Rachel Held Evans: A Woman’s Voice

Rachel in a big pulpit.

It’s tough representing your entire gender.

I feel the pressure every time I climb those super-intimidating stairs to stand behind one of those super-intimidating old-school pulpits to give a sermon I spent extra hours preparing because a small part of me still believes I’m unworthy to give it. I feel it every time I post a blog or write an article or publish a book, every time I give an interview or am asked to speak.

“We wanted to feature a woman’s voice,” a well-meaning conference planner will inform me with excitement, as if mine is sufficient to capture the experiences of 3.5 billion human beings.

I’ll desperately scan the program for another woman’s face, trying to shove the old adage from Clare Boothe Luce from my mind: “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes.’ They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes.”

Luce’s insight, illustrated brilliantly by XKCD, is not a helpful one to share with a perfectionistic overachiever who takes herself way too seriously and who retreats to the company of complex carbohydrates when she’s nervous, which is to say, all of the time.

I’ve got just enough hubris to accept this ridiculous responsibility myself, shouldering it on behalf of my gender like Atlas in a sensible pencil skirt and blouse, as I work too late, take on too much, over-prepare, over-achieve, and over-compensate so that everyone will know we ladies have what it takes. I’ve got to earn more money than the guys, generate more impressive blog stats than the guys, make better arguments than the guys, and know and please all the important guys, just to be taken seriously. I’ve got to respond to every dumb thing John Piper says, be ready to debate 1 Timothy 2:12 on demand, and agree to every conference looking for female participants, because….I don’t know if you’ve heard….we need someone to represent the women; we need a “woman’s voice. “

And when I speak, I better find the sweet spot—that elusive, ideal combination of smart and cute and not-too-intimidating or else they’ll call me a bitch, or they’ll call me dumb, or they’ll call me emotional, or they’ll call me a traitor. But they won’t just be calling me those things.  They’ll be calling all women those things, because I’m here to represent my gender; I’m there to speak with a woman’s voice.  Should it falter, it will falter for many.

Now, I don’t know how much of this complex of mine represents the harsh reality women really face, or how much of it is a projection generated by my own self-importance and pride, but I do know I am much happier and healthier when I move through the world without it.

In fact, I’ve found that the most subversive, liberating thing I can do these days is to show up to that pulpit, or that conference, or that terrifying blank page and speak with my own voice—

not a “woman’s voice,”

not a “man’s voice,

just Rachel’s voice.

East Tennessee accent and all.

Because really, that’s all I’ve ever had to begin with.

So men, if you want to help me in this effort to avoid self-destruction, beware tokenism. Don’t tell a woman she’s been brought into a project to represent the perspective of her entire gender; that’s too much pressure and not all women see the world the same way. I know this usually happens simply because we share the same goal of seeing more women at the table, and I honor that and am profoundly grateful for the ways in which we partner together to make that happen, but I can’t be held responsible for speaking on behalf of all women; I can only speak for myself. So the more voices, the better. The more backgrounds and stories and experiences and areas of expertise, the better. And if a woman falters or struggles at her work, please don’t universalize it by declaring that all women suck at math, or all women are disinterested in theology, or all women struggle with public speaking, or all women are bad teachers. Some of us are just having off days…you know, like humans do.

Women, speak with the unique voices God gave you. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re too masculine, or too feminine, or too feminist or not feminist enough. Tell your story, and tell it with the accent, tenor, and tone that story gave you. Tell it in your own voice.

Oh, and while you’re at it, go ahead and fail. Our gender will survive it. I know because I totally bombed the first-service sermon at Mars Hill in Grand Rapids last year in front of, like, 2,000 people who were used to hearing from Rob Bell.  And while I’m sure there were people in the crowd who took the opportunity to conclude that women make bad preachers, I only cried about it for two hours and then I stopped caring. In fact, it was something of a relief. It had finally happened: I’d bombed and lived to tell about it; the pressure was off.  (And who ever did I think I was to imagine I’d go through life without that happening?)  It’s not my job to succeed every time for every woman. If someone concludes from one bad sermon that women suck at preaching, well then that person hasn’t heard enough preachers, and that’s his problem, not mine.

Sometimes the person I need the most liberating from is myself.

I’m still super-intimidated by those high pulpits, and my hand still trembles sometimes before I hit the “publish” button on my computer. Luce’s adage goes through my mind at least once a day.  But more and more I’m learning to let go, to quit this fool’s errand of proving to the world that women have what it takes, and instead to go about the hard, unglamorous work of just showing up…as Rachel.

It’s nice when the voice echoing through the sound system, imperfect as it is, sounds like my own.

***

Rachel Held Evans is a popular blogger and the author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood (2012) and Evolving in Monkey Town (2010). Find her at RachelHeldEvans.com.

This post is part of Christian Feminism Week.

  • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

    Re: speaking. I am not the most entertaining speaker, but I usually feel I have good content. I’ve heard a lot of entertaining speakers who people say “so and so is a great speaker” and I think, “well, maybe, but the content was lacking”. It is tough when entertaining=great speaker and content is not important.

    • http://birdybegins.wordpress.com/ Eleanorjane

      Hi Kelly,

      I agree about excellent presentation skills not making up for crappy content, however, the converse is true too. How about putting some more work into your presentation skills? You don’t need to be a stand up comedian, but even if it doesn’t come naturally it is very possible to learn specific presentation skills to help people connect with, enjoy and take in your excellent content.

      • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

        Oh sure, I agree! I do read from time to time about presentation skills and pay attention to those speakers that I think have them. And over time, I know I have improved. I think a lot of times audiences may not realize that it does take work and not everyone is going to be super-dynamic the first or even every time. And, I think that the more often people speak the better they will get at it because they are able to practice. My opportunities are few and far between at the moment so I do feel a bit rusty. My greatest improvements came, I think, when I was doing it on a regular basis.

        • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

          I am terrified of public speaking, and yet I look at my calendar, and I’m speaking in a different city every single week in September & October this year. How the hell did that happen?!

          (Common myth: If you can write a book; you can speak in front of a bunch of people without any problem. NOT TRUE! Those two skills don’t have as much in common as people think.)

          One thing I will say is that, you’re right, PRACTICE makes all the difference. The more I do this, the better I get at it. I’m so thankful to the groups that first invited me to speak, let me struggle through it, then invited me back or recommended me to others. What grace!

          So, like you said, we gotta cut those who are new to the circuit…or the pulpit, or the classroom…a little slack. They’ll get better. Not everyone’s a natural.

          Keep taking every opportunity you can to get in front of people and practice, even if it’s a small group. Then, by the time you’re invited to bigger “stages,” you’ll have some experience under your belt.

          • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

            Yep, every opportunity. Like one night at church when the pastor handed me the microphone and asked me to share with everyone there what I’d shared with him earlier that day! ;)

            • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

              Yikes! Talk about getting put on the spot!

              But that’s great. It will prepare you for the dreaded Q&A sessions in which you are put on the spot. :-)

              • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

                Luckily, it was just a short comment–lots of people were sharing their experiences about this church-wide study we’d done. The only difference was they volunteered to share! Surprisingly, at the conference I spoke at last November, I felt more relaxed for the Q&A session than I did for my talk. It was very strange because beforehand I was dreading the Q&A part because it’s not something I could prepare for. And I like to be prepared!

    • http://bethaniqua.blogspot.com/ bethanykj

      I teach public speaking and see this in my student’s responses to each other. Charismatic students are “good speakers” even though they are often disorganized or cliche.
      I’ve had similar frustrations myself when I present a carefully prepared speech and hear in reply “you were so poised!” as though my greatest achievement was not falling over or saying “um” too much.
      The lesson: faking confidence goes a long way to being perceived as a “good speaker” and I can also get closer real confidence if I know I have good things to say. So, I guess I’m saying, keep at it!

      • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

        I have never taken a public speaking class. Maybe it was offered in college; I don’t know, but I wouldn’t have done it–I was too terrified. Speaking is something I never planned on doing, but God sort of threw me into it.

      • MorganGuyton

        As a preacher, what’s bizarre to me is the way that my parishioners decide when I was really speaking “from the heart.” It’s often when I’m the most frazzled and disorganized.

  • jeskastkeat

    “Don’t tell a woman she’s been brought into a project to represent the perspective of her entire gender; that’s too much pressure and not all women see the world the same way.” Amen! Not only too much pressure but it’s irresponsible.

    Well said, Rachel. Blessings upon you!

    • Elizabeth Chapin

      Maybe if we all agree to not be the token woman by asking the inviters to invite more than one of us and have a few names to suggest when they give us that blank stare because their binders are empty except for your name…

  • JennaDeWitt

    Beautiful. :)

  • disqus_9EZTMZgRAr

    We can fall into the trap of thinking we represent the whole of womanhood only when we forget all the many strong female voices who have come before. As women we need to claim the richness of our heritage, those who have borne the heavier weight, and understand we are only one among many from the past two centuries or more who have proclaimed what the Lord has said to one of us on any given day. I’m not so concerned that I might fall… as long as God is glorified, I will gladly be a fool in front of anyone.

  • Kimberly Roth

    Thank you, Rachel. In the short time I co-pastored a church, I was grateful that I wasn’t “the woman pastor” – but that I definately had a distinctive voice from the other pastor, who happened to be male. I appreciated both of our styles – and I wouldn’t have wanted one style to dominate – I learned as much or more from him as I hope I was able to contribute. When others in our community were responsible for teaching, they also brought distinct voices – and there was no lining us up according to gender, because everyone taught from a unique perspective and style. I love this about the body of Christ.

  • SarcasticLutheran

    I love everything about your voice (in all the ways that might be taken)

    • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

      Thanks, Nadia! That means a lot coming from you.

  • Dave Koser

    Rachel, you rock. You are an inspiration.

  • Allison Siburg

    How do you know you bombed at Mars Hill?

    I’ve been asked to be on committees and speak because they needed a “female voice”. Thank you for your words here to remind women leaders like me (like those serving church especially) that I’m called to be a unique child of God, to sound like “Allison” not “3.5 million people in the world,” even though I fight for and with women for a more justice-filled world in more ways than one.

  • Erin Wilson

    Yes!

  • http://commonplacebook.tumblr.com/ mattsaler

    I don’t know about the first service, but you rocked the second service—my wife and I were there. Hope you come back to Mars some day!

  • http://somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

    rachel, this may be my favorite post you’ve ever written. damn straight. we speak for ourselves, not Women or Christians or Feminists or anyone else. more voices, more light. brava!

  • http://ryanrobinson.ca/ Ryan Robinson

    Thanks Rachel. I’d love to hear your opinion on something. How would you feel about affirmative action in the church or in church-related groups?

