Why Do WASPs Deny Sexism?
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
I’ve received several messages from friends and readers regarding my writing on white, Evangelical, men. I’ll call them WASPs, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants in this blog. The individuals who have written to me are WASPs, and ones I consider friends and former colleagues, so I really appreciate them taking time to read my blogs and send feedback. I decided to blog about those responses in hopes it will create greater awareness and a desire to affect change. The gist of some of these comments are along the lines of denial of the issue and considering their status to be the same as women. The other line of thinking is that WASPs have been unfairly singled out for blame. This is a huge topic, so I’ll share just a few thoughts on the prevailing comments/arguments WASPs typically use to deny the existence and great damage of the patriarchy in Protestant churches and communities.
1) You can hold beliefs inconsistent with your reality because you are conditioned and taught them to be true, often for your whole life. This applies everyone in the Protestant environment. When I was in my early twenties, I was a neo -conservative and didn’t believe that women experienced discrimination in the work place…that was until I started working, at a large Christian NGO. The discrimination against women in treatment, pay, promotions, and in virtually every regard was constant. I was treated even worse by the WASP head of HR for daring to ask for my legally mandated two 10 – minute breaks. He told my boss to keep an eye on me because I had “attitude issues.” I was given a little closet of a space with a couple wall dividers in which to work. When I started getting tendinitis at age 23 from the ergonomic set-up and asked for help, he put off having someone fix my set-up for several months. I did not get help until I was in such pain that I could not scrub my own dishes or work a full day. I finally filed workmen’s compensation. That made the HR WASP even angrier with me as it cost the NGO and highlighted his failure. A long-term employee who was a frail, elderly, woman confided to me that she had the same problems with tendinitis but would not dare to file workmen’s compensation because the NGO executives would be angry. She was a little envious that I had the “courage” to get help. Discrimination and poor treatment of women WERE the culture and commonplace. Just because our WASP co-workers denied its existence and often participated in the culture without understanding or caring how damaging it was, does not negate the reality. Nearly every woman who worked there could share countless stories. What does it look like?
Men being paid more, promoted more frequently, and hired into more management positions; often without the education or experience to support those benefits
WASPS taking credit for the ideas and work of female colleagues
Females being frequently blamed by male colleagues for their own failures and inadequacies
Females facing tougher reviews and standards because nearly all the executives are men
Females nearly always tasked with organizing events and food preparation
Receiving frequent comments on one’s clothing and looks by male co-workers
2) Most women in Protestant Christian settings will not openly discuss the discrimination and abuse they experience from WASPs due to their theological beliefs and cultural norms.
Theology - Protestant women are taught that they are equal in value, but that God has made men the heads of households and spiritual leaders. This belief system is often referred to as complementarianism. It teaches that men and women are biologically different and thus have come hard-wired with different capabilities. The majority of Protestant, and particularly Evangelical churches relegate women to roles of service and Sunday school teaching. But they are prevented from becoming elders, teachers to the adult congregation, and most definitely not pastors. This results in half the population’s wisdom, experience, and voices being largely excluded in the most important decisions and teachings of the church. At this point, many of you will object that women have leadership roles…but they are over other women and children and do not significantly impact interpretation of scripture, counseling parishioners, or church discipline.
Cultural Norms – Due to theological teachings, the cultural norms on how women are to act, what their roles are at home, church, and in the work-place, all follow the teaching that men are to be the leaders, and women the supporters and followers. While you can find a few exceptions, this cultural norm keeps many Christian women from sharing about their experiences, even within their own church community. When my former employer started a “spiritual transformation” program, that was not optional and involved giving personal prayer requests that were shared with the CEO, I objected to this mixing of my place of employment and spiritual life. When the NGO ended my program as a pretext to let me go, one of top WASPs confided to a former co-worker that the real reason for their decision was due to me not being “spiritual enough.” AKA, Lindsay did not submit to our spiritual authority in the workplace, even though that was not a part of her employment contract and was a serious violation of employment law. It didn’t end here. The temporary CEO slandered me to an influential contact in Washington, DC, to damage my career, essentially claiming I never did my job. Fortunately, his lies were easily exposed as I had evidence countering his deceit. And no, not a single WASP spoke out against this slander because this is just par for the course in the WASP club. If it doesn’t hurt me and my career, why should I bother upsetting another WASP?
