by Alan Hirsch (as told to Bronwyn Lea)
What would it look like for me—a married man in my 50s—to spend a year trying to see the world from a woman’s perspective?
This was the question that bubbled up in my mind after reading author AJ Jacobs’ The Year Of LIving Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Jacobs' earnest (yet hilarious) account of him trying to make sense of the world from a completely different angle inspired me to begin my own thought experiment: to try and engage the world from a woman’s point of view.
There is an old saying: “You can’t understand a person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” I began privately, journaling my reflections. When watching a movie or listening to a conversation, I asked myself “how would I be hearing this if I were a woman?” What began as an exercise in empathy to understand my Christian sisters’ perspectives quickly became an irreversible journey. I began to notice how often women were excluded, overlooked, and ignored in conversation. I began to feel hurt by the sleights towards women, and with that hurt came an amazement at the grace and forgiveness so many women show for the treatment they endure - patience which reminded me of how the Messiah suffered yet did not raise his voice (Isaiah 53:7) .
In both casual conversations and the scripted dialogs on TV, I began to notice patterns of talking over women, undermining them, and patronizing them. I was ashamed to have been oblivious to these all my life, and to have been part of a church where these patterns were unnoticed, unnamed, and thus remained unchallenged.
The clearest moment on this journey came one night, sitting in front of the TV. My wife had been enjoying the TV show Game of Thrones, but I found I could not watch it. Several weeks into my “year of living womanly”, I was astounded at how little personality the female characters in the show had been given. They were secondary to a story told entirely from the male gaze, with women in sexual and sexualized roles. I was horrified at the explicitness and the gratuitous sexual violence. Women were abused and sidelined again and again. Once I began to see it, I couldn’t unsee it.
My year of living womanly began as a thought experiment but rapidly cued in some significant behavioral and conversational shifts. The more I considered how a woman might be experiencing a conversation, a joke, a movie, or a story being told; the more convicted I felt to say to my sister in Christ: “I am so, so sorry it has been this way for you.”
Genesis says God created both male and female in his image (Genesis 1:26-28). The image of God is expressed in both genders. If you take one out, the image is incomplete. I realized that in my Christian upbringing, I had seldom seen or heard any female heroes in the faith, and that without female voices, we had an incomplete image. An overly masculine view of God was distorting and diminishing our ability to see the whole picture.
The Bible calls the church “the family of God”, and our church life needs both mothers and fathers to raise us up with healthy perspectives. I need the voice of mothers in the faith. The church needs her mothers: voices of strength, empathy, and wisdom to help us to towards a healthy and holistic faith.
Now, when I notice women being overlooked or disrespected, my role as a father in the church is to sometimes say “don’t speak to you mother like that” and publicly honor and support her authority. In my own ministry, I do what I can do elevate and champion the women around me: I seek out the counsel of wise women, and work hard to make sure the voices of my spiritual mothers and daughters are represented at the table and at the microphone; and the church is richer and better able to see because of their perspectives.
We all have limitations on our perspective: there is only so much we can see or learn by ourselves. Excluding women leaves the world half-sighted, like a person seeing with just one eye. You can get around in life with one eye, but you’ll always have skewed depth perception. With two eyes, we can see a broader and a more accurate view of reality in all its dimensions. We need both eyes—the vision of both men and women—seeing together as we walk forward in the faith.
Alan Hirsch is the founder of 100Movements, 5QCollective, and the author of multiple books, most recently co-author of Reframation: Seeing God, People, and Mission Through Reenchanted Frames.
Bronwyn Lea is Editorial Curator of Propel Sophia and author of Beyond Awkward Side Hugs: Living as Christian Brothers and Sisters in a Sex-Crazed World.