Are Women Human? 3 (RJS)

Here is the question for today – Do you read books by or about women? Intentionally?


This is the third and last in a series of posts centered around a short volume Are Women Human? containing two essays by Dorothy Sayers.  Today I am going to give a couple of quotes from Sayers’ essays, make an observation, a suggestion, and open a conversation.

From the essay “The Human-Not-Quite-Human” (page numbers from the 1981 printing of “Are Women Human?”)

The first task, when undertaking the study of any phenomenon, is to observe its most obvious feature; and it is here that most students fail. It is here that most students of “The Woman Question” have failed, and the Church more lamentably than most, and with less excuse. That is why it is necessary, from time to time, to speak plainly, and perhaps even brutally, to the Church.

The first thing that strikes the careless observer is that women are unlike men. … But the fundamental thing is that women are more like men than anything else in the world. They are human beings. Vir is male and Femina is female: but Homo is male and female.

This is the equality that is claimed and the fact that is persistently evaded and denied. No matter what arguments are used, the discussion is vitiated from the start, because Man is always dealt with as both Homo and Vir, but woman as only Femina. (p. 37)

Here is another quote from the essay “Are Women Human?

A man once asked me – it is true that it was at the end of a very good dinner, and the compliment conveyed may have been due to that circumstance – how I managed in my books to write such natural conversation between men when they were by themselves. Was I, by any chance, a member of a large mixed family with a lot of male friends? I replied that, on the contrary, I was an only child and had practically never seen or spoken to any children of my own age until I was about twenty-five. “Well,” said the man, “I shouldn’t have expected a woman [meaning me] to have been able to make it so convincing.” I replied that I had coped with this difficulty by making my men talk, as far as possible, like ordinary human beings. This seemed to surprise the other speaker; he said no more, but took it away to chew it over. One of these days it may quite likely occur to him that women, as well as men, when left to themselves, talk very much like human beings also. (p. 35)

These two quotes combine to make a point that I would like to consider today. I think that there is a bit more to the situation than Sayers admitted in the above quote – while she did not interact much with men, she was well educated – and education leads to a knowledge of how humans talk. We live in a time and culture where it is impossible for an educated woman to avoid “putting her head” in a man’s point of view.  The vast majority of literature, both fiction and non-fiction is written by men from a (supposedly) male perspective. A man, on the other hand, can avoid “putting his head” in a woman’s point of view. And this is especially true of boys. Girls will often read Tom Sawyer and The Great Brain, boys will less often read Anne of Green Gables and Little House on the Praire.  One of the consequences of this is that women (consciously or not) will realize that we are human then male and female – while men quite often do not.

If male – how often do you read a book with a woman as protagonist, or a memoir by a woman? If you don’t read such material – why not?

If female – how often do you read a book by/about a man or boy? What percentage? If you don’t why not?

Consider an example.  I read Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz last week.  I put my head into his – so far as he allowed in the memoir.  It is obvious in this book that there are aspects to his experience that are male (less than he likely thinks), aspects that are human, aspects that are generational, and aspects that are a consequence of his unique blend of individual human characteristics and experiences.  I found his reflections fascinating – all of them, not just those that gelled with my experience.

Now a question, a suggestion and a question. How many pastors think that part of their role as pastor requires learning how to “put their head” into the context of others (including, but not limited to, women)?  I will suggest that part of the preparation for a good pastor is to learn how to do this and to do it intentionally. A good approach is to read widely, especially good fiction, but also memoirs. Intentionally make your reading diverse. Don’t judge, just enter in. Another approach is to simply talk with a broad range of people of both genders and many different life experiences. But I don’t think that this latter option is quite as effective, as it doesn’t lead to the same level of immersion into the experience of another.  It is only when we intentionally put our heads into the context of others that we really realize how true it is that we are human first – and how similar and diverse the human experience actually is.

We can broaden the question I asked above beyond gender to other life situations as well.

