What We Talk About When We Talk About Gender Disparity on the Platform

Patriarchy is all pervasive.  It seeps across all areas of life.  There isn’t one solution, one issue or one aspect to approach patriarchy from.  Perhaps one of the issues with blogging is that it invites us to only consider a couple of issues, it is not designed to approach the fullness of something like patriarchy.


When we look at the reasons for gender disparity on the platform, things like childcare or complementarian theology are often as far as we get with defining the issues.  Yet these are superficial issues and in no way explore the vast complexity of why we have less women on the platform.  Yes, there is a need to question whether equal representation is the right way to go, but if we do that without exploring why there is disparity between men and women, we glaze over the actual issues.


After collating the statistics for platforms in 2013 I was regularly being asked whether quotas were the way to go.  As a result I wrote this document in consultation with as many women in leadership as I could.  It is 34 pages long and articulates the reasons women are less likely or able to gain speaking opportunities.


So I thought I’d list the issues raised in the document here, so instead of picking one or two, we can hopefully stop listing one or two of these and thinking that is enough.  Instead we need to look at the whole picture and engage holistically with it.

Society Community Ontogenetic Individual/Internal
Intersectionality of oppression Formal reinforcement of societal beliefs Children not given critical thinking skills Imposter syndrome
Neurosexism Informal reinforcement of societal beliefs Christian products perpetuate stereotypes Lack of gender awareness
Patriarchy Women’s appearance scrutinied Sexualisation and commercialisation of childhood Women who put selves forwards seen as “pushy”
Institutional sexism “Queen Bee” syndrome Role models fit gender stereotypes Motherhood:

Stepping of the “career ladder” and unable to get back on

Lack of provision for mothers at events


Hegemonic Masculinity “Home wives” and “work wives” Children’s clothing Singleness
Male privilege Women expected to fulfil “female roles” Toy and technology industries Lack of self-confidence
Lack of transparency/consistency Lack of support from friends or family Gender socialisation Lack of resources:

No “wife”


Lack of accountability/consequences “You can’t be what you can’t see” Different expectations of girls/boys Silencing tactics:

Policing tone

The “grace card”

Gender stereotypes Lack of gender awareness in ministry training Adolescent development Shame
Gender justice seen as a “women’s issue” Focus on justice as “out there” Traditional gender roles seen as a measure of Christian commitment The patriarchal bargain
Selfish capitalism Single sex events can perpetuate stereotypes Events for children and young people rarely focus on gender Assumptions made based on gender
Tokenism Local church”

Not championing women

Not providing leadership opportunities

Not enacting egalitarian theology

Sex and relationship education Individual complicity:

Not willing to give up power

Fear of the consequences

Lack of knowledge

Blind to the issues

Lack of courage

Women’s contributions written out of history Lack of regional opportunities Parenting Pressure on female leaders to represent their entire gender
Media Representation of women:


-Pressure to conform to beauty industry standards


Lack of informal ministry training No gender awareness training for youth and children’s workers
Violence against women Lack of support with formal ministry training Parenting advice perpetuates gender stereotypes
Women have less decision making power Fear of inappropriate relationships Lack of discipleship
Women are poorer
Unhealthy expectations of:

Women without children

Single women




Women only invited to speak on “women’s issues”
Workplace not designed for women
No teaching on what a right use of power looks like
Gender exclusive language
Don’t know any female speakers
Negative attitudes towards feminism
Only using existing pool of speakers
Lack of intentionality in inviting women female speakers
Main leadership model is charismatic


Emphasis on “maleness” of God

Unity prioritised

Gender justice a “secondary issue”

Creation ordinance for gender

Only asking speaker’s wives
Non-ministry experience undervalued
Accusations of “feminisation”
Invisibility of women

In response to some of the things Ian Paul and others have written about the issues of having children, I have a few things to say.


For the last few years, Mr GLW and I have run a consultancy together.  He manages the finances and I do mostly everything else.  This means he has been the primary carer of the children and the house for that time.  He is brilliant at it.  We clearly felt God’s call to live out our life and faith in this way, with both our skill sets contributing to us generally managing family, work and life quite well.  The main issue for us has not been some biological reality of my womb making me yearn for more time with my children, but rather the social judgments made (especially by Christians) about our roles.  On numerous occasions Mr GLW has been asked “So when are you getting a proper job?”  And people are incredulous that I can achieve so much while having a family.


