Recently, I came across a blog post by a favorite blogger of mine, one which struck a cord. And one which led to another great post, and another… Pretty soon, I was down a rabbit trail that showed me something that my dad has been trying to tell me for years.
You really ought to read those posts, but let me give a quote from the first one, which stopped me in my tracks, because of how well it describes me.
“I’ve developed some bad habits. I know this is true. Somewhere along the way, I started dampening down my own voice. I started ending each statement as if it was a question, with the inflection of my voice rising a little at the end. I started couching belief statements in between phrases like, ‘Well I don’t know,’ and ‘Do you think so?'” Hannah Heinzekehr
For years – and I mean, years – my dad has been trying to get me to break this habit. The problem was that I, like many women, didn’t recognize that this was a problem.
Some background: I have an absolutely amazing dad. (And I don’t tell him this nearly enough.) But before I get into my Dad’s-biggest-fan speech, let me cut to the point that is crucial to this story. Ever since I can remember, we’ve been one of those families that talks about theology, philosophy, life, everything, at the dinner table. My parents have always encouraged my brother and I to think about our faith, and to talk about it with them. My parents wrestle with the hard questions, and their example has taught us to do the same. (Shoot, I need to stop the Mom’s-biggest-fan speech from coming out, too!)
But whenever we have these conversations, I do something that never fails to drive my father crazy. “I don’t know, but…,” “I think…,” “…but you might disagree,” “Maybe…,” “…you know?” “…but that’s just my opinion.” For some reason that makes no sense to my dad, I am almost incapable of making firm statements. Without fail, I express my thoughts…and then qualify them. I express them with an inflection, like a question, or diminish them by following with an “I don’t know.”
This makes my dad so frustrated, and he always says, “Don’t say that! Erin, you do know!” I’ve never understood why this bothers him so much, always saying, “Dad, come on! I just say that to mean that I’m giving the other person the freedom to disagree with me!” But I never realized until now, just how wrong I was, and how right he was.
By using all those qualifiers, I wasn’t giving him permission to disagree – Dad always feels the freedom to disagree with me, and in fact, with anyone. What I was doing, as Hannah Heinzekehr pointed out, was apologizing for my opinions. I was practicing a pattern of speech that has been taught to me by the male-dominant society I am a part of – yes, including the church.
I have been taught, as have women before me (including my mother, who does the same thing I do, and gets the same chastisement from my father that I do!), that women cannot express strong opinions. Women have been taught that they cannot have opinions or beliefs that conflict with those of the powerful of their society. Now this is a problem that, I am certain, is not exclusive to women. But it is the one that I have experienced, and one that I think needs to be addressed, considering the changing role of women in the church (if you don’t believe me, check out this fantastic post by Sarah Bessey), and the continuing problem of power-play in gender roles in the church. And we have to be the ones addressing it.
We women – you, women – must recognize the ways that we diminish ourselves and each other, and instead affirm our value as creatures made in the image of God, equally capable of knowing Him.
And we must let the godly men in our lives – you, men – help us to see just how valuable our contributions are, as we all walk this road of sanctification together.
So, Dad, you were right. Thank you for always affirming my authority and the value of my words…and the value of myself.