A New Table

“No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

This week I was reminded of gender dynamics–something I had dealt with and learned about so much through serving AAIV this year–through being their staffworker and leading the chapter with Barney.  And I was reminded of how frustrating it can be, how overlooked and worthless we as women sometimes feel.

Thankfully, this week I also finally found my journal!  haha  it’s been missing since July!  And there was an entry I wrote after talking with K, my secondary supervisor.  It was SUCH a blessing to talk with her.  But I wanted to share my reflections after our conversation…because finally…

I feel like someone gets it.  I talked with K just now during the Sabbath day free time and man.  So many of the things she said just resonated.

We talked about the issue of gender.  In my performance review, Dan said I do just fine leading when I’m given the space, but I don’t assert myself enough, I don’t create that space for myself.  So Dan described it as “stepping into the vacuum” of what’s not being said…so not creating the space for myself, but finding that opportunistic platform.

I liked the way he said it, because honestly, asserting myself sounds wrong…sinful even.  It’s that whole Asian Americans never volunteer themselves for anything because that’s like bragging (I can do x, I’m the best at doing x).  And for women, even more than men, to volunteer yourself, to list your accomplishments or qualities–it’s just unheard of.

K mentioned how we as women ought (read: are taught) to serve w/o being noticed…to live under the radar and be invisible.  And to serve–behind the scenes so no one knows its you, like those elves who make shoes at night in that classic children’s tale (i forget what it’s called).  That’s just what we’re taught.  Maybe not outright, maybe it’s never explicitly said (or maybe it is), but through the example of older women, for sure.

Even in the Bible we talk about Mary and Martha, Martha, who tells Jesus to tell Mary to get her butt over into the kitchen to help behind the scenes.  And we don’t say, oh no Martha, you don’t need to serve behind the scenes, we say, take a break from the work you ought to do and spend time with Jesus.  You will always have chores to do and food to prepare, but you won’t always have Jesus.  Worship and bask in his presence.  And yes, don’t worry, the chores can wait.

K mentioned how angry she was when students resonated so strongly with Patrick Fung at Urbana when he said “Live to be forgotten”, because she didn’t think it was mindblowing.  Honestly, neither did I.  And the reason why, she said, was because that’s what Asian American women are taught to do every day. That’s what we do everyday.  ((Seriously!))

And so no, we need to change that.  To learn to live successfully.  Navigate the system, yes, (one small step at a time, we can’t overthrow the system all at once) and learn to get advocates and people who will offer you space, but carve it out for yourself.

And I told her…I just don’t know how to do that.  I’ve never been taught, I’ve never even seen anyone do it.  In my eyes, K’s established already, Sandra, Lisa (both previous staff workers)…all given the space by virtue of standing alone.  Me?  I stand with Barney.  Could be any guy really, but I stand on equal footing with a guy and Barney’s given space AND he creates space (that’s not a bad thing, i love being his costaff).

K agreed–she says that we as AA women do need to be taught how.  And so she said–the NU AAIV ppl were asking for the history of their chapter.  And Henry (old NU AAIV staff) had no problem saying

“When I was staff, I did this and this”.

But for K–even now, even this week, had to make a conscious, uncomfortable effort to say the exact same thing.  Even though they were both incredibly influential, because K’s tendency is to say

“Well, GOD did this while I was there.”

Not to say K’s more humble, not to say that she denies her role in any of it, it’s just the language that we’re so used to using.  And this week, she had to carve out space by saying to staff that she was available as Regional ME director to come in and talk to different chapters.  That made her very uncomfortable.

And in speaking to AAIV, she had to pull rank not to demean the current staff, but to gain audience with the men.  The women give it naturally, gladly, as a sister, but the men needed to know–Where is she in the pecking order??  So that her authority would be earned.  (Why is it that  a woman’s authority needs to be earned in the first place??)  Even K, the strong-willed, strong-headed, emotional, sex-talking, no-nonsense, bust a cap telling truth, K even feels the tension.