I don’t think the way we work is right for everyone.  But suggesting women are biologically predetermined to be the primary carers of children and the home is reducing the opportunity for both women and men to live out God’s call and fully use their gifts.  So in finish I would say:

  1. Men’s contribution to childcare and the home is a deeply feminist issue.
  2. The Church should be encouraging all men to be more involved with their children and homes.  As a feminist and a christian I regularly object to the sort of hegemonic masculinity perpetuated by the majority of Christian men’s work in the UK.
  3. I am not interested in the statistics because I value the people speaking on platforms more highly than others.  I believe there is a need for us Christians collectively to stop waiting for the next big event to hear from God.  Jesus died and rose again so we no longer needed an earthly priest or mediator between us and the Creator of the universe and Christian events are often used by individuals as a replacement for spending time in reflection with God.  However, the statistics we can gain from events gives us a snapshot into Christian culture and the way certain types of power are allocated.  That snapshot is invaluable in motivating change, articulating the issues and beginning the conversations and actions required to change things.
  4. Nobody ALLOWS their wife or husband to be a GP, have a job or be a primary carer of children.  We support, encourage and enable our wife or husband to do such things

6 thoughts on “What We Talk About When We Talk About Gender Disparity on the Platform

  1. Thanks for this–very interesting. Just some brief points:

    1. I have never said ‘But suggesting women are biologically predetermined to be the primary carers of children’ and I have several times clarified that I have not said this. But the alternative is not ‘Men and women will statistically equally look after children.’ More mothers than fathers might opt for this, without this meaning anyone is ‘predetermined’ to be the primacy carer.

    2. I recognise all the negative reasons that you list for why there might be more men than women on the platform. But the blog post, and comments, especially from Alastair Roberts, list a good number of neutral or positive explanations too. To campaign for 50/50 representative denies these…and for no clear reason.

    3. I think I would agree wholeheartedly with your four closing points.

    4. I still want to know who is standing, with an equal passion, for mission to men.

    But thanks for engaging—I appreciate your taking the debate seriously, and I continue to be committed to working to see women and men exercise their calling and gifting under God.


  2. This whole discussion, as I see it, has been vexed by the fact that two different sets of concerns and claims have needlessly and unhelpful been conflated. On the one hand, there are concerns related to the ways in which women are facing prejudices and practical obstacles that stand in the way of the development and exercise of their God-given gifts. There is an insistence that the experience of these women be heard, their gifts valued, developed, and provided with contexts for their exercise, and that those things that would stand in their way be addressed. The claims being made here are that women’s gifts are undervalued, underdeveloped, underemployed, and all too frequently dismissed or obstructed and that the Church and society needs to be proactive about making a difference in this area.

    On the other hand, there are concerns related to the lack of gender parity in certain areas of our churches’ and our societies’ lives. The chief concern that has been raised in this conversation is that we don’t have the same number of women as men on the front platforms at conferences. I’ve listed some of the claims explicitly or implicitly being made in relation to this set of concerns here (my entire comment there will complement my points here, so some might want to read it):

    1. That men and women have distributions of gifts, callings, capacities, and motivations that render them equally called to, gifted, prepared, motivated for, capable in, focused upon, and prioritizing of conference speaking.
    2. That we must aim for 50:50 representation.
    3. That anything short of this is an oppressive expression and result of patriarchy.
    4. That the current imbalance is almost wholly a result of injustice and that securing the greater presence of women is principally battling past and existing injustice.
    5. That anyone who challenges these claims is misogynistic or opposed to women on some level.

