Women, men and biblioblogging – the individual and the culture

Mark Goodacre’s comment on my last post combined with Colin Tofflemire’s on the first one made me realise that there is more that I want to say on this.

Mark is right that there are men biblibloggers who consciously and conscientiously link to the work of women. I have also had significant personal encouraging interaction from men bibliobloggers and my feeling is that this is on the basis of what I have to say, rather than on my gender. It is not possible to predict which might do this on the basis of their general theological position. Four that come to mind, with whom I’ve had interaction about my scholarship (as opposed to general friendly interaction -there are heaps more of these) are James McGrath, Tim Bulkeley , Mark himself, of course, and Mike Bird. I think that James is closest to my general theological position and Mike is furthest away. Certainly, if you look at the website of Highland Theological College, where he teaches, you would expect that he might have a bias against women leaders in the church, and he may well do, for all I know, but it doesn’t extend to not respecting the work of female biblical scholars on the basis of their gender.


The other man I meant to mention in the list above is Tyler Williams who actively encouraged me to do a Biblical Studies Carnival. Hard work, it was, but interesting.

So, my experience has not been that nasty, evil, misogynist male bibliobloggers won’t let me into the club. Jim West even let me into the Biblioblogger Big Brother house (although I wasn’t quite certain I wanted to be there).  OTOH, April has certainly become a target and heard stories of this kind of activity since she raised this issue and I know that Suzanne McCarthy has been attacked and marginalized. Perhaps I have been relatively immune because I am working on Gospel of Thomas so the more conservative bibliobloggers would not bother to read me and I haven’t addressed controversial-in-conservative-Christianity areas until now. I don’t know. In general, the guys didn’t target me for their misogynist attacks when I was studying theology, either.

I am saying that the general culture in the church, particularly in those parts of it from which the majority of male bibliobloggers seem to come, is such that women don’t try to enter the club. This culture sees women’s leadership and women’s scholarship as inferior to men’s, and even those people who don’t actually believe this at an intellectual level often have unexamined assumptions that mean that their behaviour isn’t congruent with their beliefs (as Colin said). It’s approach to the Bible reinforces those attitudes, as does its liturgical practices and it sees humour at the expense of women as perfectly acceptable.

So, I think that a number of the contributing factors to the serious underrepresentation of women in the biblioblogosphere come from the church rather than the biblioblogosphere. Linking to women bibliobloggers and increasing awareness of the work of those who are doing it will help, but not a huge amount. Naming personal attacks and inappropriate treatment in the comments sections of their blogs when you see them will also help, although it will make men who do it vulnerable to being considered outsiders themselves. However, I think that there also needs to be some changes in churches.

If you are a man who is actively involved in your church and think of yourself as egalitarian, I would encourage you to look at how you and your congregation act toward and interact with women and what messages your worship gives them about how acceptable they are. If you are a lay man and work outside the church, think about whether it’s different to the way you interact with your female colleagues in the workplace. If you are married, ask if the way you treat your wife in your home is different to the way she and other women are treated in the church. And then see if you can work out ways to change things if necessary.

Over the last century or so, the majority of members of congregations have been women, and a higher proportion of men than women have been relatively inactive, yet the majority of leaders have been men. When this was congruent with secular culture, it wasn’t such a problem.  However, now that the feminist movement has meant that women are treated significantly more equally in secular society, younger women are not going to be convinced that being involved in the church is such a good thing. If you can be CEO or in charge of the flower roster, which are you going to pick?

6 thoughts on “Women, men and biblioblogging – the individual and the culture

  1. Judy, thanks for the kind word. Though I might even surprise you on my views on some issues, but I’m glad to know that you think of me as a woman-friendly blogger. I shall have to get that in writing and show it to my wife.

    • Mike, I’m sure your views on some issues would surprise me and vice versa. Although I have the advantage of having read one of your books, whereas you have to rely on my blogging, which is significantly less thorough. I sit somewhere between you and James Crossley on a number of issues and on others I agree with one or other of you, depending on the issue. So, do you need me to email you a pdf on letterhead with my signature? “I hereby certify that Mike Bird is a woman-friendly biblioblogger”

  2. Judy, one of the things this conversation has revealed is how very varied experiences of church life are. So some of this debate, and some of April’s observations (which seemed to me to be too broad brush to be fully accurate) have surprised me. In my situation, in the paid sector of my work as a parish priest, my team leader is a woman. In a voluntary sector of ministry we both are engaged in, I’m the team leader for that training project. In a third area of diocesan life where our work coincides our team leader is a partnered gay man. We all seem to quite happily adjust to the different situations as a roles require us to, without bruised egos or anxieties about gender. Maybe I’m in a really unusual situation, but it just feels like normal church life to me, and is one reason I’ve struggled to identify with some of the criticisms.

    • Doug, what is normal church life for some is very unusual for others. Those of us who are employed by the church tend to manage to find reasonably comfortable places to be and forget that other parts of our very diverse church are actually quite alien.

      What I started out to say, but don’t seem to have actually articulated is that people in the church tend to believe that God is on their side in whatever stance they take on controversial issues. My experience has been that those with a more literalist approach to Scripture tend to be more inclined not to accept the views of others (although I have met my share of fundamentalist liberals, too) and are therefore more inclined to believe that they are doing God’s will in being plain nasty to people who disagree with them.

      Others don’t seem to “get” that what is simply an intellectual exercise for them is far more personal to the people they are arguing against. I have been called an agent of Satan because of my position on gay and lesbian people in leadership in the church – by a man who then thought I might like a hug!!!! Um, no.

      But part of the reason, I think, that you’ve struggled to identify is that you’re neither part of the problem, nor a victim. Being an ordained, straight male (especially if you also happen to be white) in the church puts you in a position of privilege and power. There is nothing you can do to change that, but it sounds as though you don’t take unfair advantage. Unlike some others. 🙂

      • “Others don’t seem to “get” that what is simply an intellectual exercise for them is far more personal to the people they are arguing against.”

        This, I think, is one of the most serious roots of the problem we’re talking about. The very first time that I realized this it was, to say the least, an earth-shattering experience. It readjusted my entire theological perspective. But I still need to constantly be reminded of this truth.

        Only somebody in a priveledged position could ever make this kind of error, of course. But for us white, western, middle-class men it is an error that often seems all but unavoidable. So thanks for the weekly reminder that this kind of discussion is not just “academic”.

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