Male Liberation Rant

Wednesday, 25th November 2009 at 16:57 UTC 41 comments

Yesterday I had a rant with a female colleague about under representation of Women in the Church in which I work, particularly in visible positions of power, and the need for such things as the ever-infuriating “Men’s Weekend”. On top of the discussion of Men’s Clubs in Universities, this week has already had more than its fair share of thwarted Feminism and fail-Feminism, and I’ve had enough. And I’m male for crying out loud.

I realise it might be a little patronising to do this, but its at about this stage that I want to run up to all my female friends hug them and ask them how they cope, and probably beg for forgiveness even though the odd one or two have told me they think I’m better at taking their equality into account. Also, I just want to share my favourite joke of the last few weeks:

Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life.

Teach a woman to fish, and you’ll feed her family aswell.

On the back of the Men’s Clubs and Men’s Weekends rants, I’ve had or been party to debates on whether we need Women’s Officers, whether it should be Women’s Liberation or Gender Liberation, or indeed if its Liberation or Equality, and whether or not women have been liberated or not; I’m actually a little sick of all the ramblings, and even more so of the continuous insinuation that what little progress women has made has somehow hurt men and that this is somehow a bad thing.

On one level, Iike the idea idea of a Men’s Club or a Men’s Weekend. My ideal suggestion for a session for Men’s Weekend would be to get women in the church to do anonymous interviews on ways they feel the men in the church put them down, exclude them from decisions and leadership, or devalue them, taking them for granted or assuming the place would run without them. Then I’d select the ones that make me feel most crap, edit them into a nice 10minutes of gut wrenching public reading, and deliver it as a talk, a time of confession and a time of fresh commitment to humility and empowerment of others.

What I wouldn’t do is serve “man food” (whatever the fuck that is!) or allow the screening of Top Gear episodes (which seems to be a common thread running between Men’s Weekends and Men’s Societies. Perhaps Clarkson truly is the devil incarnate after all).

Yes, Men need liberating, but that liberation is entirely reliant on the liberation of Women. Like many situations where two groups exist, one continuously disempowering the other, both need liberating. Both have much to gain, but only one also has much to lose, making them the wrong candidates for adjusting the balance of power and freedom. When men get involved in setting a course for women’s liberation, more often than not they just make excuses and water down the impact.

Men’s liberation comes through the cold hard experience of losing the privileges that prevent us from being real people; for example, the demand of society to be women’s protectors rather than empowering them to protect themselves might seem like a privilege, indeed it is, but its not a place of freedom. It constrains men, forcing them to pretend to be strong and laying out a role that they must conform to. Ask a man to give it up, and he’ll probably say no, pretend he’s better than the rest or deny any knowledge of the problem. Give a woman the ability to choose to exist outside the ‘protection’ of her husband, brother, father, son or male friends, and she has nothing to lose in saying “yes” except the crap end of the deal.

I’m really not sure how to end this or where I really want it to head, but right now I’m getting worn out by all these arguments about men needing isolated spaces in which to find liberation. Men’s liberation can only happen through developing healthy, equitable relationships of respect and mutual benefit with women. They won’t do it by building up their sense of “stolen privilege”, eating stereotyped food and drinking stereotyped drinks or watching movies and playing games about violence, destruction and a wanton lack of respect for anything and everything around them, be that the planet, other people, or anything else.

Rant over.

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Entry filed under: Church, Community, Development, Freedom, Gender, University, Women.

From Slaves to Oil to Sunlight Apology Required

41 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Tweets that mention Male Liberation Rant « Graham’s Grumbles -- Topsy.com  |  Wednesday, 25th November 2009 at 17:09 UTC

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Graham and Ben Furber, Kalvis Jansons. Kalvis Jansons said: RT @tchee: RT @msgracefh: real men ARE feminists 🙂 http://wp.me/p3sef-aq […]

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    • 2. Graham Martin  |  Wednesday, 25th November 2009 at 22:15 UTC

      I believe this means that both Tracey and Grace think I’m a real man. This is both massively flattering and also slightly unsettling. But mostly flattering.

      Reply
  • 3. Tim  |  Wednesday, 25th November 2009 at 17:19 UTC

    I’m all for equality. Totally for it. But I recognise a need for discriminiation as well – note that discriminiation is not the same as prejudice, it is simply distinguishing between different entities. Men and women are different just as individuals more generally are different. It is not uncommon for people to find support in assemblages of those with whom they share some sort of commonality; be it in taste of music, film, food, entertainment, gender, whatever. There is definitely nothing wrong with groups of individuals sharing some common ground choosing to meet and enjoy each other’s company, fellowship, banter, support etc. There is also nothing wrong with individuals who don’t share this common ground but may instead have different interests etc. At the end of the day – especially in the church – the rich tapestry of humanity and therefore the body of Christ is made more awesome in both the unity and diversity of it’s members.