    I’m on the editorial board for an online theological blog aggregator. Part of our purpose is to provide a variety of voices across the Anabaptist spectrum, so we do employ a degree of affirmative action in our decision-making, not with any direct rules but we will turn down white North American men if we don’t think they’re saying much different than the plethora of white North American men we already have.

    My church, however, while fully egalitarian, still has a heavy skewing in leadership representation because they don’t take deliberate affirmative action. At the highest level (multi-site, many levels) it is 3-2, but in the two most visible roles, the site lead pastors are 15-1 and 95%+ of the preaching is done by men. They defend this by saying that they give the jobs to who is best suited to provide spiritual growth of the community. That just happens to be men because of the delay it takes between churches saying women can preach to women actually being ready to preach (i.e. many women who are old enough to preach now grew up when it wasn’t allowed/was rare so they haven’t really considered it or are at least hesitant). The affirmative action argument in response would say that unless we deliberately get women involved now, the next generation may still assume that men are better at it.

    • http://somuchshoutingsomuchlaughter.com/ suzannah | the smitten word

      i LOVE this article about how chris hayes books 57% guests who are not white men. he does it through quotas and intentionally seeking to spotlight otherwise underrepresented people and perspectives. http://www.cjr.org/realtalk/chris_hayes.php?nomobile=1

      i’ve heard similar handwringing–”what are ya gonna do? white dudes just *naturally* rise to the top/are better/etc” and i think that’s a lot of crap. changing a skewed, unjust status quo means committing to do it differently. people get turned off by the language of affirmative action, but we can’t keep networking with and promoting folks who look just like us and expecting anything to change. qualified, capable people are everywhere, and it’s lazy (/racist/sexist) to ignore the elements of privilege that accelerate the rise of dominant voices and marginalize others.

      • http://ryanrobinson.ca/ Ryan Robinson

        I don’t think that “white dudes just *naturally* rise to the top/are better.” But white men do tend to end up leading by virtue of the fact that they grew up seeing white men leading so it encouraged them while it discouraged other demographics. Completely egalitarian in theory, even explicitly taught on a semi-regular basis.

        Talking about my blog aggregator site or a journalist I think the case is easier: those exist to make content heard, so deliberate quotas are an important way to do that. In a local church, though, it is almost a case of a trade-off now versus later. I would tend toward trying to vary the voices, assuming the candidates are still very good even if not necessarily equal (see the scenario I wrote to Rachel above), but I’m not completely sure I can blame churches like mine for sticking to a “best candidate wins” approach either. Their task is not primarily to provide a multitude of voices – they’ll do that more through HomeChurches, podcasts, etc. than through paid preachers – but rather the voices that will most help the community. And for many churches, it has to be the best help now or they may not survive into the next generation anyway.

    • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

      I actually feel a bit torn about this.

      I was at a more progressive conference once in which a theological panel was made up of all guys (a woman was supposed to be part of the panel, but she was unable to attend at the last minute), and near the end of the discussion, during the Q&A time, a woman stood up and chastised the group for not including any women. In response, the men on the panel said, “Well, let’s invite a woman up!” and called a woman from the crowd. Now, the woman they picked was smart and delightful, but unlike most of the rest of the people on the panel, she had no formal theological training, so she wasn’t able to contribute the way the others did. That left a bad taste in my mouth. It felt like we were saying “any woman will do…we just need one up here to look like we’re diverse.”

      On the other hand, I think the Church in particular should make deliberate efforts to celebrate, affirm, and promote women, people of color, folks from other parts of the world besides North America, those from a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds and sexual orientations etc. So I don’t have a problem with an “affirmative action” approach….so long as those who benefit from it are indeed qualified. We need leadership that reflects the values and diversity of the Kingdom, so let’s be deliberate about that.

      I guess it all hinges on the qualifications thing for me.

      So, for example, I admit it kinda bugs me when I’m asked to speak at a conference because I’m a woman. It means a lot more when people invite me to speak at a conference because they think I’ve got something to say. Now, if the planners went out of their way to include a lot of women or people of color who have something to say, then great! But no one wants to feel like they are there just because of their gender or race.

      An extra advantage in a world that often discriminates against us is welcome. But patronizing tokenism is a bit annoying.

      Hope that helps. Thanks for the question!

      • http://ryanrobinson.ca/ Ryan Robinson

        It does help, but it is a very tough thing to put into practice. I don’t make the hiring decisions for my church, but assuming I did, suppose I had two candidates. One is a white man and is the perfect candidate in terms of how he fits in the church and the kind of spiritual growth I think he can bring. Another is a black woman who is not quite as perfect of a fit – a good fit, but not quite as good as the white man. Do I take who I deem the lesser – good and qualified, but lesser – candidate to make the statement and for the sake of a future where people grow up seeing that you can be a good leader without being a white man?

        In other words, is that an issue of qualification, where the most qualified should win, period? Or is it a case of “an extra advantage in a world that often discriminates against” you? (I don’t think it is tokenism, but some would even say that, I imagine)

        • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

          Can’t speak for every situation, obviously, and I’m not expert in this. This sounds like such an evangelical copout, but I think the Holy Spirit can play a big role in all of this. So prayer for guidance is a good idea.

