Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Typical women: it just goes to show...

A twitter conversation yesterday started like this:

@SallyHitchiner: Antje Jackelen elected Sweden's first woman archbishop - Come on England: the Swedes are decades ahead again! http://t.co/cKj4GIhtGl

@PeterOuld: @SallyHitchiner Are you not slightly concerned she denies parts of the Creed? Is that OK because she's XX?

...... And a few tweets later:

@PeterOuld: @SallyHitchiner @MirandaTHolmes You're celebrating an XX archbish who won't affirm Creeds. This does CofE pro XX bish position no favours.

@PeterOuld: @SallyHitchiner @MirandaTHolmes It plays very nicely into the hands of those who think we are wrong for wanting women bishops.


Typical women, eh? When one of them says something we disagree with, it just goes to show that women shouldn't be allowed a platform or voice. See, we told you they couldn't be trusted with it. Leave this to the chaps, girls.

This is why gender is still an issue, even where it isn't meant to be an issue anymore. If a man screws up, he is an individual who is bad at his job. If a woman screws up, it seems to show that women shouldn't do that job.

Please note that I am not discussing the new Archbishop of Sweden elect's views here, or her suitability or otherwise for the post. I know nothing about her except what has been written in a couple of English language reports of her appointment, and I would not presume to criticise another church's choice of leader on such flimsy evidence.

My beef is more straightforward. Why on earth does the appointment of a female archbishop who has views which may be controversial, 'play very nicely into the hands of those who think we are wrong for wanting women bishops'? Does her gender determine her theology? Do all women think the same?

Lets take a male example for comparison. How about David Jenkins, a previous Bishop of Durham? He was notoriously controversial in his theological views. Partly this was because he was genuinely questioning and de-mythologising, partly because the complexity of his views were often misquoted and misunderstood. (The Resurrection, for example, he said was 'not just a conjuring trick with bones', but somehow the 'not' seemed to get lost along the way.) Many people said he shouldn't be a bishop, even suggested that God had struck York Minster with lightening in retaliation for his consecration there a few days earlier. But no one, as far as I am aware, suggested that it just went to show that men shouldn't be bishops.

Or how about Richard Holloway, a previous Bishop of Edinburgh? I heard him speak very movingly at the Hexham Book Festival last year, about his new book 'Leaving Alexandria'. In the questions afterwards, he thought aloud about resigning from his see, saying that he had done so because he came to think that those who said he shouldn't be a bishop due to his unorthodox views were probably right. But again, I have never heard anyone suggest that his radical take on Christianity casts doubt on men's suitability for the episcopate.

I am an academic by training, so in fairness, I shall acknowledge that there is some research to suggest that, on average and broadly speaking, female clergy tend to be more theologically liberal than male clergy. Personally, I think this is a good thing and am proud to be one of them!

But it is nonsensical to suggest that all women think the same, or that the fact that some of us are more liberal than the average clergyman means that women shouldn't be ordained, or become bishops. Even if you genuinely think that only conservative thinkers with no capacity or inclination to question the received wisdom should be ordained, to argue that since the average woman is more 'liberal' than the average man, no woman should be ordained would be specious nonsense.

We will know we have achieved genuine gender equality when a woman can mess up, or be controversial, or do something unpopular, and be criticised for her actions rather than as a representative of her sex.

20 comments:

  1. Yup.
    And we will know we have achieved genuine gender equality when you no longer need to blog on this little piece of faulty logic which I remember being warned about in the first term of university :>)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just thinking out loud (because straightforward correlations between gender and theological persuasion don't ring true to me). Is it possible that the apparent greater degree of liberal-ness amongst women clergy is to do with the fact that by and large the churches that nurture female vocations to ministry are by their very nature more likely to be those that have a liberal position towards women's ministry? So being more liberal isn't necessarily anything intrinsic to 'being female', but rather women from more conservative traditions are disproportionately poorly represented amongst the clergy because their traditions discourage them from pursuing their vocation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely, Mark. I didn't go there as I thought it would cloud the argument in the main text, so thanks for raising this in comments! Correlation does not imply cause - first rule of statistics.

