When women speak truth to power.
"I fear that I am a blunt instrument that comes in and smashes things up in three years time," I told my friend. Three years seems to be a somewhat standard length of employement for me, though that is not my goal.
Shaking up the status quo or bull in china shop? I suppose the difference is if you still want what's left once the pieces are reassembled.
It seems like I don't like authority, but I know that's not exactly the truth. No -- I don't like crappy authority. People who demand positional authority with few other true leadership qualities.
Years ago I had a man from Minot respond in the comments to a post on an older version of my blog in which he lectured me on how I wasn't a good example for his daughter because he wanted her to be influenced by women who were more pleasant, subdued, and less argumentative.
You know, pliable.
I told that the X in upper corner of his internet browser would solve his problems immediately.
No one likes a woman who stands up and looks you in the eye and calls you on something, demands you take action or make a change or listen.
Emotional. Jezebel. B**ch. Insubordinate. Easily dismissed and not to be taken seriously. Someone to be patronized or placated so we quit our harping and go away. A target to be sure to break and control. Either not enough of a self-starter or too aggressive. Silly and mistaken. Unable to accurately understand a situation. Worthy of eye-rolls. Smile and nod and she'll go away eventually.
It feels as though you cannot win if you are a woman, particularly if those in power over you are all men. They'll play nice as long as you stay nice. Stand up and push, you'll feel the return and then some. They seem to take you seriously until you get serious. It seems it is rare to find men in power who listen--not just hear you, but listen!--and consider you a legitimate source of thought. When you find them, you will know, because it will feel startling and shocking.
Do you understand the trap? You can only take your voice so far as those who put you in a soundproof booth are willing to let you. It's as if we never left the Old Testament where a woman's voice held zero weight:
In the first century, the testimony of women was not counted as credible. In both Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, and the Talmud a woman's testimony is considered unreliable at best. "But let not the testimony of women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex...since it is probable that they may not speak truth, either out of hope of gain, or fear of punishment."(2) The Talmud states that "Any evidence which a woman [gives] is not valid (to offer).... This is equivalent to saying that one who is Rabbinically accounted a robber is qualified to give the same evidence as a woman."(3) No man in the first century would give credence to a woman's testimony.
We're in the 21st Century, and there are still some men who, while giving lip service otherwise, have hidden in their heart a desire to deny full weight to what a woman says because she may not express it like he does or is comfortable with. Such a man denies what she says is true, tells her she didn't hear that or say that, tells her she's simply not understanding correctly, or says he's "sorry she feels that way" as if it was all about feelings and, if it was, they are misplaced anyway.
You have to have multiple women voicing the same thing, repeatedly, before it finally begins to make a dent. You have to have experiences where you realize you've been subtly misrepresented by a man to men, and now you have to find other women to join you so they can see you aren't a hysterical fluke.
I've been in jobs where guys who are just like me -- speak boldly and plainly, push back, self-initiate -- have different adjectives put in their employee reviews. Depending on your boss, your normal human response might not fit the mold of what a woman ought to be like, and you'll get marked down for something guys wouldn't even register for.
|"Dead Man's Hand" painting. Not a good poker hand.|
"I don't have a poker face," I said to my friend.
"I am not able to fake what I'm not feeling or thinking," I said.
"It feels like lying. It's unbearable."
"Am I supposed to? Is that the only way to function in this world? Is everyone just pretending to be nice and then saying things behind your back?"
"You're an extremely hard worker. You're intense. You're passionate. You come up with creative ideas. You expect others to be like that too," my friend said. "And you can't hide what you really think. I don't know what to say. It comes off like you don't like authority."
What does it mean to like authority? Does it mean to not speak plain truth? Is it about having a good sense of timing of when to do it? Is there ever a good time to question authority or speak plainly to it?
