I am a white, university educated, male. I like to think I am empathetic and understanding. I hope I don’t act in a way that suggests I consider myself better than others. I consider women and men to be equal (yes, of course there are biological differences) and didn’t really understand why in 21st Century Britain why I would hear people (mostly women) talk of inequality, discrimination, pay gaps, sexism, so on and so forth.
Sure, I knew that women were wolf-whistled occasionally walking past a building site and have the pressures of choosing what to wear, particularly for special occasions when my only consideration is whether the occasion requires a tie or not with the suit. Some of the most significant people in my life (not just my mum) are women – the best managers, mentors and supervisors have all been women. Looking through the list of most influential people throughout my life women rank with men at least equally, if not higher.
I have known that statistics show women are less likely to be managers, to become head teachers, executives and so on and I know that (because of different theological views) the church has been hesitant to embrace women as pastors or preachers. However, we now have female Priests and Bishops in the Church of England, and women Ministers in Methodist, Baptist and URC denominations to name but a few.
When it came to writing an essay in early 2017 about the role of women in Baptist history I was expecting a disappointing picture of history but a hopeful outlook for the future. What I was not prepared for was how angry that essay would cause me to feel. The council for Baptist Union of Great Britain (BUGB) didn’t ever debate the theology of the role of women, it seems it was a given that women could preach, teach and lead in a church, the debate that took place in 1919 centred around the potential costs of allowing women to become Baptist Ministers. So, in 2018 surely we now have plenty of women who are Baptist Ministers and they are treated with equality and respect, right? Wrong!
Yes, there are women who are Baptist Ministers but the journey to ordination is much harder than it is for men. Some examples from Baptist Ministry include:
- Churches will refuse to consider a woman as their pastor.
- Churches sending someone for ministerial training will offer financial support to a man but not to a woman
- Churches who will consider a woman as a Minister have been known to offer a lower stipend (remuneration) saying that the woman will not need as much as “their husband will support them financially”.
- Churches who do call a woman as a Minister are typically smaller and do not offer the same levels of provision as those who call men (eg. pay minimum recommended stipend, no manse, no bills paid, no phone, laptop of internet provision).
I was aware that some churches would not consider a woman as a Minister (I respect that particular theology even though I disagree) but the rest started to make my blood boil. Becoming a Baptist Minister is a long winded and expensive process, there are enough hurdles to jump through and over without throwing in extra’s just because the genitalia someone is born with or without.
I’ve heard from women who are ignored at meetings of fellow clergy, both within and outside of a denomination. I started to listen to the women I know. Of course, it doesn’t just happen in the church, that just happens to be where my eyes were opened.
On a daily basis, women face both conscious and unconscious bias. Women face pressures of kinds I will never experience. In a room full of women, it will be a man who is asked for an opinion. Women are over looked for promotions, have their ideas and views ignored, be judged for their looks and outfit rather than their experience and knowledge. And, on top of that 1 in 3 women is abused in their life time.
So, what do I do with this anger? What do I do once my eyes are opened?
Well, I wanted to learn more. There are conferences for men to be rugged and masculine, to encourage one another to be leaders and champions, to have our backs slapped and egos boosted. There are conferences for women to be inspired to be courageous, to become empowered sisters and gatherings for nurture. Women are always listening to men. The majority of speakers at conferences and event are men. There are limited spaces for men to listen to women and to allow ourselves to be transformed by the stories we hear.
I thought I knew about gender equity but until I stopped to listen I realised I had no idea. Just Voices is one step towards making a difference. I had an idea. My wife said no one would come. I asked a few women to contribute and they all said they would. A website, a venue, contributors and it’s happening on 11th October. The Just Voices conference aims to raise awareness, to challenge and to understand why gender equity is good for everyone.
If my ideas change, my actions change and maybe the world around me changes one small step at a time. If others do likewise we can make a difference and maybe the future could be hopeful.
They may just be voices but just voices can have far reaching consequences if we listen and respond.