Male Privilege – it’s real and it’s an abomination to God

Male Privilege came up again in a discussion on one of my FB posts. I got the impression that some men either think it doesn’t exist or (if it does) it doesn’t apply to them.

“I grew up in adversity, not privilege,” some say.

That’s not the point. Male privilege isn’t something earned on the individual level. It’s a social and cultural phenomenon where men generally are placed in a position with privilege over women. Access to leadership positions, education, business opportunities, financial resources – in all of these and more there is generally better access for men than for women in most societies around the world.

Some men will cite an example of a woman who attained power or wealth as if that proves the absence of male privilege. Exceptions tend to prove the rule, though.

For example, Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany and Theresa May is the Prime Minister of the UK. Yet a woman who becomes prime minister, chancellor or president of a country is worth remarking on because it’s a remarkable event. And then there are all the men who are the heads of almost all the other countries in Europe, let alone around the world. Not remarkable.

Other men acknowledge the disparities between men and women but then resist efforts to remove those disparities. If men should not hold men-only leadership conferences, for example, a man might say that’s fine as long as there are no women-only conferences.

This misses the point.

Many churches are set up, either intentionally or unintentionally, with men in charge. If the church holds a men’s event, the leadership of the church will likely be in attendance. Conversations about leadership will occur that no woman is ever privy to. With weekly men’s Bible studies or monthly men’s breakfasts, these conversations occur throughout the year. And as leaders engage men in those conversations they might find some men are suitable for various roles in the church, perhaps even joining the leadership.

And that’s how male leadership begets male leadership, which is itself a prime example of the privilege men enjoy merely by being men. Will some men not actually experience the benefits of that privilege, i.e., will they not become part of church leadership? Yes, but the male privilege as a social construct has come into play in that church none the less.

This is why in my own profession we are prohibited from joining groups that discriminate on the basis of sex (among other immutable characteristics). No judge in California, for example, can belong to a club that won’t allow women. Same for clubs that won’t allow men. Yet many judges belong to groups like the Women Lawyers Society (WLS). How can that be?

It’s because the WLS doesn’t restrict its membership to women. Men can join and take full part, and many do. The point of the group is to promote the presence and abilities of women in the legal profession, whether as lawyers or as judges, not to exclude men from the legal profession. The society wouldn’t even be necessary if male privilege hadn’t had such a profound and adverse impact on the profession of law.

If you think this is a thing of the past, here’s a thought experiment: consider the phrase “woman judge” as in “I was on jury duty and we had a woman judge” and you might think the person using it is behind the times; if they said “man judge” you might wonder why on earth they felt it necessary to point out the judge was a man.

Now consider how this works in your church. If you belong to a church that ascribes to a doctrine teaching only men can lead and women have to submit to them, this goes beyond male privilege over women. It’s male oppression of women.

Together for the Gospel but Not Together With Women for the Gospel (photo source)

But if you are in a church that says women and men should alike have access to all aspects of church life yet the leadership is predominantly male and the church continues to run separate activities based on sex, you might want to rethink how that might be a manifestation of male privilege.

You might also consider why there are separate activities in the first place.

Does a church really need men’s studies and women’s studies, women’s retreats and men’s retreats (or men’s advances as some churches have taken to calling them on the theory that men don’t retreat, they advance, which is itself a problematic concept infecting discipleship in the church)? It’s not that there is never a place for a couple of men to meet together, or a group, and same for women. But why should this be the norm?

We are to gather in fellowship as members of the family of God.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:26-29.)

The default mode for families is to gather together regardless of sex. There might be times for a mom to talk to a daughter and a father to a son, but is it more often than other match-ups among family members? So too there might be times when a church discussion might have to be limited to one sex, but it should be so rare as to be remarkable in its occurrence. Regular same-sex retreats, Bible studies and breakfasts are not rare.

In accordance with that Galatians passage churches would never exclude a person from an activity or divide people up based on race or social status, because churches recognize that these distinctions don’t count among children of God. Yet exclusion and division based on sex continues within God’s family.

And for those who insist that men and women are different so they need separate ministries, the answer is that they are not so different as to justify regular and institutionalized exclusion from each other’s fellowship. On rare occasion based on unusual circumstances, perhaps; on regular occasion enshrined in the church calendar, no.

We’re a family, after all, and God our Father gathers us together.


I’ve written on white privilege as well, and it too is abhorrent:
Why Black Student Unions Are Necessary and White Student Unions Aren’t.
White Privilege – You’re white? What are you going to do about that?.


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31 Responses to Male Privilege – it’s real and it’s an abomination to God

  1. Doug says:

    Or he meant men oppressing women (male oppression of female) perhaps? Nevertheless, you point out what seems ambiguous. Good comment!

  2. Tim says:

    I’lll clear it up.

