Have you ever been rejected by someone because of your gender – something you have no control over at birth? It’s been an interesting week balancing reactions to International Women’s Day and hearing a difficult story of gender bias about me. It’s made me think about something that if I’m being honest, I really don’t spend much time dwelling on. But this week, I’ve been very aware that I am a woman.
I had a meeting with a friend outside of the church who bumped into a former member of my church. They had a conversation that led to Centenary. When he mentioned he knew me the woman’s hackles raised at my name. She went on to say how horrible it is for a woman to be a minister and that she left the church before I even arrived. The more he shared about the woman’s beliefs, the more obvious it was that Centenary was not the church for her anyway, my gender aside, as we are not a fundamentalist congregation in theology like this woman clearly was. But it hurts to be rejected based solely on something I have no control over. She never even met me. I know some of you can relate to this experience.
That conversation was on Wednesday, the same day I wore red for International Women’s Day. I am proud of what women contribute to society and the unique skills and gifts they offer both their work place, volunteer places and to their family life in whatever combination that occurs. And I do believe that goes undervalued with the measurable proof being that women earn less on the dollar than men for the same jobs. This is certainly true in my profession. But I overheard the most interesting conversation among some women who were reacting very negatively to Wednesday’s protests. Women criticizing other women for protesting out of their privilege expressing how ridiculous it all sounded to them. And everyone is certainly allowed their opinion. That’s the beauty of this country we live in. But I couldn’t help but feel the tension from the previous conversation of rejection I had with my friend.
And then I had the opportunity on Wednesday to meet several owners of local restaurants in downtown Winston-Salem which was inspiring. 4 out of 5 were women which I didn’t realize. Crafted (Kristina Fuller), 6th and Vine (Kathleen Barnes) , Mary’s Gourmet Diner (Mary Hagland) and Sweet Potatoes (Vivian Joiner and Stephanie Tyson), are all owned and operated by women. Mary Hagland, shared with our group touring the downtown arts district and local restaurants that she grew up in Indiana and that she had a dream about owning a restaurant. Her father, a father from the 50’s when daughters didn’t own restaurants, kept telling her she could do anything she wanted to do and supported her whole heartedly. She said, “I believed in me because he believed in me.” She didn’t have the money for the start-up of a restaurant and her father sold a piece of land in order to get her started. It was inspiring to hear her talk about her father looking beyond her gender and the gender roles of his time to instill confidence and nurture dreams within this talented business woman.
I didn’t have a father in my life to encourage me like Mary did. But I had a mother who didn’t say it so much as modeled it for me. It never occurred to me that there was something I couldn’t do. In my eyes, my mom mothered and raised four children. She worked in Medical Records at the hospital. She volunteered in the community through (then) Extension Homemakers and both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts not to mention at our church. She fixed things around the house or called someone to. She handled the finances. She made the decisions. She just did it.
So yes, I wore red on Wednesday not so much as a protest but as a way of saying I am proud of being a woman and offering what I uniquely have to offer into the lives of those around me. I’m grateful for the work of other women, whether it’s in the classroom, serving in restaurants, as CEO’s and CFO’s, accountants, lawyers, amazing moms, massage therapists, nurses and doctors, bank tellers or the woman who pushes the trash can down 4th Street picking up trash.
And for the record, I’m pretty grateful for the contribution men make into society as well. My point is we all add value. Sometimes women do go under appreciated. And clearly there have been times when women have been disrespected in the work place and publicly. In my case, I have been judged and rejected as a pastor based on some contextual scripture passages in the Bible written about some rowdy and loud women in a church back in Corinth. I’m ok with that because I understand how God works today and I don’t doubt for a second God’s calling into vocational ministry in my life. But that doesn’t mean gender discrimination isn’t real or that it doesn’t sting. It’s still out there. But then I think of Mary, Katherine, Kristina, Vivian and Stephanie and I smile.
Grace and Peace,