How much of your reading or life experience requires you to “put your head” in the mind of another – one substantially different from you? Is this good or bad?  What consequence does it have for the church?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at]

  • nathan

    i know that pastoral care classes in seminaries (at least the ones worth their salt) work very hard at doing what you suggest about pastoral training.
    CPE (clinical pastoral education) is particularly focused on these things.
    that being said, i think your suggestion to read fiction, memoirs, etc. is excellent.
    some of my best classes at Vanderbilt Divinity were ones that utilized great fiction/essays/etc. in concert with theological texts.

  • MatthewS

    Very thought-provoking.
    I think there is an analog in intercultural interaction. It makes a person richer to attempt to enter into another culture and realize that many cultural differences are neither right nor wrong, just different.
    I am very much the boy who read Tom Sawyer but was squeamish to try to enter a heroine’s head in stories such as Anne of Green Gables (although I greatly enjoyed the Little House books). With all the other reading to do I don’t have much time these days for recreational reading but I recently downloaded several audio books. I would like to finish Crime and Punishment but after reading this post I am motivated to add a book to my list that will require putting my head into a woman’s point of view. hmm, does Sue Grafton count?
    Some navel-gazing: My wife enjoys complex books and movies, such as those set in Victorian England. Many of these stories seem to have a certain feel of fate where the heroine is doomed to suffer loss, pain, shame due to societal structures and events outside her control. That gives me a suffocating feeling. My instinct is to short-circuit these feelings, not enter into them and explore them.

  • Pat

    I’ll confess that as a female, a large majority of what I read is by male authors. I tend to avoid many of the popular female authors because I do not find many of their books to be very deep intellectually and often tend to embrace traditional female roles.
    As for the gender differences, I think men find it easier to tune out certain things as not something they need concern themselves with. I once heard a pastor confess that he didn’t understand how women relate to one another as we discussed an issue within our church. Why did he respond in that way? More importantly, why did he stop there with admitting to not understanding women vs. seeing it as a priority to try to understand? That’s where I think some women are different. We try to put ourselves into others’ situation. Maybe we’re more intuitively empathetic? Maybe it’s related to our maternal instinct? But again, if that is the case, is it possible for others to learn empathy? I think so and anyone (particularly Christian leaders), who truly wants to relate to others be they male, female, black, white, etc., will make it a priority to hone the skills of empathy and relatability.

  • Diane Reynolds

    Matthew S,
    You bring up a good point: Much of girls’ and women’s literature, especially from the Victorian/Edwardian period, is not healthy reading. It’s been documented that book after book focuses on the loss, pain and suffering of girls and women, especially as retribution for stepping out of their boundaries. In girl’s lit, it’s the tomboy who does something physical in disobedience to authority and ends up in bed or a wheelchair for months or years until she learns the lesson of female docility. As one scholar put it about a 20th girl heroine (tomboy) who yet again crossed the line: “You know what happened: The wheelchair for her!” So yes, reading across gender, race and ethnic lines is invaluable but we also have to be conscious–and somewhat selective– about what we’re reading.
    I read widely. In fact, I recently reread Crime and Punishment and was a little dismayed at the idealized heroine … but most of my reading has been female authors of late. I think it’s fruitful for men to read women such as Jane Austen, the Brontes or George Eliot, as they all critique systems of patriarchy.

  • Diane Reynolds

    But back the question–much of my life, and perhaps this is more true of women than men?–has required me to put myself in the head of another. I think this is good and essential to becoming fully human. I think this is what Christianity at its core is challenging us to do.

  • RJS

    I was thinking about this as I read Sayers’ essays. None of the books we read in school had women or girls as central characters … Of Mice and Men, The Outsiders, A separate peace, … It may be different today – I don’t know.
    An educated woman learns to think through the eyes and minds of many people who describe human experience. But we don’t really sit and dissect how much of this is a “male” perspective and how much is a “human” perspective. I have always tended to think of most of it as a human perspective – not gender specific. I wonder if a men thinks the same or if there is an unconscious equating of human and male (homo and vir as Sayers says) which leaves the “female” perspective as something foreign and irrelevant.