    Reply
  • 4. Greg  |  Wednesday, 25th November 2009 at 17:24 UTC

    Okay, you mentioned churches.

    In case you hadn’t noticed, men are in a minority in churches, with half of those present either being bit wet or slightly camp, ie the ones who can cope with the effeminate setting that is church. Don’t you think this is one place where a men’s group is actually a good idea?

    I’m not convinced that this isn’t more self-hatred, like in your empire post. The same principle applies: If you’re not oppressing any women yourself, you have nothing to apologise for and you can be as male as you like without having to flagellate yourself. In case you hadn’t noticed, lots of men actually like beer, fry-ups, curries and slightly obsessive sporting pursuits. Since men are an under-reached group in churches, surely we should be concentrating on outreach to them? At St C’s Cheadle, we were trying to do that, with some amount of success. What’s wrong with that?

    Reply
    • 5. Graham Martin  |  Wednesday, 25th November 2009 at 22:22 UTC

      Perhaps, and I say this with an air of self-flattery, this is because the men in church have been transformed to reflect certain Godly attributes? We both know at least one married couple with church connections where the woman drinks beer and the man drinks the, er, otherwise-stereotyped beverages. It might be about broadening the Church’s appeal from knitting and flower arranging, in which case, its a good thing, but when its about men getting together to either pretend they’re hard done by (the percentage of Church-going men vis-a-vis Church-going women in ordained ministry being quite staggering) or promote stereotype conformity, thats what really annoys me.

      Reply
  • 6. Brain Duck  |  Wednesday, 25th November 2009 at 19:07 UTC

    Greg: ‘beer, fry-ups, curries and slightly obsessive sporting pursuits’.
    I score at least two-and-a-half of four there. If the ‘Men’s group’ is the only place in church where I can ramble on about running over a curry, and everywhere else assumes I want to knit and look after Sunday school, I’ll be really quite annoyed. I note with a mixture of amusement and exasperation that one of the original aims of the Manchester soc was ‘Ironman competitions’ 😛

    Amongst my most skin-crawling experiences at church (not Quakers) was a women-only Bible study group where the group assumption was that all we wanted to talk about was future husband & children. This would have not been such a problem had it not been the only other Bible study group I could get to was men-only.

    Which is rather the point. I don’t have a massive objection to male-only organisations, it depends on if they really need to be male-only to do what they do. I can completely see the point in setting up a group around say men’s mental health, but not one for watching Top Gear.

    Reply
  • 7. Lois  |  Wednesday, 25th November 2009 at 22:39 UTC

    In secular terms, I know I sometimes appreciate spending time with women without there being men around, and that there are some contexts I would rather share with women than men. I don’t have a problem with men doing the same thing. Sometimes I prefer talking to men than women, or to mixed company.

    But the question you touch on is about perceptions of masculinity, by both women and men. If the only way to define maleness is curry and top gear, that’s as inaccurate as defining femaleness as motherhood and apple pie.

    I think Greg’s right about how some men struggle with church as it’s done now (one day I may get round to writing about it!) but at the same time the leadership is mostly male (I know what you mean about that particular church Graham!)- surely something’s wrong there!

    Reply
  • 8. Greg  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 0:06 UTC

    Graham: What’s all this about men “men getting together to either pretend they’re hard done by…or promote stereotype conformity”? You never said any of that originally, you’re smearing a lot of honest people with your insults and if anybody’s doing any stereotyping, it’s you doing it about men’s groups. Plus, it sounds like you’re saying that girly men have ‘absorbed Godly attributes’ If that is what you’re saying, are you condemning male culture? That’s hardly an inclusive atitude towards the under-represented sex, do you have any other bright ideas for making men feel welcome in church?

    Ceri: you can probably guess how much desire I’ve ever had to be in a male-only bible study group. A single-sex prayer triplet, on the other hand, is something I’ve happily done, and for which I can see advantages. It all depends on context, whereas the OP seems to want to subsume it all into some gender war. Sadly for you, fry-ups are nothing without bacon and eggs 😉

    Reply
    • 9. Brain Duck  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 22:41 UTC

      Greg: ‘condemning male culture’ – well, what do you think ‘male culture’ means? ‘Cos if it’s white van drivers yelling crude comments pretty much every bloody time I go running through town, then yes, I do condemn that. *shrug* maybe that’s even a role for a ‘men’s group’, to support men in avoiding and challenging misogynistic fuckwittery, but simplistic statements about ‘male culture’ are problematic.
      Maybe a useful test would be whether a ‘men’s group’ promotes a Christ-like attitude towards women, particularly women who are already marginalised and excluded? Because much of what comes to mind as ‘male culture’ really, really doesn’t.

      Fry-up without laverbread = fail.

