I laughed ruefully as I empathised with the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was asked by a Congolese student what her husband’s opinion was of the World Bank’s interference in China’s contracts with the Congo.
Ms Clinton’s reaction was quick and strong as she pointed out in no uncertain terms that it was she and not her husband who was Secretary of State, going further to say that although she was ready to give her own thoughts, she was not about to channel her husband’s opinion of the matter.
It put me forcibly in mind of several similar incidents in my own experience. One such was when a visitor to our home was engaging my husband in conversation while Rick was making breakfast. Picking up a photo of me on a stage with a microphone in my hand, he asked my husband ‘Does she speak?’ Rick was concentrating on the bacon and eggs and hadn’t heard properly so I said it again for him. “He said ‘Does she speak?’ ‘Oh yes’ Rick replied, ‘she speaks’. Ironically, not well enough, considering I was standing next to the guy.
Being a female preacher has been an interesting journey over the years. Early in my career a senior man in our church organisation came to visit our home and church on a regular basis. He had a similar gifting to my own and I looked forward to his visits because I wanted to engage him in conversation to learn from him. However, the guy was of a school that was not able to accommodate such questions from a woman. After listening politely to me he would turn to my husband and answer as if Rick had asked the question. This guy was a well-mannered and intelligent person and he had no idea he was being rude. Such was my desire to learn that I was willing to make the trade off of dignity for knowledge.
It’s difficult to understand why such events take place. It’s also difficult to know how to react when they do. Ms Clinton came under fire for her swift and ungracious reaction but it’s hard to blame her. Despite the fact that many people attribute Bill’s rise to become the President of the United States to the political savvy of his wife, no one would ever think of asking him in an official context what his wife thought.
Some years ago I was invited to a conservative Christian radio station in the UK to be interviewed about my ministry role. The first question the interviewer asked me was ‘So, where is your husband?’ Taken by surprise, I also reacted awkwardly, simply because I was caught off guard by a question that had no relevance to the interview. I heard afterward that a male listener had written in to ask why such a question was asked of me when it would not be asked of a man.
The glass ceiling… is there such a thing? Most guys would say no, and many younger women who now unknowingly enjoying the fruit of the breakthroughs made by their older sisters, might also say no. However, the indignity of not being heard is something which many women have to learn how to swallow without rancour while still continuing on to give their best.
Much of the problem lies in lack of understanding of the Scriptures. When God said ‘let us make man in our image’, the word ‘man’ is ‘adam’ which literally means ‘mankind’ so the true interpretation is ‘let us make mankind in our image’. God goes on to say that He ‘created mankind, male and female He created them’ Genesis 1:27. When man and woman were created, they were one in Him, equal in every sense.
It was the fall that created segregation between the sexes, and this segregation lasted over the centuries until Jesus died and rose again to break the curse. The triumph of his resurrection not only broke the chains of sin, but also the effects of the prejudices that came from the curse… Paul says in Galatians 3:28 ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ The triumph of Jesus over death and hell resulted in a restoration of life as God had conceived it to be in the first place, a life where men and women together are expressions of the nature of God.
It’s encouraging to know that in many places occasions like the one Ms Clinton and many others have experienced, happen less often. However until we get a handle on living with mutual respect and giving each other the value that is due, regardless of gender, there will always be situations when people who are doing a great job are devalued because of the enculturised prejudices of the people around them.
God gifts people according to His plan for their lives. Our cultures and environments are sometimes at odds with that plan, as Deborah’s was in the book of Judges, yet refusing to use the talents and skills we’ve been given because of cultural mores can never be the answer. It’s time to judge the leader by their performance rather than their gender.