Saturday, January 10, 2009

4.1 From Private to Public

We wanted to bring our understanding of women’s lives and especially as Christian women into the common sense of our community. If we had found these issues to be relevant in our lives and important to discuss, surely there were other women and men who felt similarly. But more than connecting with like-minded peers, we felt a challenge to bring into public view what had gone unseen and unexpressed. By speaking up from our point of view, we hoped to fill in some of the gaps in the community’s story. The meaning we made of our experiences and observations wasn’t being shared anywhere else in our community life.

We coordinated a week of seminars and named it “Make Room for Paradox,” borrowing a line from Maxine Hong Kingston’s Woman Warrior, “I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” The director of the Student Life office suggested that we use a more ambiguous title or be absorbed into a series she was running called “What about….” We declined. We believed that owning the event ourselves and expressing ourselves in a clear direct voice would ensure that our message was heard.

This brought us to the attention of a faculty women’s group similar to our group. They offered to help with some of the logistics for our series, such as suggesting presenters. Most importantly, they confirmed that our work together was valid and significant. Our students’ women’s group was an important plotline in a larger story, and where our characters and experiences mattered.

The week’s presentations varied from mainstream women’s issues that weren’t addressed in our community to issues specific to evangelical Christianity. The Visiting Nurses Association presented on a range of women’s health topics. A woman professor shared with us the feminine names for God found in Scripture and suggested ways to use them in prayer and Bible study. Another woman faculty member lectured on the power of language and the development of inclusive language. One of the women faculty members hosted a small group of us in her home to meet with a woman rector to discuss women’s leadership in the church. Due to recent debates on campus about this issue, we met privately to foster a more open and personal discussion. (It’s difficult to say you feel called to lead in the church in a conversation where the validity of such a call is in question.)

The effect of the seminars was mixed. Students attended. The presentations were informative and the discussions thought provoking and respectful. The meaning of gender was at least open for discussion in these particular topics. The women’s group was also out in the open. Individual students started to seek us out to chat one on one over coffee or join us for a group supper. But there wasn’t a radical shift in the campus community’s overarching common sense understanding or assumptions about women in our evangelical Christian community. The language and examples in chapel sermons continued to privilege men and the campus debates about women in ministry persisted. I wonder if maybe we were too direct in our efforts to share with the campus community that which had been forged in intimacy.

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