Two days ago, my friend Tony asked his readers if they would help him understand why the majority of the people who comment on his blog are men. I weighed in, and so did many others. Tony is a challenger, asking questions and debating issues, and it really comes through on his blog (though after spending 9 days on an international trip with him, I can say from personal experience that despite the bluster, he is a listener and has a soft caring side too).
Many of the comments were constructive, identifying the challenges women in particular face in balancing all the demands on their time and in growing the confidence to speak about theology in particular when they’ve been unwelcome to do so for so long. Many people pointed out that the comments sections on many of the theology blogs devolve into ugly, competitive, and mean places quickly. Women are less willing to dive into such environments, apparently.
What was really bizarre though, is how some of the comments delved into angry feminism. Some of the women appeared completely unwilling to see Tony’s question as an honest inquiry and they resolutely refused to give Tony the benefit of the doubt as the conversation continued in the comments.
I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I think I figured out what bothered me about this. I’m discouraged by the way these women appear to have no hope.
Feminism gets a bad rap in large part because of the anger and cynicism some of its more outspoken proponents take. But what I think lies under that is that many women have lost hope that anything will get better. They are suspicious of every attempt to make things better. I am no psychologist, but I wonder if the cynicism is armor against being disappointed yet again.
This is tragic, not only because someone who has no hope is miserable. Loss of hope is tragic because it also sabotages any efforts to make real change. I saw it playing out in the comments on Tony’s blog, and I’ve seen it elsewhere too. The anger and despair destroys any seedlings of change that might be sprouting. Tony took a beating in the comments because certain people steadfastedly refused to assume the best of him.
I am an optimistic feminist. I believe we can make this world a better place for women and for men. I have a vision in which we all work together, valuing the unique strengths we each bring to the table. But even I lose hope when I see others sabotage honest efforts to open doors and make room at the table for women.
Daring to hope is a risk. It opens you to disappointment. I get that. But without hope, you are doomed to disappointment anyway, and some of it will be at your own hands.
Feminists, I dare you to hope. I challenge you to think good of each other. Let’s rally around those men with the courage to ask hard questions and, however awkwardly they may do it, who try to set a table where women are welcome.