  • Diane Reynolds

    I do think there’s an unconscious equating of male with human in both males and females. We females internalize the dominant value system, just as blacks internalize the racist value system. Until I was about 16, I unconsciously internalized a male self: it was a shock to realize that, for instance, in those day,s a job such as disk jockey was closed to me, because of my sex. More specifically, the language of patriarchy seeps so into our metaphors we can hardly divorce ourselves from it. It’s embedded in how we think. Take “hard” and “soft” as metaphors that have come up before: they describe maleness and femaleness in our culture and beyond that, because we want to be intellectually “hard” and rigorous, they define or align intellect with maleness and assign a hierarchy of values to intellectual pursuits based on notions of maleness. Who wants to be in the “soft” or “social” sciences when you can be in the “hard” sciences? … So when we read literature by women (and men), of course, we have to evaluate to what extent they’ve unconsciously imbibed and are reflecting back patriarchal values. I’m trying to cram a huge number of thoughts in a time and small space, but yes, I think it’s very worthwhile for men (and women) to think about whether they consider maleness the equivalent of normative human-ness. Consciously, we think no, of course not … but scratch the surface …and yes, we do, and how does this limit us?

  • tscott

    There is alot in this thread about putting yourself in the head of another. If you would go to a Kiersey temperment sorter, wouldn’t this be the the trait of a teacher. Going all the way back to Ezekials four creatures, you are the most like the man(humane).

  • Darren King

    Personally, I enjoy reading both male and female authors. While some “Chistian” female authors may lack some intellectual depth, likewise I find fiction written by males to often lack emotional depth.
    I’ve read Jane Austen, and the Brontes, and, especially when I was younger, I really enjoyed reading Margaret Atwood and Margaret Lawrence, two excellent Canadian authors.
    And to answer RJS’ other question, yes, I do think that, at times, I purposefully seek out male or female authors particularly – depending on what kind of reading experience I’m desiring at the moment.

  • Darren King

    This discussion reminds me of something I’ve noticed: It seems like (not always, but often) there is a distinct difference in the pastoring style of males in evangelical vs. mainline or liturgical traditions.
    In evangelical churches (with no liturgical or mainline traditions) the male pastors tend to come across as hyper-macho. They’ll put themselves down for a good joke or two, but they often see themselves more as CEOs than as shepherds. So they walk around like Donald Trump.
    Whereas priests and pastors I’ve encountered in mainline, Catholic, and Orthodox circles tend to be more relational, more soft-spoken, less likely to rule with an iron hand, more desirous of building discerning a consensus.
    Now again, of course there are many exceptions to the rule. Still, I’ve seen this enough to think there’s definitely something to it. And my guess is that in the more hyper-macho pastoring contexts, relating to the experience of women is not even on the radar – except for the token female on staff who heads up “Women’s Ministries”.

  • Brad

    As a practical matter, had the U.S. chosen to engage in WWII earlier, might the lives of many of the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis have been saved? This is a “lesser of two evils” case as mentioned earlier, but most decisions regarding war are regarding the lesser of two evils. Or at the very least what someone in power regards as the lesser of two evils.
    Being utterly opposed to war under any circumstances seems to me to be a naive position. That position would seem to prohibit many of the activities in which our police forces necessarily engage as well. And as several have pointed out, the position of war being wrong in all circumstances doesn’t appear to be well supported in the New Testament. Anarchy is not a Christian principle.
    As for the death penalty, I am generally opposed to it, even though this was not always the case for me. As with war, it’s more of a practical matter than a theoretical or philosophical or religious one. The inequality of application, the errors, the expense, and questionable deterrence are all good reasons to oppose the death penalty.

  • Brad

    My apologies for the comment I just posted above. It is a duplicate of a comment I made on Ben Witherington’s blog earlier and is not the text I just typed in the box and submitted. I have no idea what happened to the comment that I just wrote. The blog apparently ate it and grabbed my previous comment from the other blog when I clicked to post.

  • Darren King

    Further thought:
    In many of the more macho pastoring contexts I described above, an inevitable association is created: leadership is male behavior.
    So often, the only time a woman is allowed to be added to the leadership mix is NOT because she leads in ways that represent the strengths of women, but because she behaves in a male enough way to convince others she can lead.
    Before we ask “who can/should lead”, we need to ask ourselves “what is leadership – in its most complete form, reflecting the fullness of the image of God in human beings”?

