Why aren’t more women commenting?

Urbanmenno and Lora have posted comments that address an issue I’ve been meaning to raise for months. We finished up a poll last month that made it clear that the site as a whole has a larger male readership then female (64% male and 36% female). But the ratio of women to men in comments seems to be much lower then that. I’m reproducing Urbanmennos and Lora’s comments here because I think they need more visibility then the tail end of an unrelated post:

Urbanmenno says:

Tim made a good comment on urbanmennonite.com in regards to the above Menno Roundup referencing this post’s discussion and in fairness to all involved, I’ll post it here as well

Tim’s comment:

I’m one of the men who was involved in the discussion you referenced on YAR. Initially I was chastened by your comment, but I’ve done some more thinking about it, and I think when it comes to anti-sexism work, women shouldn’t always have to be the ones defending equality. Sometimes men need to confront men about sexism and not expect women to do the work.

Maybe no one’s going to change anyone’s mind, but blatant sexism and oppression need to be challenged. Silence is not the solution.

Urbanmenno’s response:

I actually think there are a lot of men on YAR who do a great job of speaking up for women’s equality and I applaud them. And I don’t have a problem at all with the men defending the good fight. Particularly since it can be really hard as a female to keep having these kinds of conversations over and over again — soul-killing actually.

I drew attention to the post not to chastise any of the men involved. I saw the post and resulting comments more as another example of where women are talked about and not talked with. It would be interesting to take that particular post and ask the general YAR audience why didn’t women comment on it …

Is it the ratio of men to women on YAR? Is it a matter of picking your battles and the women didn’t feel like fighting this particular one? Was there some subtle unwelcoming thing?

“Silence isn’t the solution” is totally accurate … and I’m glad that the men weren’t. But why were the women?

Lora says:

I’ve been mulling over a response for a few days now, because my first thought was, “Good grief, are we really still discussing this?” It is, much as Urbanmenno points out, rather soul-killing to keep having these conversations. Somasoul, while this is a response to some of the issues you raise, it is not so much a response to you. I have read your posts and comments for as long as you have been here and I understand neither your logic nor your arguments. This isn’t to say they aren’t valid, just that I don’t know how to engage you.

Let’s start with this whole “it’s not biblical” argument. Are we agreeing that if something isn’t biblical, that it has no credence for us as Christians? Because Christians believe a surprising number of things that don’t have clear biblical grounding—abortion, for example. Heck, we even tout family values while naming ourselves for someone who once said that if you wanted to follow him, you would have to leave behind your mother, your father, your brother. It’s not that we shouldn’t be in favor of children or families (however that looks), just that we should be wary of what we say is biblical and what isn’t. Just a hundred years ago, there were men of a certain skin color who surely had brilliant minds but spent all their days in the cotton fields because there were people—Christians!—who believed that was their God-ordained place.

To say that women in leadership isn’t biblical is also to ignore some great stories in the Old Testament, as well as the scholarship on Paul that has emerged in the past 30 years. I recommend starting with The Politics of Jesus—John Howard Yoder argument was basically, in a culture and a time when women were little more than chattel, why would anyone have had to tell them to be silent in the church unless something in the life and manner of Jesus had presented a radically different way of understanding their place on earth and in heaven?

This is to say nothing of choices made by translators and editors; most biblical scholars agree that of all the books written by Paul (and not all attributed to him were), that even the phrases, such as in Galatians, where it says that women should be silent in the church, were added after Paul wrote the letter. Paul also tells of women who seemed to be his benefactors or were doing work he approved of, but how often do we hear a sermon about them? How much women are mentioned also seems to be, to some extent, the choice of the author—Luke mentions more women than any other gospel. No one, incidentally, ever mentions who cooked the Last Supper.

If women aren’t speaking up, then you men are missing 50 percent of your potential to solve problems, to empower disciples, to further the reign of God. If women aren’t speaking up, the responsibility is yours. And if the answer you come up with is that someone has to make dinner or stay home with the kids, then you’re so sadly far from the upside-down radical vision of God’s will on earth as in heaven, of the banquet in which there is space for everyone.

P.S. We’ve had similiar discussions in the past here and here.

Comments (12)

  1. Melissa Green

    I read the thread and comment, and I just thought that repeatedly banging my head on my desk would be a more productive use of my time.

