Alex voted for the first time this year. She came home from college one weekend, and on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon, we drove to a early voting place near our house. She filled out her ballot. We took the obligatory selfie. I had a proud mama moment.
My nineteen-year-old, Korean-born, American-citizen daughter voted for the very first time for the president of the United States, AND she had the opportunity to vote for a woman candidate. And I too finally had the opportunity to cast my ballot for a woman. I have been waiting for thirty-six years for the chance! (I voted for the first time in 1980).
This past Tuesday, I drove an hour to the Georgia Tech campus, where Alex is a student. I picked her up early in the evening and brought her home so we could watch the election returns together. I wanted to be sitting next to her as we celebrated this historic election. It was a long, long night. Alex is good at math. She crunched numbers and figured out what was possible. She told me that it did not look good. But I refused to give up. Even when Alex said it was over. I refused to give up. I held on to hope. Then around 1:00 a.m., I finally conceded, and the weeping began. I cried and sobbed. Alex did not cry. She rarely does. She just got quieter and quieter. And my heart broke because now she knows. She now knows that the glass ceiling is really difficult to break. She now knows that the majority of her fellow citizens chose an unqualified, inexperienced male candidate rather than voting for a woman. Alex now knows that what I have told her all her life . . . that she can do anything, have any job, succeed in any venture . . . may not be true. She now knows that there are limits on what is possible for her. She now knows the hard and ugly reality of the gender bias that exists in our world.
Oh I am fully aware of the complexities that led to the election result on Tuesday night. I know about voter anger, Washington backlash, class and economic influences, and all the other stated reasons for the surprising outcome. I am fully aware of Hillary Clinton’s flaws and weaknesses. But I know gender bias. I am, after all, the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry. I encounter gender bias every day. Every single day.
I encounter gender bias when I talk with pastor search committee members, who say to me, “She is our very best candidate. She is more than qualified than any of our male candidates. She is so gifted . . . BUT I am just not sure our church is ready for a woman pastor yet.” Or “Her sermon content is excellent, but her voice is a bit shrill, don’t you think? I am not sure our congregation could get used to her higher pitched voice.” Or “She just doesn’t really seem to want to be our pastor. She doesn’t have the confidence we are looking for in a pastor.” Or “She talks a lot about her collaborative leadership style, but we really want a pastor who will be a strong leader.” Or “She came across as overly confident and aggressive. We are worried that she will offend people with her strong leadership style.”
I encounter gender bias when I hear male pastors say, “Why does my children’s minister cry? She is so sensitive. Can you tell her to stop with the crying?” Or “What do you women want from me? I have a woman on my staff. Obviously, I support women in ministry. What more do you want?” (Yes. He said those exact words). Or “My youth minister wants to talk about maternity leave. If I had a male youth minister, I wouldn’t be having this problem.” Or “We had a woman associate pastor once. She was a disaster. We just can’t take the chance on calling another woman. It is too risky.”
I hear words like these every day. Every single day.
And I am weary. Very weary.
Gender bias is so ingrained in our culture, especially our Christian culture, that many people don’t even recognize it. They are good people, wonderful, loving, kindhearted folks. But truth be told, they have never confronted their own gender biases. They have no idea of their own deep-seated prejudices against women in leadership, against women in ministry.
On Wednesday morning, I drove my daughter back to her campus. We didn’t talk much. There were just no comforting words that I felt I could say with any integrity. But that was Wednesday. This is Friday. I have had a bit of time to mourn and to cry, to vent my anger, and to ponder.
So for you, Alex, hear these words. “There is a time for anger and sadness–take that time. Grieve this loss. But soon, very soon, you need to start thinking about how you will respond, how you will work for change. There is too much at stake for you to sit back and wait for change to happen. The world needs you. America needs you. We need your passion for equality and justice. We need your fiery commitment to to stand with those who are all too often labeled “other” and “less than.” We need your strong sense of what is good and right. We need your impatience with discrimination and intolerance. We need your voice. We need your courage. We need you.”
And these words are for you, my friends, for those of you who love the church, who love being Baptist, and who dream of a day when gender equality is a reality and when we can say with no reservations to our daughters “you can do anything in the church, you can be a pastor, a leader, a minister.” Hear these words: “There is too much at stake for you to sit back and wait for change to happen. Your church needs you. The Baptist community needs you. We need your passion for equality and justice. We need your fiery commitment to to stand with women who have been called and gifted for ministry. We need your strong sense of what is good and right. We need your impatience with discrimination and intolerance. We need your voice. We need your courage. We need you. Today, you are weary so get some rest. There is much work to do!”
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.