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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Dating is difficult in today’s culture. As I have counseled single women and men through the years, I often heard pleas for help to find a Christian person to date. And let’s be honest. There are many different kinds of Christians. How does one get help to find a similar kind of Christian? One who values mutual submission and servant leadership in marriage?

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No one says the word “failure” out loud, of course. No one would dare. But when marriage is the ideal that everyone is working toward, anything that falls short feels like you did something wrong.

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Recently, I was invited to participate in a panel on singleness at a Christian conference. I shared my experience as a single woman pastor and how single clergy can feel isolated in a church culture where marriage is the default. It was the first time since university that I had an honest, direct, public conversation about singleness in the church. 

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It is crucial that we women who don’t fit into the church’s too-neat “happily ever after” narrative share our stories. Because God sees our struggles and the church should too.

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Do men want to date smart women? This was the question behind a 2015 study published by the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.1 What the study learned is that men like the idea of dating women who are smarter than them, but when they meet an actual woman who fits the profile, they suddenly become much less interested.

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