I started writing the post below before reading about the recent deaths of several black citizens who were killed by law enforcement officers, and five Dallas police officers who died in the line of duty. In a Facebook conversation initiated by my friend Rosanna on this topic, I read the pain of a black woman who is very afraid for her loved ones and family members. I read also the words of an ex-Mennonite who appeared to be defensive, accusing and unsympathetic. My friend struck exactly the right tone by recognizing her privileged status and by reiterating her desire to simply acknowledge injustice wherever she sees it, without vilifying any individual or group of people, and to sorrow with those who grieve.
With my head full of unrelated matters, I saw in Rosanna's Facebook thread how several related truths apply to both the old information and the new information inside my head:
1. It's always right to notice, to care, and to speak truth (be a witness) when people are suffering wrong at the hands of others.
2. Those in privileged positions in such circumstances especially have a duty to act on behalf of those who are powerless.
3. Those who are privileged must acknowledge their privilege and guard against the temptations inherent in that privilege.
Privilege means "a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people." (Google)
Privilege can take on many forms. It can be as simple as having a ready-made forum when others must go to great effort to be heard. It can be having decision-making power for a group. It can be wealth. It can be respect from others because of office. It can be saying something without anyone questioning the wisdom of it or the right to say it. It can be physical or mental prowess or superior firepower or other force.
A good guide for how privilege should be used is to be scrupulous in evaluating whether it is being employed in the interest of others or in private interests. Private often means selfish and should usually be resisted.
In a flash of insight from a surprising source, I learned something recently about gender perceptions and relationships in American society. Although some caveats apply, I believe the same dynamics are present in some measure in the subset of society in which I live.
recently carried an article in which the writer had interviewed about 24 people who had gone through the motions of switching genders from female to male. The reverse crossover is often far more obvious. This means that trans men can usually move into their new identity without being identified as trans. Like undercover agents, they can observe and absorb the behavior of others without the burden of a "stranger" identity that might affect other people's actions around them. You can read the entire Time
. I found it revealing and disturbing in the same way that reading Black Like Me
It's not considered classy to say out loud that one has been a victim of anything. Inviting pity is pathetic behavior. We're taught to examine our own conduct in order to "fess up" to whatever ways in which we share guilt in any negative outcome. We ought to be able to rise above any injustice done to us, searching for God's purposes toward us in the matter. In fact we ought to be so strong that we hardly notice injustices directed toward us. We ought to agree with Scripture when it addresses gender roles. All true. All good. But not the whole truth. In the elusive space labeled "whole truth" lurks a plethora of land mines, any one of which can trigger an explosion when stepped on. And yet, if the truth is to make us free, we must be willing to embrace the challenge of discovering it and living it.
So what am I doing here? Moving gingerly. That's what.
In the article, the preponderance of testimony is on the side of acknowledging that women are often victims, as these "new males" learn only after they live as men and see and hear how women are regarded and treated by men. With the fresh memory of what they experienced earlier as women, they are dismayed by this.
James Ward, a lawyer, said it this way in Time
: "If I'm going off the cuff, no one really questions it. It's taken as 'He's saying it, so it must be true,' While I was practicing as female, it was 'Show me your authority. You don't know any better yet."
To transgender individuals who have transitioned from male to female, the opposite phenomenon occurs. Things run smoothly with a male identity, but very laboriously as a female. Joan Roughgarden says that when she wrote for professional journals as a male, "it would be almost automatically accepted. But after I transitioned, papers were running into more trouble, grant proposals were running into more trouble, the whole thing was getting more difficult." She concludes with this: "As a man, you're assumed to be competent unless proven otherwise. Whereas as a woman, you're presumed to be incompetent unless proven otherwise."
Some of my own experiences are validated by the observations of these new males. Very recently I've had fresh reminders of such experiences in the past, and I am pained by the reminders. I hope that speaking up spares others similar experiences.
