In Chester-le-Street in the late eighties I worked with two ordained women deacons who were both way smarter than me. It was a bit of a shock. Most of you know I am always expecting to be the smartest person in the room. They taught me loads.

The worst boss I ever had was a nice woman. The best was a devious and highly manipulative man who just happened to know the secret of getting the best out of me.

Liz and I both still say 'Come on guys' when talking to mixed groups. Probably her more than me these days. I'm trying to quit.

I think that the duty of those of us who feel we are getting there is not just to correct ourselves when we speak or act exclusively, but to police it. We need to point it out when observed or heard. It won't make us good company or fun but the job needs doing.

But as far as promoting the ministry and leadership of women is concerned - I am fully signed up.

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