      Reply
  • 10. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” « experiment #6  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 5:35 UTC

    […] Men Hate Going to Church’ (which has a site here). Anyway, I was quite surprised earlier by blog which seemed to me to be suggesting that church based activities specifically for men are of little […]

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  • 11. Dave Burton  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 6:32 UTC

    The whole vexed issue is one I think is perhaps worked out in a flexible manner which is appropriate to our commitment to love one another, rather than in a way which seeks a ‘perfect rule’, or institutional solution. Of course, this requires a lot of grace and love and wisdom, which have never been strong points of ours as human beings, but I still think it’s desirable.

    I also think there’s an extent to which the overt practice of male-friendly church activities actually covers up the deep insecurity many men feel about what makes a man a man at all. Fryups, curry, banter and so on are all completely indispensable to me, and they seem to come easier in male company, though by no means exclusively male. And I think they’re as important a part of my masculinity as any other, more noble-sounding things. But the problem is that, as men, we are so rarely willing to consider the deeper things, the things which are consequential to us – and I would suggest that is because we (as men) are scared they’re either 1) absent or 2) invalid. There’s a lot of manning-up to our weaknesses to be done.

    Which is why the main thing I want to give is my full-throated support for the statement that appropriate gender relations depend upon the liberation of both genders (a liberation, incidentally, defined by freedom in Christ not classical liberalism). And I believe it’s part of the imperative given to us by God that we learn this stuff together. So while there’s value in talking to others who share your experience of gender about your experience of gender, you’re very right in saying that it cannot and should not end there.

    I think gender-specific settings are not only and always harmful, but I think you’re right that if we stop there we’re robbing ourselves.

    It has to be said though that there are some very strong prevailing cultural norms – to do with essentially fearing ‘the other’, particularly when it comes to sexuality – which would make mutually-articulated liberation very very difficult indeed. We’d get freaked out if we discussed sex in general terms in a church small group, never mind our view of sex specifically. Never MIND hearing someone else’s view or experience.

    Or am I wrong in assuming it should happen in the public context of the broader church community? Isn’t the space in which we work out our gender identity called marriage?

    I think it is, but what on earth does that mean for single people like me?

    These disconnected thoughts come sponsored by not enough sleep last night. Thanks for a very illuminating discussion, though. I now have much to chew on.

    Reply
    • 12. Brain Duck  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 22:39 UTC

      Dave: ‘We’d get freaked out if we discussed sex in general terms in a church small group, never mind our view of sex specifically. Never MIND hearing someone else’s view or experience.’
      Quakers spent quite a lot of last year having fairly explicit discussions about sex, when we as a church were discussing what marriage meant to us (http://www.ymg.org.uk/, & a long discussion is perhaps for another post).
      It was indeed rather weird & somewhat toe-curling at first doing this around my Mum & some of her oldest friends from my home meeting, not to mention people of many different ages, genders, sexual orientations, etc in York. However, I think we as a community got an incredible amount out of doing this, & I’m glad we did.

      Reply
  • 13. Steve Thack  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 11:55 UTC

    Greg – i assure you there is nothing wrong with a good vegan fry up.:) Far as men only space – i’m not interested, certainly seen years back mens meetings that had no reason or benefit from excluding.

    Reply
  • 14. John  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 12:29 UTC

    I haven’t read any of the other comments cause I am tired and cannot be arced – but I think generally feel a bit annoyed – largely cause I read the comment about being anti-mens weekend away and then ignored the rest of the article because I am a bit annoyed.

    Firstly I should start with a question which I do not know – are the women’s weekend aways at St Mike.

    I have been on Mens weekend aways and found it highly refreshing. I do not believe this was an event of exclusion in which the patriarcal church made its descisions – I believe it was a weekend for Men to bond and enjoy each others companisionship, commonalities and chat about issues that are gender based. I agree that things need to change but do not believe the mens weekend is the facade of this evil that you chase. I wonder how libertarian you are Graham when it seems you would look down on men who wish to have a bit of time with those of the same gender – and would most likely ban such events.

    Having said all this – i didnt really read what you wrote so am probably having an argument with myself.

    Reply
    • 15. Junius  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 17:28 UTC

      I believe it was a weekend for Men to bond and enjoy each others companisionship, commonalities and chat about issues that are gender based.

      I’m curious – could you give some examples of the gender-based issues in question?

      I have no particular problem with men- or women-only events per se, my confusion is mostly that I’m not sure what purpose the exclusion serves.

      Reply
  • 16. John  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 12:38 UTC

    Having re-read I am even more annoyed – It is you who stereotypes men in this article.

    And even if you are right – are you denying a man the right to enjoy something which you perceive to be a stereotype?

    This seems a very judgmental blog post. I hope now you can clarify the following:

    Would you ban the men’s weekend if you could get your way? Do you believe that a man going away on a men’s weekend is repressing women and keeping them out of Church descision making? Are all the men who attend less understanding of gender equality issues than you are?