          But I do think our perceptions of what makes a good “fit” can be skewed sometimes. Really, being part of the church isn’t about fitting seamlessly together; it’s about bringing a bunch of misfit people together because of a shared commitment to Jesus. So, if your team is made up of a bunch of white guys, and a black woman applies and she meets the basic qualifications, you can look at it from the perspective that her minority status *adds* to her qualifications because she will, by nature of coming from a different background and living differently as a woman of color in this world, bring fresh perspectives and experiences to the table. Which is better for everyone.

          Does that make sense?

          I don’t have any experience with this, so take it with a grain of salt. But that’s kinda how I see it.

          • http://ryanrobinson.ca/ Ryan Robinson

            Yes, thank you. I meant “fit” in terms of being on the same page as the mission and general structure of the church (HomeChurch model; not everybody is on board with that), which should be irrelevant for race or gender. I do like the perspective of looking at it as diversity adding to qualifications rather than sacrificing a little bit now for a lesser candidate in exchange for making the statement long-term.

            • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

              Yeah, and it’s really not as much about making a statement as it is about bringing in fresh perspectives and insights, a person who is going to challenge some of the old assumptions and ways of doing things and make your community more reflective of the Kingdom.

  • kim

    This is dead on and freeing. I love your voice, what you have to say. The pieces you write wherein it is most pronounced always seem to resonate the most in me. I will pass this on to the young women in my life who feel this pressure as well. Thank you so.

  • Kaye

    I appreciate your perspective so much. After serving in the church for 40+ years and facing many of those pressures and self-doubts, I still struggle to find my own unique voice.

  • http://sheazellweger.blogspot.com/ Shea Zellweger

    Great post, Rachel. Thank you very much for it. As a male who would very much like to see more female participation in the conferences and discussions I attend (see: http://sheazellweger.blogspot.com/2013/06/failing-bechdel.html), I’d be interested to know if you have any practical suggestions for event planners, blog writers, and others who would like to invite those other voices but wish to avoid tokenism? I believe women should be given equal voice to men, but I also recognize that men tend to have larger platforms than women in areas like theology. In order to push for equality, a lot of times well-known male speakers/panelists/leaders will be balanced out with less-well-known but equally competent female speakers/panelists/leaders. Those arranging things might know this, but for those on the outside, that less-well-known woman sharing the stage with the three rockstar male pastors can certainly seem like the token female. What proactive steps can we take to avoid this perception?

    As this feminism week wraps up, I have to say I’m a little disappointed. Not in the quality of the posts- they were all excellent- but in Tony’s readership.

    I read this blog a fair amount, but I believe this is the first time I’ve commented on it (I could be wrong about that). For the most part, I read, observe, occasionally wade through the comments to see if anyone’s said the thing that came to my mind as I was reading, etc. Generally speaking, when a post addresses a hot button issue, there are a bunch of comments. Glancing back through Tony’s last couple weeks of posting, we see Homosexuality- 49 comments. Rob Bell calls BS- 87 comments. Islam’s Dark Ages- 28. Notes about Feminism Week- 21. Even “Who is @EmergentDudeBro” got 22.

    Then we come to this week, and participation plummets.
    Dorren Mannion- 4 comments.
    Marg Herder- 14.
    Kelly Youngblood- 20.
    Bee Cranford- 8.

    Stephanie Drury posted the link on her facebook page, and got 108 comments, mostly from her readers.
    Rachel Held Evans has tweeted the link and posted it on her author page, and will probably bring in a large number of comments as a result.

    But those are the result of their platforms, not Tony’s. So why are Tony’s commenters- many of whom never pass up the chance to speak their mind on controversial topics- suddenly falling silent in a week where people have written about oppression, sexism, celebrity culture, loving disagreement, and strong womanhood? Was Tony’s announcement of forthcoming guest posts seen by readers as the equivalent of a vacation announcement? Are these women simply not worth your time? Has making this blog feminist-friendly for a week somehow made it a hostile environment for the usual readership? I’m truly confused by this turn of events.

    • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

      Thanks for the comment, Shea.

      See my response to Ryan, which touches on the first part of your question. I would also add to this conversation that women have only just now begun to equal or outnumber men in terms of enrollment in seminary, so I predict that the number of “rock star” theologians who are women will increase dramatically over the next few decades…It’s just going to take a little more time for them to catch up in terms of numbers.

      Without sounding too contrarian, I would caution against reading too much into a more limited response from Tony’s readers to these posts. Speaking from experience, when I share a guest post of any kind on my blog, numbers and comments typically decline. (Not always, but typically.) I figure this is because people subscribe to my blog precisely because they want to hear from me. So guest posts, while usually well-received, simply don’t generate quite the interest that a post written by me will generate…even when I promote it like crazy. This is just the nature of blogging, I think. People read Tony because they like to hear from Tony. People read RHE because they like to hear from RHE. (See how I referred to myself in the third person there? Weird.) Like Tony, I try to take advantage of this by including on my blog people whose perspectives I think are important….but it’s unusual for those perspectives to get as much traffic/comments/interset as a regular post. And that’s okay. Kinda just the nature of blogging. (Really, 108 comments after a guest post is pretty damn good.)

      However, I have found that the more accustomed my readers become to seeing guest posts and interviews, the more engaged they are in them. So I’ve tried to make sharing the platform part of my (I hate this word, but whatever) “brand.” That does seem to help. I’ve noticed over the past year an increased interest in interviews, roundtables, and guest posts. (But it’s still very unusual for the most popular post of the week to be a guest post.) So maybe a practical suggestion for other bloggers is to share guest posts more often?

