feminism 150

Last year, I came home from Diocesan Synod and wrote a post called feminism 101. Well, it’s that time of year again.

Only this time it is more complicated (those of you au fait with American course titles will realize we’re in ‘first level – honours’ now.) This year at synod there was less overt sexism. There were even occasional nods at trying to avoid sexist language, and at one point a reminder that at Lambeth ‘bishops’ spouses’ would include men (sadly, right before said spouses were referred to as ladies, but that was just a slip, right?)

But what became clear was that while some people were trying to be careful with language, there was very little understanding of concept. So, here is this year’s post-synod lesson — and as always, you can assume that I am not commenting on anything unless it was ‘done’ by more than one person:

  1. it does no good using inclusive terms if you look at one of two particular women in the room each time you do so.
  2. sexist concepts are more offensive than sexist language
  3. be very careful of praising women (sorry, ‘ladies’) for being particularly or uniquely good at something. You risk devaluing both the men who are also good at it and the women who are not.

Now, a cry for help…

I have realised that feminist theory is one area of my knowledge that I find it hard to translate into appropriate terms for the congregation. It is hard to move from ‘for us men and for our salvation’ to Luce Irigaray, and my knowledge base is too limited.

So, a few of us are beginning to talk about creating a resource with the working title ‘feminism for congregations’. If you can help — by suggesting resources, methods, stories; or by taking part in the project — please get in touch. I don’t quite know when I will get around to this, and would be glad for someone else to take the helm, but we need to do something…

15 thoughts on “feminism 150”

  1. Whew!! That’s quite a challenge.

    Have you ever read ‘Feminism is for Everbody’ by bell hooks? It’s a introduction to feminism that is quite short and simple and straightforward (while still being as wonderful as hooks can be) and might give you some good ideas of what kind of language to use to tackle the ‘for us men’ problem. Do people still say that? Much? I went to a service recently at a location to remain nameless with a celebrant whose name I can’t remember (no surprise there I guess) who used that form of the creed and I almost left. I’d kind of forgotten what a jolt to the gut that is – that sense of being suddenly erased. Which makes me even more dismayed at all the other uninclusions (I don’t think that’s a word, but it works for the moment) that I don’t notice because I’m used to them and they don’t twist my guts everytime.

  2. Oh well said. Its saddens me that so little progress has been made on all of this; I reckon it got kind of lost in the vigourous application of the wider inclusiveness agenda. It is both a conceptual issue and a language issue – how do you communicate to delightful and well meaning men that calling us ladies is, arguably, on level as using ‘man’ as a false generic. Actually I have tried and they do get it, but then they forget.

    What are the guidelines when (lay) leading the liturgy? – when I am being led I stay silent (at the ‘for us men’) and quietly substitute humankind for mankind. But when I’m leading I follow the script.

  3. I have particular difficulties with ‘for us men’. My training rector felt very strongly (feels very strongly) that there is a theological issue at stake:

    He thinks ‘for us and for our salvation’ implies ‘for those of us here, and for our salvation’ and that we need to be accurate to the ‘for us men/ for all humanity…’ I always argued that ‘for us and for our salvation’ would never have made me think ‘for us here..’ but I can take his point. We agree that something that both accurately translated the original and was inclusive would be best — but that form does not really exist yet.

    Now, I could happily have dropped that when I stopped being a curate. But I found a new problem: I am concerned that the many adaptations that individuals make the the liturgy is undermining the perceived need to push for official changes. So, I have tended to ‘play by the book’ in the hopes that it will become evident that the book must be changed. (and thanks be to God, it looks like that day may be coming.)

    And yes, I flinch every time. As I do whenever I have had to celebrate using the prayer book. Which no doubt makes me a most miserable offender no matter who you ask.

    (if I am sitting in the congregation, I too choose silence when necessary. In fact, I skipped a whole hymn at the Chrism Mass…)

    As for the wider inclusiveness agenda — I have come to think that someone who hasn’t begun to engage with the issue of feminism is almost incapable of comprehending the rest. I’m sure there will be exceptions (like the gay men who were/ are vehemently anti-women priest) but in general, I think it holds.

    too long a comment on my own post, but this topic is like that! Thanks for the book recommendation…

  4. I’d be very pleased to join in with talking about a resource for congregations. Would a ning group or something like that help?

