Loving Ourselves

I came across this quote a few days ago and it really hit me hard. I know what it’s like to be a woman in a leadership position and have people tell me I’m being “bossy” (or worse) when the same characteristics in a man would not be questioned. Even in 21st century America, a lot of people really do expect women to be the weaker gender. It so deeply ingrained that we often don’t even notice the subtle (and for some not so subtle) ways we express this belief.

The flip side of this misguided idea that women are less capable than men is that we’ve taught our daughters that they have to “dial back” their leadership abilities so as not to appear “bossy” (or worse). Or if coins could have more than two sides (I need a better metaphor) we’ve taught our daughters that if they want to be in leadership they have to be aggressive and pushy and have to knock others out of our their way.

I’m not saying we intentionally teach these things but that we have passed on our own unexamined biases. We need to pay attention to our own words and reactions to uncover biases we aren’t even aware we have. We need to pay attention to when these biases are expressed in our societal and cultural norms and seek to change them by changing ourselves. We need to face these biases courageously so that we don’t continue to pass them on by our own behavior and words.

For example, people describe men who are priests as a priest and women who are priests as a woman or female priest, men who are scientists as a scientist and women who are scientists as a woman scientist, men who are soldiers as a soldier and women who are soldiers as a woman soldier. And yes, we do the same in reverse – we have nurses and male nurses, for instance. My point here is if we truly, really, deep down in the core of our being, believe that women and men are equal why do we need to in some cases specify gender when describing someone’s profession?

A sweet story I love to tell is the elderly lady who, on my second Sunday at a new parish, came up to me and said, “I can’t call you ‘Mother Nancy’ because you are younger than me.” I replied (in a gentle but firm tone), “you call Father Scott ‘Father Scott’ and he’s even younger than I am.” I watched a lightbulb appear over her head and the look of deep sadness spread across her face as she realized what she’d done. She hugged me and apologized and at fellowship I heard her tell everyone who would listen what had happened and they’d all better call me “Mother Nancy” or they’d have to answer to her.

What we need to teach our daughters and our sons, and what we all need to learn for ourselves regardless of our age, is to bravely be who God created each of us to be. We need to teach our daughters and sons and ourselves to love ourselves as we are because this is how God loves us. We need to teach our daughters and sons to love others compassionately so that whatever profession or role they are in, they are admired because they treat people, all people, with dignity and respect. The best way to teach others to be compassionate is to be compassionate with ourself and others and to walk confidently and boldly with Jesus in the Way of Love.

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