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?