Conversation on Leadership Continues…By Xochitl Alvizo

In a recent post on leadership I proposed that facilitating open dialogue is a central aspect of leadership. That if we are to move into new horizons – that is, feminist horizons of mutual communal empowerment and liberation – we must be willing to both risk and dialogue, and a leader is one who helps facilitate those practices.

Dialogue and the practice of making room for one another’s voices and contributions do not come easily to us however. Humans have a tendency to stifle and squelch one another especially if we sense that our privileges and comforts, our truths and our convictions, are being challenged or threatened. And so the breakdown in dialogue can result in the literal prevention of change and possibility – the possibility and actuality of entering into a more divine reality and way of relating. A leader then must be someone who can recognize and be aware of change-stifling powers, be willing to name and resist them, and help facilitate the creation of a literal time/place space for open participation and dialogue. This new open space has the potential and literally becomes the womb from which something new may be birthed…it is a fluid, messy, mysterious place, and not one necessarily easy to exists within, but absolutely necessary if seek to contribute toward a more just and beautiful existence. Open dialogue is a necessary part of helping create this new womb space where differences (of perspective, voices, people) can come together to interact and spark with one another in order to morph and change and thus birth something new together. How then does leadership help to facilitate this process?

The first thing to recognize is that leadership is a communal effort. It is not true leadership if a leader thinks they are doing things alone or thinks they have the best and fullest insight to offer. Leadership is first of all a team effort. Leadership is a group of people coming together with their diversity of gifts and talents ready to contribute them toward the well-being of the community.

Mary and the Labrys: Feminist Tool of Wisdom and Wit

Leaders who aim to participate in birthing the new must also be comfortable with the mysterious and the unknown. People who are venturing toward a new divine reality must have a secure enough place from which to explore, experiment, and take risks. This is why community is so vital. A community of people willing to engage and participate with one another through open dialogue into the yet-unknown-though-hopefully-more-divine reality, can help offer that measure of safety required in our bones that allows us to make those risk-taking decisions that both exhilarate us and scare the wits out of us. For this Courage is also required.

Leadership requires courage. Mary Daly defined the Courage to Sin  as “the Courage to be intellectual in the most direct and daring way, claiming and trusting the deep correspondence between the structures/processes of one’s own mind and the structures/processes of reality; the Courage to trust and Act on one’s own deepest intuitions” (Wickedary, pg. 90). For her, ‘to sin’ was to participate in Be-ing, that is, to participate in Ultimate/Intimate Reality, the ground of be-ing which is Verb, the ever-living and changing Goddess.

It is not an easy thing to trust and act out of our deepest intuitions – sometimes we don’t even know how to recognize the divine voice deep within. But good leadership helps create the space that provides room and allows time for birthing the Courage to trust and act out of our deepest intuitions. Thus, I think it is necessary that we discern and journey together. A community of courage and open dialogue can help facilitate and sustain us as we discern the deep wisdom that would move us toward the more beautiful and just existence that many of us so deeply desire.

I propose that we must all be leaders. I propose that all of our participation is needed in the task of  creating the new womb space from which we could birth something new together – the space in which we can sustain open dialogue and risk toward the yet unknown. What deep impulse from within our soul needs to be expressed? What holds us back? And in what ways might we be the leaders that help facilitate this exploration and discernment for ourselves and one another? What might it mean for us to lead with the Courage to Sin and Sin big?

Xochitl Alvizo is a feminist Christian-identified woman and theologian currently completing her PhD at Boston University School of Theology in practical theology with a focus on ecclesiology. Finding herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, she works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably interconnected and the good one can do in any one area inevitably and positively impacts all others. 

Author: Xochitl Alvizo

Feminist theologian, Christian identified. Associate Professor of Religious Studies in the area of Women and Religion and the Philosophy of Sex Gender and Sexuality at California State University, Northridge. Her research is focused in Congregational Studies, Feminist and Quuer Theologies, and Ecclesiology specifically. Often finding herself on the boundary of different social and cultural contexts, she works hard to develop her voice and to hear and encourage the voice of others. Her work is inspired by the conviction that all people are inextricably connected and the good one can do in any one area inevitably and positively impacts all others.