  • Karl

    Maybe I’m unusual for a man, but I’ve read and enjoyed many women authors, both fiction and nonfiction. I wouldn’t say it was “intentional” though – not in the sense of reading them because they were women. I read them because I am interested in their books and would have been regardless of the sex of the person who wrote it. Having 3 girls may have something to do with my reading lots of female authors these days, as I want to read to my girls and with them. The most recent book I finished was The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, which has a female protagonist. I read it because my wife picked it up at a book sale and asked me to read it to see if it would be appropriate for our 9 year old daughter, and I enjoyed it greatly. But even before we had our girls I benefitted from reading many female authors, both as a child and as an adult. Among them:
    Flannery O’Connor
    Madeleine L’Engle
    Louisa May Alcott
    George Elliot
    Dorothy Sayers
    Laura Ingalls Wilder
    Anne Lamott
    Lauren Winner
    Frederica Matthews-Green
    Kelly Monroe Kullberg
    Sigrid Undsedt
    Juliet Marillier
    Jane Austen
    Emily Dickinson
    Luci Shaw
    Pearl S. Buck
    Annie Dillard
    J.K. Rowling

  • RJS

    You know – I always rebel somewhat at the idea that I bring a woman’s perspective or style to a discussion or to leadership. It seems to define a box – and undercut basic humanity.
    I think that most of what I bring is a specific human perspective and style. Just as men vary widely, so do women.
    Sayers makes this point in her essay as well. There is no unified “woman’s perspective” or “woman’s style.”

  • Darren King

    Fair enough. That’s a valid point. But wouldn’t you agree that while there are ranges that exist, that, painting in broad strokes, there are generalized differences between men and women?
    If so, I think the point still stands that leadership definitions tend towards the generalized male persona.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    It is interesting that L.L. Barkat in part does not make her real name known because she wants to write appealing to men and women alike. It took me a long time to realize that this L.L. Barkat was indeed a woman, even though I interacted with her between her blog and mine.
    But yes… I’m out of time, but I do think it is most profitable to try to get into the mind of anyone. Trying to understand their perspective….

  • Ted M. Gossard

    …and just to add more clarity: I thought this L.L. was a guy.
    After finding out it I’m not sure what impact that made on me, except that I think her writing is wonderful…

  • RJS

    There are generalized differences – no doubt. But consider the differences between people – Mark Driscoll and Tim Keller appear to have very different styles for example – and we could come up with other, probably better, examples.
    Are the generalized difference between men and women really all that significant compared with the difference between individuals? It seems to me that while some may be – many, perhaps most, are not.

  • Darren King

    But doesn’t the historical oppression of women within the church and other institutions say something about those differences – and how they’re evaluated? I don’t think its just that women look different than men that accounts for those differences. No doubt childbearing and other factors came into play – but again, I think there’s more than that going on. Thoughts?

  • jane

    Thanks, RJS, for a fruitful discussion (all 3 parts).
    Who we read is relevant today – we women lobbied at seminary just a few years ago to have textbooks written by women and people of color, as well as white males. (I recently obtained Marilyn Chandler McEntyre’s ‘Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies’ for a pastoral women’s retreat based on this blog’s recommendation, reading the book, and her being a female author; I remember how freeing it was as a woman to read ‘confessions of a beginning theologian’ about the challenges of women in the academy.)
    My friends from other ethnic groups have informed me of females (and males) who lead and write – and I was totally unaware of before. Perhaps men need to ask women what female authors they have learned from (and vice-versa)?
    The leadership question is an important one, too – I have found myself leading/preaching/teaching in a softer tone of voice and style because I am a strong woman, and some audiences are uncomfortable with that. Sometimes, I’m painfully aware of being in the ‘already and not yet’ reality of God’s Kingdom.
    Thanks for all of your comments!