    Reply
    • 17. Graham Martin  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 14:44 UTC

      I wouldn’t ban it, as such. What I would actually quite like to see is a weekend designed to be more appealing to men but sold to both genders; some of the strongest hikers I know in St Mikes are female, and my female house-mate can probably out run the entire church over distance or fells. My outrage at Top Gear has as much to do with Western Consumerism and the Environment as anything else.

      I don’t think its just about decision making, but rather about the whole attitude on how men should behave. Its about becoming Godly people, honest, compassionate, vulnerable to one another, humble before God and those amongst whom we serve. Most of the men in church, and myself included, really struggle with these issues, and I strongly suspect that these issues will be swept aside in favour of a good time. We preach that women shouldn’t gossip, why shouldn’t we preach that men shouldn’t act all in-charge all the time?

      I realised this would be a very raw post, hence the use of the word rant in the title. Sometimes I use this blog as a way of venting steam, and yes, I was pretty irate about all these issues when I came to write it.

      Reply
      • 18. Tim  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 16:22 UTC

        I don’t think anyone preaches that women shouldn’t gossip, I think that we preach James 3:9-12 etc to everyone. I think you’re the one stereotyping right there. Having a good time is definetly part of fellowship and whether or not it takes priority over discipleship is not a gender equality issue but a question of appropriate leadership. Nobody should act in charge of anything if they aren’t (v1?), male or female.

  • 19. Steve Thack  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 13:27 UTC

    Historically men’s weekends have been part of the process of excluding women from decision making. Can’t say its true of every one obviously. Don’t think g is talking of a ban – more like asking organisers to re think and question what they aim to achieve.

    Reply
    • 20. Graham Martin  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 14:24 UTC

      Thankfully no one at St Michaels is talking of a weekend where actual decisions are made, but I suspect informal decisions get made.

      Reply
      • 21. Lois  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 16:00 UTC

        I don’t think the men’s weekend is anything to do with decision making (neither is the women’s weekend, I’m sure). Perhaps a more relevant concern here is the representation of women in the leadership of the church, among the clergy, staff and PCC. That, I think, should be a genuine concern at St Mike’s, along with the representation of other groups within the church- those who weren’t there in the 70’s, for example.

  • 22. Dave Magill  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 17:03 UTC

    So I’ve stayed out of this. Other than making pithy comments on twitter. I have just read one post on here and can’t stay our any longer.

    “I don’t think its just about decision making, but rather about the whole attitude on how men should behave. Its about becoming Godly people, honest, compassionate, vulnerable to one another, humble before God and those amongst whom we serve. Most of the men in church, and myself included, really struggle with these issues, and I strongly suspect that these issues will be swept aside in favour of a good time. We preach that women shouldn’t gossip, why shouldn’t we preach that men shouldn’t act all in-charge all the time?”

    For St MIke’s Men’s weekend to be included in the post above and then have this comment adding to the previous comment has shown nothing but ignorance at what actually happens at the weekend.

    I have been to the weekend every year since I have been at St Mike’s. Let me tell you (as someone who has actually been on the weekend) what it is about.

    It is about encouraging men to be more Godly people, to follow Jesus, to immerse themselves in the Bible and pursue a Holy life. I have been taught at previous weekends how I should be vulnerable to my church family, I have taught that I should not be incharge all the time. I have been taught that God is great and I am not, and that I should kneel before him in humility.

    The men’s weekend unlike many of my experiences of church have enabled me not to sweep things under the carpet. I have learnt to find freedom and security to open up to others who understand and often share my fears, weaknesses and struggles.

    Have I had a good time on the weekend. Yes. Has that ever, even nearly, got in the way of Jesus working in my life on the weekend? No.

    I am astounded that you have chosen to slate a ministry of the church you are a part of without first discovering the reality of that which you have degraded. How is this helping anyone?

    If you had taken more time to talk to some different people you would have found that the Men’s Weekend at St Mike’s works hard to encourage men to be better men who treat others with honour and respect. It has taught me to be a better husband to my wife, a better friend and a better man.

    All this said, I am more sad about the fact that rather than having a face to face discussion with those who work hard to deliver this event you have blogged about it. We are family. Let’s talk around the dinner table not on the internet.

    Reply
    • 23. Brain Duck  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 23:10 UTC

      Dave M – could you then please explain why it’s necessary to have a weekend which is only open to men, to achieve these good things? How would it be different if you opened the weekend to anyone who wants to participate, whilst maintaining the same mix of activities?
      I don’t go to St Mikes, so sorry if this is an obvious question.

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      • 24. Dave Magill  |  Friday, 27th November 2009 at 0:26 UTC

        In short. It works I’ve done both one worked really really well. Is it the only way? no. IS there a better way potentially. Have I found it? not yet. If I do would I go for it? yes.

