Miles to go before parity…

Today, Project 3:28 announced that the gender balance of speakers at Christian conferences & festivals in 2016 has not improved on 2015’s figures. Overall, the average platform remains unchanged at 64% male, 36% female. Some festivals have made real progress, others have demonstrated that they are pretty consistent in trying to achieve parity (this is now the fourth year this data’s been collated). But there is still SO much room for improvement.

Credit.

And, that’s before you dig deeper into the stories behind these numbers. What subjects are women speaking on compared with men? (Is it largely children’s work and marriage??) What roles do women hold compared to men? Are they church leader? (And only allowed to speak while sharing a platform with their spouse.) What is actually happening in these organisations and planning groups when line-ups are being formulated? Are things actually changing or is it short-term tokenism?

What is clear is that there is still a remit for Project 3:28 (named after Galatians 3:28) and a fuss still needs to be made. It’s by no means hopeless, but there is still a long way to go.

I’m lucky enough to live in a bit of a bubble when it comes to egalitarianism. I minister in a church where I am probably the 5th female curate the church has had and it’s had a female non-stipendiary minister for over two decades. Worship is lead by a female double-act on a very regular basis! I’m based in an area of London Diocese which has had a reputation of being ‘good’ for women for quite some time (although, having recently done some work on its gender stats, there’s a bit of a way to go there too). I don’t feel lonely as a female priest and I don’t often, in my day-to-day ministry, find my gender to be an issue. But in a wider context? Oh dear…

The Church of England still has some things to sort out. It’ll take time, but I’m hopeful. What has given me even greater hope recently are conversations I had with two male priests at a conference for curates last month. Having begun the conference suddenly realising just how out-numbered female curates are in London Diocese [this shouldn’t have been a surprise, I know the numbers!], I left feeling hugely encouraged.

One evening, a friend had actually wept as he shared with me and another female curate his passion for encouraging the young women in his church into leadership. He was desperate to find people who could be role models for them, people who could inspire them and who they could look up to. He knew how important it was to find this, because as a young man from an ethnic minority, he had benefitted enormously from having someone ahead of him in the vocational journey who he could identify with.

Another had engaged with me in a vigorous discussion of reasons why women are still under-represented in the diocese. It’s the kind of conversation I often have with women and sporadically have with men. When it’s the latter it’s always encouraging, because for change to happen, men need to be a part of it. We women may worry about sounding like a broken record by consistently raising the issue, but when we know we’re not on our own doing that, it’s truly heartening.

Knowing that there are men out there who think like this and are taking action as a result is great. I love my feminist sisterhood, but men are more than welcome to join us! In fact, while we’re still the minority in church leadership structures, their support is utterly essential. Now, if we could get some more of these people in charge of the nation’s Christian gatherings, perhaps next year’s Project 3:28 figures will show a great improvement?

What the church needs are more feminists who look like this…
(Ok, yes, I was just looking for an excuse to use that image!)

The mysterious case of the vanishing women…

We are mid-way through the Rio Olympics. So far, I have watched approximately 10 hours of gymnastics; two Murray matches that have aged me considerably; a few cycling victories; and two rowing golds for Team GB which I observed while getting sweaty on a cross-trainer and feeling very despondent about the intensity of my workout!

Artistic Gymnastics - Women's Team FinalOne woman who has *not* been invisible in Rio! 

A couple of times now, while watching the BBC’s coverage (which is excellent, incidentally – God bless the myriad live streams available!), a short film has been shown on the topic of the ‘greatest Olympians’. It’s narrated by Michael Johnson – himself a contender for that accolade – and features archive footage of great athletes going back decades. Many of the usual suspects feature: Muhammed Ali, Jesse Owens, Usain Bolt, Carl Lewis, Emil Zatopek, Steve Redgrave, Chris Hoy… I could go on.

On my first viewing, I noticed that the athletes were predominantly male. The second time it appeared on the screen, I made a point of counting the number of women who appeared. Out of a total of 21 athletes [working on the basis of presuming an individual was the focus of group shots – e.g. just Steve Redgrave rather than the whole boat crew] just four were female. They consisted of: Fanny Blankers-Koen; Kathy Freeman, Mary Peters & Nadia Comaneci. Only Comaneci and Freeman get name-checked, in contrast with the majority of the male athletes.

The first woman appears 1 minute into the 2min 16s film. Comaneci appears twice – leading me to initially believe five women appeared. Several of the men appear more than once. Some of them even speak. But not the women.

BBC Greatest Olympian?

