Sexism – it’s time to balance power

Did you know that before Old Testament times there were peaceful, egalitarian societies where the Goddess was worshiped? Then, about 6,000 years ago, nomadic tribes from the north migrated to the region of the Mediterranean Sea bringing their male god and patriarchal culture with them. Slowly, but surely, the male god took over and so did the men.

The Old Testament is very clear about women. Women are property. They were worth nothing unless associated with a husband or father. They usually called their husbands “master” or “lord.” Daughters could be sold into slavery. Husbands could divorce wives, but wives could not seek a divorce from their husbands. And, if they were divorced, women received nothing. Women did not inherit from their husbands, nor daughters from their fathers (unless there were no sons). Women obviously were not to be educated, run businesses, or become rabbis.

And let’s not forget how the story of Adam and Eve has helped script women as second-class citizens. In the second creation story in Genesis 2, Eve is fashioned out of the rib of Adam. She is not created in the image of God, but is taken out of man. Paul reminds everyone of this in 1 Corinthians 11:8-9 where he writes: “For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man.”

Jesus certainly did his part to try to break down the gender barriers by treating women with respect and  care, speaking to them even though that was forbidden by Jewish law, and even allowing women to join the men in listening to him teach and preach. Remember the story of Mary and Martha? Mary (most likely Mary Magdalene) is sitting and listening at the feet of Jesus, the posture of a learner, student, even rabbinic student of the time. When her sister, Martha, gets angry and wants her to come help her in the kitchen, Jesus defends Mary’s right to be there.

Despite some of the things Paul says in his letters, there were many women leaders in the early Christian church. However, the farther and farther we got away from Jesus’ life and death, the more the culture weighed on the religion and took it back down the road of patriarchalism.

The notion that men are superior, that women are help-mates designed specifically for baby-making and housekeeping, and are not intelligent enough to be part of the decision-making process, or community-changing process, or world-leading process has been literally bred into humanity for thousands of years. It has only been within the last 150 that women have really started to take a stand.

Some folks would like to believe that we’ve moved beyond the issue of sexism. Sadly the statistics, and women’s experiences, show that this is not the case. What I see and hear is that sexism has become normalized. Women expect to have to work harder to receive the same promotions, recognition or acceptance as men. Women often let derogatory comments slide rather than point out how offensive something is (“that was a great sermon for a woman” is NOT a compliment). And I’m probably as guilty as any for not wanting to rock the boat or be thought of as a b***h. But until we raise our own awareness and that of others, and risk being the scratchy voice, nothing will change.

Now, I recognize that those of you attending Sacred Journeys with me are an exceptional group who believe in social justice and equality. So, let’s talk about what it might look like to balance power. So often the concept of power means “power over” someone or something else. What if we had power with others? What if we empowered others by valuing their opinions and ideas? What if we used power cooperatively for the betterment of our community and world?

One way to do this comes from a talk by Sheryl Sandburg, COO of Facebook ( For men and women to begin to share power and work together, women need to “sit at the table.” Women need to be in the circles helping to make decisions and enact change. Women, with their distinctive voices, need to be heard and valued. Do not ask us to come to the table and try to be like men. Different perspectives bring more creative energy to any problem solving process.

Here’s an interesting statistic: in comparing Fortune 500 companies with the highest representation of women on their Boards to those with the lowest representation of women on their boards, it was found that the companies with the highest representation of women had:

  • 53% higher return on equity
  • 42% higher return on sales
  • 66% higher return on invested capital
  • contributed more in charitable funds.

Balancing power. This is something we can each do in our homes, our communities, our schools and our workplaces. The world is out of kilter right now and bringing us back to center, to shared power, to mutual respect and value, is part of our deepest spiritual path.