        Many men (not all) find it difficult (rightly or wrongly) to speak openly in mixed company about their fears, struggles and weaknesses. If a men’s weekend helps these men to move forward with their life then brilliant. IF a mixed weekend works for them, equally great.

        I am passionate about people being set free by Jesus and living to follow him. I’d arrange a People-called-Frank weekend if I thought it would help people meet Jesus. Call me crazy.

        Don’t know if this answers your question. I’m out after this post.

      • 25. Brain Duck  |  Friday, 27th November 2009 at 0:51 UTC

        Dave – if you arranged a ‘people-called-Frank’ weekend then I’m sure you’d see lots of Franks turning up, having a great time, and getting to know Jesus better.
        What you’d likely never know is the effect on people called Steve. Unfortunately our brains are skewed much more towards things that do happen than things that could have happened but didn’t.

        For a daft example, if I heard of a church where everyone had to knit, I’d just not go. It could be a great church for the people who are in it, it could be bringing lots of knitters to God, but they’ll never know how many people like me they’ve lost.

      • 26. Benjamin Welby  |  Friday, 27th November 2009 at 8:23 UTC

        If Dave has left I don’t want to leave you hanging @brain duck, so here’s my response.

        If someone was passionate about people called Frank then you’d hope the there’d also be people doing the same for Steves.We understand the church as a Body, whole in Christ and made up of bits that are distinct within that. And that’s the same for any label and at every level within them: unity in community, unity with diversity.

        For me your comment has taken an example of one discrete activity among many and mixed it with proscribed law. A church full of those passionate about knitting would be onto a loser if knitting was a requirement for membership or participation. A church passionate about knitting and doing church with a heart to reach like minded people would likely not appeal to you or I but could be crucial in transforming the lives of those that do. In fact, a knitting ministry sounds incredibly powerful.

        Churches reflect the stuff God has put on the heart of its people and sometimes separation is helpful. As a result they’re going to look different, meet different needs and worship differently. Not to the exclusion of others, but to the inclusion of specifics. In a large church like ours that means there’s a lot of cross-crossing work and, no doubt, missing pieces. If anyone is falling through a gap then the people who see that hole presumably understand the need, they’re the ones with a passion and call to do something about it. Sometimes that means Franks for Franks but it might also mean Franks for Steves.

        What seems ironic is that the seeming disenchantment with the concept of Man time is built on an assumption that they should be making it open to all. Doing that moves the organisers from wanting to see men grow as Christians into taking charge beyond just their sex or their passion.

        What’s vital to understand is that we have both men and women ministries and they’re outnumbered by all the non-gendered life of the church. Yeah, we can do better but only if those who understand the pressures and can identify responses get stuck into their passions. It’s hard for people who don’t get them to innovate and spark something on their own.

      • 27. Brain Duck  |  Friday, 27th November 2009 at 20:48 UTC

        Benjamin: See, doing Frank-only weekends is unlikely to have quite the same connotations for Steves as men-only weekends do.
        There’s not a long history of the church being abused to hurt people called Steve. I doubt there’s ever been a law saying it’s OK to rape people called Steve so long as you’ve gone through the right church ceremony first, to transfer ownership of your body. I doubt there’s several churches in York which ban people called Steve from speaking.

        I can absolutely see the case for special interest groups within the wider Church, but you have to recognise that very large parts of that wider Church are still abusing their power to keep women out of leadership, out of authority, to oppress them in both the public and the private sphere.

        People who call themselves Christians in York right now think that women can’t lead a church, can’t celebrate communion, shouldn’t be in positions of authority, I even know a few who don’t like me wearing trousers. Even the Christian Union when I arrived at York didn’t allow women speakers in their main meetings (btw, what was St Mike’s, a significant ‘student church’, saying about this at the time? I hope not nothing…) Appealing to the wider church is a very dangerous position to put yourself in with this.

        Suggesting that you can compare the position of women in the Church to that of people called Steve suggests to me that you haven’t even started to look at gender in the Church, or outside it.

        This is not an abstract issue for some of us, this is not somewhere where you can sit back and assume it’s OK because we’ve already achieved gender equality.
        York already has lots of spaces which are men-only, or where women can only go with permission & supervision, where we have to carefully self-police our behaviour and if anything does happen we’ll have been ‘asking for it’. I’m sitting at home instead of going for a run tonight because of this, and I bet you could walk through without even seeing it.

