Friday, October 24, 2008

Invisible

This week I attended our monthly local clergy gathering. It was there that I had an experience I can't seem to get out of my mind. I tried to forget about it ~ pass it off as no big deal ~ but it's still there. Since I had been unable to attend last month, this was my first meeting of the new program year. Most of the regulars were there, but there were a couple new people. There were no official introductions (I assume those happened last month), so after a time of chatting I caught the eye of one of the new people, stuck out my hand and said, "I don't think we've met. I'm.... "

This is where I was totally shocked. The man took my hand, glanced at me briefly and began a conversation with someone else while I was in the middle of saying, "I serve at....." I felt completely and totally dismissed. As our gathering went on, I noticed that this man's focus was mostly directed at the other men in the room. To him, it seemed to me, the women were invisible.

Even after the official gathering concluded, and we were getting ready to leave, he went out of his way to say good-bye to the man I was giving a ride home to.... completely ignoring the fact that I was standing next to him.

While I have certainly experienced sexism, this was my first experience with such, seemingly, blatant sexism from a colleague in ministry. In my mind I tried to make excuses for him ~ perhaps he doesn't realize he is doing this ~ maybe it's not as bad as I think ~ he's new at this gathering and might be uncomfortable ~ maybe he is not used to dealing with women on a professional basis. But even if those things are true, it is not an excuse. And if he dismisses his colleagues like this, I wonder how he treats his female parishioners.

So, my question becomes, what do I do at our next gathering? Do I hold my tongue? Do I challenge him? Do I subtly try to draw his attention to the gifts and graces of his female colleagues in the room ~ myself included? Should I speak with the other females in the group to see if they felt similarly? Is it worth it to put myself 'out there' when I could be seen as the one with the problem? Any thoughts?

5 comments:

Songbird said...

KristaBeth, how awful! I wish you would send this question to askthematriarch@gmail.com, because I think it would make a great discussion.
I've taken bad treatment from ecumenical colleagues with a smile, but I don't go back and ask for more. I'm sorry this happened to you.

Prisca@Peace said...

KristaBeth - this has happened to me in the same circumstances. I was introducing myself around a clergy meeting and just got to 'currently without a position.' when the male pastor I was speaking to just walked away.

I chalked it up to both sexism and 'clergy-status-ism', I was both female, lower on the totem pole, and at the time, unemployed to boot. After some reflection, I realized that I had nothing to offer that fellow - he was operating on a totally selfish parameter.

If you will run into this colleague again, I think I would be persistently and pleasantly present. If his behavior stems from a theological or doctrinal position, your composure and assurance of your call may shake him up a bit, if he's just a jerk - well, you can watch his learning curve.

I would not just check with the women, because the men may have also noticed his behavior. My partner in ministry is more sensitive toward slights to me than I am.

NE/ME said...

Whoa Boy - I am mad! Let me at him! Love, Mom

Allen Ewing-Merrill said...

On behalf of male clergy everywhere, I apologize. That guy's a jerk. And if his dismissal of you stems from a theological problem with women clergy, all I can say is, it's his loss, because women in ministry are one of God's greatest gifts to the church, as far as I'm concerned.

KristaBeth said...

Friends, Thank you so much for your comments and support. I think I will take SongBird's advice and submit this to ask the matriarch.

I appreciate you all!