Double Standards, Women, And The Church

Pantene has said what every professional woman has wanted to say: “When I’m at my best, my colleagues think the worst of me.”

I’m sorry to say that this reality is much worse in the church than in the professional world. When I was in seminary, I was blown away by the number of young women that heard comments on Sunday mornings about what they were wearing. I have preached since I was 19 years old- about 15 years. I typically dress as casually as I can get away with (without offending) on Sunday morning. I have never had a single comment made to me about my clothing. My female colleagues hear comments on their hair, clothing, and shoes nearly every week. When I’m thinking about the Word of God as I get ready on a Sunday morning that I’m preaching, she has to think about what people will say about her skirt length.

Check out my follow-up to this post: Double Standards, Women, And The Church – Part 2

This isn’t just about clothing. Your pastor (or the female staff at your church) is not your “sweetie,” your “honey,” or your “young lady.” She is a minister of God’s Word. Sure. I got some of these condescending comments when I was a 20-something, but not like my female colleagues. If you don’t believe me, check out some things that have been said to my 30-year-old friend, Rev. Jill Moffett Howard.

Oh, and do you know how many times women clergy have been grabbed in unspoken places during a receiving line after preaching? When did that last happen to you, pastor?

At the heart of this video is one of the most concerning aspects of this series of double standards: women leaders in the church will be called names for the same leadership practices that a male leader will be commended for. This undermines some of the best leaders the church has to offer by branding them with a second class status that in most places has ended officially but persists in expectations. I know a quite progressive church in Illinois that was really concerned that now both of their pastors were women. “We can’t have two women can we?” They never asked those questions when they had two men.

This is the definition of double standard. This is sexist. This is wrong. We can’t let it continue. It undermines the most under-utilized leadership resource in the contemporary church. Name it when you see it. Thanks Pantene.

Click here to see all that I’ve written on women in ministry.

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Related Post: 4 Reasons Why Ordaining Women Is No Longer An Option


    • says

      Sicelo, I have intentions of writing an article on this in the near future. But the reality is that the work has already been done. I shouldn’t bother. Here are two good examples:
      One from my denomination:
      The other from the leading NT scholar in the world:

      The Bible not only permits it but is the reason that we must insist on women pastors. When the entire ancient world had no place for women religious leaders unless they were sexualized, it is quote remarkable that the bible DOESN’T talk about forbidding women leaders.

    • says

      The first theologian was a women (Hagar). The first evangelist was a woman (The Woman at the Well). Jesus trained women to be Rabbi’s. The Resurrection of Jesus was entrust to…women. There are some cultural texts which need to be taken seriously, but those same texts need to be read in light of the redemptive hermeneutic that we find in the whole of scripture.

    • says

      Amen Sicelo Sicelo Alex Lokothwayo. The Bible very clearly says women are not to have spiritual authority over men. The Bible is very clear about the qualifications of elders and bishops.

  1. says

    Well said — when I assumed the pastorate of the church I am serving I grappled with the question of what to wear. I’d like to be casual but as a woman, I knew the standard would be different. I also knew that my skirt length and other things would become issues. Fortunately, I am in a church where wearing a robe is an option. I don’t like the robe, but it does avoid the issue of “what does the pastor have on today?” At least as long as I am in the pulpit – before church, during the Sunday School hour I am not robed — so, they all get to see what I wear but at least it is not a distraction during the actual service.

  2. Angela says

    Thank you for sharing this. It is an uncomfortable topic so much of the time. As I read your post and then watched the clip, I was amazed by the emotions and physical response I had. Despite my inclination to let comments like that go in my own leadership and work, two apparently stuck with me more than I would like to admit. “Now that you are married, you are much more credible in the ministry; you seem more stable.” and “When I see a woman in leadership, I wonder where the man is who’s place she took.”

    I also find myself reminded of and grateful for the men and women throughout my childhood and career who focused more on what I might accomplish and become than on my gender identity or biological sex.

    • says

      Angela, I’ve heard from lots of women that talk about the physical and emotional reaction to the video and my comments. That is usually an indication of someone saying something that people have wanted to say but couldn’t (couldn’t find the words, wasn’t safe, etc). The kinds of reactions that women leaders are having is a good indication that this is striking at the heart of a deep hurt.

  3. says

    Thank you for writing this on behalf of your female pastor friends. As a woman in youth ministry…I have in the past experienced a lot of what you were talking about. Especially the “women leaders in the church will be called names for the same leadership practices that a male leader will be commended for.”

  4. says

    Nice work. Thank you for this. It breaks my heart that this is the situation, and I feel so trapped in it. But, we are called to responsibility to strive to shape the world in better ways.

    • says

      Thanks Katye. There is now a clear voice against sexism in many American churches, but we have a long way to go. I don’t imagine that the feelings of being “trapped” will go away, but I would encourage you to join one of the many Facebook groups that discuss women in ministry. These groups can help many women to not feel alone in their frustrations.

      I would recommend the Christians for Biblical Equality Facebook group if you aren’t already a member.


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