As I duck out of sight of the gathering congregation, the church's AV guy hands me a clip-on microphone. Patting myself around the waist and hip region, what I already know will be the case is confirmed: my lady clothes (ironically worn just for pulpit occasions like this one) have no belt, waistband, or pocket on which to latch or in which to drop the microphone's power pack. If the congregation is to hear me today, I'll simply have to shove it into my brassier, throw caution to the wind, and prayerfully hope that worshipers can think of something, anything, other than my rectangular left breast.
Today, this is the drawback of being a stylish woman in leadership.
There, are, though, other ways in which being a woman has uniquely gifted me and my sisters for leadership. Specifically, I've been noodling lately on how my female-ness has equipped me to engage with a world in need. Joining Christ in his ministry to those the world considers "the least of these," I have discovered a few particular advantages I enjoy over my male counterparts.
Read ‘em and weep, boys. (For joy, of course.)
1. Shop ‘Til You Drop: Stewarding Resources
When an old man announced to me that women were the ones who chose where a family would live, and that women were the ones who bought the family's groceries, and that women were the ones who shopped for the family's clothes, I was a little peeved. Did he not realize that…
a. Not all women were married?
b. It was no longer 1950?
c. Most women were no longer sitting at home canning fruits and vegetables?
A few months later, though, I read a piece in my city's indy newspaper about environmentally sensitive feminist women who were stewarding resources by producing food locally and canning their own fruits and vegetables. In the pages of the hip journal, and not from the lips of Ward Cleaver, it struck me as very progressive and empowering.
The truth, which had been clouded by weird mental images from Leave it to Beaver, is that many American women have real economic and social power. If women in the most traditional circumstances do—those who are married, with kids, who don't work outside the home—as my man-friend was suggesting, then how much more influence do single women, working outside the home, possess!
When it comes to using one's resources to bless a world in need, many women have more influence than we may imagine.
2. Trustworthy Strangers: Building Relational Bridges
I'm at a bus station, and a harried mom is trying to manage her tired-but-wired toddler. They both look like they have been traveling for a long time.
As I watch, a little exhausted by it, quite frankly, I'm reminded how happy I am that I'm not traveling with a toddler. I notice an energetic neighboring young woman begin to play Peek-a-Boo with the tike. Before long, he's wandered over and they begin playing other games together. When he climbs up into her lap, she shows him the magazine she's been reading. The mother breathes a deep sigh, as if sucking in oxygen for the first time all day, and slumps into her chair.
Since the young woman is a stranger, the mother won't be taking a nap or heading outside for a smoke. I can see in her eyes, though, that she's grateful for the mercy of a compassionate stranger.
And here's the kicker: If the friendly stranger had been a man, doing exactly the same compassionate things, he wouldn't have been a compassionate stranger. Regardless of his good intentions, he would have been considered —by virtue of his gender—a creepy stalker.
Something similar happened to me while driving along a major interstate about thirty minutes from my home. Noticing two small children toddling dangerously close to a major interstate highway, I stopped beside the broken-down car of a family of four. While the father of the family dealt with the car situation (sorry, that one's a little sexist, right?) the mother willingly strapped her children into the empty car seats in my vehicle. The three of them came to my home for toys and snacks and naps until their journey continued in a rental car.
I feel pretty confident guessing that they would not have budged had I been a man.
For better or for worse—in this case, clearly better—being the more "vulnerable" gender gives us unique opportunities to connect with those who are vulnerable. It's this weird upside-down kingdom privilege, granting women holy access in the lives of others.
3. Get Thee Behind Me: Avoiding (Some) Temptations
In Grand Rapids, my friend Annie runs a ministry called "Eve's Angels." Each week, Annie and her friends visit strip clubs in order to build relationships with the dancers and staff at the clubs.
Admittedly, the sight of a group of women, who look like they should actually be entering a nail salon or spa or Olive Garden, is confounding. Carrying a couple of hot pizzas, Annie and her friends quietly take a table. With permission, they share the pizza with the dancers and get to know them. No one announces that the women are sinners or that they're going to hell. That would be weird, right? Instead, the visitors introduce themselves and learn more about the precious women who work in the club. They assure the women that God's not calling them "whores" or "homewreckers." Gently, kindly, they bear the good news that God loves them.
Though no one's barring men from announcing good news about the inherent worth and belovedness of these women, spending time in strip clubs is, weirdly, a ministry that's particularly suited to women.
There have got to be more of these, right? Talk to us, readers. Where do you see women ministering in roles for which their gender particularly equips them to serve?
Margot Starbuck is the author of the recently released Small Things With Great Love: Adventures in Loving Your Neighbor. More at www.MargotStarbuck.com.