My Response to Author Donald Miller on Gender Equality

Don Miller is a Christian author who wrote my favorite book on the faith: “Blue Like Jazz”. The honesty, poignancy, and recognition that it’s going to take a different approach to attract people to God is what has made me consider Mr. Miller to be one of the most important Christian figures, today. In his book, which is an account of his spiritual journey, much of which was spent at the not-so-Christian-friendly Reed College in Oregon, gives an eloquent call for reasoning among those Christians who seem to believe fear and fire and brimstone is going to save people.

It’s not, he argues; compassion, understanding, personal actions over public words, and the realization that issues of faith are not as black-and-white as many Christians would believe have made Mr. Miller popular among folks outside of the Christian world and–I would imagine–has played a significant role in many people accepting Christ as their Savior.

That being said, Mr. Miller recently wrote a blog asking the question: “Do women want to be treated like men, or do women want to be treated equally?”

I should note that Mr. Miller very much supports equal pay for women and the same opportunities for women, but he also seems to be under the impression that many women wish to be treated in exactly the same way their male counterparts are treated, and this puzzles him

Honestly, I can understand his point-of-view. I don’t agree with it, but I see where he’s coming from, which is far more than I can say for the Pat Robertsons of the world, and it’s why I like Don Miller so much: he’s a Christian commentator who is honest about his views yet invites discussions (not necessarily debates) about them.

Now, Mr. Miller posed this question to women, but I can’t help taking a stab at it. I feel like the more reasonable individuals are calmly discussing this, the more we’ll all come to understand each other.

First, let’s identify an important piece of Mr. Miller’s post that is either not realized or simply not acknowledged: there is a difference between personal relationships and professional (or public) relationships. With the vast majority of human beings, there is a difference between how they wish to be treated among friends and family and how they wish to be treated in professional or public settings.

Are you going to go up and a hug co-worker on a random work day? Probably not. Are you going to do the same to a random person in public? Not very likely.

But would you do the same to friends or family? Possibly.

Now, replace that behavior with gender-based etiquette, and for many men, there is no difference. They’ll hold doors, watch their language (or jokes), pull out chairs, and other chivalrous behavior for women in any setting. I’m not saying all men do this, but many men do this.

And among friends and family, this isn’t necessarily wrong, but in a professional setting, this kind of behavior draws a clear line between the men and women in your workplace, and it sends a message to many women that they are different and not in a good way. The whole point of chivalry is honoring women but, at the same time, protecting them because as the “weaker sex,” they supposedly need protection and constant honoring.

Again, I don’t think all women feel this way, but I believe many do. They notice men are more fraternal towards each other, and this leads to questions about office politics and whether or not Jack was promoted over Jane based on ability or the simple observation that Jack is far closer to their boss because there is no gender barrier between them.

Many women feel (and I agree with them) that sexism can be beneath the surface, significant but imperceptible to both men and women. There are men who believe in equal pay and equal opportunities for women, but subconsciously, still see women as inferior to men in competence, leadership skills, etc., and this is evident by the well-meaning but often insulting manner in which men treat men as opposed to how they treat women.

Think about this way: Most people treat kids differently than they do adults. We tend to be more accommodating and compassionate to children. We’ll often be physically affectionate to kids (a hug or a pat on the head) that we barely know. I think this is our way of expressing to children that we’re not a threat, that we’re trying to comfort them, that we recognize the power we have over them.

But would you trust a child over an adult to get something done? Almost never.

When men act chivalrous towards women, a similar message is conveyed: “I am not a threat to you, I see you as worthy of protecting, and when push comes to shove, I’m probably going to give that promotion to men, for whom I don’t need to open the door.”

Mr. Miller also asks, “As women, do you want for men to say you’re beautiful? Because if we treat you like men, we will never say you’re beautiful. We don’t really care. And we won’t make you feel small or special or precious, either. We won’t protect you because, quite frankly, you need to protect yourself or you’re a wimp. Do you really want us to treat you like men?”

And I think I can answer this one fairly confidently. The vast majority of women I’ve seen discuss this (and I read up on this quite a bit) say they DO NOT want to be protected or become the object of physical discussion in the workplace.

I’m sure there are women who love compliments like this when they’re working, but most women see it this way: The only reason they’re wearing makeup, nice hair, and good clothes is that they’re expected to do so, that a woman who neglects these things or doesn’t use them isn’t respected in the workplace.

That kind of sucks, huh? If they act feminine in the workplace, they’re not respected like their male colleagues. If they don’t act feminine, they’re not respected like their male colleagues.

I think most women want to be treated like men in the sense that they don’t want the fact they’re women to get in the way of their job and recognition for their efforts. They’re tired of having to put on makeup to get respect, and when they’re deciding what to wear to work, they have to straddle this fine, ridiculous line between being perceived as a “shrew” and being perceived as a “slut.”

And I can hear it, now: “But women are promoted because they look sexy!”

People, I’m sure that happens, but compared to instances in which appearance works against them (in either direction), those situations are insignificant.

I should also mention that some women are uncomfortable when men do chivalrous things for them in the workplace. Even if it’s not at all intended, in some instances, the behavior comes across as predatory.

Now, that’s the workplace. Personal life is a different ballgame. I personally try to treat women equally in both professional or personal settings with some exceptions (for example, I’ll compliment male and female friends if I like their fashion, and I open doors for people outside of professional settings, regardless of gender).

But some women do prefer for the men in their personal lives to treat them chivalrously, and hey, that’s their prerogative.

Finally, although this is probably a blog post by itself, I should mention that the concept of spiritual leadership as defined by gender tends to permeate the workplace, as well. Many Christian men (and women) believe that men have a higher spiritual authority, that men are natural leaders and therefore, should always take the helm. Though I believe in many situations when this is not intended, men may favor other men over women for jobs because it’s been ingrained in their minds that men make for better leaders.

Some folks will point out that it’s clear to observe men are stronger leaders than women, and they believe this is natural.

Let me ask you this question: If you threw an average 8 year-old into a high school environment, wouldn’t you say it’s likely they’re going to have far greater difficulty building and maintaining equal relationships and becoming leaders in that setting?

Most women are conditioned to be followers in our society. They’re showed Disney films with princesses being saved, taught that fashion and makeup are more fun than Tonka trucks and toy soldiers and sports, and they’re pushed to believe that men are the stronger sex by these examples. And most men, of course, are pushed to become the stronger sex.

So, we arrive in high school when a woman decides she wants to be the CEO of a major company, someday or perhaps, an Army officer, or president. Not only is she already years behind in developing leadership skills, but she’s dealing with the fact that all those environments require some understanding of male culture to get ahead, AND she has to overcome her own sexuality.

Talk about getting dealt a shitty hand.

So, she has to work extremely hard, harder than the men competing for the same spots, and there’s no guarantee she’s going to get there because even if she works harder than anyone else, she’s still a woman and will be saddled with this belief that men are better leaders than women.

No, this isn’t a “natural thing.” This is society self-reinforcing ridiculous stereotypes made up by society.

So, this is why many women would like to be a man. It would be difficult, but they wouldn’t have to deal with all this bullshit that comes simply for having different genitalia. They would actually get a fair shot from a gender standpoint.

I leave you with this quotation by Rebecca West: “I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute.”

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