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.
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.