I woke earlier this week to the most bizarre (and yet starkly revealing) juxtaposition of items in my Facebook feed. The first was a headline about the Alabama Senate Race, declaring that controversial candidate Roy More was now calling the women who accused him of sexual misconduct “criminals”. Before I had a chance to throw my phone in disgust and resignation, I spotted the next item: that Time had just named The Silence Breakers as their Person of the Year.
This is how far apart the perspectives in our public discourse have come: women who tell their stories about some of the most traumatic, demeaning, and terrifying experiences of their lives are seen by some as criminals and others as national heroes. Why? What about these stories is so polarizing? While there are clearly many factors at play in how we’ve gotten to this particular cultural moment, and why folks are responding to it the way they are, I’d posit that one of the underlying tensions at the core of the “criminal or hero” debate is a tension about perspective. It's a tension about Androcentrism.
Andro…what?! If you’re not familiar with the term, I don’t blame you. I only became familiar with it earlier this year, in reading the brilliant Robin DiAngelo. Androcentrism is the name of a worldview: one that centers men. Wikipedia defines it as “the practice, conscious or otherwise, of placing a masculine point of view at the center of one's world view, culture, and history, thereby culturally marginalizing femininity.” My translation: androcentrism is the idea that what is culturally considered masculine is normal and good, and what is culturally considered feminine is other or less than.
You may have never heard of this term, but you’ve definitely been living it. Androcentrism has been the accepted worldview in the West for millennia. Androcentrism is the worldview that made it so difficult for women to secure the right to vote, because it meant that for centuries academics in our nation’s leading universities researched questions, and interpreted findings, that reinforced the idea that men were innately more capable of leadership than women. Psychiatrists based definitions of mental health on the men they worked with. Historians exclusively told the stories of thoughts, interests and actions of (cisgender, heterosexual, white) men. Pastors and theologians have done their work with men primarily in view.
Androcentrism is the source (and the cover) for patriarchy. It allows men to control all the power in a society (patriarchy) because it values the masculine perspective (androcentrism). And despite the progress that women in recent centuries have made in starting to dismantle millennia of patriarchy - securing more respect, education, and power - the implications of the androcentric worldview are still with us. They’re essential to what we’re debating now.
If androcentrism is to be honored and upheld, then this moment is about the powerful men who are being accused of wrongdoing, not the women who are accusing them. The women are to be blamed, even criminalized, for trying to distract or obstruct the powerful men doing their manly things. A world that accepts androcentrism may even believe the women are telling the truth; it’s just that the truth isn’t a deal breaker. Boys will be boys. They will do their disgusting and inappropriate stuff with women, and apparently young girls, and we will let it go because what matters is the male perspective and making sure we have a clear path to men continuing to occupy places of power, particularly for the benefit of other men. A woman, if she really wants to be taken seriously as a professional, is expected to simply "take it like a man".
But I believe androcentrism was never meant-to-be. It's not real (men’s points of view are not actually more valid or correct than women’s), it's not just, and its days are numbered. As a pastor, I actually believe androcentrism is one of our contemporary versions of an idol: a human construct that distorts our capacity to see truth (and ultimately God). Sooner or later, idols show themselves to be false. And this one has gotten some cracks in it lately that are doing just that.
When thousands of women and men around the world showed up the day after Inauguration Day to center and celebrate women, androcentrism cracked a bit. When Bill O’Reilly was forced out of his position of power at Fox News last spring, it cracked a bit more. When the dam broke this fall with the downfall of Harvey Weinstein, and all of the powerful men who’ve fallen from grace in his wake, the cracks widened. And as the idol of androcentrism cracks, our society struggles to respond. Some of us are so invested in the idol, that we’ve got to hold it together with prayer, duct tape and accusations of criminal behavior. We’ve got to repair the damage, recall an idealized past, return our gaze to the centering of cisgender heterosexual male-ness. Others of us see the idol for what it is and are ready to smash the damn thing to pieces.
But the implications of the idol of androcentrism shattering are much bigger than some powerful men in power being held accountable for being sexually inappropriate. The shattering of the idol will affect how we understand the roles women (and genderqueer folk) should be playing alongside men in all sectors of society. It will affect how we practice politics and leadership. How we think about corporate culture. It will affect our approaches to economics and education and ministry and family life. As I preached in a sermon on this topic earlier this fall, it certainly has profound implications on how we think about God.
The change that comes with idol-smashing can be intimidating. It’s daunting and difficult to let go of something we’re deeply invested in, even when it hurts us. But it also offers a profound opportunity for freedom. Women and men have too long been enslaved to the worship of an idol that distorts the humanity of all of us. May we all have the courage to liberate ourselves from its power and live more cooperatively as human beings, not defined by toxic masculinity or the fear of being the next #MeToo, but by the unique capacity we each have to give voice to the human experience, and to bear the image of God.