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Part 3: The Tale of Ryan, M.A.

November 17, 2009

I have no way of knowing who actually reads this blog, but if you happen to attend “Crossroads,” you may have heard me read this portion of my article during the two sessions I led on the topic of gender this past summer.

Part 3:

My first day on the job should have been enough to send me running. “Would one of the men like to open us in prayer this morning?” asked the Head of School, adding, “I really like it when men pray.” (Of course having had prior exposure to Fundamentalist Christianity—more, in fact, than I’d like to admit—I knew the subtext of her request all too well: A women should not be praying when men are in the room.) I can only remember thinking “Please, God, don’t let her call on me” as the eternity of awkward silence finally came to an end by default as the burliest guy in the room stood and made his way to the front to lead the group of thirty teachers in prayer.

Finishing his loquacious prayer, our male intermediary returns to his seat. Before I can even finish asking myself, “What have I gotten myself into?,” the Dean of Students, a portly, middle-aged guy that puts a comma and “M.A.” after his name in his emails, takes his place at the front of the gym, our makeshift conference room for the week. Ryan Billups, as I’ll call him here—wait, I mean Ryan Billups, M.A. (forgive me, Ryan)—has been asked to introduce the fruit of his summer labor, the Code of Chivalry & Conduct. (Yes, you read that correctly. That’s chivalry, c-h-i-v-a-l-r-y, a term which fell out of use right around the time men stopped slaying dragons.)

Old fashioned to the point of being straight up weird, the Code, Ryan Billups, M.A. informs us, reinforces the responsibility of all male students to carry themselves as Christ-like gentlemen in all that they do, holding doors and offering up their jackets and seats for female classmates.

Taking a copy off the stack of Codes making its way around the room, I sit, staring and struggling to make sense of its purpose. Does failure to hold a door for a girl really warrant disciplinary action? And, if so, shouldn’t it go both ways? Sure, this is a bit excessive, I tell myself, but otherwise innocuous, right? Well, not exactly.

Skimming the document, my eyes run across some disturbing words in the fine print under “Principles of the Lady”: “A lady is quiet—her voice invites more peace than less.”

Looking up, I find Ryan, M.A. providing additional commentary on this very “principle”; “Female students that are loud,” he declares, assuredly, “are only trying to call attention to themselves.” Continuing, he adds, this time universally, “Women should not even be crying and carrying on at funerals” when, much to my delight (and surprise), a not-so-submissive white woman who I later learn is married to a black man counters from across the room, “Isn’t some of this cultural? In the black community, crying and other displays of emotion are not only accepted but expected at funerals.”

The M.A.’s response? “You must keep in mind that we’re dealing with a biblical principle here.”

A hush falls over the room, indicating the group’s collective awareness that the theological trump card has just been played. And, just like that, we move on to the next item on the day’s agenda. Bible in hand, the Master of Arts has won the day…

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