I haven’t always been the “raving, radical feminist” one of my clergy colleagues accused of me in a staff meeting twenty years ago. I wasn’t always the “insubordinate, too-educated for my own good” woman (he didn’t use that word, but this is a spiritual blog after all) opined the colonel I had the pleasure of working with thirty years ago. Actually, I have all of these fine white, married, middle-age men to thank for helping me see the light … the light of plight … as I like to call it.
White, married, middle-age men are still at it with inane, inaccurate remarks about rape and violence against women. They’re still trying to control access to and services for women, and women only. They’re slowly, but steadily repealing any progress made over my career lifetime on issues like equal pay, education, and athletics. I live in the most prestigious country in the developed world and I am terrified about what awaits my granddaughters if we continue on this path, the plight of women at the hands of white, married, middle-age men.
Americans complain about the radical fundamentalists of other religions and cultures without acknowledging we have our own radical fundamentalists right here. Many are in our churches and they are most certainly in our politics. They are the subtle, slithering, strategic operatives couching their message in half-truths, doubt, and fear, not unlike the deceiver in Genesis. People become so numb to what’s going on that, before they know it, their voices are silenced and their rights are diminished. But it doesn’t start there and it isn’t always dramatic.
In the early 1990s, I worked at a large, regional church. I was the only female clergy with – you guessed it – four white, married, middle-age men. I was told when I was invited on staff (I wasn’t looking for the position), since there wasn’t any money in the budget for my position that year, they were scrounging up a token part-time salary ($18,000) for that year and I would receive a respectable full-time salary with benefits the following year when they had time to include the position in the budget. Oh and part-time was forty hours/week and full-time was 100-hours/week.
About one week into my job, I realized that every time I was in the women’s restroom, at least one other woman would follow me in. The other women on staff, all who fulfilled administrative roles, were looking for an advocate to take their concerns to their bosses, the male clergy.
The concerns, in the beginning, were about the work environment. Twelve women in twelve cubicles in a room smaller than the average school classroom with no air conditioning wanted fans to help circulate the air. They were denied until an ambulance was called for a woman with severe heat stroke.
When this woman returned to work, she thought the church should pay for her medical bills since they were incurred while working. Her husband had been recently laid off and they no longer had health coverage. That’s when I found out that none of the women had health insurance! I knew I didn’t have any, but assumed everyone else did! The women, who were all married, were told that since they had access to health insurance through their husbands, the church would not be offering them health insurance. All of the white, married, middle-age male clergy and their dependents had health insurance coverage paid for as part of their salary package.
I, of course, thought any reasonable person, if they knew it was going on, would want to rectify the situation at once, especially since this was a church! Was I ever naive. I was told, in our clergy staff meeting, that this issue with the women staff was beyond the scope of my job description and to drop it.
When the head of the personnel committee invited me to lunch, I took the opportunity to become educated about the church’s human resource policies. The white, married, middle-age men on the personnel committee had no intention of changing any policies for the women staff and they were quite informed on how the church was outside the scope of what was required of secular employers. I thought the Army’s Special Forces units I worked with ten years prior were male dominated. They had nothing on the white, married, middle-age men of this church or employment laws not allowing any legal recourse for church employees.
Next time, I’ll share about how an FBI pornography sting that went down in my adult Sunday School class and an executive administrative assistant’s domestic violence situation contributed to my raging, radical feminization.