Creating a Safe Place: Addressing Patriarchy

Andrea Martinez, Director of Communications

Language is PoliticalLast month I had the pleasure to be a delegate for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women held in New York. This weeklong continuing education opportunity was one of the most influential and powerful events I’ve ever attended. The entire week, I was continually in awe of the amazing women and men in my presence, people who were actively working to create more inclusive spaces within their communities. The conversations were electrifying, so much so that sometimes it was a challenge to get to sleep each night, as I reflected on the day’s passing.

As a part of the young adult cohort, a smaller group of the larger LWF delegation, I had the benefit of being part of this community within the larger context. I relished the conversations, hanging on every last word my fellow cohort members shared. This group was a rare find – a community that safely and openly accepted everyone as their true authentic self. As a young woman of color, I wish I could say that I find these places all the time, but I cannot lie. I wish I could say that I find this safety even in a faith community, but that would not be really honest.

I treasured this week, this event, and this community. It was safe; I was safe.

The better part of my daily reality is overcoming a series of micro-aggressions in a male-centric world, never mind the ones that I also deal with as a young person of color. The micro-aggressions of everyday life while subtle, and perhaps often ignorantly unintentional, can have a profound impact sending a message of less-than or secondary. Some may also send a message of feeling unsafe – unsafe to speak your truth, unsafe to your self-care, or even physically unsafe.

As we prepared for the coming week, our cohort together built a covenant, making sure to maintain a safe space. Particularly noteworthy for me was our intentionality with language and vocabulary. We wanted to actively address patriarchy not only with our work, activism, and participation at the conference, but also with the systemic micro-aggressions in our daily communication. The challenge: use gender-neutral language in reference to God and limit usage of words like “guys” and “mankind”. It was liberating.

I wonder what would it be like for faith communities to actively address the systemic patriarchy embedded into their own culture and identity:

  • Do you address matters of patriarchy from the pulpit?
  • Do you actively talk about patriarchy with your council or youth group, for example?
  • Do you consider gender when writing liturgy or picking out hymns?
  • What is the gender identity breakup of your committees or councils? Are they 50/50?
  • Are the majority of your “top” leadership positions held by men?
  • If your congregation is in transition, when you imagine your future leader, do you imagine a man?

Our cohort group had only one man in it. The larger delegation group had a few more. What I found particularly interesting was how these men behaved – they listened. Not listening to come up with a defense or response, but really listening to the stories, the sharing, and the experiences revealed by their fellow sisters. I think about how often I’ve been in a setting, either personally or professionally, where a woman is sharing from her experience only to be disrupted by the correcting of the man across the table. If you aren’t aware, there’s a term for this – mansplaining. Just because you as a man may not experience oppressive patriarchy or sexism does not mean that it does not exist. Faith communities are no exception.

We often ask ourselves, “What can I do?” especially in conversations with these rather looming topics, such as sexism, racism, patriarchy, and the like. In New York, I was reminded once again that the change begins within me. I need to change my language, when I speak up against an injustice, how often I speak up, and how hard I press to be heard. It is through intentional change that I will slowly start to influence my surroundings, and thus influence the larger community.  I invite you to engage these actions with me.