      Delete
  3. Exactly Mark. And also in the survey I saw on this topic (Cost of Conscience c. a decade ago) they used a scale of belief and only counted those who strongly agreed in their headline figures. I never did see if full results were released. I suspect women may have had a lot of 'agreed' rather than 'strongly agree' possibly because of socialisation bias

    ReplyDelete
  4. I agree with and share your concern that the recent debate has centred on the broader issue of gender rather than the calling of the specific individual to whatever role is in question. It reminds me of something Steven Moffat - the showrunner of Doctor Who - said when discussing whether there may one day be a female doctor. He argued that if we're asking the question "when will there be a female a doctor" then we've got the debate highly wrong - surely the only question we should ever be asking is "have you cast the right person for the Doctor?"

    However I think you lay the blame for this attitude largely in the wrong place - the fault in this perspective is not the traditionalists but the liberals. How did the church respond to the election of Antje Jeckelen? 'This was a movement of the Holy Spirit'? No. 'She was the right person to lead the church at this time'? No. Rather the outgoing Archbishop said "It was about time [a woman took the post].'

    When the Church of England debates the ordination of women to the episcopate, how often does that sentiment get repeated? "It's about time we had women as bishops"...

    If generalised (genderalised?!) arguments - both positive and negative - are the problem, then surely we need to be a little broader in our critique?

    Or perhaps we've fallen into the trap Peter alludes to - that when an Anglican Archbishop denies central orthodoxy, we find a way of turning the debate into discussing anything but the core tenants of our faith?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Except, Tom, he has said she's the right man for the job, the comments about it being time for a woman is in response to the idea that it shouldn't be a woman - that there is no reason why it shouldn't be that after many years of faithful women priests, if a woman presents as the best candidate, there is no reason to judge on gender bias. It is time that this should happen - about time it could be a woman. I've been following the debates on Swedish tv and radio, it's a church I worshipped in when I lived there and I've not bothered with any of the translated articles. I also was extremely impressed by hearing her in Cambridge, and you know fine well I'm one of the feeblest feminists on the planet. My second choice would have been the chap who came second, and possibly at about the same preference balance as the swedes voted, for what he said, not what his gender is.

    Whilst we might indeed want solid orthodoxy from our leaders (if everyone is happy to agree on what that looks like - and for someone who led a science and religion institute, I'd probably expect the media to have squidged good newsprint it of any number of comments/lectures/sermons).

    Miranda is absolutely right - it's incredibly hurtful to make throwaway comments about being one woman's views whoever she is painting the rest of us in to heretic idiocy. There will be bad female bishops as potentially as there are, have been or could be male bishops, because we are all human and fallible, as is the system which appoints them. If the case for women bishops is thusly weakened then so is the case for any bishop because the same argument could be deflected back, and we're back somewhere to it being an issue of squatters rights. Such a comment is really unhelpful to any sort of dialogue. I spend more time apologising internally or even out loud in response to the idea that I so offend others' theology by having the temerity to be ordained and not be 'merely' the vicar's wife or whatever my correct role should be. If there's anything that's about time, it's that we can throw away these throwaway lines that reveal deep and hurtful disrespect that otherwise will carry on long beyond the fifty year anniversary of women's ordination here...

    ReplyDelete
  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Having said that, I rejoice that she is a woman, in the face of opposition remaining here. This does not mean I rejoice in people rejoicing in her election *because* she is a woman. I don't think that is helpful either, and when we do -Godwilling- get there, I shall find it hurtful if rejoicing ever disintegrates to noses being rubbed in or that there is ever a sense of positive discrimination - I would never want a job *because* I was female, and I shall be sad if servant leadship loses out to ambition or sense of right even in redressing an age old balance, because that plays back into the same ground from the other direction :(
    Roll on the day when we simply rejoice in the gifts offered to and accepted in the service of the Lord and his church and none of us bother with the gender thought. Pray that we don't need too much time travel tardising to get there...