Looking up the video on the BBC website, it becomes clear that these are apparently Michael Johnson’s choices. In which case, perhaps fair enough – it’s a matter of personal opinion. But that isn’t clear in the video itself. A video that’s being shown at regular intervals on broadcasts being watched by millions of people, including many who may need a bit of inspiration from seeing something of the history of inspirational women that have been part of the Olympics! To be honest, the BBC should know better. Especially after the Sports Personality of the Year debacle from a few years ago.

Even the article that goes with the video makes it clear in its first paragraph that if you measure ‘greatness’ based upon number of medals won, then the top contender is a female gymnast – Larisa Latynina (18 medals, nine of them golds). Did she feature in the video? No. It then goes on to suggest another measure: medals earned over several Olympiads. Again, the ‘greatest’ in this category is a woman – Birgit Fischer who won 8 golds over 6 Olympics in canoeing – admittedly someone I’d never heard of, but did she feature? No, but Steve Redgrave (5 golds in 5 games) did.

In fairness, it does highlight the achievements of Fanny Blankers-Koen (one of only two mothers ever to have won Olympic gold) and Nadia Comaneci (scorer of the first perfect gymnastics score). But there really is so much more that could be said!

So I did my own research. (Hello Google.) I discovered some brilliant un-sung stories, including…

Dawn Fraser (Australia, swimming). Won 8 medals in total (4 gold, 4 silver), in the 1956, 60 & 64 games – including winning the 100m freestyle three times. Only one other woman has done that in swimming. Brilliantly, after playing a series of pranks at the Tokyo games in 64, she was banned from the Olympics by Australia’s national committee, meaning that she didn’t get the chance to defend her title a third time.

Valentina Vezzali (Italy, fencing). Won 7 medals (5 gold, 1 silver, 1 bronze) over four Olympics (96, 2000, 04 & 08). With a maximum of two medals available in foil fencing in any one games, that’s pretty impressive.

Elisabeta Lipa-Oleniuc (Romania, rowing). Winning her first gold aged 19 in 1984, she then won a medal at every games up to and including 2004. Twenty years!

Jackie Joyner-Kersee (USA, athletics). Won 6 medals over 4 games – including back-to-back heptathlons in 88 and 92, followed up with long jump bronze in 1996!

Krisztina Egerszegi (Hungary, swimming). 7 medals over 3 Olympics (1988, 92 & 96) and is the only other woman to have won gold in the same swimming event in three consecutive games.

Apart from Joyner-Kersee, I’d not heard of any of these women – yet (on medal tally & longevity) they rank amongst the top 10 female summer Olympians. In comparison, I could probably have told you something about every single one of their male counterparts – those are stories I’ve heard re-told again and again every time the Olympics comes around. Treatment of women in sport is bad enough (I presume everyone’s seen the terrible reporting even in this year’s games?!?), without forgetting the stories of those who went before.

Come on BBC. We know you can do a lot better than this.

Great Olympic women...What Google brings up if you image search ‘great Olympic women’…

Permission granted to wear purple (should I aspire to)

I will never forget the evening of November 20th 2012. As I reflected on the morning of the 21st, I hadn’t expected the failure of the women bishops’ legislation at General Synod to hit me quite so hard, but it did. For me and for many within (and outside) the Church of England, that very public, very painful moment had a huge impact.

18 months ago, we didn’t quite realise that new legislation would get through quite so quickly – originally, it was believed it would have to wait until a new Synod was elected in 2015. But wisely, those in charge thought differently and enabled the revised measures to go through the system in (realistically) the shortest time possible for the government of the Church of England.

I’d love to be able to tell you that I had a great story of where I was when I heard the vote had gone through, but I don’t. I was in my bathroom, cleaning – or rather, I’d interrupted my cleaning to watch the live stream of Synod. A live stream that was too over-burdened by demand and didn’t finish loading until the results had been announced. The thunderous applause gave me a clue as to which way it had gone, as did the text I immediately received from my mother containing two words: “Deo Gratis!” [Yes, that is the way in which Clutterbucks like to rejoice.]

Yet again, I was surprised by my reaction – the hands holding my phone were shaking and when a good chum rang me minutes later (entirely unaware of what had just happened, she just usually rings me at 4.30pm on a Monday), I could barely hold a conversation together. Partly thanks to my excitement and partly because of social media’s explosion of joy. Finally, on paper, women are on an equal footing with men in the Church of England.

Episcopal PedicureIn 2012 I had an intentional episcopal purple manicure. Monday’s pedicure was entirely accidental, but welcomed!

Looking back, what has also surprised me is how much we needed that 18 months of delay. I know that I wouldn’t have said this at the time – and some may disagree – but I think its done the church an awful lot of good.