  • RJS

    This is a complex topic – and it is very difficult to separate environmental or circumstantial influences from innate differences between men and women.
    First – men are definitely larger and stronger than women on average and in most individual situations. This of course influences many things.
    People adjust to survive – some better some worse, research into things like the Stockholm syndrome, development of abused children and such shows this quite clearly. Response to slavery and oppression also does. So in looking at the behavior of groups in given situations one key question in my mind is how much is innate and how much is adaptation for survival?
    I had a few posts on science and sin. in the context of those types of studies of the brain — research shows (I think) that abuse causes physical changes in the brain – these changes are not “inborn.”
    So if we move to an example comparing men and women — Research shows that men are more aggressive in asking for raises and thus tend to get larger raises.
    Research also shows that women tend to get slapped down harder when aggressive – in school proceeding a job and in a job.
    So is the failure to aggressively seek a raise a characteristic of “women” or is it the result of a survival technique that has allowed that woman to reach the position in the first place?
    My guess is that it is probably something of a combination, but less innate and more a learned effective response.
    I think that historic oppression and response to oppression needs to be evaluated in the context of “survival technique” as well as innate differences.

  • Darren King

    I certainly agree that it is a combination of innate biology and environment. Of course, even size differences between men and women arise as a result of behavioral and brain chemistry differences – in a complex loop.
    But, whatever the cause, we exist as we do today, men and women, and we need to account for who we are today.
    And, based on who we are today, again, speaking in general terms, there are assumption/biases about what strength and leadership looked like BECAUSE men have ruled the day for so long.
    Its kind of similar to the idea that the winners get to write history. They also get to establish the norms.

  • Duane

    To answer the life experience question, I’m a chaplain in the military and much of what I do involves some form of counseling or spiritual direction. When I’m trying to help a couple who is having marital problems, I’m trying to get “in the head” of the person speaking at the time. I’m trying to hear them as a person–their needs, frustrations, concerns, etc. I’m trying to understand how they feel, think and the like because so much of the problems I see between couples is their inability to communicate these things to their spouses. Neither is trying to “get in the head” of the other to understand her or his point of view. The range of people I see varies greatly from young male or female, some as young as 18 or so, to people who outrank me and are as old as 50’s or so. Some are of the Christian faith, but I’ve counseled Buddhists, Muslims, Agnostics, Atheists, etc. It is quite a unique experience to see such a wide variety of people, but I make a concerted effort to try to see the world from the point of view of the person coming to me for help–to really hear him or her.
    Since I also teach Bible studies and preach, I find it also important to get “in the head” of the audience I’m addressing and try to present a variety of ways to relate to a certain biblical text. In particular, as I’m teaching a discussion class, I try to understand and affirm whoever is offering a comment relevant to the discussion. There’s a quote I read in a Peter Scazzero book, The Emotionally Healthy Church that in paraphrase says being heard feels so close to being loved that most people cannot tell the difference. As pastors, we must try to really hear people, male or female.
    Changing directions completely, I’ve really enjoyed many of the mystics I have read–Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila–and it was really hard to wrap my mind around and understand Margery Kempe.

  • James

    I do read books written by women. The only time I consider gender of an author is if the topic is gender sensitive. Otherwise, to me, the gender is irrelevant. I prefer to consider the content of thought before the pressence of certain genitalia.
    The most recent book by a woman that I read was Karen Jobe’s commentary on 1 Peter (Baker Exegetical). I thought it was excellent, and truly found her examination of the audience of the letter to be particularly convincing. I’ve got Stormie O’Martin’s Power of a Praying Husband in my stack on my bedstand, but school reading is dominating my free time, so it will probably be December before I pick it up.
    If I may strike out from your question a bit, as a lay-pastor and hopeful some day full time pastor, I find that the best way to obtain and understand the views of others is to talk to them, and ask direct, winsome, thoughtful questions that make it clear that I value them and can learn from them (them being not only women, but frankly, everyone who is not me). While I think your suggestion about memoirs and broad reading is an excellent and easily accepted one, I think that getting to know the flock, the specific individuals, that God has placed into your care is superior yet (In my head, in a both/and, not an either/or sort of way). I think this is absolutely essential when preparing teaching, to take word of God and bring it to your audience.
    When this is done carefully and intentionally, feet will feel valued as feet, and feel encouraged to grow as feet… so will spleens, pinky fingers, and eyeballs. Those parts more unique to the vir won’t be overappreciated, nor the femina under, but each in turn and in balance appreciated for the unique gifts they bring to the church, in order to build it up.
    Easier said than done, but the intentional habit, and the clear intent, should be self reinforcing and a culture builder.

