I am honored and thrilled to have Suzannah Paul contribute a guest post to this month's series of guest posts on friendship between men and women.
Should men and women be friends? Should they mentor each other?
I suppose it depends: should humans be friends? Are women human? Are men?
Of course we believe men and women are human. How ridiculous! And yet, our language betrays us:
- She's a temptation and a stumbling block: tantalizing (or unappealing) body parts existing for the gaze, satisfaction, and control of men.
- He's an animal, governed by his physical nature. He can't even help himself (or be expected to.)
This sort of reductivism hurts all of us, especially women. We are made to feel ashamed of our bodies and sexuality, impossibly expected to divorce ourselves from them, and then blamed when men objectify, dehumanize, and abuse us.
The ironic thing is that friendship between men and women actually serves to heal some of these destructive patterns and assumptions, but friendship itself is so debased both in Christian cultures that exalt marriage to relational primacy and a culture-at-large that demonizes the alleged “friendzone.”
All too often, friendship is a consolation prize, a means to an end, or a way station on the way to the bedroom or altar. We hear that men and women can't be friends, women inevitably compete and backstab each other, and men don't even need friends, since emotional intimacy is for girls, useful to men only as currency to buy sex.
We're largely missing a good, practical theology of friendship as a Church. We need to live a better story as the Body of Christ.
Developing friendships as an adult is hard enough as it is, and needlessly limiting rules aren't doing us any favors. When it comes to mentoring, the rules aren't just foolish but damaging, and I'm grateful to have worked in ministries that model another way.
My first job out of college was directing a youth ministry at a church. My boss did a fantastic job of taking me under his wing, showing me the ropes, and encouraging me to grow as a person and leader. We problem solved and brainstormed over coffee. He prayed with me, counseled me, and equipped me to do good work with students.
Our city had a networking group for youth ministers, and I was one of only two and later three women who headed up youth programs. The other female attendees were spouses or volunteers in ministries lead by men, and when the director played up his smokin' hot wife, it subtly reinforced their misunderstanding of a woman's place in our field and in the Body of Christ at large.
In an entire city, I had just two female peers and zero female mentors, and as one might imagine, the middle aged youth pastors with divinity degrees weren't exactly lining up to offer us career counsel. I'm not even sure they noticed us there at all, so having my own supervisor on my team and in my corner at church was invaluable to my ministry. I couldn't have lasted without his support.
My husband works at a Christian camp that takes an approach to mentoring that is similarly based in grace and service rather than fear. He works closely with women, often training interns to function as his second in command. Equipping them is his job. If he didn't do it, no one else could, and both the women on staff and the ministry would lose out.
He travels with women. If he only traveled with men, only the men would learn his skill set, and only the men would be equipped to lead.
It's more than appropriate for men to mentor women—it's required, particularly in fields with fewer women at the top, which includes even the most “progressive” ministries and “egalitarian” Christian organizations. If we want women to lead, we have to appoint, equip, train, encourage, seek out, sustain, support, promote, and mentor women and girls in/to leadership. That's not just a job for “women in leadership”--it's the job of ANYONE in leadership.
Leaders lead. They move their feet, not just their mouths. Show us real leadership based not in fear but in the freedom of Christ and the diversity of his Body working together for re-creation and good.
We need each other. We aren't meant to go it alone, exclusively partnered off, or in single sex groups or protected hierarchies. Friends, mentors, and a healthy, functional Body of Christ share in suffering, joy, and common work, lighting a brighter way as one.