But yes, she told me to make my own space.  And she said that language, even that of “power dynamics”, is often uncomfortable, especially for women because we so often think power is bad, and men often think that if power shifts, that means a loss of power.  Instead, she suggested I think of it as “being a good steward of my gifts”.

Haha, that’s the same terminology I used when I was training the new Servant Team.  Barney said that STeam had two roles–“Managing and Planning (?)”, and I used “Stewarding (of your own gifts and other people) and Shepherding”.  Hahaha…it’s so interesting to know the reasons why that happened!  And to find someone who speaks my language!

So she said that as much as I don’t want to have to carve space for myself, I want to be a millionare for Jesus.  I want my gifts to multiply.  And that, is essentially what I told the servant team!  (to be a good steward of yourself and others and to raise up new leaders)

So yes, for now we will have to learn to navigate the system, to learn to lead in that way and create space for ourselves because honestly, we’re NOT going to be given it and we can’t expect it.  One day, we (she) hopes that we will simply be given space to lead naturally, but for now…we’re a long way off.  But she said there IS hope.  lol

And this whole business of wanting to be forgotten, of living to be invisible, OMG.  I feel like that’s what I’ve done my entire IV career!  And so when Phil got noticed and called a true servant leader, part of me was always like–yeah, I hope they see that in me too.  And when I DO get overlooked (when, not if), part of me knows that what I was after, but the rest of me is so deeply wounded because I know it’s an injustice that just happened.  I know I shouldn’t have been overlooked on a job welll done when the guy was praised.

So what now?  I asked.  So we can fight multiethnicity from the platform but with men/women we have to fight it one on one, 1 battle at a time?  Yes, she said.  College students aren’t ready for these kinds of things yet, they haven’t fully realized gender dynamics beyond boy/girl dating relationships.  And in IV, they ARE given the space because they do usually stand alone in their role.  So were we to preach it from the soapbox, they–especially freshmen–may not even understand because they simply haven’t experienced it yet.

As for male/female styles of leadership–I posted the article below–so often its the male style that’s exalted (You’ve got balls?!) I asked her, because I don’t know how to play to my gifts but still play the game.  She said while it is exalted (this is true), maybe the reason why we call it male/female styles is because we’ve been conditioned to think that way.  But in actuality women can have those gifts as well, we’re just usually not given the opportunity.  The chances to try out our skills.  But men are.  And so it comes back to carving out space (I feel like a broken record).

As for being overlooked–she told me that A gets invited to these pastors’ luncheons and such and asked her for advice on what to do and say.  K told A that is a sphere she has never been invited into and will never know.  She too, gets overlooked–WTC!?

I told her about something one of my female students had told me about–something involving a guy and a romantic relationship.  I told K how angry I was, and how every time I saw him I wanted him to look at me, acknowledge me, and know that I am here and that I KNOW what he did.  And K replied, “Don’t you just want to throttle him??”  LOL

She warned me though, not to let the Devil get a foothold with my anger.  She told me to let God have it so he would turn it into holy rage.  LOL  And to give my deep sorrow to God so I wouldn’t tend towards despair.

Those are good reminders.  Because I just want to overthrow the system.  Hold a forum, air the dirty laundry, chastise the people and be done with it.  And secretly, I think I was looking for a comrade in K.  lol  Someone else who would take up her torch with me to kill the Beast.  lol  But she has a more wizened, seasoned, rational approach.  And though I feel like we may not make much headway, she urged me to trust in Jesus and his power to change it all.  And to hold fast to grace.

“What’s impossible with man is possible with God.” Luke 18:27

At one point, K said (regarding multiethnicity and racial reconciliation) “We don’t want just a seat at the table.  We want a completely new table.” And I feel like that’s true for this issue too.

Thank God that in heaven, we will sit down at a completely new table when we feast at his banquet.

And thank God for women like K.

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