On Monday, October 5 an open letter went viral on the internet, which sets Monday, October 5 apart from other Mondays not at all. It was written by a young man named Jared Mauldin, a senior in mechanical engineering at Eastern Washington University, to inform the females in his engineering classes that they would never share equality with him. He insightfully outlined all of the obstacles these women would have faced simply because they are women, delineating a list of sexist behaviors that were remarkable for just how unremarkable they were. An unremarkable list on an unremarkable Monday in October.
So why did the letter go viral?
Mauldin himself speculated about the reason in an interview with Huffpost:
"Nothing I said was new, it has all been said a thousand times before. The difference is that I am a man," he said. "Maybe by standing up and breaking the silence from the male side, I can help some more men begin to see the issues, and begin to listen to the women who have been speaking about this all along."
Jared Mauldin, barely out of adolescence, dropping grown-man truth-bombs like a boss.
Jared understands what I wish more men in ministry understood. In the ongoing discussion about whether women in complementarian churches are actually treated with the equal value that Genesis 1 bestows on them, it is time for men to speak up on behalf of their sisters. We women can tell our shared stories to whomever may listen, but our concerns won’t likely draw notice until our brothers perceive their validity, take them to heart, and speak them as their own. As long as women are the ones speaking them, we are easy to dismiss as complainers or (gasp) feminists.
Jared Mauldin had eyes to see the stereotypes and gender bias that plague women who venture into fields where “they don’t belong”. What he observed plays out in its own ways in churches, as well. Church staffs, like most male-heavy environments, often unwittingly perpetuate boy’s club mentalities, harmful gender stereotypes and tokenism. I and other women have occasionally donned protective gear and written on it.
Frankly, we are a little weary of men encouraging us, “You should write more on that.” No doubt, we will. But we could use their help.
The U.S Department of Homeland Security, able wordsmiths that they are, crafted a phrase to help identify potential threats to domestic safety: “If you see something, say something.” Brothers in ministry, please consider adopting this posture with regard to how women are treated in your churches. I get it, maybe you haven’t seen anything. I would urge you to look more closely, to ask more questions, and to do so in a way that invites dialogue from the women in your church. Many women do not feel safe telling their weird and sad stories, even when asked gently. You may need to gather them in groups in which you are the only man present. You may need a mechanism for gathering anonymous feedback. You may need to let your guard down a bit – most women who carry church wounds acknowledge that no one set out to wound them intentionally. But their stories still instruct.
Brothers, seek out their stories. And then, with all the courage of a college senior, tell their stories.
Bestow them with validity, take them to heart, and speak them as your own. Stand up and break the silence. In staff meetings, in sermons, in blog posts, shout down the practices and thinking patterns that confine women in the church to less-than status. Your message may not break the interwebs on an unremarkable Monday in October, but it just might break the back of gender nonsense in your church. It might draw a much-needed line between complementarian gender distinctions and commonplace gender bias. And that would be plenty remarkable, indeed.