Earlier in the month, there were various conversations happening about gender disparity on the platform. I invited women to share their stories, to ensure the conversation was being shaped by the lived experience of actual women, not the theories of (usually) men. Here’s what was shared with me, in women’s own words:
In a bible study w/ two men & one other woman, said I felt God had called me to lead. The first guy said, “I can never take seriously women speakers. Even in university lectures, I don’t respect the female ones, in church it would be even worse.” Also, any passion for Jesus or justice is always attributed to my womb lining probably detaching itself and don’t get me started on all the times guys interrupt me with ‘sister, be a bit more gentle.
Hannah Mudge @boudledige
When I’m at an event, someone ALWAYS asks me who’s looking after S [Hannah’s young son] in my absence. They know full well he has a father!
When I asked, in a church I attended as a student, why women couldn’t lead the answer was “read the Bible” when I then asked for references and explanation I was told to stop being difficult.
Vicar (male), to me: “Your problem is that some of your male colleagues find you intimidating because you’re so competent and passionate about your ministry.”
This exemplifies several problematic attitudes:
1. It’s MY problem.
2. Strong women are intimidating.
3. It’s reasonable for my male colleagues to feel like this and say it.
4. Competence and passion (good things) are not good if they make men feel uncomfortable.
5. Recognition of a gendered dynamic doesn’t necessarily come with recognition that this is a problem and many, many more!
This is just one example of underlying attitudes, in a church which would describe itself as liberal, inclusive, pro-women-in-leadership etc.
I’ve also had “Why are you getting at me? I’m not as sexist as X.” And, in response to my complaint about colleague’s use of sexist language: “but we use inclusive language in worship, isn’t that enough?”
Susie Flashman Jarvis (@susiefj)
My auto biography tells my story of page 3 girl and heroin addict to saved by God and now daughter of the king. In the main I have felt respected by men but I suppose sometimes men look at me in a certain way, because of what I did. I find that there are some places that I am not invited to speak, possibly because by definition my past life means people think I am pretty brainless! Also I may make men feel uncomfortable: addiction to pornography is rife in the church after all.
Jude Munday (@judemunday)
I’m given opportunities less due to assumptions. I was asked if I thought my husband might be interested in preaching, my honest reply was “no, but I am”.
There’s also the very common- if I do things, people check who’s looking after the kids. My husband has never been asked about this.
Then there is the well meaning being called a ‘hero’ for ‘managing’ to preach when I have 3 children. It’s meant kindly but makes me feel like I’m doing something very out of the ordinary and that I can’t really have been a proper mum because I managed to prepare a sermon.
A woman in a church meeting declared “women make horrible leader’s”. I challenged her on it later and she back-peddled but no one in public said that is wass unacceptable. How would that have left a younger woman, who perhaps felt gifted to lead?
There’s also the lack of role models. In the end, this is what got me preaching (I had to almost beg to have a go). I did feel called but could also see younger women around me and thought ‘if they want to preach, they have no example, so I owe it to them to blaze a trail, even if I’m not very good’ . Actually, I think I am good, and I love preaching but feel like if I say that out loud at church, I’m somehow not appreciating being a mum! Guilt again!
For me, there is nothing women can’t do in the church, but it takes so much more drive, so many more battles that perhaps women run out of drive because they face questioning and suspicion and guilt where men have encouragement and momentum. I’m tired of having to justify myself and prove that I love my children because I’m not satisfied just by raising them and want to do other things alongside. I feel very blessed to have a dad who raised up more women leaders than male ones, and a husband who cheers me on. Without them, I’d have given up the fight by now!
At a friend’s for Sunday lunch after she’d led the service. I asked her mum if she’d enjoyed it and her mum’s immediate reaction ‘would’ve been better if one of the men had led it,
If you have any stories or experiences within the Church or in wider society as a woman in leadership, do email me (firstname.lastname@example.org), tweet me (@God_loves_women) or leave your thoughts in the comment section below.