A Woman's Voice
Voice. It’s one of our favorite buzz words.
Unique, fresh, distinct, moving, authentic, powerful, smart. All words used to describe the kinds of voices to which we are drawn—the voices who end up stacked on our nightstands and streaming through our iPods. GFL was created by and for leaders whose pulse quicken at the actualization of leaders who find and use their (unique, fresh, distinct, moving, authentic, powerfully smart) voices to impact the world for Christ.
My resounding Amen to that statement, however, has become complicated by an increasing awareness of how gender affects the voices we—both men and women—are willing to cuddle up with late at night or sweat to for miles on the treadmill. Do our choices reflect an attachment of gender-based value to the voice or do men and women simply filter voices differently because we are made differently? Genetic hard-wiring compounded by church background, family history and cultural influence have left me scratching my head: Is it possible to listen well despite our gender differences? And is it more difficult for a man to listen well to a woman?
Now, obviously, some voices are for women by women; just like others are for men by men. Books, for example, whose titles and jacket designs are skewed so much in one chromosomal direction that the opposite sex was never intended to throw them a second glance. But what about voices who speak of the gender-neutral things of God – things like spiritual formation, leadership, the character of God or living a life of faith? Are our listening ears held hostage by a mixture of cultural conditioning and DNA that causes us to both choose and listen selectively?
For centuries, women have sat under male teachers, leaders and pastors with little thought of the fact that they are, well, men. But for the first real cultural period in modern history, women’s voices are being touted both more frequently and in venues where their reverberations have scarcely been heard before. Nowhere is this more true than in the Church. And while some will openly oppose the female voice for theological reasons (and others embrace it for the same reason), I would argue that the majority of us, men in particular, have a response that’s more subliminal, undefined —a subconscious squirming when the voice we’re listening to is not the one we’ve been conditioned to hear, and it’s talking about things we’ve not been conditioned to hear it talk about.
When I’ve questioned my male counterparts on the subject, a few have dismissed it as a non-issue, but several—men full of godly character and integrity—have admitted their difficulty with hearing the feminine voice. In one conversation, a pastor actually blurted out, “I mean, come on. What man can really listen to a woman?”
They cited several reasons:
Tone: They literally hear a woman’s voice differently. High-pitched, sing-songy, whiny, shrill and forced are adjectives used to describe it.
Words: The stories women share and the words we use to share them are not as universal. Women emote. Women connect. Women cry. Women feminize. A story about motherhood, for example, often falls short to resonate. The barrier seems to be broken down, however, when a woman can muster up a little testosterone and sound more like a man.
Authority: The women’s movement has devalued male leadership, leaving them to feel emasculated (a phenomenon John Eldridge and others have well documented). Men instinctually respond by shutting out the feminine voice.
Now, before you come through your screen at me or at them, hear me on this: I’m not saying any of these instincts are right. And I don’t think the men I’ve spoken to are either. But to acknowledge the reality of the struggle—gut-level resistance warring against the undeniable truth of God’s image bearers as equally male and female —is worth the hard conversation. It forces us to stop and ask ourselves if we truly value the voices we listen to—both because of and despite of their gender—or if we miss God-honoring wisdom because we can’t see past the gender gap.
As leaders, engaging the reality of the tension makes us more aware of who we’re communicating to and how we’re communicating. It expands our perspective and helps us to see life through another’s lens. And ultimately, it strengthens our call, both male and female, to offer our unique voices as a pleasing and honorable sound to the One by whom they were created.