    It should be observed that the first set of concerns and claims relate chiefly to individuals and the obstacles facing them. The second set of concerns and claims, however, relate more to systemic relations between groups. While there is obviously interplay between these two sets of concerns, there is good reason to believe that both need to be distinguished from the other, even while not separated. It is one thing to say, for instance, that there are mothers out there whose teaching gifts and desire to teach are underappreciated and unused and that the Church needs to do something about recognizing and facilitating the exercise of these gifts. It is a rather different thing to say, for instance, that mothers will or should be as motivated to develop and exercise a public teaching voice as their male peers will and that, if we don’t have as many mothers as fathers teaching at the front in our conferences, we are engaging in oppressive practices. The first is a statement about a group of individuals of indeterminate size and our duty towards them. The second is a statement that makes a raft of tendentious assumptions about the relative distribution of priorities, motivation, gifts, and capacities within each of the sexes, about the nature of our duty towards women, and the character of social justice.

    The conflation of these two sets of statements and claims has proved needlessly polarizing (see my comment here for elaboration of that point). As these two have been conflated, it has come to be assumed that any questioning of the assumptions and ideology bound up in the second set of concerns and claims is a denial of the legitimacy and importance of the first set. It isn’t. It is quite possible to believe both that: 1) we should recognize, encourage, develop, remove the obstacles to, and provide for the exercising of the gifts of women in our midst as the Church and society; 2) we shouldn’t expect or demand gender parity to be the result of this (it may be, but there are good reasons to believe that unlikely). Furthermore, it is quite possible to believe both that: 1) there are women in the Church who are every bit and often more gifted than any man in public teaching (and who are as motivated and prioritizing of the exercise of this gift) and that these women should be recognized, valued, and given a platform; 2) as a group, there are good reasons to believe that women are probably generally less motivated to and focused upon this form of ministry (but that we should be open to the possibility that, contrary to initial expectations, they may be).

    The first set of concerns and claims will lead to a form of practice that emphasizes providing opportunities to and removing obstacles from women with gifts, calling, and motivation to public teaching ministry and is open to surprise about what the result of this extension of opportunities will look like. The second set of concerns and claims will lead to a form of practice that insists upon achieving a predetermined shape for society, not being open to the possibility that women and men as groups may not play along.

    No one in the conversation is attacking or dismissing the first set of concerns and claims. This really needs to be appreciated. The huge differences here relate to the second set. If all that the people advocating for Project 3:28 were arguing is that we need to be more proactive about recognizing and enabling women’s exercise of their gifts of public teaching in conferences, I think that we would all be in agreement. Again, no one has said that we should prevent women from being 50% of our conference speakers, just that, given men and women’s relative patterns of behaviour, gifts, and priorities, such a result is highly unlikely. It is the people imposing the expectation that it should who are at greatest risk of being prescriptive and repressive here. Not only has the conflation of these two sets of concerns led to needless polarization, it has also led to the demonization and mischaracterization of people who are pretty much on board with Project 3:28’s primary desire.

    This mischaracterization can be frustrating yet somehow amusing. Neither Ian nor I are men protecting our privilege as conference speakers: we don’t get invited to speak at Christian conferences (I’ve also attended the same church for three years now and never once been invited to speak from the front, even though I probably have more theological education and background than anyone else who attends: beyond the narrow confines of academia, my platform is primarily one that I have created myself). I don’t think that either Ian or I are proponents of the ‘hegemonic masculinity’ of which you speak. I am sure that Ian has spoken out about much of the teaching at men’s conferences: I know I have. I have also been to conservative evangelical conferences where Driscoll’s vision of masculinity was generally ridiculed at the front (quite some time before the big scandals broke): most men I know are not on board with laddish notions of Christian masculinity. In fact, I am struggling to think of men I know who hold such notions. Many of the things that are said about teaching about Christian masculinity bear little resemblance to most of the teaching that I have personally heard on the subject, which makes me wonder whether the influence of the extremes is being greatly overstated for rhetorical purposes.

    Although I have no pressing reason to do so as an unmarried and childless man, I childmind a few times a month and have been involved in several clubs, Sunday schools, etc. for kids. Incidentally, fathers who are deeply and lovingly engaged in the lives of their children—far, far more than fathers more generally in society—is actually something that outsiders often comment upon in a number of the complementarian contexts with which I am most familiar (this suggests that it is misleading to believe that some sort of ‘feminist masculinity’ is the only alternative to ‘hegemonic masculinity’ out there—Ross Douthat’s remarks here are apropos). Nor do Ian and I have something against smart women teaching men or a woman being the primary wage-earner in a household. Ian’s wife is, from what I gather, the principal wage-earner in their household and I am happily planning to prioritize the interests of my girlfriend’s future career over my own in several ways over the next few years, not least in moving to the US and supporting her through training after which she will almost certainly be the primary wage-earner. The unfair implicit and explicit caricatures and misrepresentations become tiresome after a while.