    • The revised legislation is better. That was clear from many of the speakers on Monday – hearts and minds had been changed and that was a very large step forward.
    • While many felt the issue would divide the church, I actually believe that if anything, post-no vote, church unity was more evident. On the one hand, different church denominations have come together in their condemnation of the No vote. But within the CofE itself, groups and traditions that would usually be miles apart from each other, came together in solidarity for women in the church. Personally, I’ve benefitted hugely from the Gathering of Women Leaders, an ecumenical group of women in leadership who have been hugely supportive of women across the board (not just us Anglican ones!).
    • Was the extra 18 months also required in order to fan the flame of flame of passion for the cause of women within the Church of England? Yes, there was already a fervent campaign for women bishops, but with many assuming Synod would pass the legislation in 2012, was complacency a problem? Have we now realised that we cannot afford to be complacent (on this or any other issue) and that there is actually a fight that needs to be fought? It may feel like a broken record, but as far as women in the church are concerned, numbers still need to be counted; inequalities noticed, reported and resolved; and voices shouted. There’s still a long way to go.

Yesterday, a new chapter in the Church of England’s history began. It’s an exciting one, but it doesn’t mean an end to the discussion of gender in the church. There are many who are not rejoicing today, and we should remember them. Just because women will soon join the episcopate does not mean there will now be equal representation of women throughout the church.

Yesterday, a good start was made, but it will need a lot of effort, co-operation and courage for things to change.

Comic Women

Last week, news broke that the BBC is cracking down on the gender imbalance of comedy panel shows – from now on, according to Danny Cohen (head of the BBC’s TV output), there will be no more all-male panel shows. All new episodes of series like QI, Mock the Week and Have I Got News for You will have to include at least one woman.

This is something of a victory, but an interesting situation for funny women to find themselves in. Will they want to be a ‘token’ woman, at risk of mockery from some of comedy’s most cutting men? Will they be able to find enough women willing to step up and take a seat on such shows?

The first is a question that is up to individuals to answer. (Jo Brand has already publicly said she won’t accept invitations to appear on Mock the Week because of its culture of having to “bite off someone’s foot in order to say something”.) The second though, surely shouldn’t be an issue. The world is full of funny women – the producers of such shows may just have to put some work into finding them.

It’s strikingly similar to the situation in the church regarding women speakers at Christian events. So often the excuse for all-male line ups is “we didn’t know of any women who could do it”. Just like the church, on the comedy circuit, there are far more men than women. Women get stereotyped as only being relevant to other women (although, even if this were the case, that’s still 50% of the population). There is a bizarre, yet widely held view, that women just aren’t funny.

In my humble opinion, this is ridiculous. I was once part of a conversation involving two (respected) male friends, one of whom – very sweetly – insisted that I was a funny woman. But, he also insisted that I was a very rare instance of such a creature. The other friend, while accepting that I was amusing, could not name any women he genuinely found funny on TV. We were en route to a pub and once we got inside, the debate continued, involving more people. I know that some of the guys were deliberately playing Devil’s Advocate, but it goes to show that the belief is a widespread one.

But, to get back to the BBC. It’s a good decision. In the whole intentional versus token debate, while some might argue it smacks of tokenism, I’d argue it’s actually a great example of intentionality. People have been complaining about the lack of women on theses shows for ages, but little has changed. Now that they have to have a woman (or more!), they will be forced to get out there and find them. In the process, hopefully lots more opportunities will open up for female comics.

Female QII think, but am not certain, that this is the only majority-female line up QI’s seen. 

Personally, I think some of the funniest QI’s have been when Stephen Fry and Alan Davies have been outnumbered by women. (Such as Kaleidoscope, featuring Toksvig; Calman & Tarbuk.) In fact, one of my all-time favourite QI’s saw a balance of genders amongst the panel  (Alan Davies, Revd Richard Coles, Sue Perkins and Victoria Coren-Mitchell in Knights & Knaves) which was only marred by Coles’ regular use of the term “clergyman” when a non-gender specific term could have been used just as appropriately.

HIGNFY could do better, but at least does a good line in having some excellent female hosts and regularly utilising Coren-Mitchell to great effect. As for the radio, I think the News Quiz does a pretty good job of being representative as far as gender goes, but there’s always room for improvement. The biggest improvement of all would be getting beyond the usual female suspects and discovering some new talent – as I’m sure they themselves would agree. I’d be happy to volunteer my services…

Camilla Long HIGNFYOne lovely Twitter friend suggested last week, when this episode of HIGNFY was shown, that I was Ian Hislop’s desk-mate. Apparently, Camilla Long is my doppelgänger…

We are not Delilahs

In Christian circles, there is a debate over whether it’s ok to meet one-to-one with a member of the opposite sex when one is in a position of responsibility within the church. Last week, the topic came up ten minutes before the end of our second lecture on gender and theology.

