Gender Preference, Exclusion, or Oppression?
Oppression is commonly defined as the cruel or unjust exercise of authority or power. Oppression occurs when those in authority “press down” their power on those who lack it; thus limiting their opportunities, growth, and ability to live out their human potential.
When you consider the injustices of the world, you will see that most of them are the result of oppressors using their power (or perceived power) to take advantage of the weak. One of the common truths about oppression found around the world is that women are often the victim. In the context of oppression, power wins. Therefore, more often than not, those who may be physically weaker will lose out. Whether it’s human trafficking, domestic violence, or even subtle forms of discrimination in some corporations, women will often find themselves on the wrong side of the fence.
Unfortunately, oppression against women, especially the kind that hides behind cultural perceptions, presuppositions, and theological paradigms, can often feel justified. The sad truth is that these kinds of justifications often lead to the crushing of dreams and passions of too many women.
As a leader, I’m often challenged to think about what role or level of influence women play in the work that I do. As a minority, I’m innately mindful of making sure that diverse voices, especially ethnically, are represented at the table. My presupposition going into any project or event is that we need all kind of voices/views to move forward in producing quality and meaningful work.
Nevertheless, until 7 years ago, I didn’t make a conscious choice to seek out female voices. I didn’t intentionally exclude anyone (including women), but neither did I go out of my way to try to find new voices to add to the mix. From hindsight, it was my loss and the loss of everyone I worked with. I sometimes justified not having a presence of women in the name of everything from integrity (i.e., creating a healthy boundary for my personal life) to natural network (i.e., I was closer to more men than women in friendship.) to culture & theology (i.e., I was taught by some that men alone were “called” to lead at higher levels. Lame, I know.).
Clarification #1: I’m definitely not saying that we all need to meet a certain quota of minority and gender. I think each project and/or event is unique. I want the best people working possible. I don’t want to see reverse discrimination in hopes of leveling the playing field. I’m just asking whether or not we go out of our way to include voices out of the normal circle.
Clarification #2: I’m not saying that women, especially in our culture, have no power. In fact, many do have power and exercise it well. My point is that there are still sectors of our culture where we unnecessarily exclude women to the detriment of humanity.
Take a moment to consider your company, organization, church or even the conferences you participate in. Do the contributing voices include women? If so, to what level is their contribution? Leading? Supportive?
When it comes to gender issues, I often ask myself some of the following questions:
- Do I know the leading female voices in my areas of passion? Do I ever buy their books?
- What subtle things about gender am I communicating in the way that projects are developed or events are programmed?
- Do I communicate to women that they are not welcomed in my work?
- Am I expecting female leaders to act, dress, and look like male leaders?
- Who is helping me to form my thoughts about female leaders?
These are some of my initial thoughts on this topic…more to come.
I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic. Also, please let us know if you know of groups that model gender integration well.