  • Craig V.

    I believe Gadamer says somewhere that reading is listening to a voice. The interesting question, to me, is when I read an author do I hear a male or female voice or simply a human voice? For myself, if I know the author’s gender I do usually hear that gender when I read. Recently I read Tolstoy’s Family Happiness. The narrator is a woman, but the author was a man. At times I got lost in the narrator’s female voice, but, mostly, I heard the male voice of Tolstoy. Is this a bad thing? I have a disability. Every once in a while an acquaintance will say to me, “I don’t even think of you as being disabled.” When I hear this I know both that progress has been made and that we have a long way to go.

  • RJS

    Craig V.
    Fascinating – it goes along with Ted’s comment above.

  • Matt Stephens

    I love reading things written by women, albeit VERY few of the seminary books in any of my classes have been written or even contributed to by women. In light of this, I made it a point to read Corrie ten Boom’s Hiding Place this past summer while on vacation, and loved it!

  • Diane Reynolds

    The Hiding Place is a good book by and about a strong woman.

  • rebeccat

    I wanted to respond to something RJS said earlier about women’s perspectives:
    “You know – I always rebel somewhat at the idea that I bring a woman’s perspective or style to a discussion or to leadership. It seems to define a box – and undercut basic humanity.
    I think that most of what I bring is a specific human perspective and style. Just as men vary widely, so do women.
    Sayers makes this point in her essay as well. There is no unified ‘woman’s perspective’ or ‘woman’s style.'”
    While I agree that there is no uniform way of being male, female or human, I would object to completely discarding any notions of female perspective or broad tendencies among men and women. No man will ever know what it is like to move through life in my female body. Few men will ever really understand just how vulnerable a woman can feel when she finds herself face-to-face with a room full of drunk men or one raging man. It is hard for a man to really understand what it is like to be dealt with by the people you meet as a woman rather than as a man in our world. Not to mention the experience of reproduction from a female perspective. Being a woman matters in this world. It matters to me. And I DO want to be able to bring my perspective as a woman into arenas where that perspective is often missing. I don’t think other people have any business telling me what that perspective is supposed to be or how it should manifest itself. Nor do I want my view seen as a token view. But I think that we need to specifically bring female perspectives – lots and lots of them – into those areas where they haven’t traditionally been found. And I think we need to value those perspectives and voices as being the voice of human women whether they fit or challenge our traditional notions of what is female.
    I don’t at all think the answer to is to insist that we need to get to the point where male and female are irrelevant. Whenever I hear someone say that, I feel like I’m being asked to leave something which is very important and precious to me – my gender – and become some more acceptable neutered form that I have no desire to be. What I want is to be able to move through the world as God created me – fully female (whatever that means in my particular life and personality) AND fully human. I want to be able to display those parts of me that are stereotypically female (and completely authentic for ME) and not be written off for them. Then there are areas in which I am most certainly not stereotypically female (for example, I’m not at all sentimental, I have an unusually good sense of direction). I want to be able to bring those to the table and have those be seen as part of who I am as well without them being seen as a credit to my humanity and a blow against my femaleness.
    So yes, please invite me to the table to bring a female perspective. Invite many women to the table to bring their female perspectives. Just know that the female perspective doesn’t fit into a neat box and will be wildly varied. I think if enough women get brought into the conversation, some broad tendencies will emerge. But as anyone who takes the time to know real, live women is already aware of – the feminine can wear many guises and comes in many different shapes and packages. I would much rather deal with a man who viewed me as being in some way “the other”, but who wanted to know and understand me as I actually am than deal with anyone who viewed me as some sort of generic human being, untouched and unaffected by my gender.

  • Clint Parsons

    rebeccat wrote: “I would much rather deal with a man who viewed me as being in some way “the other”, but who wanted to know and understand me as I actually am than deal with anyone who viewed me as some sort of generic human being, untouched and unaffected by my gender.
    I agree with the quote. I identify with the last part.
    Having browsed the replies and only caught some of the posts, I have to ask. Is androgyny the goal here or just one of the many ‘hats’ we wear in communication with others? I’m curious as to how the term “diversity” fits with this subject …

  • Your Name

    I posted on this on my blog today. So much to think about here, beyond even this and certainly beyond what I posted.

