His & Hers—Gen-der-osity at its best

I’m about to make a bold confession, but for many years I was one of those women who didn’t really see what all the fuss about gender inclusive language was all about. I saw people going to great lengths—encumbering their prose and their speech—doing all kinds of unnecessary work to explain the obvious. I would say, “I know you don’t really mean just men—you mean human beings, as in everyone, men and women.” It didn’t occur to me that the efforts people were making to be inclusive were really about generosity. But growing older (and hopefully wiser) by the minute, I have learned to sing a different tune.

When I began worshipping in Anglican churches a decade ago I went to two BCP churches in a row and it was several years before I became aware there was a green book of Alternative Services. And it was a few more years still before I discovered there was indeed a whole lot of fuss going on and that some of it centred on the gender inclusivity piece.

Early in my diocesan work I attended a small gathering and during the lunch hour overheard some hushed elbow banter at the buffet table between two gentlemen—who had earlier in the meeting shared their honest (and not too flattering) opinions of the BAS. So when the whispery banter turned a bit nasty and hushed references were made to this “his and hers nonsense” I suffered a rude but perhaps necessary awakening.

I felt the weight of all those years and having been a traitor to my own people—the womenfolk who so frequently toil to make those enormous platters of crustless egg-salad sandwiches, the very ones over which the two gentlemen were guffawing—sandwiches that are not soundproof by the way, in spite of their soft, absorbent texture.
And so on the heels of that traumatic event, discussions about gender inclusivity in the church (or anywhere) became for me a matter of pride and principle. But recently I bought a wonderful new edition of Puff the Magic Dragon for my son and in the simplicity of a single line I began to see this whole debate through a new and more generous light.

In the closing page it reads “Dragons live forever, but not so little girls and boys.” It is a new version for a new day—one that includes little girls too. As a child I loved that song—the Peter, Paul & Mary version that is not inclusive—but I always thought of it as a boy’s song. I saw it in my mind’s eye like a movie—I being the audience, with boys being the actors or participants. But little girls can occupy wonderful imaginative spaces too and it’s really a story about children. And what I’ve learned about communicating with children is that you must be explicit, you must say exactly what you mean because they will read between the lines, they are perceptive enough to be influenced (subtly or overtly) by what is left unsaid and who or what is left out of the picture. I wonder if the same could be said for adults too.

And so it has taken about forty years but I’ve come to see gender inclusivity as an act of generosity—one that encourages everyone to live into the full measure of their humanity, without leaving anyone behind.

In this blog, Michelle Hauser, manager of annual giving, tackles the topic of generosity—from small stories of daily inspiration to the overall mission of the church.

  • Ana Watts

    Thank you Michelle for this insightful piece. Your several gifts are obvious in your work here, thank you for sharing them with us all.

  • Danielbrereton

    Despite being a gay person and so (one would think) sensitive to issues of gender, I too was one of those who never quite understood “all the fuss”.  I was certainly supportive of my female colleagues in ministry and agreed that women had been oppressed and undervalued in our history as both church and society, yet I felt the extensive efforts at gender-inclusive language was a bit much….until I attended a small women’s spirituality group, where I was the guest speaker.  The worship was all in “feminine language”.  God was exclusively “she”, “mother’ and “her”. We never spoke of “people” but only “women”.  The children of God were all “daughters”.  Suddenly I knew what it was to be “excluded” by the language. And when one woman apologized, saying “of course we also mean ‘men'” I wanted to respond, “then why don’t you SAY it?”  Never since have I argued against the need for gender inclusive language nor undervalued its importance in giving women a truly equal status within the community.

  • Gail Turner

    You are so right about needing to be explicit with children.  I was teaching a group of 8-year olds about images of God in scripture, including rock, tower, vine, shepherd, etc. Each child read a verse and identified the image of God in it.  One child, a girl, had the story of the woman seeking the lost coin and could not identify her as the image of God, although she had no problem identifying the shepherd in the masculine parallel.  How much we need to identify God/Christ with the Good Housekeeper as much as with the Good Shepherd.  It was amazing to see her face light up when she grasped the idea that God was not just masculine, but feminine too. 

    • Williamgreen

      God made man in His own image which to me speaks of His masculine/feminine nature. Therefore, I  appreciate the nature of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.