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The False Dichotomy

When women (and artists and feelers) underestimate their leadership abilities

Yesterday, I think something snapped in me. I had heard a particular comment exactly the number of times my heart could take it, and I decided I’m done hearing it. For all our sakes.

I was listening to an intelligent, educated young woman—a leader in her congregation who has brought life into the world, knows how to tend it, and who also knows how to tend the life of the spirit in herself and others. She was describing a painful conversation she’d had with her senior pastor who said, “I need you to be more biblical. You’re often too emotional.”

Now, it should be said that we all can let our emotions run the show. There are times when we need to take a moment to discern how we’re handling our emotions, to decide when emotion is a sign of something significant to be heard and when it’s an overreaction in the moment which we need to set aside. Having said that, this kind of comment from a senior pastor can be incredibly destructive to the souls of women and to our recognition of what women bring as leaders.

Studies of fiber pathways in the brain show men naturally think in more centralized ways, whereas women often consider information across both rational and intuitive ways of thinking. Given the scientific evidence that the problem-solving tendency in men naturally favors logic, perception, and action, when emotional, subjective, relational information is communicated by women, it’s easy for men to say, “I’m rational. She’s emotional.” This thought process denies the possibility that the woman has anything reasonable or logical to contribute, undermining her argument or education. Consequently, in the frustration of those kinds of disparaging false dichotomies, women often become emotional, which only exacerbates the problem.

It’s tempting in these moments to react by diminishing the gifts of our brothers. What is harder—but better—is to trust that there is a place for the gifts of men and women. There are times when focus is essential: in a crisis that requires a quick decision, a setting aside of all the braying voices, and an uncompromising pressing forward. Perhaps we love this kind of decisive, quick-thinking leadership so much that we’ve excluded all other kinds. It’s powerful and impressive and takes us out of the morass of complicated situations. Sometimes the church needs that.

At the same time, there are many situations which require a different kind of leadership, especially in ministry. The kind of leadership that comes more naturally to many women is the kind that considers theology and doctrine alongside human experience (her own and others’) and trust these realities can coexist. It’s a kind of leadership that can think strategically across many layers of the situation which includes both facts and feelings.

July29, 2019 at 8:02 AM

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