  3. Carolyn G. says:

    Well said! Thanks!! We attend a church which has 25 leadership positions, and they’re all filled by men (some men hold more than one position). Last night there was an election for those positions needing filled, and I have no doubt those open slots will be filled by men. We didn’t attend because we’re not members and, therefore, can’t vote. We stay because the preaching is really outstanding except for this “one little itty bitty issue”! LOL We have no plans to formally join, since we are already “members of the Body of Christ” (right?), and, besides, nothing would change for me, a female, anyway! As a side note, we have a man who is NOT a member, who has been teaching an adult class for years and years, and he occasionally serves communion which is usually reserved for elders only. Go figure. Is there a corresponding women’s class, even though there are a number of women (such as former missionaries) who would be more than capable? No.

    • Tim says:

      I completely get why you attend for the preaching but decline membership. Fellowship is a difficult dynamic.

      • Pastor Bob says:

        Teachers need not be members, but supportive of the church. Some churches require serving in some capacity before becoming a member. The rest solid in how this local church deviates from its own practices.

        Membership in a local church allows the individual a few more privileges, some of which can be profound. The thoughts of a member (proving a supportive commitment) in many cases are given emphasis. As pointed out, the voting for office is one of them.

        Blessings to all.

  4. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    Together for the Gospel but Not Together With Women for the Gospel (photo source)

    I would like to point out the ONE token black on the far right.
    Now all they need is a token Smurfette.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    One question, Judge Tim:
    Are there safeguards in place against playing the White/Male Privilege Card to game the system?

    No matter what the system, someone’s going to try to game it to their advantage or revenge.

    • Tim says:

      Our ethics education in the branch includes highlighting in-group/out-group dynamics and how to avoid allowing them to infect the process.

  6. leftydf says:

    I was actually an elder at a church that not only allowed women elders but also women pastors. I noticed that if the male senior pastor wanted to meet individually with an elder, he’d go to breakfast or lunch or play golf with the male elders but would summon me to his office at the church (during the workday, door always open) if he wanted to talk to me. (No one ever specifically cited the “Billy Graham Rule,” but that was clearly what was operating.)

    I finally put my foot down. I’m a busy professional with a demanding job and the church was a 15-minute drive each way from my house–and the pastor also lived on my side of town. I suggested we meet at a coffee shop closer to our houses, but I based the request on scheduling and proximity, not challenging the central issue. He went along with it, but I always thought it was interesting that even in a church where women were institutionally empowered, this in-group/out-group dynamic still operated.

    • Tim says:

      You came up with a solution that challenged his practice and underlying beliefs without making it look like he’s the bad guy. That might bear much fruit as he and other leaders navigate interactions with women.

      P.S. I just used in-group/out-group in responding to another comment before reading yours. Great minds thinking alike and all that!

      • leftydf says:

        Ha! I saw that (the wording). My decision to challenge the practice was just as much about respect for me as a professional with other time demands as it was about gender. But the pastor seemed to “get it” about the male leaders without being told (e.g., breakfast before the elder headed off to work) and had to be reminded that my time was at a premium, too.

    • Pastor Bob says:

      With this “#me too” movement, and the problems that brought this out predating this, one MUST avoid the appearance of evil. Meeting in a public place, good, but there could easily be someone who wants to cause problems. Forget what Jesus said resolving a concern, the gossip machine is powerful, and proves that Christians frequently shoot their wounded. Better a few minutes of inconvenience than trying to stomp out ugly rumors that will not die.
      (topic for another post, playing hard ball to stop this)
      That being posted, there are still ways to have important meetings and “avoid the appearance of evil.” You found one, blessings to all.

  7. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    This is excellent, Tim; in particular, thanks for responding so clearly to objections to the very concept of male privilege.

    It’s so interesting that California judges are not allowed to be part of any club that discriminates on the basis of sex. It would also be interesting to know if there were any particular circumstances or cases that led to the rule being created in the first place.

    • Tim says:

      The rule has been in place a long time, but if I had to I’d guess it came up around the same time as civil rights legislation generally.

  8. Laura says:

    “And for those who insist that men and women are different so they need separate ministries, the answer is that they are not so different as to justify regular and institutionalized exclusion from each other’s fellowship.” – great post, but really liked that. I’ve blogged on similar, such as here:

  9. Even when churches do have women in leadership, we still face a battle to be seen and heard with genuine respect (i.e. as an equal) because there is such a pervasive, though unacknowledged, presumption of male superiority. If we have a different approach to ‘leadership’, it is often treated as something to be “encouraged”, not something to be taken seriously and engaged with on its merits. It’s a subtly patronising attitude which sends the message, “We’ve let you be a leader. Now you need to play the game our way.”

  10. bekamartin says:

    Where can I find a church in my area that is equal to the sexes, also inclusive to LGBTQ?

