According to Forbes, women must obtain an advanced degree to earn as much as men for the same work. While women account for fifty-six percent of all college students in the US, they are paid eighty cents to men’s dollar for performing the same job after they graduate. The pay disparities are even greater for women of color. Women in the US are not only earning higher degrees for the same pay, but they also often face doubt about their skills compared to men both in school and at work.
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.
The conversation went downhill very quickly. “I don’t know if I would be comfortable with you working for a female pastor.” Trying to avoid (yet another) debate about women pastors, I retorted: “Well the incoming pastor is male.” “It’s the principle,” my significant other threw back. Thankfully, the awkward exchange ended, and we shifted to another topic.
“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.
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.
As my classmates in my current seminary courses would no doubt be shocked to learn, I was once the quiet student in the class. In fact, I was the stereotypical quiet young woman: I sat in the front row, rarely skipped, took detailed notes, and received consistently good grades. But I almost never volunteered my opinion, preferring to contribute only when asked or when I was certain of my answer.
A recent study suggested that, though casual sex is more accepted than ever, loneliness is too. Twenty-seven percent of Americans feel isolated, but loneliness is far worse among eighteen to twenty-two year-olds, followed by Millennials. The least lonely were Americans aged seventy-two and older—those having fewer sexual encounters.
Consent: a word so bland I once found it almost ugly. Why would I base my framework for romantic relationships on a word as flippant and perfunctory as a waiver to have my photo taken? Bodies and relationships are deeply important to me as a Christian. Naturally, sex is also deeply important to me. Even after I left purity culture behind, I still searched for a rich, God-honoring sexual ethic. Consent seemed like a pretty bare standard for behavior.
While it is not addressed nearly enough from the pulpit, Scripture has important information about power, patriarchy, and sexual rhetoric. When we miss these elements in reading the Bible, we are more likely to misinterpret what we see in the world around us.