    • Perhaps we are talking at cross purposes. 50/50 is a number, something to aim for. No one is suggesting we squash people into a mould of achieving or interacting, but until we have worked to address the barriers listed, we will never know what the outcome will be.

      I’m confused by what you are saying about people people being almost fully onboard with Project 3:28, but that somehow, those of us who are involved are alienating people. I haven’t seen a flurry of the people commenting celebrating the opportunity to make a change as a result of the statistics. Immediately questions were asked about the statistics, whether they cost money, that if so it was a waste of money, whether there was any point, that the church is neglecting men. Apart from those who have said they are fully supportive anyway, others have responded critically, which has led to those in Project 3:28 responding to those criticisms. I definitely haven’t experienced the responses as “great to have these statistics, how do we change things”. It’s been much more of, “50/50 isn’t going to work, why even bother with making a change?” Mostly said by men who actually do not perceive themselves as impacted whether a change happens or not.


      • Thanks for the response and for your willingness to have this conversation!

        The question, as I see it, is to what extent Project 3:28’s focus is upon achieving gender parity at conferences and to what extent its focus is upon ensuring that certain gifted women aren’t passed over, but that their gifts are proactively recognized and developed. These are somewhat different aims. My impression is that, while Project 3:28 is seemingly focused on the statistics, its deeper concern is not a number but the recognition and valuation of women’s gifts. The number is just a way of raising awareness about this deeper issue.

        I don’t agree with many of the responses that have been made to Project 3:28. I only stand by my own. However, it seems to me that it is the apparent focus on the statistic that is sparking much of the disagreement. If the focus were on recognizing, developing, empowering, and celebrating women’s gifts, whatever they may be and even if those gifts are less proportionally likely to lead them in the direction of conference speaking than men, I would be strongly supportive.

        In practically every area of human society, we see divergent tendencies between the genders and these divergent tendencies often remain pronounced even when obstacles are removed and prejudices and stereotypes addressed. Insisting upon parity of gender representation in most areas of life will typically end up running up against the preferred ways that men and women want to use their lives and gifts. However, while recognizing this, we can still actively and vocally support empowering people and removing obstacles in their way, whatever they want to do with their lives and gifts. If a woman wants to be a binwoman, we should ensure that there is a way for her to be one and systemic and cultural factors and anything else that would obstruct or impede here should be addressed. However, we don’t need to campaign for gender parity in waste management jobs. Conference speaking is only one ministry among many in the Church. Rather than pushing for parity, it seems to me that we should be pushing for accessibility and for the accordance of equal dignity to women and value to their gifts, wherever they end up exercising them. I hope that helps to clarify where I am coming from here.


  3. Thanks Alastair. As the stats are the first thing we’ve done as Project 3:28, numbers are at the forefront of our current conversations. You are right, in that we are passionate about removing barriers and enabling and equipping women to pursue God’s call and gifting to them. Each of the collective is involved in work on this work in many other areas of life; supporting and equipping women through the Gathering of Women Leaders, championing women in the Church of England, being role models, addressing violence against women, blogging, writing, speaking, working with events to support them in increasing diverse contributions. We have come together because of the disparity that can be seen at events and that things haven’t changed enough. By providing a way of measuring events, we hope it will enable those who run events to take seriously removing the barriers women face. For many people, the gender difference at events is something they don’t even notice. The stats are about shining a light on that, starting conversations and moving things forward in this particular area of the church. It remains to be seen whether we will ever achieve 50/50 consistently at events, but until we’ve tried to move things forward, I don’t believe we should immediately assume that it will fail and there will never be as many women as men who are gifted, called or inclined to contribute to this part of the Body of Christ. Nobody is saying that women should be forced to do something they don’t want to, nobody is saying other calls or gifts are less valid or important, this is one area we are seeking to make a difference, while we also work in other ways to make a difference in other areas of life.


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