    Could I observe that Elizabeth goes to a church which uses “for us men” but she wisely remains in bed at the time every Sunday when such language is in use.

    I too have had the same conversations as Kimberly about the same line in the creed with the same person, whose opinions I value greatly.

    I tend to feel that updating a so-called modern language liturgy to use inclusive language makes sense whilst trying to make the prayer book language inclusive just doesn’t make any sense. Changing from Holy Ghost to Holy Spirit seems a more pressing concern when using the 1970 liturgy.

    I have at times declared that I believe that we should feel free to change the language of any hymn written since, “Dear Lord and Father of mankind” but that certain hymns such as that are legitimate as historical poetry. However, I have a feeling that I would not take quite that position now. “Dear Lord and Father of mankind” jars, much as I love the sentiment and the tune. “Dear Lord and parent of us all” jars too

  5. now you see I don’t mind old hymns being old — so long as there are new hymns too (and the dates given). I do mind supposedly modern hymns being archaic.

    An ning might well be helpful. Is that the best new toy, do you think?

  6. I realise it will not help a jot with people’s feelings, but it is perhaps important to take on board the fact that ‘for us men’ was created in a language where there were two words for man – and the problem is that English lacks that facility. Christ is ‘homo’ as in Ecce homo. Homo is the word we lack in English. It comprises the whole race of homo sapiens, and UNLIKE human, does not include a sexed element. The nearest we can get is ‘for us humans and for our salvation’ which is infelicitous. ‘Vir’ is man, as opposed to woman –

    FWIW, I dislike human, because it has the man root, and is almost no advance on ‘man’ in that respect. I would favour person, but person is not a an exclusively homo sapiens category. (This is conclusive proof that you can never please everybody)

    I know, lets switch to Latin or Greek.

    For these reasons, I honestly don’t give a toss about man – it is merely archaic – however, ladies does make me see really really red. It is especially infuriating as it implies there is a special way of being female, and it is, very definitely, a way closed to me. (I ain’t no lady)

    I do think that the non-linguistic problems are a lot worse, though. I have very few of the traditional female virtues.

    The problem is some people over a certain age. I don’t find it in my children’s generation (though the youngest daughter works in a very male orientated environment, and does get teased about her size three steel capped boots, which I suppose is sexist.)

  7. Dearly as I love you Kimberley, I suspect a bias for old hymns, and a grave reservation about some new ones 😉

  8. I just miss out the “men” in the creed – and would love it if you did too, KB!
    As for ning: it’s useful in many ways – you invite people to join, you can restrict access easily, you can post quick “forum” posts, longer “blog” posts and photos, as well as audio files. It also allows for internal emails, and you can opt to be notified on your own mail server.
    On the minus side :
    It’s not altogether instinctual in use, and it can take an age to log.

    I administer a ning group already, with 47 members; I participate in two more.

  9. Still struggling with the notion of ning. Not in …..?

    Male power constructs flourish in extremely hierarchical organisations. The ‘invisible woman’ syndrome (see 1 of original post) comes more from the modes by which men render themselves and one another visible (as in who is really important here and who should be looked at and deferred to). In any synodical gathering there will also be several low caste men who do not merit a glance.

    At present there is anxiety about how things will pan out in the future. Have you heard the story – (spoken of by many people) – of the strong lay women who are taking over the church and occupying all the important positions? All of them. Truly terrifying. A veritable cavalry. So the traditional hierarchy is under threat from a number of directions. For those who have invested a great deal of their lives and are highly committed in their positions, there must be a very understandable fear of being devalued.

    So – how do we move forward with grace together? A tricky path.

    For information: as far as I know the original derivation of woman is ‘wife of the man’; of ‘lady’ – kneader of the dough.