        I have a problem with men-only and male-priority spaces because there are already so very many of them, often enforced with severe physical, verbal, financial, social or sexual sanctions.
        http://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/index.asp?Pageid=5
        http://www.cer.truthaboutrape.co.uk/3.html

        There’s already too many places in the wider church where I could only be welcome if I was called Frank or Steve, but not Rebecca or Jane. The organisers of the ‘men’s weekend’ might be ‘wanting to see men grow as Christians’, but there’s already far too many places within the wider Church which seem only to want men to grow as Christians, and women to sit in the pews and shut up. If you’re choosing to add to those places where I’m not welcome, you’d better be bloody confident that you can justify it, in the open, not swept under the carpet and to be kept from outsiders.

        I’m astounded that anyone could possibly think about gender within the church without first stopping to recognise the extent to which women are oppressed and excluded inside and outside the church. Is your ‘men’s weekend’ adding to that, or challenging it? Doing nothing is upholding a seriously screwed-up status quo.

        There might be some good reasons for men-only groups. So explain what it is that St Mike’s men’s weekend does that it couldn’t do with women around, and I might even agree with you. If it’s really just about more ‘curry and slightly obsessive sporting pursuits’ with church on top, well they are an important part of my personality too, so please can the rest of the church have more of that instead?

        It’s the refusal to admit that anything, ever might be even worth discussing as even a potential problem with outsiders that’s been one of the biggest barriers for me coming back to ‘mainstream’ churches. For an organisation that’s supposed to be all about repentance and forgiveness, it’s not something you see the church doing very often as an outsider. I might not agree with everything in Graham’s post, but the fact he’s written it has done me a lot of good.

    • 28. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 27th November 2009 at 1:21 UTC

      There’s definitely some valid points in here, about which I should go eat humble pie. Yes, I think I probably generalised and specified in all the wrong places. Yes that was mean.

      Maybe though, this points to something underlying all this, whereby St Michaels needs to make sure it communicates its men’s weekend clearly. Even if most men know what’s going on there, maybe its fair to assume most women don’t. Its also probably quite fair to say that my description is not an unusual perception, nor an unfair perception of certain other church’s men’s weekends (if you must ask for names, do it elsewhere).

      I realise I probably shouldn’t just crack jokes, but I do feel like asking if the internet is the new dinner table? I have to say, I’m quite happy having domestic rows online, and watch several of my friends fdomestics and twomestics online, and don’t find it in the least bit weird. I think there’s a big difference between crying off to the press about something and making a statement that you know people will shoot you down for (just in case anyone thinks I’m surprised by all of this). Had I posted anonymously, that would have been cowardice. And I do think its worth having these debates in the open to communicate the diversity and “work in progress” status of the church. This seems to appeal to a lot of people as a sign of being genuine. Especially where there’s a bunch of people waiting to see if the church will move on before daring to recommit.

      Reply
  • 29. Brain Duck  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 22:44 UTC

    Would Jesus watch Top Gear?

    Reply
    • 30. Idiotzoo  |  Saturday, 26th December 2009 at 18:49 UTC

      Absolutely. I suspect he’d watch Xfactor, Dirty Dancing, Question Time, Strictly and possibly even University Challenge too.

      Reply
  • 31. Benjamin Welby  |  Thursday, 26th November 2009 at 23:44 UTC

    I know the debate has come to a close so I don’t want to re-ignite it. If I may however there are a couple of observations I’d like to add, as a member of the PCC.

    The men’s weekend is not a business weekend for the church either formally or informally. It’s somewhere to be challenged about our walk with God in an environment that lets us explore accountability, discipline and how we’re going to progress the things that have been sparked off as a result of the encouragement and inspiration of the weekend. I’ve only made it to one weekend and it was very good. I hope you are planning to come!

    I also think we’re in danger of defining leadership as something that is about visibility. That’s not to suggest we’re perfect but to see the value in what we are as a church with leadership at its every level and as a community with a rich (and painful) story to tell about championing women in leadership and ministry that is still true today.

    The Chair of the PCC is female. The lead of female parish assistants is unsung but incredible. Alpha is headed up by a strong female team. World Mission wouldn’t function without the leadership and contribution of Ruth, Wendy, Janet and Clare. The church wardens are split 50:50 whilst the makeup of PCC is not evenly split but is less mono-sexual than seems to be assumed (and nobody stood in April when given the opportunity). At 7pm there is a variety of participation across the leadership of the services: worship, reading, testimony, hospitality, prayer, (i’m happy to share the responsibility for the mission slot if anyone wants in) but they’re perhaps the usual suspects and, admittedly they’re not preaching.

    Sadly the pulpit is somewhere that few people are able to get involved. It is rare for someone that is non-paid or non-ordained to have the opportunity to lead services and with Alyson’s departure that leaves Anna and Sue wielding dog-collars and Emily representing on behalf of the laity. It’s the unintended consequence of being a large church with a large staff providing a wealth of teachers to draw on.

    Personally what I find so exciting about any talk of Clusters, or congregation planting is that it will create more opportunity for community, banter, challenge and growth whilst also releasing people into leadership and other giftings. And that can only be A Good Thing to be praying and working towards?

