Silencing Women

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant wrote this interesting piece in the NY Times on Sunday on the experience of women speaking up in professional settings.

When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope. Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.

They cite several studies and share a number of anecdotes to support their contention. It ought to be considered widely, perhaps especially by church leadership teams made up of women and men.

I wonder what other women think about this. Have you or do you experience these kinds of dynamics? In what ways? Can you think of intentional practices you’d like to see leaders develop that would invite and encourage full participation?

9 thoughts on “Silencing Women

  1. Tim Cole

    Relevant topic for us at this moment in Pastoral Ministry.

    Breaking new ground, I invested my efforts last fall into a group of young adult men and women in learning how to observe, interpret, and apply Scripture, using Matthew 15 as their focus.

    Each member of the group, after learning the methods, then went on to teach a Matthew 15 pericope to a larger group of their peers. Then, last Sunday, three of the young adult women taught one of Matthew’s 15 pericopes in our combined adult CE hour (large group).

    Each young woman did a phenomenal job. And to your question, Professor, each young woman was affirmed and encouraged by our people. Three more young adult women will teach the same group this coming Sunday. I anticipate an equal favorable response of affirmation and encouragement.

    Our goal is to train and empower and advocate a generation of women teachers, ready and prepared to reach their own generation.

    Our mantra is ‘No More Imports.’
    No more DVD’s of ‘Nashville’s finest’ (Beth so-and-so) teaching.

  2. Natalie

    I have had opportunities to speak up in formal capacities (i.e. teaching/preaching in a young adult ministry, NT courses), however, I do find that I sometimes “lose my voice” when it comes to settings that I am expected to just “jump in” to the conversation being had, unless it is a smaller group where I know that my opinion is valued. I think this is partially due to the fact that I am an introvert and I like to take time to process things, but I sometimes already have opinions that I sometimes hold back, until I am intentionally invited to join the conversation (sometimes, people that know me can tell when I have a “thought bubble” over my head, and invite me to share my thought bubble). I think that perhaps just as leaders need to be aware of the introvert/extrovert dynamic of inviting the quieter members of groups to speak up, there should also be an awareness that women may appreciate an invitation to speak up as well. This may not always be the case, some women are comfortable speaking up, but not all.

    1. timgombis

      Well put, Natalie. When I read the NYT article, I was wondering how many of these dynamics are due to other factors (personality, confidence level, etc.). I do think the dynamics are complex, and I don’t deny that gender plays a role. It’s helpful for me to hear from women, though, about their experiences.

  3. Jackie Whyte

    Having recently lifted the restriction on nominating women for the role of elder in our church, I was a bit taken aback at the opposition this decision received from some of the women. I think the older women had to rationalise their understanding of the male only leader cultures (in society as well as church) which they grew up in, and over decades this has become part and parcel of who they are. As society is moving away from that approach, younger ladies are not experiencing to the same degree of a struggle, in fact they are some of the strongest advocates for the change. That said of six nominations from the church for the role of elder, only one was a woman, and she declined the invitation for now. Us men may well need to keep opening doors for women for a while yet!

    1. timgombis

      Very interesting, Jackie, but also not surprising. Long-held societal structures and long-term practices don’t change overnight, nor should they, perhaps, in some cases. By the by, just noted to Graham McKeague, my colleague here at GRTS and your fellow Ulsterman, that you had just commented on here!

  4. Kaitlin

    This is such an important topic for the Church to consider! In some churches I’ve attended, I’ve felt like I have no voice, or I shouldn’t be allowed to have a voice. Only in 2 churches have I felt that my words are heard and valued. And it’s not that the men of the other churches didn’t respect women. It’s more that because the men were the only ones that were part of the meetings that made decisions for the church, women were just left out. It would be nice if at some point in the decision-making process women were involved. We offer a unique perspective, and the Church is full of men and women, so please take our ideas into account.

    My experience with women’s ministries is that many women do not know how to study Scripture well, and so they rely on other women (usually from Lifeway) to tell them what the Bible means. This drives me crazy! I have some training to observe, interpret and apply Scripture, and when I do the scripted Bible Studies with other women and hear them exclaim that they could never be so enlightened as the woman who wrote the study, I am deeply saddened. Why aren’t churches actively teaching both men and women how to study Scripture and how to teach it? Women do have a special ministry, but we’re not being taught how to use our gifts to fulfill that ministry. We’re just trying to figure it out for ourselves, and in many cases we’re getting sucked in by the “inspiring” Bible Studies we can purchase. We need help from the leaders of our churches to know how to study the Bible so we can be convicted by God’s Holy Word rather than inspired by another human.

    Last year I ran across this article: I know that the women where I live would be very encouraged if this was the approach taken in their congregations. There is such a desire to know God, but very little training so that they can feel equipped to study the Bible and teach others to do the same.

  5. joey

    We will never solve the “women” issue until we realize that the Bible is not an instruction manual; until we realize that we are a narratively-driven, storied people.

  6. Ron

    I am sorry, though the Bible is not “an instruction manual” per se, for it is far more than that, but I would like to ask, does it contain instruction?

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