There is no single calling for all women. This is a realization that cannot be taught or persuaded. A person must want to grow, and a Christian should want to learn new ideas because pursuing truth requires accepting that we can be wrong.
Female theology students in a rural context are often online students who don’t regularly see flesh-and-blood role models: women who are leading in church, teaching a mixed congregation and fulfilling other roles.
For the first time in modern history, God is placing women in strategic positions of influence and leadership within the church, public, corporate, charity, and voluntary sectors, in unprecedented numbers. Women are called to flourish in these arenas. However, there are significant external and internal issues that hinder women in leadership in unique ways.
We were guinea pigs, the women that year and I. We knew—after we had applied and been accepted—that our school had just begun admitting women to the MDiv program, the denomination new to the concept of women in the pulpit.
“So, are you a student here too?” asked the young IT worker I called to fix my office computer. I smiled, wondering how the student missed my name on the office door, or the row of diplomas framed on the wall. “No, I’m a professor here.” Sexism against women in college undoubtedly happens, but sexism against female college faculty is perhaps more often overlooked. As a thirtysomething woman professor at a Christian university, I have a unique perspective on sexism in higher education.
A few weeks ago, I was in Sofia, Bulgaria, for a day. I stopped for about twelve hours between night buses to see the sights, including a beautiful, vibrant mosque near the center of town. I did some online research on dress protocol beforehand: cover your skin, wear something on your head, take your shoes off. Nothing unexpected. I had a scarf and a maxi skirt in my backpack for this purpose. I was happy to be respectful, and excited for a new experience. I arrived at the mosque, circled around to the front, and . . . walked away. I felt nervous, suddenly, and upset.
Female students at my evangelical university experienced both misogyny and racism. We were asked to conform to impossible standards. And we are not the only ones to struggle against injustice in the classroom. Women and girls all over the world face bias in school. From primary school to undergraduate to seminary, the system is not built for us.
I so wish I could have told those bright young women about the challenges they will face as they enter their careers and endeavor to find satisfaction in their work and lives. I did not want to be that person, warning optimistic young women about future obstacles—and that the odds of success are ever stacked against them. I fear, though, that if we don’t have open conversations about workplace and cultural challenges, if we don’t call out hurdles by name, we set women up for failure when they enter the workplace.
All parents—and especially egalitarian parents—should talk to their kids about boundaries, consent, bodies, shame, double standards, peer pressure, and sexism in school. Have you had these conversations with your kids yet?
I have my own particular kind of body shame, but most women have experienced similar mortification about their physical beings—a heritage of enmity with the structure of skin and bones and viscera in which we daily move.