Just like a woman, I think to myself, when I read the statistics. According to a recent Sports Illustrated article, women tennis players challenge play calls on average 25% fewer times than men. The crazy part? Their rate of getting the challenge right is nearly identical. One could argue that women assess their risk more accurately before acting. But it could also be something more fundamental, something more elemental, something closer to the bone: Women assess their voice less accurately before speaking.
Call it self-deprecation or internalized sexism or fear of confrontation but there is something holding women back – statistically, speaking – from trusting their own perspective. “She doesn’t know how gifted she is, ” one male pastor told me of a candidate he’s overseeing for ordination. Another colleague shared, “She’s getting push back from her committee and is hesitant to move forward.” I reminded both of them, “It might be because she’s a woman.”
It’s not biological, not because we’re the weaker sex, no it’s none of that hackneyed theory that makes me cry “woman.” It’s history. A history that told us our voice should be silent (Religion), our voice was hysterical (Medicine), our voice didn’t count (Politics.) Momentum is against us but the tide has always been turned with small ripples.
At the Center for Courage & Renewal, we have a practice at the end of each retreat of writing a letter to our self that then gets mailed by facilitators some time later. (Read more about it here.) I thought this was a rather curious thing to do at the conclusion of my first retreat, seeing as how I had written plenty, pages and pages of plenty, about what I was discovering about myself and my work in the world. Why the added step of this self-addressed soliloquy?
The Quaker word for the voice of truth within us is our inner teacher. A lot of Christians I know get the jitters when I tell them we spend days on retreat listening to this voice and hearing it speak in community. Sounds self-indulgent. Sinful even. Untrustworthy.
Except it’s not any of those things because the voice of truth is God’s voice encountering mine, the Spirit breathing into me, the words of Christ made flesh in my flesh. Paul asks the church at Corinth, “Who knows a person’s depth except their own spirit that lives in them?”
Often I turn to everywhere but within when looking for advice to trust. Experts. Colleagues. My mother. Even reading Scripture at times can keep my mind full of words about how God has spoken to others without opening myself to how God is speaking to me now.
Trusting our voice doesn’t necessarily mean we challenge more play calls on the job, although it might mean trying and seeing what happens. It doesn’t mean we stop seeking out other’s perspectives in our personal life, although it might mean going to them after we’ve listened to the voice within. It means that we risk believing that our voice is worthy of an audience and worthy now.
However shrill. However shaky. However strong.
Trust like a woman.