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Everyday Sexism

This past week I experienced some everyday sexism. A woman from within the parish has told me on more than one occasion that she does not attend church because I, as the parish priest, am a woman. I have challenged her on this before, suggesting that there *must* be something other than my gender that is preventing her from joining our worshiping community. She’s never responded to that; I have never ignored her barbs about my capacity being connected to my biological makeup.

This week she took it one step further. I was doing my daily routine of pulling the dandelions from the yard, and she made a point of stopping and getting out of her car to engage in conversation. It went like this:

Her: You know, dear, it’s good to see you finally taking responsibility for that yard.
Me: I thought I’d been keeping on top of it.
Her: Well. Hmm. Well, when the man minister used to be doing yardwork I’d run straight home and bake him a pie. Imagine – a busy minister like that, doing yard work!
Me: I like apple.
Her: Excuse me, dear?
Me: I said, I like apple. Pie.
Her (extended pause as she understood my implication): Well, I’m not going to make YOU a pie, dear, you can make one yourself if you’d like.
Me: Ah. Because being a woman minister makes me less busy? Or less appreciative of pie?
Her (getting back into car; clearly offended): Well. Hmm. Well.
Me: Well thanks for stopping by.

It bothered me. It continues to bother me. The comments I received on my personal social media and in person indicated that it bothers other people as well. I have had positive and affirming comments on me, my ministry,  and my response to the woman from friends, parishioners, and colleagues. Sadly, however, I have also heard from several other female clerics who experience the same thing on a regular basis – and many have shared significantly more offensive experiences.

This type of everyday sexism remains common in our culture, and pervasive throughout society. Recently a UK-based company was doing a trial distribution of protein drinks, the labelling of which advertised it’s product as “proper Man-Fuel” and encouraged people “Don’t be a girl, shake it up and drink it now!” as though the high protein the drink offered was something only beneficial to males of our species.

Of course, we must realise that sexism is not merely a problem for women. There are human rights violations against men, there are inappropriate comments made based on physical attributes. These are propagated into our culture; one only has to look at films where men in non-traditional roles are subject to constant insult (I’m thinking, for one example, of Ben Stiller’s character in ‘Meet The Fockers’ – he’s a male nurse and his fiancée’s family and friends continually reject him for it in a way that’s meant to be funny for the audience.)

We of course know that this behaviour is inexcusable and offensive. We know that sexism occurs. Sadly, this is not as uncommon as we might like to believe. The Everyday Sexism Project (everdaysexism.com) has been documenting horrifying cases – with sub-sites around the globe, including Canada. It provides an outlet for telling the story in a supported environment, while anecdotally collecting information about deeper problems.

We also know that there are those who stand up against sexism. Who can forget Ellen DeGeneres’ comedic satire about one company releasing a pen specifically designed for women? (It’s worth a look: http://www.ellentv.com/videos/0-mmky9xia/ ). We know there are agencies actively fighting gender discrimination. Yet it still exists, in all walks of life.

I believe that we in the church have not only an opportunity but a responsibility to address these issues. It’s not easy, it’s not comfortable, but sexism is not something that Jesus would tolerate. In speaking to the woman at the well, Jesus taught his disciples that everyone was worthy of equal dignity; this remains a message that needs to be promoted.

We don’t have to be confrontational about it, we don’t have to be forceful. But we do need to stand up. We need everyone to recognise that sexist behaviour is not acceptable. The church needs to be a place where everyone is welcomed and valued for who they are and the gifts that they bring. The church needs to be a place where we can learn how we can be educated ourselves so that we can improve our own behaviour and thus help to bring about the kingdom. The church should be a place where we can admit our own faults, admit our received hurts, and work together in constructive ways that promote reconciliation and justice. The church needs to be a place to celebrate that God’s grace and love is not dependent on gender roles, nor should our ministry and outlook be.

Do you recognise sexism in your community? How do you address it?

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I’m a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I’m passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee.