    Reply
  • 32. Greg  |  Friday, 27th November 2009 at 0:22 UTC

    Graham, “you suspect”. This translates to mean that you have no experience of said activity, but are relying on prejudice. You’re publicly slandering a group of honest people, on the basis of no reliable information. This isn’t helpful, necessary or Godly, and there’s only one sensible course of action: apologise.

    Duck: It’s very easy to throw the word ‘exclusion’ around, but remember that St M’s (since that seems to be what we’re talking about) is a very large church, with plenty of activities for everyone. There are many men (self included) who will only make themselves vulnerable in certain discussions if the girls aren’t around. That’s life, and I ‘strongly suspect’ the same applies vice versa, in many if not all cases. There’s exclusion, there are distinctives and there is tending to people’s needs in a safe space.

    Reply
    • 33. Brain Duck  |  Friday, 27th November 2009 at 0:44 UTC

      Greg, please actually read my posts before assuming you know what I’ve said. I didn’t use the word ‘exclusion’. I was trying to phrase the question in a non-leading way – and probably didn’t get it exactly correct, but there you go.

      I don’t have a clue what St Mikes does on a ‘men’s weekend’. I’ve suggested elsewhere in these comments that there’s some things that all-male groups might be helpful for. Whilst I presume St Mikes ‘men’s weekend’ falls somewhere between ‘reading FHM’ and http://www.whiteribboncampaign.co.uk/ or http://www.thecalmzone.net/info/what_is_calm.aspx, I’ve no idea where & was requesting further information before making up my mind.

      Seriously, just ‘cos I’m a tofu-munching lefty doesn’t mean you can predict what I think without actually bothering to read it with 100% accuracy.

      Reply
  • 34. Brain Duck  |  Friday, 27th November 2009 at 1:08 UTC

    Also, as far as ‘making yourself vulnerable’ goes – one of the things I’ve valued most about Quakers is that I’ve had a lot of initially really toe-curlingly awkward conversations with people from completely different demographics to me. Everything from a really difficult conversation with an older married couple who thought that accepting same-sex relationships stood against everything their decades of marriage meant, to as a whole Meeting [church] telling one another our life stories, even the difficult bits – only a few months after I’d started going to that particular Meeting.

    It’s definitely hard to do at first, but I’d suggest that having those sort of really deeply honest conversations with everyone in your church community brings massive, massive benefits, in how you support each other with personal issues and with God, and also for me in how I’ve related to & understood other people outside the groups I’ve had those conversations with.

    I definitely couldn’t be doing eg the hospital chaplaincy without that experience. How do I as an middle-class university-educated young woman relate to an 80-something Yorkshire farmer who’s afraid of what will happen to he wife when he’s gone, if I haven’t already been blessed by hearing an immensely different set of life experiences from many different people at church, and how they’ve lost & found faith through that?

    Being that vulnerable is bloody difficult, I can see why there’s an argument in some circumstances for sub-groups first, but being able to relate to *anyone* in your church about the things that really matter to you both is surely what the longer-term goal should be? I’m supposed to help everyone find God, not just people like me, and to do that I have to know where other people are broken or what gives their life meaning, not just for people like me.

    A&Q 18: ‘How can we make the meeting a community in which each person is accepted and nurtured, and strangers are welcome? Seek to know one another in the things which are eternal, bear the burden of each other’s failings and pray for one another. As we enter with tender sympathy into the joys and sorrows of each other’s lives, ready to give help and to receive it, our meeting can be a channel for God’s love and forgiveness’.

    Reply
  • 35. Mark Rance  |  Sunday, 29th November 2009 at 12:12 UTC

    Hi All

    I have read with interest the comments on the blog. I am not intelligent enough to jump into the wider gender issues raised here. I am however the founder of the St Mikes Men’s Weekends so I do have a view. The weekends are quite simply devised to help us to get better at being men. Just as the women’s weekends help women be better at being women. There are differences between us which is why we have single sex weekends (as well as other events during the year which are aimed at both sexes). There is no sub-plot, no hidden leadership agenda, no plan to dominate the church with our male-ness. I am sorry that Graham feels so strongly that that the men’s weekend is wrong. I’d love to encourage him to come along on the weekend and chat to us about it. He was invited to be on the leadership team but didn’t respond to this.

    I don’t blog so I won’t be following this up any further. However, I do like talking face to face with people so come and see me if you would like to know more about the thinking behind the weekend. I would also encourage you to chat to some of the ladies who are connected with the men who come on the weekends and see what they think about them.

    Thanks for the lively discussion!

    Reply
    • 36. Brain Duck  |  Sunday, 29th November 2009 at 15:13 UTC

      Mark, what do you think the ‘differences’ are, how do St Mike’s men’s weekends address them, and why do they need to be men-only?

