Whether we realize it or not, most of us have a gender bias about very practical issues which we think are limited to one gender. Let’s look at four examples from youth ministry.
Many times, accountability in the relationships between adult leaders and students is only mentioned in a male leader-female student context. The gender bias here is that male leaders are more likely to cross boundaries with female students.
Female leaders are just as much in need of accountability in this area as male leaders. Anyone want to count the stories of female teachers the last few years that were caught in an improper relationship with a male student?
Also, same-sex students need as much protection as those from the other sex. Not only because same-sex attraction is a reality for youth leaders, but also because it’s very much a reality for students. They grow up in a culture where same-sex attraction is normal, celebrated even. That means that you need healthy boundaries and accountability in same-sex relationships as well.
We can certainly be glad that porn addiction is getting more and more attention and that it’s being brought into the light. Unfortunately, many people have a gender bias here and think it only concerns men.
Women struggle with porn as well, although it may be in different ways. Women’s fiction has gotten more and more sexually explicit for instance and even young adult fiction isn’t exempt from explicit sexual references anymore. And yes, there’s also a porn market aimed specifically at women.
Recently, I read an honest post on a guy who celebrated his sobriety from porn. One of the comments was from a woman who felt still alone in her struggle, since so often only men are addressed when it comes to porn addiction. Sure, men do struggle more with porn than women. But that doesn’t mean it’s purely a male problem.
Besides the fact that women can struggle with a porn addiction themselves, they can also experience the negative consequences of a porn culture. Teenage girls in particular can have a hard time dealing with the pressure of being expected to ‘perform’ sexual acts, like boys watch in porn. That’s also an issue that needs to be addressed with girls and women.
Eating disorders are another example of gender-bias in thinking and approach. As youth leaders, we all know how big of a problem eating disorders are. But too often, we only focus on girls.
Anorexia nervosa is a problem for boys as well, even though it may manifest itself differently. But there are other variations on eating disorders that affect boys. Taking steroids to buff up for example, starving themselves to fit a certain weight category for sports, extreme fitness and weight pumping to develop muscles—these are just a few examples of how boys can struggle with weight related issues.
Too often, when youth groups have dress codes, they’re primarily aimed at girls. The one-piece bathing suits, the modest dressing suggestions, most of these concern girls.
One could make an argument that muscle shirts, or tight sleeveless shirts for guys are just as revealing as tank tops or tight clothes for girls. The low-hanging pants where the brand of the underwear is clearly visible is another example of where guys could use a dress code as much as girls.
These are just four examples of where gender bias can play a role in youth ministry. Whenever you study a problem, whenever you devise measures to prevent an issue, whenever you address a problem, make sure you look at it from all angles, and eliminate your gender bias.