Tonight I would like to address the men that have been following this journey, and in particular the writings on this blog: those that have risked peering in to the heart of a woman, and discovered the heartbeat of a human. I want to thank you for taking the time to read my words, when so often women are accused of having too many.
Phyllis Wheatley, a slave who found her emancipation through her poetry writes “in every human Breast, God has implanted a Principle, which we call Love of freedom; it is impatient of Oppression, and pants for Deliverance…”
I am a ballerina who studied engineering, and feel just as comfortable in blue overalls and gumboots, as I do in satin ballet slippers. If there is one place I am unbearably uncomfortable, it is being stuck in a box, bound by the expectations of “what a woman should be”. I abhor being restrained from the freedom to be 100% me. If Phyllis Wheatley is to be believed, I am not the only one who suffers from impatience in this regard. In our breasts is the principle of freedom.
Stereotypes are powerful, and yet often absurd. They can even cause us to develop an implicit bias in direct opposition to our explicit opinion! Nelson Mandela recounts a story of a trip he took in Africa early in the anti-apartheid fight. He tells of a ‘strange sensation’ he experienced when boarding an Ethiopian Airways flight. He noticed that the pilot was black and writes that he had to suppress the panic that arose within him. “How could a black man fly an airplane?”
But a moment later he caught himself and he tells the story like this: “I had fallen into the apartheid mind-set, thinking Africans were inferior and that flying was a white man’s job. I sat back in my seat and chided myself for such thoughts.” Of course, as soon as he had confronted his implicit bias, he readjusted his thoughts and was able to enjoy the flight and benefit from the skill of the pilot.
Personally, I have had black pilots, black doctors and black teachers, and feel 100% confident in their ability to do their job. However, I find learning from a female preacher an intentional mind shift. Isn’t that strange? I guess I’m just still getting used to it. Like Nelson Mandela experienced, implicit bias is sometimes quite sneaky. And this is why I want to take a moment to thank and commend the men who have taken the time to get to know me as a person.
Some of you are courageous enough to share this blog on Facebook, and I imagine that might be a first for you. Some of you have listened as your wives or mothers or girlfriends have read blogs to you, but you’ve been interested and willing to let them do so. Many of you listened keenly and with open minds and hearts as I preached. You have made space for me to step out of the constraints of demographic stereotypes and you have discovered in me a person, just like you.
But also, there are some of you who have stepped forward when you’ve seen me, wanting to offer your support, and a woman has stepped in front of you, more confident in the arena of offering comfort, and you’ve sunk back and let her take over the conversation. And it makes me realise it is a two way street. Will women and men make room for each other, to be fellow-humans and even friends?
As we walk into tomorrow, I am grateful to imagine you walking next to us. Comrades of every gender, race, and age. I see friends and fellow soldiers. And there’s no way I would want to do it without any one of you. I am braver when you fight beside me. As much being Richard’s wife is a position of honour for me, I love having you see me also as your friend and equal.
I’m excited for what this supernatural fight has done for us, for our unity. We are learning to see each other as we truly are - not limited by our ideas of what we ought to be or our implicit biases of what we shouldn’t be. We are realising that there is space in the pulpits for women, and in the cockpits for black men, and in the waiting rooms of tears and grief for white men - there is space for all of us to be everything we were meant to be - and to be that for each other.
So thank you, you men who have made room for me to speak to your hearts. And thank you, comrades all, for confronting implicit biases, so we can receive the benefit of the gifts in each other. We walk with confidence into the fight, flanked by the full army that God has to offer.