      • http://sheazellweger.blogspot.com/ Shea Zellweger

        I don’t disagree with your observations about numbers declining when guest posts are made, but I do think the circumstances in this specific instance need to be considered. There were several posts leading up to this week in which Tony first asked why there was not more female participation on the blog, then interacted with a feminist theologian, then announced this ‘feminist week’ and explained its purpose. On each of those precipitating posts, there were veritable explosions of discussion, both from people explaining why they felt women/feminists might be hesitant to converse, and others who more or less attempted to assuage their fears. One of the more consistent remarks was that women felt their voices were not given equal weight to the voices of men, and most of Tony’s supporters disagreed with that characterization.

        Now, I acknowledged in my initial comment that it’s possible Tony’s announcement of guest posts was seen by readers as the equivalent of a vacation announcement- I’ve certainly had that reaction when bloggers I read bring in guest posters whose voices don’t seem to fit the blog. But in this particular instance, even if the real reason was that innocuous, and the outcome completely unintended, it gives the impression of confirming the suspicions of those who feel that this space is not feminist/womanist/mujerista friendly. Yes, they’re guest posts, and yes, declining numbers for guest posts is the nature of blogging, but I’m concerned that this will ultimately reinforce in the minds of many their perception that the voices of women are not equally valued here. Given that this week of guest posts happened- at least in part- to combat that very perception, it seems unfortunate that we didn’t do a better job of being welcoming.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/ Tony Jones

          If it’s any consolation, both the traffic and the number of comments for this week are above the statistics of my average week on this blog. So that may contradict your conclusion.

          • http://sheazellweger.blogspot.com/ Shea Zellweger

            That’s a good thing, and I really hope I’m wrong. Heck, I’ve spent the last 3 weeks or so telling friends that I think the idea that people are unwelcome here is a misperception, albeit a valid one.

            But then again, I imagine posts from RHE and Stephanie Drury are going to drive just about anybody’s stats up, so I’m not sure the week’s aggregate is the best way to measure the problem I’m attempting to voice.

            Let me go about this a slightly different way:

            In the last month, you’ve posted 5 blogs which you’ve tagged with ‘GLBT.’ They are:

            “Why Every Christian Leader needs to Have a Good Answer to Homosexuality.”

            “Rob Bell Calls BS…”

            “The End of History for the Straight White Male.”

            “On the Right Side of History On Gay Marriage.

            “Marriage Equality and a Day of celebration.”

            I don’t have your hit stats, so I can’t factor those in, but as I said above, I was attempting to address interaction, not hits. I’ll go ahead and leave out the Bell post, because I’m pretty certain there are approximately 40,000 people who spend their entire day looking for places to attack or defend him.

            For the other 4, your average stats look something like this:
            Comments and Reactions- 25.25 per post, 49 high, 12 low
            Social media shares- 804.25 per post, 1227 high, 383 low.

            On Marg Herder’s post, which speaks extensively to GLBT matters:
            Comments and reactions- 14 (slightly more than the lowest, 40% below average)
            Shares- 289 (94 less than the lowest, 64% below average).

            Now, I’ll say for what I think is a third time that these numbers may not mean anything more than that you had guest posts, and people don’t respond to guest posts in the same manner. But whether there is intention or not, what these numbers (particularly the difference in sharing) are going to do for a lot of your critics is to bolster the very claims you wanted to correct.

            On a personal note, Tony, I think you’re a great guy. I’ve heard you speak in several venues, and come away challenged every single time. The things that interest you are largely the things that interest me, and the manner in which you approach them resonates with me quite a bit. But then, being a straight white male, I’m a part of the demographic that apparently feels very much at home on this blog, For those who do not, they have stated that the interaction- comments, upvotes, likes, shares, etc. disproportionately favors people who look like you and me, and outside of Stephanie and Rachel, the visible reception of these guest posts seems to fit the very trend which they say they see.

            • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/ Tony Jones

              Again, I’m not disagreeing with you. But I will say that comments that attack me usually get far more “up” votes than those who agree with me. Especially on posts that drive traffic from SCCL.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/tonyjones/ Tony Jones

      In addition to what Rachel said in her comment, let me add these points:

      1) 108 comments for Stephanie’s post is a lot of comments for my blog.

      2) It’s a pretty big assumption that most of those comments are from her Facebook followers. How do you know that? Maybe her content and platform were simply more compelling than the others. I’m not saying that’s the case, I’m just saying that it’s a conclusion that could be drawn using the same evidence.

      3) As I’m sure RHE will agree, the number of comments on a post often does not correlate to pageviews. If that were the case, then my post “Rob Bell Calls BS” would have gotten 870 comments.

      That’s not to say that platform doesn’t matter. Rachel and Stephanie have built large followings, so it’s no surprise that their posts get a lot of traction.

      I can tell you that my readers are reading these posts. That much I know.

      • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

        Yeah, the number of comments has a lot more to do with whether the post’s content invites them. Getting pageviews is all about a post’s “shareability.”

        For better or worse, controversy works for both. :-)

      • http://sheazellweger.blogspot.com/ Shea Zellweger

        In regards to #s 1 and 2- comparing the names in the comments section to the names of people who comment on Stephanie’s pages, there’s quite a bit of overlap. There were a handful of people I recognized as regulars from your site, and a bunch whose names are much more strongly associated with SCCL. I realize that’s not the most scientific analysis of the data, but that’s what I was basing my statement on. Do with that what you will.