  11. kertsen says:

    Much of this problem arises from the letters of the Apostle Paul and it is well to remember he lived at a time when men ruled women. So as Paul shaped Christianity he could not help continue to emphasise man’s more important role.
    It is only quite recently that women’s position in society has been questioned and this has only been in the western democracies. Charles Darwin stated firmly in the descent of man that man is superior to woman in every way even in artistic merit .
    Women have fought for their rights and times are changing for the better , we now have women pastors , even women Bishops so maybe in the distant future a woman Pope would be on the cards.
    Unfortunately Christians have to adjust the interpretation to fit modernism into the new testament they dare not say Paul was wrong.

    • Pastor Bob says:

      We must look to the culture and understand where they were. We also need to see the limitations of the culture, but also see the important points of that culture. Look at own “modern” culture we see aspects that predate us, because there some differences we cannot argue much with. Traditional family roles for one: westerners have made the “head of the wife” to mean ‘head of the family.’
      He is not the “ruler”, but more of leader – but good leaders LISTEN!
      He is a protector, but she cannot be ignored – teamwork! (notice ‘a’ not ‘the’…?)

      Somethings need to change, some things are hard, some might never (claiming it does not make it so). Having served under very capable women, I made it a point to LISTEN, This helped me later in ministry to guide others.

      Books can be written, this short simplification cannot do justice to the topic, but healthy discussion will bring out more.

      • Tim says:

        The original Greek word translated as head does not mean leader. Koine didn’t use that metaphor with the word head in Paul’s time. That people speaking English Thinking other languages must have the same idioms and figures of speech we have. They don’t, of course.

      • kertsen says:

        Every culture has its own characteristics and each has a tendency to value it’s own above others. The world is advancing in knowledge and it’s power over nature as never before in history . Unfortunately our characters often don’t keep pace with these advances and our major problem is a moral one not a technological one .

  12. Debby says:

    Target center and then split the arrow in half. Excellent article. A couple of questions. Where do you think the “older women teach the younger women” comes in. What about porn addiction, a predominantly male issue? Though Jesus broke all the men/women barriers of his culture, he still chose 12 men. Just curious. I just came out of a 30 yr patriarchal church that sustained my 33 year abusive “marriage” so I totally agree. Just trying to wrap my brain around this .

    • Tim says:

      I think much of this is going to eventually be understood as culturally driven, but it might have to wait for when we see Jesus face to face and all becomes clear.

    • Mrs. Nix says:

      I have to push back on the idea that pornography addiction is a predominately male issue. It isn’t. We only recognize male pornography addiction openly. Female sexuality and female sexual sin is underestimated. It always has been. If it isn’t outright physical adultery, we don’t think about female sexuality and sin because we don’t talk about it. Women are addicted to all forms of pornography, and it’s as damaging to their marriages as a husband who uses porn. The success of 50 Shades of Grey should have taught the culture something, but it didn’t. The “romance” novel industry should teach the culture something, but it hasn’t.

      We’re not comfortable talking about or admitting that women use pornography in massive numbers…but they do. Again, men are allowed to be sexual. Women are not. Hence, the silence on female porn addiction. Men are the only ones who “want it,” right? Husbands are the ones who have “needs” and “appetites,” right? Women who deal with these drives and addictions and desires don’t exist, right?

      Of course that’s nonsense, so women who do have needs and appetites that are not getting met, dealt with remain silent. They turn to pornography of many different types, and they suffer without anyone knowing…and the world continues to pretend that sexual dysfunction is predominately a men’s issue.

    • Rosemary Flaaten says:

      I believe our porn problem has deepened in part because we’ve segregated the sexes. Women are increasingly addicted to porn, in fact feminine porn (created to appeal to women) is on the rise. We’ve highly sexualized each other in ths church and tend to see members of the opposite sex as either a potential mate or as a threat to my marriage instead of viewing and treating each other as brothers and sisters. In Mark 3:23 Jesus pushes back that his family only includes brothers and mothers when he says, ” for anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

  13. Debby says:

    Another thought I had is that the church seems to focus on teaching it’s flock how to be good (fill in your idea of traditional gender roles) instead of what it looks like and sounds like to be a follower of Jesus (helping people in need and sharing the gospel). I am rethinking my OWN walk and what it looks like. Spent decades trying to “be a good wife” to no avail as the abuse continued, but what I needed to be doing was being a follower of Christ, not serving one person (my husband) as if that was my singular role responsibility to be considered a “good Christian.”

    • Mrs. Nix says:

      So true, Debby, and I’m so happy to see your positive and godly thinking on this as a survivor of abuse. You don’t have to fit anyone’s stereotype to be “good.” You are a good and faithful servant by following Jesus and using the gifts God gave you to be Debby.

      And I am so sorry that the church–the body of Christ–kept you in bondage and made you feel inadequate. You are more than adequate. You are as God made you, and he thought the world needed a Debby. As you know, he is never wrong. All my best.

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