As the discussion progressed, it was clear that there was a strong opinion from some in the room that a male church leader meeting alone with a woman was really not a good idea at all. It wasn’t a unanimous opinion by any means – one woman spoke of feeling completely ignored after her vicar insisted her husband attended a meeting between the two of them, and then proceeded to only address the husband.

As she spoke, I became more and more frustrated. What would I do in such a situation, given that I don’t have a husband to take to such meetings? Married male voices in the room spoke of needing to be particularly cautious around single women, and quite honestly, I felt terrible. I am a single woman, training to be a church leader. I am not a Delilah, seeking to corrupt every married man that I meet (or any married man for that matter!). But that’s how single women were seemingly being painted.

Now, I’m not naive. I realise that we need to be wise in how we deal with our relationships with other people – especially when holding positions of responsibility, and especially in the church. Here are some thoughts/wisdom I have on the subject:

  1. Do not assume anyone’s sexuality. Potential issues may just as well arise with those of your own gender, as well as the opposite one. Obviously, this cannot mean a blanket “Do not meet 1:1 with anyone at all!” because nothing would actually get done. Therefore, we need…
  2. Wisdom. Be wise! If you sense that a meeting may be misconstrued or that you realise that for your own safety, extra people need to be around, then make it happen. Obviously, with children, young people/students and vulnerable adults there are legal safeguarding measures to be taken into account.
  3. Trust people. I’d like to think that I can be trusted not form an unhealthy attachment to a married man. I trust myself and those with whom I agree to meet. If I don’t trust a situation, I use wisdom. (See above.) If you don’t trust yourself to ever meet with someone of the opposite sex alone, I think there may be questions you need to ask of yourself.

When I spoke up in the lecture, aside from defending the honour of single women, I also pointed out the reality of parish ministry – there is a high chance I’ll end up as an incumbent in a church that isn’t able to provide a large staff team, and as a result there will be situations in which I have to have 1:1 meetings with members of the opposite sex. I cannot say to someone: “I’m terribly sorry, I can’t sit with you and plan your mother’s funeral until I find someone who can chaperone us.”

Right now, I do have some specific boundaries. For example, I don’t meet with the guys in my student group outside of the context of a church service or our home group. If they want to have a deep & meaningful, they can (& do) chat with the church’s male clergy. [Would I prefer to be doing student work in tandem with a male volunteer? Yes please!] But on the other hand, have I met 1:1 with my church’s male Rector, Curate, Worship Leader and Operations Manager? Yes. I couldn’t do my job if I didn’t.

These ideas have far-reaching consequences. There are individuals who feel slighted, not listened to, or marginalised. Is that a good thing for the church to be doing? I don’t think so. It also has a huge impact upon the raising up of women in leadership – an issue that Jenny Baker wrote about brilliantly [do read the comments] and that I touched upon last summer in a post about women speakers at Christian festivals. In churches where there is a culture that men and women can’t meet alone, women lose out on mentoring experience from the men leading these churches.

One to One's tweet

Before writing this post (which took over a week to actually publish, thanks to deadlines and life), I asked Twitter for some opinions. What followed was one of the best Twitter discussions I’ve seen – especially given that it involved the church. (Twitter debates amongst churchy people can get horrid, it’s a terrible reflection upon Christians.) No one got angry, but instead answered my simple question with honesty, integrity and respect. The whole thing has been Storifyed, but here are some particular highlights, including the article by Jenny Baker mentioned above:

Jo S tweet Matthew Currey tweet Elizabeth Harrison tweetMark Scarlata tweetSean Doherty tweet

Sean, as befits an Ethics lecturer, had quite a lot to say on the subject, including the following (which was spread across three tweets, condensed for the sake of space!):

“I was lucky to have @Janie_Mo as my training incumbent, she wanted male curate to balance leadership of church but not many male clergy would deliberately pick a woman for same reasons – ‘woman as temptress’ stereotype to which the correct response is ‘don’t flatter yourself’!”

There is no straight answer to this debate. There can’t be hard and fast rules. But I’d love for people to stop and think about the impact and implications of their actions and decisions. If it’s never crossed your mind that it could be an issue, perhaps it’s worth taking time to think about it. If you’ve created rules for yourself, imagine what those rules feel like to those it affects. And most of all, don’t presume that anyone is out to ‘corrupt’ those they meet with!