Our question for this week flows from a revgal’s reflection on a very unsettling incident:
This week I attended our monthly local clergy gathering. It was there that I had an experience I can't seem to get out of my mind. I tried to forget about it ~ pass it off as no big deal ~ but it's still there. Since I had been unable to attend last month, this was my first meeting of the new program year. Most of the regulars were there, but there were a couple new people. There were no official introductions (I assume those happened last month), so after a time of chatting I caught the eye of one of the new people, stuck out my hand and said, "I don't think we've met. I'm.... " This is where I was totally shocked. The man took my hand, glanced at me briefly and began a conversation with someone else while I was in the middle of saying, "I serve at....." I felt completely and totally dismissed. As our gathering went on, I noticed that this man's focus was mostly directed at the other men in the room. To him, it seemed to me, the women were invisible. Even after the official gathering concluded, and we were getting ready to leave, he went out of his way to say good-bye to the man I was giving a ride home to.... completely ignoring the fact that I was standing next to him.
While I have certainly experienced sexism, this was my first experience with such, seemingly, blatant sexism from a colleague in ministry. In my mind I tried to make excuses for him ~ perhaps he doesn't realize he is doing this ~ maybe it's not as bad as I think ~ he's new at this gathering and might be uncomfortable ~ maybe he is not used to dealing with women on a professional basis. But even if those things are true, it is not an excuse. And if he dismisses his colleagues like this, I wonder how he treats his female parishioners. So, my question becomes, what do I do at our next gathering? Do I hold my tongue? Do I challenge him? Do I subtly try to draw his attention to the gifts and graces of his female colleagues in the room ~ myself included? Should I speak with the other females in the group to see if they felt similarly? Is it worth it to put myself 'out there' when I could be seen as the one with the problem? Any thoughts?
Our matriarchs were of one mind with the suggestion that this revgal would benefit from checking in with other women who are a part of this group.
This type of behavior seems common. I was hoping it was fading. It seems to persist especially among older men. They just don't see or hear women. Often in meetings women have the experience of offering an idea and receiving no response. In a few minutes some man will offer the same idea and everyone is "oh great idea, Tom." It makes one feel invisible. I try humor at first - as in "oh yikes - I seem to have fallen into the cone of silence here" when it happens.
The best thing is to talk it over with other women and male allies to confront it in the moment - so you don't seem like the only "bad girl" --- when an idea is put forth by a woman - others acknowledge it immediately -- with "can you tell us more about that, Mary?" When it is this scenario from the program detailed in our ATM question - attention can be called to it - as in "excuse me, I think Susan was speaking to you - maybe you did not hear her or realize it?" Sexism is so internalized - by all sexes - that it is hard to address without allies. The same dynamic occurs with any marginalized group - notice when it happens to people of color, people with disabilities - it is a symptom of a deeper issue.
A Wise layperson adds that since our revgal is new to the group, she has the power of ignorance of the group norms, allowing her to call this guy on his behavior if she chooses. Sometimes a group needs an 'outsider' to point out the elephant in the room.
Karen confirms the risk that exists with confrontation:
I think if you challenge him directly in a public gathering, you will run the risk of appearing to be the problem. I would check in with the other clergywomen at the gathering and see what they noticed--also to find out if he said something at the meeting you missed that might shed some light on how he acted. I'd give him at least one more chance--being very pro-active in engaging him in "safe" topics of conversation. "So how are Christmas plans coming in your congregation?"
My initial snarky reaction to him is, "Excuse me -- were you born rude or is that a skill you had to learn?"
My not-snarky reaction is to basically get in his face in a very polite and gentle way...walking over to him and saying, "Hi, X -- good to see you again. How have you been?" If he turns away to talk to another man, interrupt and say to the other man, "I'm sorry, I didn't realize you and x were talking." Make it a point to say goodbye to him. Kill him with kindness.
On the other hand, if other women experience the same rudeness, it might be time to talk with the bishop about how to approach him. The bishop may or may not be willing to handle this, depending on how conflict-averse he or she is.
Or you could not expend anymore energy other than a polite smile and greeting when you come face-to-face with him. It all depends on whether it's you or women in general, and how much energy you want to expend on him.
Have you ever experienced this kind of behavior? How have you responded? Inquiring minds would like to know, and we would all benefit from the shared wisdom of our readers. Let us know by adding your comments to ours.
Photo courtesy of Twinklemoon