A few weeks ago I wrote about the double standards that women leaders in the church face. Many of the women responded affirmatively to my comments that a woman’s appearance is scrutinized far more than her male colleagues.
This young female scientist, Emily Graslie, is conscious and vocal about the ways that this reality introduces anxiety into her work as an educator. In this brief video she reads actual comments that have been made about her on her YouTube channel. Too many of them ignore the words that she is saying for attention to everything else in ways that are unique to women educators.
She makes the point that it is easy to “dismiss” these as ridiculous internet trolls, unless the comments are about you. For her – and the analogy to my female clergy colleagues should be obvious – a cerebral recognition that the comments are juvenile and inappropriate does not prevent her from considering what is going to be said when she prepares that next piece.
When I write a blog post like this one, I too am keenly aware that a few people are going to have some negative things to say. I think about it. Sometimes I alter what I write because of it. But my concerns are about how people will critique my content, not whether people will think I’m sexually attractive. That allows my focus to be on ideas…a luxury that many women speakers, preachers, and teachers do not have.
She asks us to do something pretty simple: When someone critiques a woman based on her looks rather than her professional performance, name this behavior as sexist and turn the conversation back to her ideas.
Related Post: 4 Reasons Why Ordaining Women Is No Longer An Option
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Joanna Sormunen says
This is so true! There is a double standard but I also feel that it is an intimidation technique. And the people using it are intimidated by themselves by women in power positions.
I am wondering how this differs from women in places of authority in the secular world. The same is true there. We are judged by our clothes and by their assumption of what we mean when we talk. In other words guys are assertive, but women are not supposed to be. If we are not coming across right, then ask us what we mean, sit down and talk to us about it. If you weren’t afraid to be seen walking down the hall with the female, maybe you would understand what her concerns are – in the secular place as well as in the church. The only difference I see (and I am a pastor’s wife so I do know what I am talking about and I have been a manager in the secular world) is that we “expect” that the church is kinder and we don’t see that happen, but that is true not only with the leaders but with the people sitting in the pew too.
I had a discussion on this with my husband and the question is – was this criticism brought up by men or women? Does it matter?
DBonser, I’m not sure if you watched the video. In most cases the questions were by men (or possibly lesbian women, but I suspect not) that were making sexual comments about her. But I assume that your question is mostly rhetorical.
My sense is that it does “matter” but that women criticizing women is no less sexist or problematic. I think men often use these tactics to destabilize female leadership, either consciously or unconsciously. I suspect that women use these tactics on one another simply because they are competitive. (Really it is about competition on either side.) Competitiveness is an issue for Christian people regardless, but it can be particularly detrimental to women because they don’t experience competition over their ideas only (as men normally do) but also about appearance, etc.
This is a fair & well written piece. I just want to comment about a difference for women’s issues, in our churches. There, scriptural references are often inserted into conversations & topics, which rarely free women up to do or be more. Instead, they only serve to hold women in lower positions in the church hierarchy. This even effects church organizations outside the actual structure within.
For example, I was in a church’s drama outreach program near Washington, DC.The director had a BFA in theater (but she was a woman). After several months and some great projects, a man replaced her as director. We were told that as a female, she was “not to have authority over men”, per St. Paul I believe… Women who speak out are usually frowned upon and portrayed negatively, and when it’s in a church, it’s much harder to fight. They use scripture to condemn.