There’s no doubting that gender continues to occupy a lot of time, space & energy in the church. It regularly raises the emotions and generates a lot of heat and little light. It can also put Christians into camps where the ‘the other side’ can be seen, talked about & treated as a problem or worse ‘the enemy’. In the church this is nothing short of disastrous. So I’ve invited Hannah Mudge to a blog conversation with me about faith and gender.
P: The media plays a huge part in how we see men & women. What are your thoughts on this?
I was pleased that the Leveson Report addressed the way the British media portrays women and reports on women’s issues. This has long been needed and it was good that women’s organisations were able to present evidence to the inquiry. The media has a huge influence on how people think about certain issues and the current level of sexism in the tabloids in particular is unacceptable and highly damaging. It has been recommended that the “endemic sexism in the media” be tackled but I wonder whether anything will genuinely be done.
P: The other major aspect to media today is the internet, as an active blogger and user of social media what are some of the issues you’ve faced?
It is unfortunate too that when women try to talk about many of these problems, they’re either patronised, or told they’re being “emotional” or “hysterical” and “need to calm down”. The Christian blogosphere, particularly the high-profile end of it, is dominated by men. Actually this was more the case a couple of years ago, but thanks to some determined awareness-raising by some women bloggers and those who read their work, there are a lot of really amazing women writers being recognised now. The comment sections of the ‘big’ Christian blogs are also dominated by men, and they can be quite an unfriendly place for women to venture.
Why is this? For a start, women are more likely to be verbally abused. If they’re being opinionated, that’s very often seen as a bad thing. If they’re talking with passion and emotion or about a personal experience, they’ll be told that they’re “too emotional” or that they’re letting their personal experiences influence their opinions (also seen as a bad thing). The nastier commenters have their buzzwords they love to use – “harpy”, “shrill”, “man-hater”. Head over to Rachel Held Evans’s blog if you want to see this in action. She’s a high profile blogger who’s outspoken about being an egalitarian and about justice issues surrounding women. She genuinely gets commenters calling her “evil” or “heretical”. I’ve read a blog post where a well-known pastor and his readers speculated over whether she is actually a Christian at all.
And it’s not just the “big” blogs where this happens. I see posts about gender issues on UK Christian blogs where the comments of women are ignored, even when other people point this out. Women are constantly told that they need to be “more gracious” simply because they’ve spoken up about something problematic, or that they need to stop talking about their personal experiences of oppression in the church. It’s a form of silencing and is incredibly damaging. I think it’s important for men to be aware that in the blogging world, even without realising, they can exclude women and treat them as though their opinions don’t really matter.