        As to #3- I don’t doubt that your readers are reading the posts. That wasn’t what I was speaking to. I addressed comments, because that’s what’s publicly available. You see the hit counts, but those women who say they’re not comfortable/don’t feel welcomed only see what’s posted. Stephanie’s post contained a link to Jen Theawett-Bates’ experiment using a male pseudonym on this blog. Ms. Theawett-Bates based her conclusions upon comments (visible interaction) because that’s what she could see. Stephanie affirmed the validity of that conclusion. Given that comments were the parameters for demonstrating the validity of some of the original complaints, it seems logical to me that comments will be integral in your female readers’ determination of whether or not this attempt to be more intentionally welcoming was successful.

        • jtheory

          fwiw, I have been a reader of Tony Jones’s blog and followed it before I became a regular at SCCL. I will admit to a bit of a falling off from commenting here as much over the last few months. It’s usually cause I don’t have much to add though. I was kinda sad that more progressives didn’t respond to Tony’s challenge to talk about God though (I did, and don’t think I got any pageviews, or comments on the blog, but it was worth it nonetheless)

          But really, if pageviews and comments were what mattered, I think I’d not blog at all. In the last few months I’ve gotten maybe one comment.

          But as tony said, it’s good people are reading this, and that’s what matters. Maybe they didn’t comment cause they were wowed by the posts and left with a lot to think about. Who knows.

    • Doreen A Mannion

      I’ve never assumed the number of comments I get is indicative of how many readers I have or how many think I have something valuable to say. My writing is intended to make people ponder, not necessarily leave an instant comment. I would consider myself the better communicator for having made people think rather than instant-share. (Not that I’d turn away instant-sharing, LOL!)

      • http://www.kellyjyoungblood.com/ Kelly J Youngblood

        I feel similarly! I know that on various blogs, I don’t comment because I want to take the time to think about what has been said (introvert alert!) and that’s one of the things I aim to do on my blog as well.

    • Craig

      The regulars here are just too damned hooked on the teat of Tony Jones (which should be the new name of this blog, post feminine turn).

  • http://nuannaarpoq.wordpress.com/ thalassa

    As a woman veteran, I spend six years well aware that I needed to do twice as good of a job as a man if I wanted even half of the respect. Failure was not an option for me. If I failed, I was one more nail in the coffin to confirm that, as a woman, I didn’t belong. Luckily, we’ve reached a point where, for every woman that fails at a job, there is one that succeeds…as well as a man that fails. Now that I’m at a professional point in my life where gender matters less, but as I look around…I’m not impressed by the status quo. Unfortunately, we are still at the point where the woman that succeeds and the man that fails is seen as an exception by a large number of their peers and the general public. What is going to change that?

  • http://www.shaneyirene.com/ Shaney Irene

    Go Rachel!

  • Ruthie Dean

    Oh Rachel, you’ve done it again. Just beautiful! So freeing! I also found that when a man succeeds at say, preaching, people expect it. But when a women succeeds people tend to be OVERWHELMINGLY SURPRISED & THRILLED. At least I’ve experienced that, ha. She’s a woman AND she knows how to give a message–wha?! :)

    • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

      Hahaha! I know, right?!

  • Laura

    Isn’t it a shame that we’re STILL having to make this point, and that true equality still seems so far off? But fantastic writing as ever Rachel, thank you.

  • Jeannie Kendall

    I love this. thank you.

  • http://www.cindywarren.com/ Cindy

    Well said :-)

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Great post. I often felt this way in college in my math and engineering classes- I remember being in classes with maybe 10 or 15 students, and I was the only girl. And I felt like if I make a mistake, everyone will think, “oh, she messed that up because she’s a girl- see, I knew girls weren’t as good at this.” And there was NO CHANCE I could drop a class- everyone would know. “Hey, didn’t we use to have a girl in this class? What happened to her?” (Here’s my post about it: Scenes from the Life of a Female Math Nerd.)

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com/ Ed_Cyzewski

    Evangelicalism in particular has been such a difficult place for women to use their gifts. Thanks for sharing so frankly about your struggles and where you’ve landed.

  • Elizabeth Nordquist

    As a woman leader who has been in this conversation/struggle for many years, I applaud your coming to clarity of Spirit in knowing who you are and what you are called and gifted to do. When I preach I know I am coming with the body, mind and spirit that I have been given uniquely, and when a congregation or gathering projects on to me what they wish or hope or dislike about “women” in general, i cannot be responsible for that; I am responsible to be the particular called person that I am. It has taken many years of practice–spiritual and emotional–to rest in that place, but I am delighted and thrilled that younger women such as you are acting faithfully and powerfully to do the same. Grace, courage and joy in the journey!

  • Shems

    Oh my gosh, I was on the preaching team of my last church and can totally relate to having serious off days – although the night I totally bombed was only in front of 60 people I still went and lay down behind a load of stacked chairs to hide afterwards and just lay there covering my face with my hands and that was without any pressure to be THE preacher woman at church (we had an equal gender split on that count). Preaching is one of the most vulnerable things you can do.

