Tuesday, March 08, 2011

International Women's Day

March 8 is International Women's Day--a day celebrating (and working for) the economic, political, and social achievement and well being of women worldwide. It's quite an organization--and this year is the 100th International Women's Day. It also happens to fall on Mardi Gras this year, because Easter is so late, making it a day of celebration on many fronts. (I'll gloss over the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition of objectifying women, at least for the moment....)

I come from a position of privilege, at least in terms of my race, my socio-economic status (on a worldwide scale--on a local scale, not so much), and my country. I have always had a lot of opportunity open to me, from fantastic education to support in every endeavor I've tried. I've always been told I can do whatever I want to do and be whatever I want to be. The only expectations from my family were that I do something good, and that I do it well. Quitting something I'd committed to was never an option, and doing poorly wasn't really an option...and those non-options are marks of a position of privilege in many ways (and of growing up in the lower class in many other ways!). (and let's not discuss how those are also marks of being the firstborn of a firstborn...)

In any case, I have not run into the kind of gender discrimination that people in many parts of the world have. I've had some experiences, both at home and abroad, that have made me aware (sometimes painfully so) of the plague of sexism and the desire to subjugate powerful women. I've also had some experiences within my regular life that I attribute to subconscious sexism, though when I've pointed those out people always say I'm imagining things. And I've been one of those people pointing out that the leadership of various events--whether conferences, seminars, church events, etc--has lacked diversity. The response to that is similar to "you're imagining things" and generally sounds like some kind of anti-affirmative-action soundbite: "we're not trying to fill any kind of quota, we were just looking for the best people."

and the "best people" are, of course, strangely similar in gender, skin color, and cultural background to the person speaking.

As a woman who is intelligent, witty, a fast learner, a good speaker, talented in many areas, and willing (even desiring!) to serve the church and world in a variety of ways, I find that kind of statement so offensive as to almost be funny.

But not quite funny.

There's just no way you can tell me that the best people are always men. Or always white. Or always Americans. Or always hip. Or always over 40. Or always the highly paid people in our biggest churches (who almost uniformly call only white men to be their pastors...coincidence?).
Yes, those people are no doubt talented and wonderful and have things to say that we need to hear.
And so are the people who aren't invited.
Plus there are, frankly, some people in both of those categories who are not the best people to be speaking, but they fill the right position and they look right, so there they are on the glossy brochure or on the stage.

SO: dear world, you are going to have to make a choice. And International Women's Day is a great day to do it. It's time to choose: do you believe that stuff you've been teaching us girls, that we can do and be anything we want? Or do you believe that we can do anything we want as long as we don't tell anyone about it, and as long as we don't complain about being paid less than men to do it, and as long as we come to the conferences led by the famous rich white dudes without murmuring? Because the theme of this year's IWD is education and training, and if we are going to have all the great education and training, then you'd better be prepared to let us in to the subsequent arenas--good (and equally paid) jobs, voices in the wider church/business/culture, and the opportunity to stand on that stage and prove that we too are some of the best people out there, quotas or no.

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