I have a friend – a first generation clergywomen – who is in her 80s now and she is a fascinating resource for learning what it was like for a woman in professional ministry in the 1950s and 60s. In my denomination, women could be ordained in 1956, but there weren’t many who sought ordination in those days. My friend is one who did.
She tells me that – after her ordination in her late 20s until about age 45 – there was not a single church meeting, not a single Presbytery Assembly, not a single committee meeting when she was not propositioned in some overt or subtle way by her male colleagues.
As one of her colleagues crassly put it, “If you are here, we get to have you.”
That was in the 1950s and 1960s.
Flash forward to 2016: Harvard alumni Charles Storey of the exclusive Porcellian Club stated last week to The Harvard Crimson that “Forcing single gender organizations to accept members of the opposite sex could potentially increase, not decrease the potential for sexual misconduct.” If women are here, we are tempted to have them.
I’ve been informally asking young clergywomen if men still make inappropriate comments to them and I hear a resounding yes:
- “You look beautiful today.”
- “I like a woman in panty hose.”
- “You should wear skirts more often.”
I would love to hear from young clergymen if they ever hear women say to them:
- “You look handsome today.”
- “I like a man in a robe/suit.”
- “You should wear jeans more often.”
As a single clergywoman years ago, it was a bit shocking what men said to me. Keep in mind that I am a clergywoman. And the comments are coming from clergymen or male church members. Are they just being awkward? Or are they wielding power as if to say: “I don’t care how gifted you are in ministry; if you are here, you are an object for my benefit.”
I am going to give church guys the benefit of the doubt and assume for a moment that they just don’t know what to say to their pastor. Here are some ideas:
- “That sermon really made me think.”
- “You led a great class today.”
- “Thank you for your leadership.”
Many things have changed in the past 60 years. But many things have not changed. How about for you?