  • http://benirwin.wordpress.com/ Ben Irwin

    Rachel, I can assure you the tension you’ve felt is not just some projection generated by your own pride. It’s real. Unfortunately, you and others have had to face this harsh reality because of people like me…or rather, who I used to be. I went to a Christian college, and every time a woman spoke in chapel, I would chauvinistically conclude that she somehow wasn’t as good as the men who usually spoke. (Because, you know, at 18 years old I was SO qualified to make that call.) This became my “proof” that God didn’t want women to preach. But once I got over myself and started listening to some of these speakers, my circular logic began to crumble. Many of these speakers were just too compelling to dismiss. And not because they’d found that elusive sweet spot you mentioned, but because, like you, they had found their own voice. And it was too good to ignore.

    My point is… I began to change because of women who spoke up not because they had something to prove but because they had something to say. And I just couldn’t go on denying it. I have to believe that simply by speaking up… just by finding your own voice and sharing it… you’re having the same kind of impact on others today. So, on behalf of ex-complementarians everywhere…thanks.

    • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

      Thank you for sharing this, Ben. It’s really encouraging.

    • jtheory

      in the late 80′s my family attended a Charismatic Church which my dad was worship pastor at. Eventually the church had a woman as the Lead Pastor, and my dad made the choice to leave that church. It’s one of the defining parts of my childhood because I remember asking him “why?” it just didn’t compute to me that just because she was a woman we couldn’t be lead by her, and he told me because the bible says women can’t lead, and I believed him to my shame.

      I am thankful that over the years I’ve changed that view. Thankful for people who pointed out women leaders in the Bible like Deborah and Lydia to me.

  • KGB

    <3

  • jtheory

    Rachel, great post.

    This past weekend I got to attend a conference with Jared Wilson and Bryan Chapell at my church called Passionate Grace, and while I enjoyed it (despite being the furthest thing from Calvinist), it did feel like it was missing something. The “bookstore” had one book by a woman, and it was a book on parenting.

    My wife in the suggestions said she’d like to see a woman speaker next time. she recently went to a Women of Faith conference and liked Liz Curtis Higgs, so that was her suggestion.

    But yeah, I am glad you are learning to not hold all that on your shoulders. That is a burden you don’t deserve. No one does. And really, when it comes down to it, we are learning to set human’s free to be themselves as God has equipped them to be, not this -ist or that -ist.

    Good blog, thanks for your freeing words.

    • http://rachelheldevans.com Rachel Held Evans

      I love that your wife took the time to recommend a specific speaker. This is such an important thing to do; I should have mentioned it in the post.

      When I have to decline a speaking request, I try to have several women’s names ready to recommend as an alternative. It’s not enough to say, “You should have more women speakers…” You gotta be specific! Give ‘em some names!

      (Of course, the issue with the neo-Calvinist crowd is that you can’t recommend a woman to speak to a general audience because they are against women teaching men. So…really tough to gain any ground there.)

      Thanks for the comment.

      • jtheory

        yeah, and thankfully my church is less Calvinist (Missionary Alliance, but the guy who goes to our church and got the conference set up is very Reformed), so I am hoping they are open to it.

      • Beth Pyles

        Can’t recall exactly where (used to have the reference handy – haven’t needed it so much of late – lucky me), but as I recall, Calvin himself named the whole women can’t preach thing aidiaphora – and who are we Calvinists to disagree with the man?

        As a trail-blazing old woman lawyer and trail-blazed-for young preacher (still an old lady, alas), I’ve been called to account for my gender more times than I can count – and have been on the receiving end of not getting a position because of the woman who came before me — thank you Rachel for reminding us all that we each only have our own voice to offer — and what a gift that is.

        On a lighter note, I used to (I’m much nicer than I used to be) collect examples of men failing miserably in whatever my endeavor was at the time in order to ‘even the playing field’ when the subject came up (or more truthfully, just to bring the conversation about all the women failures out there to a halt — and it was effective at that, I’ll grant).

        Peace, Beth

      • D Lowrey

        I have a question about the neo-Calvisnists. If they are unwilling to accept that women can do as good a job as a man in teaching/preaching…will the enlightened ones move onto another venue which does not have this prohibition…allowing the old views to die?

  • http://transformingseminarian.blogspot.com Mark Baker-Wright

    I’ve found myself in the odd position of witnessing when this happens on the other side of the gender line, as well. That is, in the rare kind of place where women are in leadership, and one of them says (frequently!) “we need a male voice” (to the consternation of the other female leader). I don’t mean to try to pretend that this happens anything like as often, or is anything like as pernicious when it does (because it IS a rare kind of situation, after all), but I still thought it worth putting out there.

  • Mark Parker

    “If someone concludes from one bad sermon that women suck at preaching, well then that person hasn’t heard enough preachers, and that’s his problem, not mine.” – Why would you assume only a man would say this?

    • Doreen A Mannion

      Maybe she didn’t. It’s bad writing to do the he/she thing, LOL.

  • Craig

    So while there’s something right about the conference organizer’s impulse to put women’s voices on the ticket, there’s something wrong with asking women to provide that voice? It seems to me that issue is best dealt with by offering, and by accepting, all the usual and should-be-obvious caveats (maybe the shame is that such caveats even have to be expressed). But no need to go too far. Just by her familiarity with a broad range of relevant issues RHE is in a better-than-average position to represent the perspective and interests of a significant segment of Christian women. I think her readers would agree.

  • Doreen A Mannion

    Thank you so much Rachel. As one is often the token Christian lesbian (and often asked to preach on gay pride Sunday), I can relate. I guess I feel more of a responsibility to “represent” given how few of us there are who are asked, but your words will help me re-consider this.

