How women operate in churches

As I have been thinking about the issue of women bibliobloggers, I remembered that about ten years ago one of my colleagues noticed what seemed to be a discrepancy in who gets most “air time” in church meetings. He decided to do some research during our annual Synod meeting and kept a record of how much speaking time people had. The way that representation works in our church means that Synods have roughly equal numbers of lay and ordained people and they try to ensure that at least one third of the participants are female (which tells you something about representation straight away).

He corrected his statistics for numbers present and found that male clergy took up by far the greatest speaking time in meetings – far more time than would be expected from the proportion of them present. Next came lay men who also took up more than their share.  Female clergy more or less held their own and lay women largely sat and listened. Because only about 20-30% of our clergy are women, my guess is that about half the lay people were women to get the one-third female overall figure right.  And, of course, more than half the members in congregations are female.

In the course of this discussion, it has been noted that the proportion of women studying in seminaries (we call them theological institutions) and doing course in studies in religion in secular universities is significantly higher than the proportion of female bibliobloggers.  Perhaps those who teach in these places can tell us, though, how much the female students participate in class discussions when they are not delivering papers? I suspect that the dearth of women bibliobloggers is a mirror of how women students participate in class discussions and church meetings.

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2 thoughts on “How women operate in churches

  1. I suspect that the dearth of women bibliobloggers is a mirror of how women students participate in class discussions and church meetings.

    Interesting thought. There was some talk to this effect on the Emerging Women blog. One woman shared her experience at TEDS in Chicago. Actually, my experience at Fuller was that there wasn’t much disparity–though it depended on the makeup of gender percentages and personalities in whatever class it was. Actually, in the late David Scholer’s course on Women, the Bible, and the Church, I was one of maybe about a dozen men in a packed out classroom of about 80.

    Though there are plenty of conservatives at Fuller, my experience has been that the “culture” of the school is strongly egalitarian and socially progressive (to a point… still socially conservative for the most part on homosexuality), so that the social conservatives on issues of gender probably would not feel comfortable speaking their mind.

    • Pat, the place where I did my ministry training was a school that belonged to my own denomination which has always ordained women (although it was only relatively new at the time – we celebrated our 7th birthday when I was in my second year there). This stopped the conservatives from saying anything in class, but did not stop them from cornering individual women candidates for ordination and expressing their opinion that ordination of women was against God’s will in private. None of them ever did it to me, but AFAIK I was the only female candidate at the time who didn’t have it happen to her. Probably I am very scary. 🙂

      What I am talking about is not the opinions people express on gender issues. It’s about gendered ways of operating. There is lots of research in co-ed schools that shows that, unless the teacher is aware and takes steps to correct this, boys demand more of the teacher’s attention than girls, no matter what the topic. My observation of the input of women in church settings is that those who do speak, especially lay women, will start by saying something self-deprecating far more often than men will. I suspect that this is something that might be carrying over to the way they operate in the bloggosphere.

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