  • Ted M. Gossard

    The last “your name” was me.

  • RJS

    I think you hit on many of the key points in your comments – although I would take a slightly different nuance on some of it. A neutered androgyny is certainly not the goal. My key point is this – human first … male and female second (not human without male and female).
    So you said …I would much rather deal with a man who viewed me as being in some way “the other”, but who wanted to know and understand me as I actually am than deal with anyone who viewed me as some sort of generic human being, untouched and unaffected by my gender.
    I don’t want to deal with anyone who views me as a generic human being untouched by all the aspects that make me a unique person. But we move back and forth between situations where gender is important and where it is not. I do not want to sit in a scientific discussion with a man who views me first and foremost as “other” … frankly I’ve done that far too often and it is disgusting. We can be humans discussing science and gender is irrelevant (I know – I’m not postmodern enough). Quantum Mechanics is gender neutral.
    This is often true in other areas as well. If we recognize “human” as a category that contains both male and female we can also recognize many traits and tendencies as human rather than either male or female. This does not eliminate male and female as important factors.
    If the principle category is male + female coming together to make human. Then male/female is the defining lens through which all is evaluated and we lose touch with our common humanity.

  • RJS

    On the topic of vulnerability … this is certainly a place where my perspective is influenced by my gender. I travel a great deal and I am always concerned with safety and location in a way that my male colleagues generally are not. People cannot always be trusted – and here “people” means mostly “males.”
    But while my response is certainly related to the fact that I am female, how much is a human response to danger and how much is “feminine” and different from a “masculine” response to danger? Some of the response is likely due to difference in innate thinking – but some is simply “human.”

  • joanne

    In seminary, 07, I read only one book by a female author. It was a theology book. I deeply connected with the book as the author approached theology with all of her life experiences and some of the injustices she had experienced. students were dismissive of her perspective considering it “feminist”. I felt also dismissed and wondered if my voice would be dismissed as well. I felt sad that women could be so disrespected and labeled in a way that they were almost defined as devient. Feminist was used as a word to label the work and it allowed students to not accept the suthor’s influance.
    Such affected me because I wanted to have my words heard. I wanted to also have influence. I wanted to have my perspective valued. I wanted to be respected. (contrary to popular belief that women only need love) All of this was in some way dehumanizing.

  • Craig V.

    If you’re not postmodern enough I’ve probably wandered too far in that direction. It makes a difference in how we hear certain phrases. For example, is the female voice defined by me beforehand or is it defined and redefined as I listen? The same question might be asked with respect to the human voice. More than this, we might find any understanding of ‘human’ wanting if it fails to hear female voices.
    On a different note, the following question occurred to me: Will we retain our gender in the next life? Jesus statement about marriage in the next life may at least raise some doubts.

  • RJS

    Craig V
    Your last is a good question, and one I’ve wondered about. I have no strong conviction. But whatever the case it will be right – no matter what we think today.

  • Melinda

    I almost went to a Christian college for youth ministry. Reading through these comments, I’m very glad I didn’t if experiences of the devaluation of womens’ voices are so common in Christian education. Instead, I’m studying English and linguistics at a state university and have never felt discredited or disregarded in any way because of my gender. I’m female, but I’ve had no experiences where that seemed to make any difference to any of my professors. Especially in linguistics, a solid percentage of the textbooks are authored by women, and in English male and female authorship and protagonist roles are well balanced (we read the Odyssey and followed it up with the Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, for instance). I’m finding the whole experience affirming (as a woman AND a human person) and challenging in ways I’ve never experienced before, really.
    Which is good because, even being a woman myself, I’m aware that I don’t value women as much as I value men. While I read many books by and about women or girls when I was younger, as I got older I somehow acquired a prejudice against them. I even noticed that if I was enjoying a book and then found out the author was female I would be disappointed and immediately, on those grounds alone, think less of it. I’m starting to recover from that now, as I learn that being female or feminine does not make someone or something intrinsically worth less in significance, value, or virtue. It’s nice not feeling that I have to distance myself from all things feminine to have value or BE valued by other people.