Happy International Women’s Day.
My master’s thesis was titled “A Systematic Review on the Impact of Cultural Contexts on Emotional Regulation in the United States.”
Lots of words.
Basically I pulled together every single peer-reviewed study to find any patterns in the ways the contexts we are a part of shape our emotional health.
The conclusion: it’s complicated. There’s no way to isolate a single cultural context enough to assess how it’s impacted you because none of us are only part of one culture.
It’s the combination of cultures we’re a part of that impacts our emotional health.
For example, white men who experienced a culture of oppression showed no statistically significant impact on their emotional regulation. Minorities exposed to the same cultures showed a significant impact on a neurological level. It was the combination of a culture of oppression and the minority culture that showed impact.
Listen up. This is important.
This means that a boss controlling you is an objectively different experience depending on where you fit in the larger cultural space. And that’s because the meaning you make of an experience contributes to its impact on you.
Those in positions of privilege can make sense of experiences of oppression as if it’s not about them. They might chalk it up to a dysfunction in the boss, or someone having a bad day or maybe they themselves made a mistake. But for the individuals for whom the larger cultural systems treat as if they are less valuable – those individuals make a different meaning out of these moments. Because where they fit in the culture as a whole has communicated to them on a large, pervasive, and subconscious level that they have less worth, and so in these moments, these experiences affirm an already existing cultural script about identity and that results in deeper impact.
The church in America has been shaped mostly by white men. That’s not a value statement. It’s a fact.
And that means that the messages the church shares and emphasize may mean something different for the women in the room than they mean for the men who speak them.
In Toni Morrison’s “A Mercy” Rebekka reflects on the book of Job:
“But then Job was a man. Invisibility was intolerable to men. What complaint would a female Job dare to put forth? And if, having done so, and He deigned to remind her of how weak and ignorant she was, where was the news in that? What shocked Job into humility and renewed fidelity was the message a female Job would have known and heard every minute of her life.”
I’m white. I’m privileged. Still, I resonate with some part of this.
Can I tell you that as a counselor, I am so tired of having female clients who don’t believe in their worth. I’m exhausted by the consistency of it; the prevalence of it. Why is it – church – almost every woman you hand me has the same distorted view of self?
Maybe because the words we hear from the stage mean something to men than women.
We’ve built entire ministries around the ‘danger’ of self-esteem. We’re hoping to help people see that the universe is God-centered, not you-centered. And I’m all for God-centered, but maybe – these spaces are designed to correct a tendency that is rampant in male culture. Maybe – men speak and hear these words and are able to take this into account in a way that steadies them. Maybe – it addresses cultural scripts that have communicated centrality – and challenges the resulting pride without reducing worth. But maybe folks who have existed inside a larger culture system that has literally put a lower price tag on what they bring to the community for their entire lives – hear a very different message.
‘God-centeredness’ calls up our cultural scripts and those scripts shape how we interpret what that means. And we have to be aware that for women – these scripts might include things like: you are only valuable in relation to men; you are selfish if you think about what you want, and sinful if you dare ask for it. What you think or want doesn’t matter. You are an object to be used.
And so I end up with women in my office who despite their best intentions, find themselves interacting with God as if He’s a controlling narcissist who is only interested in what they can do for Him. Who has some higher-end for Himself in mind and will callously use them to accomplish it, even if they get crushed along the way. And they are feeling deep deep shame about their resistance to that kind of man.
So, what do I want for International Women’s Day?
Maybe a little more 1 Corinthians 9; a sense of responsibility to translate the truth into different cultural contexts. A little more evaluation of how we’re doing with that based on the fruit it’s producing. A little more awareness of our own unconscious bias – which is hard to spot because it’s unconscious – and – which none of us – male or female – are immune to. That’s a well-documented reality.
I keep waiting for the church to lead out on this. Because we have the humility to own our weakness because our justification is based on Jesus, not on how clearly we see the world. Because we have the responsibility to advocate for the overlooked. Because we have the charge to translate the message of the Gospel into different cultural contexts.
Because we follow Jesus. Who has gone before us and who has advocated for women long before it was popular to do so.
Happy International Women’s Day.