I’m often asked, “Why does the church need all-female spaces? Why not just have all ministry directed at both genders?” Sometimes what drives the question is a distaste for the stereotypical kinds of gatherings that can fall under the label of “women’s ministry.” Sometimes it’s just an inability to see any need for them.
Most of us know from personal experience that discussions are different when both genders are present. Studies show that when men and women gather for discussion, they contribute not only at different levels but in different ways. Sociolinguist Janet Holmes, for example, found that in classroom settings in particular, men dominate discussion time, a pattern that begins in grade school. Furthermore, Holmes has written: “Men’s talk tends to be more referential or informative, while women’s talk is more supportive and facilitative.”
Other research supports the idea that women sometimes stay silent in mixed-gender environments because they fear how their input will be received or perceived. Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton School professor Adam Grant highlighted this phenomenon in a New York Times op-ed, noting the tendency of men to interrupt women when they speak in meetings. “Either she’s barely heard or she’s judged as too aggressive,” they wrote.
Now translate these findings into mixed-gender spaces in a conservative church environment, where a quiet and gentle female spirit is prized (albeit narrowly defined), and the dilemmas for women are obvious. By contrast, all-female spaces enable women to speak freely and to dialogue without fear of interruption or misperception. By freeing women up to contribute, ...1