  • pastordt

    Oh, amen. Thank you, Rachel, for articulating in your usual remarkable fashion this powerful truth. Carrying that banner just plain tires you out. Learning to be who we are is one of our primary goals as human persons – this marvelous post shows us who you are, Rachel. Delightful, intelligent, articulate, honest and real. Thank God.

  • willhouk

    Awesome post Rachel. I keep getting reminded again and again of the differences men and women encounter. It’s great to hear this perspective, because I am a man, and that’s how I experience life. I feel like you have a very kindhearted way of approaching these topics.

  • http://asacredjourney.net/ Lacy Ellman

    Thank you so much for YOUR voice, Rachel. I’m more than confident that it is inspiring a sea of women to share their many voices and stories with conviction and courage – as women, yes – but even more importantly, as image-bearers, as we all are, no matter our gender, race, class, religion, or orientation.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/kimberlyknight/ Kimberly

    Wonderful post Rachel. My partner is just about sick to pieces of hearing me talk about how faithfully cogent and gracefully powerful your posts are :)

  • Bev Murrill

    Last year I was asked to speak in the evening at one of the most prestigious Christian events in the UK. It was a major coup! And I was asked because, and I quote, ‘it’s difficult to find strong women speakers in the UK’. As an Aussie, I was wondering whether ‘strong’ should come from my perspective or theirs.

    It was an interesting experience. I stood in front of those 5000 people, the largest group I’ve ever preached to, and suddenly realised I didn’t feel ‘more’ because there were so many of them. I realised that I would preach my heart out to 50, or 500, just as I would to the 5000. And when I finished preaching, I knew in my heart that if they never asked me again, it would be because they didn’t like ‘me’. It wouldn’t be because I hadn’t done well enough because I preached my heart out, I preached well, and I was happy with what I’d done and the way I’d done it.

    As it turned out, that must have been God giving me a hint about the future, because the following year, I was not asked to speak again. Though other invitations came from other places as a result of that preach, it was clear that when they said ‘strong’ women speakers, they didn’t mean that strong. The guys who preached on the other 5 evenings preached ‘strong’ but I think in some circles, despite what is said, it is disconcerting for a woman to preach strong.

    HO hum… Emmanuel.

  • http://www.margherder.com/ Marg Herder

    Thanks for putting something so important into words.

    Loved this line talking about climbing the steps to the pulpit to deliver a sermon, “…because a small part of me still believes I am unworthy to give it.” Did this ever resonate with me! The only way I’ve been able to figuratively walk up those steps is by focusing on the concept of surrender, because I can believe She in me is worthy. But just ME? My mouth, my pen, my voice, hmmmm, my life? Yikes. So the only way I can mediate it is to just try to express what I see as the current She runs through my life, and
    then I can be confident enough to actually say/create/sing/do something.

    And this feeling of unworthiness is so deep, deep, deep in me that sitting here I can’t even wrap my little head around where it comes from, except maybe everywhere!

    I wonder out loud, is this a woman thing primarily, as in a function of patriarchy, or a marginalized group thing, or just a thing some of us experience and not others?

  • Angi Dudas

    Thank you Rachel! I think you really hit that nail on the hit, because we can’t all speak for all of womanhood, which is why every woman’s voice needs to be heard, as each one is unique and poignant,

  • http://logicandimagination.wordpress.com/ Melody Harrison Hanson

    Preach. I am my own worst enemy.

  • Kate Flynn

    You do you, gurl. That’s all anyone can ask. And, this particular woman (and my girlfriend), are behind you 100%.

  • http://tracimsmith.wordpress.com/ Traci

    Love this post. Very freeing, and so right on. I wonder, sometimes, if women need to remember that one woman’s voice doesn’t speak for “all of us.” I think sometimes I am afraid to share my story and my perspective for fear that I will be letting down all kinds of women. In other words, I don’t just worry about men calling me a bitch to my face, I worry about women saying it behind my back. Am I alone in this?

  • http://www.brooklynlindsey.com/ Brooklyn Lindsey

    Thank you–for changing my entire week. Can’t lie, the tears are trickling down my cheek in my office this Monday morning because you’ve said it. And I just couldn’t muster up the strength (yet) to say it out loud–in public–that I’m just me, I really just want to be that and not the “girl” rep of humanity in youth ministry. We do need all of the voices. All of the stories. I’m saying “yes” to being me this Thursday on a stage that, as far as I know, has never had a female preacher on it. And I needed these words. My husband texts me before every event where I speak, or preach, or teach (or whatever they need to call it) “Be yourself”. I try to listen but I find myself drifting from it sometimes if I’m not careful. I’ll be myself. It’s the best I’ve got. Don’t know you beyond your blog, but I am thankful for the solidarity I’ve found in your words, I know if you lived next door, we’d be great friends. Thanking God today for your heart and for the “yes” you’ve said with this post.

  • Karla Holton

    Please continue to take those nervous anxious steps up those stairs and continue to hit the send button on your computer because each time you do I am encouraged and embolden to speak out a bit more confidently.

  • Michael Johnson

    Rachel, Just spent a week at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Studies with 9 women pastor/writers and their brilliance blew me away! Reading your blog, its honesty, vulnerability and ability to make so concrete a challenge to men and as it tells women pastors they are not alone, I get the sense that you would have fit right in.

  • gabi532

    Rachel, keep it up. Don’t let those ‘high pulpits’ intimidate you.. most of them are yutzes anyway… ;) Bigger is not always better. Hang in there.

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