  2. Brian Hamilton

    I don’t spend much time watching the site these days, but I expect that YAR has begun to hit a wall that almost every online discussion site I’m familiar with has hit: where too many people with too many different assumptions and too little actual familiarity with each other just give up talking. Especially on topics that have been beaten to death too many times. People from any perspective get tired of trying over and over again to communicate all the presuppositions that necessarily belong to their “position.” Maybe I’m being too cynical, but I’m increasingly dissuaded that fruitful disagreement can happen in a forum like this. I wonder, in fact, if it doesn’t hurt more than it helps. (E.g., there’s one person on this blog whom I had gotten to know briefly a number of years ago, with whom I got along very well, I thought, and at the time considered a comrade on certain key things–but wonder now, after some serious online sparring, whether we could pick up a friendship without some serious and long-term work.)

    This doesn’t speak directly to the question of fewer women than men, but it’s the reason that I’ve also stopped chiming in on “fights” that might otherwise be “mine.” It’s just not worth it. I get much more out of this blog from reading people’s longer posts, and just sitting with them–disagreements and all.

  3. lukelm

    I fully agree with Brian’s analysis.

  4. Jonny

    Amen to that, Brian!

  5. Melissa Green

    I agree with Brian, but the issue of women in leadership debate was going on long before most of us were born, and it will likely still be ragining on after we’re gone. I’ve gotten to the point where I almost don’t think there can be healthy dialogue/debate on the issue. Honestly, if I were a person who didn’t have an opinion, I might use a forum like this to read other people’s positions on the subject to help form my own opinion.

    But, like I said – I didn’t participate in the most recent discussion because it’s a discussion I’ve had 9999999999999 times before, and it’s one of the issues that probably went a long way toward helping to push me toward Quakerism.

  6. Skylark

    As for why I have not had anything to say lately (not that anyone asked for me specifically, just women in general), I’m trying to run a less Net-addicted life, and YAR doesn’t regularly make the cut for the amount of time I do spend online.

    However, I will second Lora’s statement about understanding neither the logic nor arguments of the person she was addressing. Sometimes when I think about catching up on YAR, I think, “It’d be nice to engage with certain people, but others have attitudes I’ve been dealing with my entire life, and I just don’t feel like going there right now.”

  7. lukelm

    I know this might steer the discussion away from the main topic – sorry – but I think the comments so far are reflecting what I and a number of others were talking about in the “Tired” thread before it fizzled – that there’s a potential for more community-building on YAR but the current format doesn’t support it very well. I think it’d be nice to have a less formal side of YAR (forum vs blog) to connect rather than always having to organize it around a big article, topic, & debate.

  8. somasoul

    You can say my name, it’s not like I don’t know………..

    (or maybe I think too much of myself)

  9. TimN (Post author)

    Somasoul, since you raised it, would you be willing to lay off the gender equality discussion? Unlike all the other folks over the years who have dropped in to argue about this in the past, you’ve stayed around and contributed some thoughtful posts. But it’s pretty clear from what I’m reading that people are tired of discussing women in this way and do not feel like we’re getting any closer to mutual understanding or change through the discussion.

    I for my part, would be willing to commit to heavier moderation of comments. As admin, I think it’s time to take stronger steps make this space a safer place for women.

    Luke, I know you suggested this forum idea before. It would take some time to set it up, but I’m willing to do that if I have a sense that there’s quite a few people who like the idea. I’ve created a poll to gauge interest levels in this proposal.

  10. Lora

    I agree with Brian — I stopped participating when I realized that YAR had gone far beyond a circle of people I knew and had talked with in person, and whose assumptions I understood to some extent.

    I think Katie once said that if commenters at YAR wanted to make extraordinary claims, we needed to back it up with extraordinary proof. When we respond out of our assumptions–sort of like Brian said–we don’t see that as anything that needs additional backing, even when someone else’s dignity is involved.

  11. Adam

    I am not clear on the assumptions behind the survey. Would the forums completely replace blog comments? Would they be moderated? I’d need a broader proposal before I could vote.

  12. Amy

    Part of the reason I don’t comment is b/c I sometimes feel like I speak a different language on this site than most others. My thoughts come from an intuitive, feeling place, and it doesn’t come across well on this site. So, I just gave up. I choose to talk about what is important to me elsewhere.

    Also, much of what is discussed on YAR nowadays is not as interesting as what we used to talk about. And, with school and all, I have other things to do.

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