Earlier this week I sat in a meeting at work to make some final decisions about a renovation project soon to take place in our building. (Note: Our building happens to be a church, so the project is overseen by church staff and congregational volunteers.) There were seven of us around the table, including the volunteer project manager (a woman), me as Director of Children’s Ministry, and five males (two pastors, our Director of Youth Ministry, the congregational council president, and the council financial team leader).
Sounds innocuous. And it would have been. Except…the experience left me stewing over what it’s like to be a woman in a male-centric world.
Here’s where that stewing came from:
- I’ve been on staff full-time longer than all but one person in the room. I’ve been a council president in another congregation, and I have years of experience serving on church councils in various capacities. Yet I was somehow “left off” almost all the communications and meetings regarding this renovation project over the last year.
- The input requested from me at this meeting was limited to the portion of the renovations taking place in the church nursery. Yes, working with children and families is right there in my job title. But I have proven over and over again my value to the congregation as a whole in the last twelve years.
And so here’s where my thoughts went:
- Not a single male around that table had to expend mental energy wondering if he were being silenced due to stereotypes.
- Have my decisions over the years about the direction of my life betrayed my own feminist principles? Did I sell out when I a) chose to take a degree in education and become a teacher, b) chose to be a stay-at-home mom for nine years, c) chose to work in ministry to children and families?
- There are no words to describe how much it sucks to be forced to question yourself in this way.
- I’ve been true to my calling in life. And yet that calling has led to being relegated to the sidelines. In the minds of SO MANY PEOPLE I deserve a pat on the head because the work I do is “cute” and “sweet.” In general I’m seen as the woman who goes around singing with preschoolers, playing with toddlers, and leading classes for bigger kids. I get no credit at all for the fact that I take my work very seriously, I’m damned good at it, and that this work actually does make an impact on individuals, on our congregation, and the world at large.
- If I had made the choice to go into a STEM-related field (Barf – I have no interest, and I am heartily sick of STEM being held up as the be-all and end-all, though if it’s your love I say go for it!) would I get more street cred? Possibly. But I’d still be fighting tooth-and-nail for recognition in a field dominated by testosterone.
All this is to say that women in every situation and every walk of life start the race hobbled. Since the beginning of time we’ve been held back by the other half of the world, whose physical size and strength allowed them to make the decisions that created a system to favor them.
Last week the 96th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing women the right to vote, came and went with little notice. ** As thankful as I am for the intense effort and sacrifices of the women who made that possible, I can’t help but be sickened by the fact that we’re still where we are. Institutional bias is still a significant factor in the life of a woman.
Every. Damned. Minute.
**Something I learned while visiting the National Archives in D.C. this summer: Until the 1920’s, married women were legally considered the property of their husbands. One consequence was that any woman who married a person who was not a U.S. citizen automatically lost her own citizenship (not to mention losing ownership of her own personal property and wealth). In the 20’s, a law was passed that guaranteed retention of citizenship for women married to non-citizens. However, the Archives in June had on display the paperwork for the court cases of two women from the 1940’s who were still forced to petition for the re-granting of their own citizenship after the deaths of their non-citizen husbands. This is the kind of crap women have historically had to contend with.