      I’ve looked at the website and the flyer, and the only thing I can see which might be different if you change ‘men’ to ‘people’ is ‘teaching on stuff relevant to men’.
      I’m struggling to think of teaching which would be relevant to men of all ages (since you list from 18 to 108), backgrounds, and life stages, but not to any women. Could you / someone else explain this, maybe some examples from previous years? For example, do you have discussion groups on particular topics?

      Sorry, I know I’ve asked a few times, but I’m still confused about what the ‘Men’s weekend’ is actually for. I could understand a ‘father’s weekend’, or even a ‘bishop’s weekend’ (*sigh*), but I still don’t understand what this ‘men’s weekend’ does.

      Also, if you need a weekend away to help you ‘get better at being men’, do you think that being a man is something you are, or is it based on things that you do? Am I less good at ‘being a woman’ because I prefer ‘fry-ups, curries and slightly obsessive sporting pursuits’ to knitting, or doesn’t it matter? And what does ‘women be better at being women’ have to do with me being a better Christian?
      Sorry, I’m still confused as to what you’re trying to do with these weekends, and how them being single-gender relates to helping people understand God better.

      Reply
      • 37. Idiotzoo  |  Saturday, 26th December 2009 at 19:03 UTC

        There are a great many things in life that I don’t like, don’t understand and don’t see the point of. There are many things I would like to see done very differently (both in and out of the Church) and there are many people who’s approach to so much in life makes no sense to me whatsoever, no matter how hard I try to put myself in their place.

        You don’t see the need or purpose for such a weekend. That’s fine and dare I suggest it doesn’t matter.

        People (just Men? I’m not sure) feel they benefit from this. Whether you understand that or not is immaterial.

  • 38. Sophia  |  Monday, 30th November 2009 at 17:31 UTC

    “The weekends are quite simply devised to help us to get better at being men. Just as the women’s weekends help women be better at being women.”

    Well there’s a heavily loaded statement!

    What do you mean by a good or ‘better’ man? What kind of masculinity is reinforced by these weekends? What kind of message is sent out to those who don’t fit into this idea of being a better man?

    (Same question also applies to women’s weekends btw)

    Reply
    • 39. Janice  |  Monday, 30th November 2009 at 17:56 UTC

      I think that this being a statement about a CHURCH weekend – it is not unlikely to be heavily loaded.
      That is not put down Christianity – but to suggest that there is some sort of a concept of masculinity and femininity within the doctrine of Christianity (although this is disputed) and therefore it seems logical that those adhering to a Christian point of view might seek to become better at being one or the other. Your questions are in the same way loaded, perhaps at a guess, with the understanding that gender is constructed aka post-structuralism etc..
      I realize the natural response to a defence of this Christian viewpoint about gender (it is not an exlusive viewpoint in Christianity) is that this excludes those tat fall in the gaps – but that there are gaps does not mean there is no edge to the gap and I am not suggesting that it is better to be in the gap or to be on the side.
      I also realize that there has been horrendous abuse throughout pretty much all history of the concepts of gender that are presented before the average Christian in the documents he/she/it has to work around to define their beliefs.
      I therefore think your point is irrelevant.. and more than that I do strive to be a better human – and I do not put down a man who wishes to be a better human and a better man..

      Reply
  • 40. Helen  |  Monday, 30th November 2009 at 18:48 UTC

    Argh, so much to say!
    There is a certain extent to which I can understand the idea of men-only things, because I can understand a need to talk about things that tend to only affect women (and female-bodied people)… what it means to be a woman, how women are presented in the media, what society thinks we should look like/eat/wear/buy (and where society has got it wrong), pregnancy, sex as a woman, motherhood, singleness as a woman and of course, boobs.

    So men’s groups, I imagine, could easily deal with what it means to be a man, how men are presented in the media, what society thinks men should look like/wear/eat/buy, fatherhood, sex as a man, singleness as a man, and of course, penises.

    I agree that men are often privileged – whether outright or subconsciously – and I think they should definitely talk about this. Particularly in the church where, as Greg says, there are more women than men… and yet many more male leaders. But I find this statement:

    “…get women in the church to do anonymous interviews on ways they feel the men in the church put them down, exclude them from decisions and leadership, or devalue them, taking them for granted or assuming the place would run without them. Then I’d select the ones that make me feel most crap, edit them into a nice 10minutes of gut wrenching public reading”

    …is really too self-flagellating. Most of us are privileged in one way or another… I mean, we’re on the internet for heaven’s sake – and simply spending time telling men, or whoever, how awful they are is not going to encourage them to stop all the privilege. To borrow a quote, we’re all individuals, and really I think that all men and women and everyone else would like to be treated as individuals who are free to like hiking, Top Gear, babies, chocolate or whatever as they wish.

    Reply

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