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4 Responses to Everyday Sexism

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful article, Laura. I believe one of the saddest aspects of living under a patriarchal system is the numbers of women who perpetuate their own oppression, supporting the status quo because they believe this is the way they can achieve power. It is like the hostage who becomes empathetic toward his/her capture (stockholm syndrome). Patriarchy is a system that hurts BOTH men and women, equally although women suffer in unique ways, men also suffer by having forced rules and “norms” placed upon them. A society in which all people are free is what Jesus represented and nothing less is asked of us.

    • Thanks Deborah. I know the pie example is just a minor reality of a much larger and much more serious problem. So how do we, as church – called to proclaim good news of Christ by word and example – work towards changing the attitude that this sexism is acceptable in ways that still demonstrate God’s welcome and grace?

  2. The pie conversation had both my husband and I rolling in the aisles.
    It was interesting to read this article right after perusing several articles on sexism in the skeptic/atheist community. We really can’t get away from these old modes of thinking, can we? It made me feel bad for feminists that left the Church because of their experience of sexism to only find it waiting for them (squatting like a cold sore, bleugh) no matter which direction they turned to flee it. As an aspirant to the priesthood I know I’ll run into it eventually on that level. In the meantime I’ve experienced it in other places, often lumped together with criticism over my looks (I’ve been consistently labelled as fat, with tattoos, a Tank Girl haircut, and a very muddy concept of my own gender, which seems to lead people to give me advice on how to look more “feminine”). I’ve also had the delightful experience of being in a group of men alone and therefore spoken to like a child.
    I think consistently affirming stories like the one you note – the Samaritan woman at the well and a bunch of Luke – is a step in the right direction. I actually find that reading Paul is helpful for me personally. While many label him as anti-feminist, I think he is sometimes co-opted – his writings against Empire are particularly telling, and of course that brilliant Galatians passage (as well as the underlying rhetoric of being set free by Christ’s saving work) are grist for our mill.
    Oh, and ladies like you speaking out helps. 😉

    • Thanks Clarity!
      I tend to be bold in my speaking – I try to speak with love, and sometimes I get humour in there as well. I’ve had lots of laughter from the pie story. But – and this is important – those who have laughed with me have all acknowledged the deeper problem, and have congratulated me on both naming it at the time and also sharing the story here and on my other SocMed.
      In my years working in the church (and I’ve been here for a while!) I’ve had a number of such occasions – people using excuses: my tattoos, hair cut, hair style, skirt too long, (knee-length) skirt too short, wearing sandals, wearing high heels, wearing make-up, not wearing make-up; too many excuses. I have from time to time asked people bluntly if they would comment on a male priest’s shoes/hairstyle/ink/clothing/etc. It’s made me unpopular with a number of people, and I’ve collected a number of hurtful monikers as a result. However, I’ve also been upheld and supported as I’ve journeyed forward, as I’ve challenged others (and myself) against the ‘old ways’, and I hope that I can continue to be a support for others in similar situations.
      I don’t like excuses: my gender is not what’s keeping people from church. If they were truly that opposed to a female cleric, they could easily attend worship at a difference denomination or congregation. But they (often) don’t; they’d rather complain, sometimes aggressively. There’s no need for it; it’s an intentional act of hostility. My gender is not the barrier between someone and Christ, but blaming me is an easier act than self-examination and self-awareness.
      It’s my hope that by opening the conversation we can all move to make the church a more safe place: it will never be perfect, because we are never perfect. I just hope that we can make ourselves more aware of the root problems and actively work against it. We all make mistakes, we all have said or done something to offend someone else; yet we can all strive to better ourselves and our communities. We can avoid the cliches, the “oh so-and-so has always been that way,” the complacent acceptance. Yes, confronting the issue may be uncomfortable, but so is being on the receiving end of everyday sexism.
      Blessings on your journey, Clarity – may you be blessed with parish supports as affirming as the other 99+% of the parish I serve!

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