June 15, 2012

A short rant about a lawyer, a pastor, and being a woman

The other day I was in a serious meeting with professionals that I had just met.  I was being asked some significant questions regarding my work and the mission of my university in my role as dean of spiritual life. At the end of the conversation/interview, the attorney who was present (a man probably mid-forties), said nothing about what I said or responded to my content, but instead said,

"Can you talk without using your hands?"  He laughed, and I laughed (awkwardly), and I tried to make a joke about "no, I can't, it's impossible...hahahaha).

Truly, I do use my hands A LOT when I talk.

At first, I wanted to laugh this off and let it go, but I have found myself growing more angry over this encounter.   What he meant as a shallow joke (perhaps even trying to be warm and friendly in some misguided way), came off as sexist and belittling to me.

I am very aware that if I was a man in that interview, it would be highly unlikely that anything that I did with my hands, my voice, my appearance would be drawn attention to in such a way.  This attorney would most likely not have remarked regarding any mannerism of the provost, president, or other senior leader that he was interviewing.   Can you imagine him saying to a male senior leader (without responding to his content), "So, you use your hands a lot? So, you cough a lot? So, you kind of close your eyes in an odd way when you talk? I notice that you talk in a very low voice?".


Over the years, I have been counseled that I have to lower my voice, make my hand motions slower and wider, not nod so much, not be so positive, not be so friendly, smile less, not be so authentic/honest,  not admit when I am wrong so quickly...etc, etc, to be taken seriously as a leader.  Essentially, be more masculine (sorry to you smiling, friendly males that use hand motions).

I have to say, THIS IS RIDICULOUS.

I am a dean at a university and have earned my role there just like anyone else.  Perhaps even more so as a younger woman in a two male-dominated fields (pastoral ministry and the academy).  And I am sure I used my hands A LOT in my interview.

So, you Mr. Big Attorney with the flashy watch and the nice suit, but with no manners---

I am not a man and I am never going to be one.
I am going to use my hands when I talk.
I am going to smile as much as I want.
And I am going to laugh at your ridiculous comments (at times),
but just between you and me and the world.
you lost credibility in that meeting, not me.
Don't belittle women even accidentally by what you think is cute and funny.
It's not.


  1. Count this man as one who believes in your ability to engage others, to include them, to teach them, to lead them is enhanced by your ability to demonstrate affect, to demonstrate care, concern, empathy - to use sweeping hand gestures, to smile, to draw others into the reality of Christ in this world. You won't find me asking if you can talk without your hands - you'll find me asking how I can learn to communicate with passion and love and inclusion...like you do so well.

  2. I spent over three hours with you on Wednesday and never once noticed your hands.

    At my work, people tell me to smile ALL the time. It doesn't bother me, yet, but I can tell that eventually it will.

  3. The older I get the less tolerant I am of the belittling remarks from men (and sadly women too) that are used to diminish our unique contribution to the world. Who on earth remembers the straight sitting, boring, monotone speaker. Who remembers a voice with passion, so much so that it's enthusiasm cannot be restrained and explodes through the body.....especially the hands. :)

  4. One mail colleague's response to me upon seeing our Foxtalks videos was, "Wow Steve, do you ever stop moving your hands?" I wanted to respond, "No, and it's part of why I communicate much better than you do."

  5. Thank you for this rant Sarah. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one going away from encounters like that feeling like I just talked to a jerk. I feel a bit like meg ryan in you've got mail- don't always have the come backs when I want them, and then when I do, I still feel guilty afterwards..

  6. Sarah,

    Great post. I'm sorry this happened to you. I believe, as you do, that this was a sexist move on his part--something he would not have said to a male leader. Keep strong: you do great work, and deserve everything you've achieved because of who you are, not because of what you are.


  7. I've never noticed that you talk with your hands. Probably because I'm too busy listening to what you say and your gesticulations emphasize your words. This is a fabulous declaration, Sarah. Can we anonymously e-mail this to the big lawyer? Creating gmail accounts is as easy as pie.

  8. My darling Daughter-in Law,

    On the few occasions that I have been blessed to spend time with you, I have noticed that you speak with your heart, your hands, your lips and mostly with the passion of your beliefs. I am so proud of you for not accepting this slight and for recognizing it for what it is. Everyone who has ever spent a moment in your presence knows that you did not deserve this slight!

    One last reminder: When Christ was nailed to the cross it was His hands which they attempted to silence. While it was not successfu,l because every day we are reminded of His sacrifice for us. You will continue to spread His message through your words, your heart and your hands, just as Christ ordered. You are called to present his message and there are always those who will attempt to diminish your message in any way they can. Be strong in His love and know that all of us appreciate you for the wonderful, loving, faithful woman you are!

    Hugs from both of us to all 4 of you!

  9. I just read your post and am taken aback at your experience. Not surprised, I guess, but saddened. I echo the words of many others who commented, and give thanks for the gifted communication and powerful message you speak through your life. Shalom, friend.

  10. I spent over three hours with you on Wednesday and Membersihkan karang gigi never once noticed your hands.


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