How Women Can Overcome the Fear of Their Own Authority

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As women, we’re often taught to fear power. Here’s how I’ve overcome that fear.

When I was around five years old on a camping trip, someone accidentally locked the keys inside our camper trailer. We were hot and miserable. My parents and their grown-up friends hatched a plan to have me climb through the narrow luggage compartment, so I shimmied into the dark opening and my dad coached me through the hatch into the trailer. As I grabbed the keys and unlocked the trailer door, my family and camping friends erupted in cheers and shouts of “You saved the day!” I beamed. I had taken a small risk, and with that risk came some authority: I alone could rescue campers from a night without shelter.

Now, 30 years later, I scarcely remember a moment when I felt so proud and accomplished in a pure and uncomplicated way. In the ensuing years, my relationship with authority and responsibility has become more complex and angst-ridden. I want to take risks and help people, but I am often intimidated by any role where people count on me.

Empowering women in leadership is a live conversation these days. Books like Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Unfinished Business, and Katelyn Beaty’s A Woman’s Place look at the systemic and cultural forces that limit female leadership, as well as the internal struggles that we women often encounter as we take up the mantle of power. Many of us internalize false messages about the nature of meekness, humility, and femininity that cause us to self-sabotage and devalue our own callings. As Sandberg writes, “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back.” This can be especially true for some evangelical women who subtly, even subconsciously, come to believe that avoiding leadership is part of being a godly woman. But encouraging women to embrace authority is essential to discipleship, and it’s a task that all of us—those who favor women’s ordination as well as those who don’t—can embrace. For both men and women, learning to embody authority is essential to human flourishing.

In his new book Strong and Weak, Andy Crouch asserts that flourishing comes when individuals and communities are able to practice authority—which he defines as “capacity for meaningful action”—together with vulnerability, defined as “exposure to meaningful risk.” Having authority without vulnerability leads to exploiting others. Vulnerability without authority yields suffering and even (in the extreme) slavery. If one has neither vulnerability nor authority, we exist in “withdrawal,” where we risk very little but also have very little impact, influence, or capacity for action.

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Tish Harrison Warren