Until recently I was able to say that I had never had a single person mention the way that I was dressed in 14 years of church leadership. Recently, one of the older men has teased me a couple times that I should wear a tie more often. My streak is broken.
When I was in seminary I learned that many of my female colleagues hear comments about their clothing, hair, and make-up every week.
It’s easy to dismiss this as an odd reality of culture. Some of these remarks are compliments and aren’t meant to make a woman’s job harder. But consider how the constant discussion of physical appearance changes the way women pastors spend time preparing for Sunday morning:
Maybe a skirt? A skirt for preaching shouldn’t be too short or figure-hugging. So a long skirt. But it would still need to look current or it could communicate a kind of Puritanism, a disengagement from the culture which may cause members to disregard me as irrelevant. So a long but current skirt it is. But a skirt doesn’t have a pocket for the wireless mic pack. Oh, and there is a large window behind the pulpit. Sun behind a skirt is not good. How can a congregation focus on my words if they are treated to a view of my upper thighs?
Oh, thighs. Help me set aside the thought of thighs. My value is not found in how I compare to women in magazines. My value is not found in how I compare to women in magazines.
While there could be lots of reasons for doing so, this really excellent article in Christianity Today where this quote is found was submitted anonymously. She names the crazy dilemma that so many women pastors endure with a remarkable humor and subtlety, yet she doesn’t even take credit for doing so.
Few male pastors would select a wardrobe so carefully. Few would be concerned with reactions to this article such that they would write it anonymously.
When I prepare to preach I spend no more than 45 seconds thinking about what I will wear, and I never second guess that decision. I’m guessing that a majority of male preachers have a similar pattern. While my female colleagues are wrestling with the flats and the heels, I spend additional time rehearsing my sermon again, praying for the congregation, or simply resting in God’s presence. If you think I’m overstating my case at all, then read about this male news anchor that wore the same suit every day for a year without anyone noticing. Seriously.
While I’m praying over my sermon, she must try on her third pair of shoes.
But male privilege isn’t only about the freedom to prepare to actually do your job instead of spending that mental and emotional energy on physical appearance. My female colleagues report that every time they walk into a meeting of clergy, they spend significant time trying to figure out which pastors in the room actually think they should be there. Sadly they are often disappointed by some that overtly reject them as colleagues. Still others implicitly do so by inadvertently not including them in conversation. Male pastors may have other reasons to struggle in clergy gatherings: they’re too young, their church is too small, or they have a worship or missions program that others deem to not be of the “right” kind. Women colleagues deal with these same prejudices. But they will perennially battle with gender discrimination as well. Many of my female colleagues simply report not having trusted male colleagues at all. Who knew that it was a privilege to share collegiality?
While I’m networking with colleagues, she must figure out who believes she should be in the room.
Male pastors never wonder if they were passed over for a job because of their gender.
Male pastors are significantly more likely to be selected to pastor large churches.
Male pastors just need to admit that they get to “just do their job” while female pastors only get to do their job after they’ve proven that they should be given an opportunity to do so.
I can anticipate the responses before they are given. “Male pastors have it hard, too. Men have to…” Before you type those words: Does a woman face that challenge as well? If so, the challenges faced by pastors generally doesn’t negate the specific challenges faced by female pastors. That’s male privilege: to only face problems common to all clergy.
“It’s not my fault that women have it hard. Am I supposed to feel bad for being privileged?” I don’t think so. Privilege isn’t sin or immoral. But God does call persons to steward the “talents” and resources that God has given. Privilege doesn’t need to be forsaken. It needs to be used to create opportunities for those without privilege.
Male pastors: Don’t feel guilty about your privilege. Just use it to empower women so that they may have the same opportunities. Acknowledge the headaches that plague your female colleagues. Invite them into the conversation and praise the good work they are doing. Actually hire a woman when it comes time to fill a position.
I am ordained in a system that has long supported women’s leadership (the Assemblies of God). I work in another system that has long supported women’s leadership (the United Methodist Church). I can say with confidence that male privilege is still alive and well in both of those systems and it’s hurting my female colleagues.
Women clergy: What are some other instances of male privilege that make your work difficult?
Click here to see all that I’ve written on women in ministry.