Whither Christian women bloggers?

I’ve been chuckling over the recent (and I guess ongoing) dustup over yet another “top bloggers” list that’s extremely white and dudely. This time it’s the “Top 200 Church Blogs” list curated by Kent Shaffer of Church Relevance. Per Dianna Anderson, the list is 93% white men and has zero women of color. Which just raises the question…which churches is Shaffer talking about?

Shaffer’s response to having this pointed out as a problem with his list has been to say how hard it is to find women bloggers who meet his criteria, and how it’s just a sad fact that the church is still dominated by white men, and, y’know, it’s just tragic that his list just can’t be more diverse because he gets how hard it must be to be a lady in the church. *sniff*

Again I ask, which “church?”

Oh, and women should just blog more and not find their self-worth in whether or not they’re on a top bloggers list, or be tempted to be envious of other people’s success or some such. Because really, if you object to the fact that a list is almost entirely dudes, it must be that you’re jealous. Right.

Dianna, Natalie Burris, and Fred Clark/Slacktivist have responded more than adequately to Shaffer’s comments, so I’m not going to be addressing them much here.

Some minor points:

  • People of color and white women are disproportionately likely to be online and new media users compared to white men – but are routinely left off list of “top” online personalities and creators. The few areas where white men aren’t dominant online tend to be considered low-status sectors. Make of that what you will.
  • A quick glance at Shaffer’s list shows no blogs coming out of the Black American Protestant tradition, which, well. It’s very hard to believe there are no Black church blogs with comparable traffic to any of the “top 200” on this list. Nor do there appear to be many Latina or Latino bloggers on the list. It perhaps goes without saying that there also don’t appear to be any out queer or trans bloggers.
  • There are a lot of Christian women bloggers out there. This is perhaps especially true in evangelical Christian communities that preach “traditional” gender roles. Women in these communities often pour quite a bit of effort into blogging, but are pigeonholed into writing almost exclusively about “biblical womanhood,” women’s roles in marriage, homemaking, motherhood, and child rearing. The latter two topics are rather important ones; the first two I think are total bullshit. But all of them are low status topics in complementarian Christianity with an inherently limited audience – unless men are teaching about them. It’s worth pondering, given how much these folks go on about how motherhood and submission are such high and noble callings, why aren’t biblical womanhood blogs seen as ministry blogs?
  • Blogging isn’t really “free.” Blogging takes leisure time – or at least, time carved away from other work one could be doing. It requires resources. For most people it’s entirely unpaid labor. A regular blogger can either afford these costs or chooses to absorb them. That creates barriers to regular blogging to begin with. To be recognized as a “top” blogger in dominant culture requires access to taste makers and thought leaders in that culture. This in turn requires being seen as relevant and influential by the definitions of that culture.

Let’s talk about the idea of inclusion. I’m for it. It’s a nice thing. But it’s probably hyped into a bigger thing than it really is. It’s one of those things most of us agree on as a good value regardless of politics or theology. Even Kent Shaffer would like more diversity on his list; he just doesn’t think it can exist within his parameters.

And this is the real issue. If there are more people of color and white women on Kent Shaffer’s list next year, what would it mean? Would it reflect a real shift in attitude or perspective?

The thing is, merely including people who fall outside privileged categories isn’t much of a change if one is still assuming the dominant perspective as the norm. Real change is more than inclusion; it’s a shift in focus, a centering of marginalized people and perspectives. That’s a much harder thing.

Andrea Smith gives an example of what I mean in her book Native Americans and the Christian Right:

 I am in [a] conservative Christian Bible study group. We are having a debate on abortion, with me defending the “pro-choice” position. While most members are strongly anti-choice, the male Bible study leader describes how he shifted his position. A friend of his had an abortion, even though she thought it was murder. After this incident, he asked his female Christian friends, “If you had an unwanted pregnancy while single, would you have an abortion?” and they all answered yes. When he asked his male friends, they all said no. He concluded that a “pro-life” position is in a sense founded on male privilege. [NB: having a uterus doesn’t equal being a woman.]

Smith’s point here isn’t to claim that people who can get pregnant are monolithic in their responses to unplanned pregnancy. Rather, she’s illustrating how viewing an issue from the perspective of someone with different stakes can radically shift one’s perception of that issue: “If we recentered…analysis and organizing from the perspective of women of color, how would we see political issues differently?”

I think there’s value in pushing back on lists like Shaffer’s and demanding more inclusion, absolutely. But in the end, inclusion alone isn’t a remedy for a worldview that, in contradiction to the dictum that all of us are made in the image of divinity, sees God only through the eyes of a privileged few. It’s not going to have much impact on a foundational theology that’s the cumulative product of centuries of skewed and limited perspectives if you just add one more viewpoint to the pile. You have to look at the pile from a completely different standpoint.

Can we imagine what it would mean, for instance, not simply to include women, but to primarily or even exclusively list – and more importantly, listen to and learn from – women theologians and bloggers? Or queer theologians and bloggers? Or black theologians and bloggers? Shifting the center of one’s theology rather than just including other theological perspectives ultimately means that what even constitutes Christianity radically changes.

In Black American Christian theology, you can ask the question “Is God a White Racist?” or “Does God identify with the black suffering in the face of (that is, against) violent white supremacy?” This is a fundamentally different point of view from white American evangelical traditions that posit both the complete justness of God and the righteousness and divinely-approved status of America’s white “founding fathers.”