6 thoughts on “Conversation on Leadership Continues…By Xochitl Alvizo”

  1. Thank you so much for this, Xochitl. The combination of desire that all will have the courage to share and trust their deepest convictions, and the desire to make room for all in the conversation are often framed as tensions that must cancel each other out. You’ve offered us a courageous framework towards a more divine way of relating. We do so often desire a more just existence but get trapped by the way we’ve always done things. Thank you for reminding us of an alternative this morning.


  2. I always found the very concept leadership rather boring and tiresome. I don’t like being talked at from podiums, nor do I want a top down environment of women My very best experiences were about group cooperation. Gather lesbians together, share an event, share collective events where there is plenty of time for each woman to share a story.

    This collective effort has produced some amazing things. What we get stuck with are false models of leadership. Does anyone sit in a church and listen to a man give sermon? Or do we get stuck sitting in conferenes never really knowing what all the women around us are really thinking.

    The lesbian feminist movement at its best was a collective undertaking..we had no non-profits to answer to, we shared space and resources. The only time I saw true equality among women was in a lesbian feminist context… a room where Sr.VPs at banks easily mingled with women who washed windows.

    I see less willingness among “professional feminists” to do this. The client/patient/student model has taken over everywhere, but none of that is as powerful or fun as a gathering of the dykes, creating radical space, and solidarity with one another.


  3. Xochitl: Thanks for this post. I find myself agreeing with everyone you’ve written except this line “I propose that we must all be leaders” and then I had to re-read your post to make sure I understood it. I totally agree with you everyone person has a role to play, that “all of our participation is needed in the task of creating the new womb space from which we could birth something new together,” but I don’t think that translates into everyone being leaders. I think what’s going on for me is my classic (Confucian) desire for a rectification of names, the point being that people should not have titles of honor unless they are actually doing the job and shouldering the responsibilities. Simply put, I can imagine plenty of scenarios where everyone is participating, everyone is contributing, and yet not everyone is leading. This works out in my life, too — there are settings and contexts where I am definitely NOT the leader (or one of the leaders) but am fully committed (and I’m so grateful that I don’t have to be the one to do the leading), just as there are cases where I am.


  4. Xochitl, Thanks for this post! I think you make some very important points here. I honestly do not know anyone more sisterly than you. I am constantly amazed by your ability to walk the walk and appreciate the wisdom that you share.

    This being said, I agree with Grace there is a difference between contributing and leading and this doesn’t have to be a bad thing; having leadership isn’t anti-feminist. It is the ways leadership is sometimes enacted that is anti-feminist. So, I think it is important to recognize that difference.


  5. Xochitl,
    @Grace and Gina,While I think there is a line between leadership and contributing,the line can easily become exclusive, meaning, if too much authority is exercised in “leadership” creativity and voices are silenced in the name of productivity or accountability.

    I look to the leadership of Karen Torjesen as my own example. Here is a woman who is a leader, (i.e. Dean of WSR) but never have I felt her anything less than a partner and companion in my journey as a grad student or in my personal life (which always are interconnected.) She brings out the best in me while allowing for failure. To me that is the tightrope walked of a great leader. Work gets done, but in a different manner.

    Gina, you have stated the riddle correctly: “having leadership isn’t anti-feminist. It is the ways leadership is sometimes enacted that is anti-feminist.” Great call.

    In reading your post I turned to the classroom environment. I continue to struggle with a model that incorporates everything you stated. What are the best practices that engage an undergraduate population in the classroom? How to best tap into their creativity and sense of wonder without structure, grades, etc. knowing that the latter are necessary? Leadership as a metaphor of birthing is beautiful–thanks, I’ll carry that image with me in all leadership capacities encountered. As always, a post with important content. Thanks!


    1. Cynthie – I totally agree. What I think might be an unspoken premise here is that the voices that are unheard actually ALWAYS want the opportunity to take a more active role. That is not simply not the case – there are plenty of organizations, institutions, or other structures where I am totally happy — more than happy — not to bear the responsibility of leadership or even heavy planning, etc. and these reasons range from a recognition of my incompetence (e.g., what do I know about ending the recession? Nothing!), priorities being elsewhere, or my confidence in those leaders/representatives who are making major decisions.

      The issue is more complicated when you have a situation where you have large numbers of people who ALL want to be heavily involved, etc. – this is where ease of coordination must be balanced alongside of the good of democratic and consensus-based governance.


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