  10. Thus you redeem ‘ladies’. How unexpected.

    Chris — I’m afraid you’re stuck with my reading what it says in the Liturgy till the Liturgy changes. After all — if all worship leaders felt free to omit or change anything they didn’t like, where would it end?? But I am happy for you to loudly omit it, and would defend your right to do so. Indeed, if I found that the whole community was omitting it, and I was a lone voice, I might have to reconsider my approach…

  11. I too have struggled with this for many years Kimberly, and would welcome discussions on how to proceed with it as a Church.
    At one point I considered the value of changing ‘us men’ in the Creed to ‘everyone’. However some, including your training Rector, might then argue that it moves the question about who is included to the phrase ‘our salvation’. Having ‘For everyone and our salvation’ could suggest that only those speaking are and can be saved, while ‘For everyone and their salvation’ could suggest that it is only those who are not speaking who need salvation. Of course the Creed is not the only thing that needs to be addressed but it always seems to be the first thing on the list.
    Personally I am with Rosemary in not liking the word ladies I have seen it used, in the same condescending term as ‘girls’, too many times in Church circles. I am a person who happens to be female.

  12. I often suggest that ‘ladies’ is only acceptable if you are also using ‘gentlemen’

    There are social contexts in which it doesn’t bother me at all (in the ball room, for example, when calling a dance)

    One of my lecturers used to regularly address staff meetings by saying ‘right, girls, today will will be talking about…’ Knowing full well that she was the only woman in the room. When they looked stunned, she’d say ‘Oh, sorry. I assumed you knew it was inclusive.’

  13. Okay, so it’s taken me a really long time to get back around to this conversation (I blame the PhD entirely). But believe it or not, I have been thinking about this pretty consistently since it started six months ago! More recently (okay, three months ago, so not really that recent) I’ve had a more personal reaction to exclusive language that has sent me back to this post.

    I must confess that I’m really shocked by the argument justifying the use of ‘for us men’ in the Creed. Surely the risk of anyone misunderstanding the Creed to mean ‘for us here’ is lower than the risk of enforcing sexist and exclusive attitudes! Anyone who knows even a smidge about the Creed will know that it’s very, very, very old and therefore can’t possibly just refer to the people in the room. Anyone who has worshiped in a different church will know that other people also say the Creed therefore it can’t just refer to the people in the room. And anyone who reads the whole Creed can see that the bit about ‘for us and our salvation’ is preceded by a fairly cosmic discussion about the nature of God and Jesus and creation, so the thought that the focus suddenly narrows to the people ‘here’ seems a bizarre mis-reading to me.

    I do understand your position Kimberley, of wanting to push for official change – that is very important. On the other hand, I think there’s also a pastoral issue. It’s hard enough that the language for God in most of the liturgy (ancient or modern) is masculine, if the language for people was also masculine, I don’t know if I could still worship in the church at all- it would just be too painful. I think that there comes a point for most people where they have to consider how much pain and destruction they’re going to bear to continue to be part of something – and for everyone the lines fall in different places. I think that is where it would fall for me.

    I know that changing the language is really, really, really difficult. I started thinking about changing my personal language in prayer and writing about nine years ago, and it’s still difficult for me. New words feel awkward on the tongue. And yet, I also think that this is something that can be done. We can re-learn. I think it’s important to do this for the younger generations. If ‘for us men’ shocks me, I would love to imagine a church in which any exclusive language would shock our children, because what they had grown up with was inclusive. I would love to imagine a church where our daughters would not have to translate themselves to know that they belong and that they are made in the image of God, and can image God to the community, as much as their brothers.

    By the way, is anything happening with the feminism for congregations thingy?

  14. Thanks for reawakening this, Elizabeth.

    Nothing has progressed, though I have not forgotten about it. Indeed, this week in a totally different context I was reading a description of how language functions that was at exactly the sort of ‘level’ to be helpful for a widespread conversation.

    You said:
    ‘I think that there comes a point for most people where they have to consider how much pain and destruction they’re going to bear to continue to be part of something – and for everyone the lines fall in different places.’

    That resonates deeply. The difficulty (for me) is that most of my congregations feel no pain with things as they have been, would feel pain (or at least severe grumpiness) at change, and there are no younger people anyway. So, I have chosen other battles. But there is a cost attached.

    I wonder too if the younger ‘younger generation’ care as much as we think they do. I think it is our generation that truly grew up with inclusive language. The feminist critique of language seems to be failing in the wider culture. More and more, I hear un-reflective use of ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ in the media, not least from the BBC where it rankles all the more in the midst of mostly liberal inclusiveness. We are sandwiched between older and younger people who think that feminism is extreme, and the reform of language is unnecessary.

    And that probably makes it all the more important that we get the words of our liturgy right now.

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