These questions cannot be posed from a perspective that takes white evangelical culture and theological traditions as a given. Implicit (and sometimes quite explicit) in that culture is a belief in a God who identifies with whiteness, and an equation of whiteness not only with normality but also with goodness. The same goes for identifying god-likeness with masculinity.

So when I look a list like Shaffer’s, I think less about the metrics behind it, or the names left off it, than I do about what’s lost by a perspective that so exclusively centers the beliefs and culture of a small but dominant minority. The world is a big place. Christianity is a huge, diverse, rich group of traditions. But some people, many of them the people with the most power, insist on seeing it as a cramped and petty thing. That’s sad. This is about more than getting different names on list; it’s about being able to see the full range of human experience and identify with it. It’s putting what Jesus called loving others as yourself into practice.

7 Comments

  1. Wow. So many good points in here I can’t even mention them all. You’ve hit on the root of the issue: it isn’t “just” about inclusion, but we need a fundamental, radical shift away from the whiteness ingrained in much of North American theology and toward the margins.

    Also, did you notice that Shaffer says in one of his posts that the average Christian has shifted from a white man in the West to a woman of color in the global South? It seems odd, then, that a blog claiming to be about “church relevance” is completely behind the curve when it comes to naming “top blogs.”

    And dammit I need to read some Andrea Smith stat!

  2. Let’s be fair. The criticism against the lack of women bloggers on Schaffer’s list goes without saying. It was offensive that he left them off of the list, and his defense only made him look worse.

    But if you want to prove your point regarding minority bloggers, then you have to give examples. I checked Slacktivist’s list of 167 women bloggers and found 5 blogs written by African American women, 4 blogs by women of Asian descent, 3 blogs where minority writers are included among the blog staff, and 17 bloggers whose ethnic background is not disclosed.

    Perhaps this indicates that blogs are like churches and each ethnicity sadly worships and functions within its own group. But if you have Black American Christian theology blogs in mind, why not share them? I agree that it would be great to include them, but even your links about Black American Christian theology are to published books rather than blogs.

    • I’m puzzled. How does the criticism of the lack of women bloggers on Shaffer’s list “go without saying” while the criticism of lack of bloggers of color does not? What makes one a more obvious omission than the other?

      A demand for proof is an implicit statement of doubt that these blogs exist in significant numbers. I’m curious what your basis for that doubt is, and why you think it’s up to someone else to answer your skepticism.

      An earnest desire to learn from or about members of other church traditions shouldn’t depend on whether or not I provide you or anyone else with a reading list. Surely the absence of a list in this post doesn’t mean that bloggers of color should be presumed or suspected to not exist (in significant numbers).

      I recognize that this may be difficult to understand, but the purpose of this post is not to “prove” that Christianity bloggers of color exist in greater numbers than either Shaffer’s or Slacktivist’s lists indicate. This much can be proven by a Google search.

      To be honest, your comment is an example of the exact white-centric perspective on church this post calls out. You’re demanding that I prove to you that the world is more than what you see, that your particular experience isn’t a universal norm. You’re asking that I prove that whiteness isn’t the dominant norm (which is an implicit assumption that it is – unless proven otherwise). It’s the difference between expecting information to be handed to you and doing the work of seeking knowledge for yourself.

      To my eyes, your comment looks like a complaint that the post I decided to write is not a different post. I’m sure the post you’re looking for exists somewhere. Why not seek it out?

      • You’re reading skepticism in my post where there isn’t any. My point is that the response to the initial lack of women bloggers in Schaffer’s list made sense, and compiling a list of women’s blogs was a sensible and constructive response.

        Now you’ve raised the issue of minority female bloggers, so the natural next step is to provide a few, or better yet, compile a list of them. Clearly both Schaffer and Slacktivist are unfamiliar with them, as am I.

        That’s different than saying I don’t believe that they exist. The web is a huge place, so I”m certain they do exist. Or, to put it another way, if you want people to learn from other traditions (and that’s a great idea) and you know of good blogs to begin with, why not share them?

        It’s not an accusation or a demand; it’s a desire to learn .It’s true that our blog rolls are white centric, but it’s not out of a desire to keep minority blogs out. The lists people came up with are the blogs they were aware of. All I’m asking is that you add to the list.

        • What part of “that’s not the point of this post” don’t you get? What part of “there’s this thing, Google,” don’t you get?

          Check your privilege. What you are doing is abusing your privilege and derailing, by demanding (however nicely you phrase it) that Grace instruct you.

          The point of this piece was, as I read it, to air grievances about the way this Top Blogs list was managed. Where, in airing grievances, is the person complaining required to provide a list of their own? Get over it, and do your own research.

  3. This: Can we imagine what it would mean, for instance, not simply to include women, but to primarily or even exclusively list – and more importantly, listen to and learn from – women theologians and bloggers? Or queer theologians and bloggers? Or black theologians and bloggers? Shifting the center of one’s theology rather than just including other theological perspectives ultimately means that what even constitutes Christianity radically changes.

    YES! Well-articulate and exactly my sentiments. Thank you!

  4. Well, first of all I am glad I found this blog. :) Second of all, I am Woman of Color who does know where her Help comes from. Doing some ponder to start up my own Christian blog. Your post opened up my eyes, made me smile and got me rev’d up for alittle adventure. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to ponder more as I head off to get a Starbucks Mocha Frappucino…and thanks again for the post!

    Thomasina