    ReplyDelete
  8. It's late. Took three attempts to realise the HTML was eating my closing " 'end rant' tag :0

    ReplyDelete
  9. "Typical women, eh? When one of them says something we disagree with, it just goes to show that women shouldn't be allowed a platform or voice. See, we told you they couldn't be trusted with it. Leave this to the chaps, girls."

    I didn't say this Miranda and I'd be grateful if you pointed that out explicitly. I did NOT say that women shouldn't be allowed a platform or a voice and to infer that I did is unacceptable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am happy to clarify that the section you quote is my riff on your remarks, which of course hit various buttons for me to the extent that they bear a family resemblance to other, similar, discourses. The exact words Peter used are as quoted in the tweets with which I began. Sorry if that wasn't totally clear.

      Delete
  10. "Or perhaps we've fallen into the trap Peter alludes to - that when an Anglican Archbishop denies central orthodoxy, we find a way of turning the debate into discussing anything but the core tenants of our faith? "

    Once again, the exact opposite of what happened. Once Miranda started engaging with me on this we had a discussion about why the Virgin Birth *is important*. The sex of the new Swedish Archbishop never affected the importance of the Virgin Birth. As if it could.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We did indeed! Which is a good thing.

      Delete
  11. " it's incredibly hurtful to make throwaway comments about being one woman's views whoever she is painting the rest of us in to heretic idiocy"

    Good job I didn't make such remarks and I expect Miranda to clarify that pretty quickly.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't say you did, Peter, you are quoting me, not me you. It's an insidious and damaging generalisation one comes across far too often though. From either side of the tracks.

      Delete
  12. I think what we're dealing with are the twin issues that always crop up - the glass ceiling and the exemplar syndrome. The two together are toxic for the full equality of women. Glass ceiling is reinforced by "you can't do it because you've never done it" - and exemplar syndrome says "if you do it, you have to be better than all men who do it." This means that any woman who breaks the glass ceiling comes under huge scrutiny to see whether she can be a "proper" exemplar (usually with a view to disqualifying her and all other women from taking up the role). Peter Ould is right that alleged heterodoxy doesn't help in respect of anyone who is a candidate for episcopal office; he's perhaps wrong to ignore the rather long list of males who might be criticised for the same thing. And also playing into this is the canard that FiF put around - that women clergy are more theologically liberal than men [based on a very flimsy piece of research from several years ago]. Sexism is very subtle sometimes - and the subtle versions are more difficult to combat than blatant misogyny.

    ReplyDelete
  13. " he's perhaps wrong to ignore the rather long list of males who might be criticised for the same thing"

    Oh I think my record on that is not in question!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. :D !
      Pete is right, the toxic thing here is the often unspoken assumption that women had better be better than the men, totally above any reproach, otherwise they throw doubt on whether women should really be doing the job. Peter didnt say this exactly, as the quotes with which I began make clear, but alluded to this assumption by implying that others may use this example to make precisely that argument - at least, that is what I read 'playing into the hands' to mean.

      Delete
  14. Not sure why Miranda drags Dr David Jenkins, a former Bishop of Durham into her blog piece today. Jenkins, unlike the new Swedish Archbishop apparently, strongly upheld the Catholic creeds of the Church and to that extent was very "orthodox". What he did do, however, was pose "awkward" questions about the faith in a quite brilliant way and in so doing won the love and respect of many. Not the Charismatic fundamentalists, however, who were strong in the Diocese during Jenkins' reign, but who felt threatened by his intellectual capacity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thats why I chose David Jenkins as a good example. He was not a 'heretic', but was widely criticised for being one in his day by people who either didnt understand him, or wilfully chose to misquote him, or had only read a few simplistic media quotes about his views (the latter being the most obvious parallel with the current example).

      Delete