As a member of multiple private survivor and support groups for missionary kids, Exvangelicals, and others along those lines, the stories, and experiences that I’ve described are countless. While saddening, it also has confirmed by suspicion that these issues are widespread and common. If WASPs took the time and made the effort to listen to these many survivors, they would hear horrific stories.
Women counseled to stay in abusive marriages
Women & girls shamed and blamed for unwanted male attention
Women & girls told to change their modest attire
Women and girls with little to no self-esteem, inhibiting every aspect of their lives
Women covering up for WASP's immoral behavior at home, in ministry, and the church, to preserve the reputation of their faith
Women not daring to stand up to abusive WAPS in the workplace and church because they will be ridiculed, slandered, shunned, or fired
3) Male religious leaders of many other faiths, cultures, and ethnicities are abusive. So why the focus on WASPs?
The answer is simple. WASPs have the greatest amount of power and influence in the world. In the US and Western Europe, it is WASP’s who have the power and ability to change the often toxic and abusive Christian culture that individuals such as myself seek to expose. As WASPs claim headship in homes and churches, then they have the responsibility to promote equality between the sexes, examine the environment of their homes, churches, and workplaces, and make genuine reform. With privilege comes responsibility. Despite the innumerous sex scandals, reports of abusive ministry environments, and poor treatment of women, there are very few WAPS who will even acknowledge the widespread abuse of patriarchy in churches and Christian organizations, much less take any action to end it. The first step and way in which WASPs can make meaningful change on these issues of the patriarchy and gender inequality is to have the humility and willingness to educate themselves, and truly listen to women’s’ perspectives. My personal observation is that most WASPs shut down when confronted with ideas and narratives that counter their own. If your first response is to think about how you have been treated unfairly or targeted unjustly, then why not take a step of faith acknowledging the possibility that these issues exist and can be much worse than you ever imagined for others? I think the response is driven by pride and fear of change. WASPs must ask themselves:
Do I hold these beliefs, and have I treated women unequally?
If I have treated women unequally, then do I need to own it and how can I make it right?
Are my achievements and status in part a result of being born or converting to be a WASP?
If I acknowledge the problems with patriarchy and inequality of women in the Christian worldview, what am I willing to do to speak out for women and affect change?
What will other WASPs think of me if I acknowledge this issue and how will it impact my social status?
I was taught that racism in America was not a real issue and that black Americans have equality. I never took the time to research, learn, listen, and try to understand these issues until George Floyd was murdered. It was like a switch flipped, and I started watching films and consuming different content to help me understand something which I had not personally experienced. It has brought me to tears more than once. I regret my arrogance, to think I knew how it was for blacks in America. I regret my lack of curiosity and patience to listen to stories and learn. I regret my utter ignorance of American history that is taught in such a way to diminish the reality and struggles of black Americans.
While this blog is about WASPs and what they can do to create greater gender equality and respect between the sexes, I think the lack of empathy and willingness to learn about those outside our own community is a human problem. While women and minorities often get the worst treatment, each of us is responsible for our own beliefs and actions. I do not just sit here and blog to whine about others. I also write because it helps me process my own beliefs and helps me grow as an individual. If I'm honest, I think there is a lot of room for improvement from each of us.
Whether you’re a WASP reading this, or any other person, my objective is that we all learn to respect one another more, treat each other with kindness, and give one of the greatest gifts…that of listening to each other’s stories, allowing it to touch our hearts, and moving us to grow.