Mom and I have been doing a Bible study on the kings of Israel, and 2 Kings 22 stood out to me. This is where King Josiah has been alerted to the newly found Book of the Law. They go to the prophetess Huldah -- A WOMAN -- to get a word from the Lord:
13 “Go and inquire of the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the Lord’s anger that burns against us because those who have gone before us have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us.”
14 Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Akbor, Shaphan and Asaiah went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter.
15 She said to them, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 16 ‘This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. 17 Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and aroused my anger by all the idols their hands have made,[a] my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’ 18 Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, ‘This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: 19 Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse[b] and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord. 20 Therefore I will gather you to your ancestors, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.’”
So they took her answer back to the king.
She didn't tell the king what he wanted to hear; she didn't water down hard words or concern herself with people-pleasing. She didn't make sure the guy reading her blog felt comfortable with what she had to say. Sure, this doesn't mean everying is a "word from the Lord" and that you should be a creep with people, but she spoke truth to power unflinchingly.
We have to allow this.
We have to let the unpowerful have a place to safely speak truth, even if you don't like what they say. We have to be able to question our leaders or we get the #ChurchToo crisis of women and children being abused by men in power with no one who will believe them. We get pastors of megachurches bathing in financial malfeasance while (likely mostly) women in the office say nothing of what they see because who would listen to them? We get power structures where the only place to report problems is to the preson who is the problem, and your option is shut up or speak and be fired.
But we pull scripture out and shut them down because they're sinful in questioning or calling out those in authority.
Why do you think these things like #ChurchToo seem to explode from nowhere? Because they've been brewing for so long amidst the unpowerful until critical mass is reached and the fire goes free.
If you were like me and grew up with kids singling you out and picking on you and mocking you, you would develop a mechanism like this, I think, especially if you're in a group of people that don't exactly ever grasp power either socially or economically. No one fights for you, so you have to do it yourself. When you find a leader who does fight for you, you're all in and would do anything for them.
But most leaders fight for themselves. They don't fight for you.
I want to be clear I've had bosses and leaders this was not the case with. My boss at the grocery store bakery, Wendy, was incredible. Worked harder than anyone, never asked you to do what she wouldn't do herself. Fair, direct -- she'd confront you if it was necessary. I only lasted there six months, true, but not because of her. There was a delivery man who would harass me in the break room ("you wanna go on a date? here, let me put my hands on your shoulders and back"), the top-level manager was a bit of a douche who didn't take me seriously about it, and that was that. I left, because I had another opportunity and didn't feel like the fight. Sometimes the only fight I have, when no other option is avialable, is to leave and take all that I could offer with me.
There is a known sex offender in this town who harasses women at area stores. He started following me around Barnes and Noble one night, coming up to me and saying inappropriate things. He followed me out of the store and back in. The second time I was in the store and he started in, I finally told him to leave me alone or I'd have the store trespass his ass. I later came to find out this man did this with another women and she thought maybe it was her fault and stopped going to the store where he worked and harassed her.
Tell me, do you want your daughters, your wives, and your mothers to be so meek and pliable that a lewd creep like that can make them feel guilty or ashamed for their perverted behavior? Or do you want them to have some courage to use their voice because it exists and ought to be used?
Too many male leaders excuse this kind of predatory behavior, overly quick to forgive and dismiss it, while simultaneously denying the voice of those who are the target and being hurt by it. They want to be the top dog leader, but they don't fight for those they want to lead.
People follow people who fight for them, who give up everything for them, who think of themselves last.
I will speak, whether you choose to hear me or hide behind poor leadership and get rid of me.
Thank you Jesus, for allowing the Samaritan woman to be the first evangelist. Thank you for allowing women to be the first recorded witnesses to your resurrection. May your male followers take note. Thank you for dying for women and men, putting all of us before yourself. You are the Servant Leader I'll follow for sure.
"Please don't hate all men," my friend said.
"Oh, I'm not a man-hater. You, my dad, and my brother are awesome."
They gave me the courage to use my voice because they saw me first as human and worthy of listening to. Do the same for the women in your life.