I can point to multiple times when I have waited to weigh in till I have prayed a lot, researched a lot, and yes, cried a lot, and then relied heavily on the words or work of authorities to put forward an idea. It's usually to men because it's almost always men who are in charge of what gets done in a group. When I have done this, I have experienced at times all of these negative responses:
1. Dead silence. It's as though no one had said anything at all.
2. Disparagement. I hear in a roundabout way that someone I communicated with thinks the idea was stupid. No communication with me though, no evidence of the response having been research-based or prayer-based, and certainly no counter-arguments by citing other reputable sources.
3. Active interference. In one case, after an editor had accepted my article for publication and had written a supporting editorial on the same topic, others asked the editor to refrain from publishing subsequent pieces from me on the same topic. They had already been written, submitted and accepted but they never saw the light of day. Neither did the supportive editorial.
4. Clear preference given to a male viewpoint. Very recently, a man has written on the same topic for the same publication, taking an opposing view. It is approved for publication without an apparent hitch. To add insult to injury, I've communicated directly by email with the writer previous to the most recent writing. No answer. No acknowledgement. Nothing. Only a public restatement of his original position.
Before leaving this topic, I want to give credit to most of the men I am or have been most directly responsible to for not acting in the ways I've listed above.
My father, David L. Miller, was first to show me a different way. In speaking and writing he was my first example and encourager. I never heard from him that certain topics and viewpoints were off-limits to me because of my gender. He spoke and wrote fearlessly, often in defense of those who were marginalized. I knew he believed it was acceptable for me to do the same.
My husband, Hiromi, went even farther than my father ever had in defending me and my viewpoint to others. In a particularly challenging time several decades ago, I heard him say to a male critic: "Education is her field, and I respect her research."
The male teachers and principals I have worked with over the past 15 years were outstanding: Harry Shenk, Wendell Nisly, Andrew Schmucker, Wesley Schrock, and Arlyn Nisly.
Two of our ministers also deserve mention for how they have guided and encouraged me in the past: LaVerne Miller and Oren Yoder. I can say that also in some measure about the rest of our ministers.
I am grateful to my sons Joel, Shane, and Grant for their affirmation and love. They observe wryly that speaking up sometimes gets me into trouble, but they say they have learned from it how to behave with courage and care in leadership roles they have been called to fill as adults.
I can think of several church brothers who have interacted fairly with me directly when there were differences. In these cases, I felt respected and taken seriously, even though some of the differences remained. I feel the same way about the brothers in my parental family.
If I were to list the privileges I've enjoyed, the above favors should appear on the list.
In keeping with my belief that the privileged should acknowledge their privileges and abstain from using them for personal benefit, I will add to my "privileged status" list:
1. I was born into exactly the kind of family that is in the majority in our subculture: My ancestors were Anabaptists of European descent.
2. My parental family was respected. My father was a church leader and person of influence outside our local fellowship. Many of my siblings have made worthwhile contributions in various fields of service.
3. I have an academic degree.
4. I work in a respected profession.
5. I have a forum in this space.
6. My children have some outstanding skills.
7. I am not poverty-stricken.
8. I am not handicapped physically.
9, I succeeded in school--in athletics in grade school and in academics throughout.
Please note that the list includes things I believe to be a privilege regardless of how others may view them. I hope I always remember to use these privileges for the benefit of others, and not to take personal credit for possessing them.
I want yet to acknowledge the Scriptural teaching of male leadership and female submission. I don't wish to undermine those principles--only to appeal to all of us to understand and apply them in the context of Christian behavior to which all are called.
No matter the social role, all should reject pride, selfishness, fear, vindictiveness, over-confidence and the use of force, All should be willing to hear and learn from others, and to examine, evaluate and order their own beliefs and behaviors in light of what is right according to Scripture. All should be willing to stand with those who suffer, even if it means that we suffer with them.
Who would have thought that individuals in the transgender community could offer in a news article so much impetus for thinking about gender privilege and victimization? Or that current news could highlight racial privilege and victimization so graphically? If we're not learning now, maybe it's because we don't want to learn.
"He who has ears to hear, let him hear." Mark 4:9.