Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Penis Envy

Good morning God,
I have never wanted equality with a man - why settle for less than you already have has been my motto. But now I find I have a peculiar case of Penis Envy It's a little late in developing I know, but previously I have never had a real problem with being a woman in a man's world. Whether in Information Technology or Lecturing, it was always easy to deal with sexism simply by being better at my job than the other 'guy'.

It took the Church to make a sort of feminist of me!
I confess that I have tended to play down feminist theology as a 'red herring' theology - one of those side-avenues that 'real theology' can dally around in whilst it muses over the real questions of who YOU really are and why You have any interest in us, and who on earth Christ was, and what in heaven's name has happened to the trinity as a result.. you know the sort of things I mean.
Feminism always seemed so stamp-the-foot angry, and, if I am honest - too one-sided for me. What's the point in making women into men? What's the point in being so aggressive that we lose who we are? I can't be a man hater - I love too many of them! From my experience training and working with male ministers, I just can't believe women are any more caring or creative, loving or flowingly liturgical(?) than any male minister fulfilling their calling to love Christ's flock.

Moreover, feminism has always seemed keen to categorise and define women as a group of people I didn't belong too. I am highly creative, but wouldn't know how to wear a scarf around my neck properly or apply a modern mascara. I enjoy a soak in the bath, but can't be bothered with make-overs or make-up (the very expression says it all for me!) I prefer mixed company where possible - but to be honest I don't care what the gender or sexuality of the person is - as long as they can laugh and converse,  preferably about theology, but I'll settle for anything cultural, political or scientific as a substitute!

I hate the very notion of Network or as it is now renamed 'Women in British Methodism' and the assumption built into it that just because I wear knickers I belong to a special group which the Church must pander to by allocating a place at Conference to a women who dares to claim she speaks in my name (as though I lack the ability to speak for myself!!!)

I am a woman not a wimp - I can speak for myself thank you - and I hate the very notion that such women's groups are based on -  that women are so waspish and wimpish that in order to succeed they have to have special consideration of their needs.

So that's my prejudices nailed to the mast - but what then of my anger and righteous indignation of the state of the Church? Of the disgusting male exclusivity built into every element - from the liturgy with its conditional offering, to the priesthood!

I could of course, take the attitude suggested by the David Hallam in a comment on my last post and simply thank God that I am a Methodist and a product of the Reformation..
Except, of course, as most women in Methodism know - the problem of exclusivity is as much a Methodist problem as a Catholic one.
Do the figures..
what percentage of an average congregation is male, what percentage is female.
Now.. what percentage of our Connxional Team is Male? What percentage of our District Chairs is Male? what percentage of our Circuit Superintendents is Male? And of our ministers.. our district officers, or our new  Pioneer Leaders?

The only place where the ratio of male to female  even begin to match the Congregation is in terms of local preachers... but even here I still hear complaints from women about women local preachers with their high pitched screachy voices!
I am incensed at how delighted everyone is that we have a female president and vice president - why so delighted? this should be NORMAL - we don't experience the same joy when we have the usual twosome - or when (increasingly more common) we have a male president and a female Vice president
Our very delight in the elections of Alison and Eunice show how much this is OUR problem as well as the catholic Church's problem.

What - did we think having women ministers was enough?
we have prided ourselves on the idea that no office in our Church is barred to women - but we have our own glass ceilings, they may not be in CPD - but the figures make it clear that they do exist in the hearts and heads of those who appoint and select our ministers, officers and pioneer leaders (albeit, I grant, perhaps subconsciously).

BUT Gender justice is a gospel issue - not just a Church structure issue.
Our structures are but a reflection of our underlying theology and liturgy (we are what we pray as a Church) 
So for me this cannot aford to be about helping the little woman out - I demand gender justice, and although, yes, I am little(!) I am not wanting special privileges or special consideration.  I dont want a different job, I don't even want women to want access to the sort of jobs men in Methodism currently hold - I want a more radical change. I want the underlying theology exposed so that we see how we got into this mess and are more able to use the gospel light to find a way out of it.

I want for myself and for other women in our Church what you God, have given to all - full and unconditional access to your grace, to your love and to your power to change what is wrong, to transform the world and assist in the building of a kingdom of justice and peace. I want everyone to have what my male colleagues have, the theological and biblical freedom and confidence to be who they are, and to grow fully in grace and holiness in a Church which follows Christ's example and celebrates both genders.  I want for everyone to have the same access to authority, the same rights within our Church, the same respect and the same consideration as every man is granted naturally - and I want it without anyone having to stamp a foot to get it.

I want an end to theological Penis envy..

Ironically God, the Vatican is full of male statues, each with the penis chopped off... there's got to be a feminist sermon in there somewhere!


  1. Well said Angie, I know I am fortunate, I work in a 50/50 Presbyteral team and the Super is a woman both the leadership team and even two of "my" congregations are also roughly a 50/50 split.
    I have to remind myself that this is unusual!

    What makes me angry is the assumption by some that women are a second class substitute and that if only more men were available to lead then things would be better. I want to see people elected to positions and accepted through candidating for who they are not whether they are female/male.

    We need to get rid of discrimination- and where it happens so called positive discrimination is probably the worst kind because it is patronising!

  2. I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s and I was repeatedly told both in State school and in my first job that women were intellectually and emotionally inferior to men. I was not allowed to take advanced (AP) maths in High School because "you are a girl and there are only 30 places and we can't waste a place on a girl unless you are going to study math or science in college" (but a place could be "wasted" on a boy who was going to study in the humanities). Feminism at that time did not seem angry to me but seemed to be an issue of justice.

    However, there did come a point in social history when I felt that feminism became angry and strident and I begin to distance myself from it.

    I have long felt that society normalized male experience and perceptions and pathologized female experience and perceptions. I have never had a problem with serious feminist theology but I do also dislike what I call "the goddess cult".

    I have always been receptive to gender-neutral language for God but haven't really used it extensively. I'm now in a situation, doing Clinical Pastoral Education in the US, where gender-neutral language is absolutely required (as opposed to recommended) for passing the course. And I have begun to understand how the use of mainly male language for God has permeated my subconscious in ways that I never understood before trying to eradicate it.

    Positing the upper middle class white male as the normative human person has many repurcussions: for those who are ot middle class, white or male. It's not an excuse for discrimination against MCWMs but an argument for inclusion of all people in the true spirit of the proclamation that God is no respector of human status symbols.

  3. Hi Angie,

    Thanks for this post Angie. Deeply thought provoking. In South Africa we have the complexity of gender issues that are compounded by strongly held cultural issues related to patriarchy (our President, Jacob Zuma is a perfect example). I'm not sure I have an idea what the answer may be to this problem in our context, even less so yours. However, your post is food for thought.


    PS., I was going to write something witty about having a penis, but I couldn't think of anything worthwhile to say... Perhaps that sums it up best ;-)