Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The She-Woman Man Haters Club

When word got out that I was co-clerking the planning committee for the next Quaker Women's Theology Conference, a few women asked me whether we were going to invite men to the next one. Some were in favor, others were not. I told them no, we are not going to invite men and regardless, it is not my decision to make. Timothy's comment from a few days ago made me think about all of this again:

I regret that I don't "get" the allusion to the theme of the Quaker Women's Theology Conference.

The label "Male" disqualifies me from attending.

Although it is true that I am not the one who decides whether men are invited to the conference (that is a topic for business meeting and did not come up this time), it is also true that if it were my choice to make, I would keep it as an all women's conference. My reasons for this are personal and I would like to stress my use of "I" in this post. As always, I speak only for myself, and I would never attempt to speak for attenders of the Quaker Women's Theology Conference (past or future) as a whole.

When I was in high school, I really wanted to be an Orthodox Jew. My notions of what this involved were very romantic, based on multiple readings of The Chosen, by Chaim Potok, and a childhood of watching Yentl and Fiddler on the Roof. They certainly were not based on any of the practicing Jews I knew. I envisioned myself sitting in a crowded room, reading the Torah and Talmud all day, and arguing about Hebrew grammar with other students. I eventually realized the world I envisioned probably did not really exist, and probably would not be a very welcoming place for women even if it did.

So I did the next best thing, I went to law school. I was not at all prepared for the kind of boys club I was getting myself into. The school I went to was predominantly male, and so was the faculty (I hear this is changing). For me, the Socratic method involved a lot of male professors proving that they were the smartest person in the room by making me feel like the dumbest. I could not remember a thing after being grilled on a topic (which sometimes lasted the entire hour) and I think it is the least productive way for me to learn.

It was also the first time I had the experience of being the only woman in the room repeatedly. In my third year, I had an externship at a court comprised entirely of male judges. Once when I went to watch oral argument, I looked around the courtroom and realized that all of the judges, lawyers, and spectators were men. I wondered what I was doing there.

There was one other female student in my International Business Transactions class and when she missed a lecture, I felt a lot of pressure as the only woman in the room. One day we were discussing tariffs for different goods and the issue in one case was whether a Barbie should be taxed as a wig or a toy. The professor looked over at me and said, "Well, I don't know much about Barbies . . . ." Actually, I don't either. I grew up in a non-Barbie house. But of course I didn't say that, I just turned red and felt like I had a big "WOMAN" sign flashing over my head.

A few years ago I was watching an episode of Saturday Night Live when Weekend Update came on. It was right around when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler began co-hosting. I was suddenly completely engaged. Part of me knew that it was fake news, told for laughs, but I could not stop watching. There were two women! Talking about the news! And they sounded like me! I was disturbed by how much hearing something in a voice that sounded like mine increased my interest level.

When I went to the Quaker Women's Theology Conference, I was amazed by the women there. They were so strong and passionate and funny and inspiring. I wanted to be just like them when I grew up, even the ones who were about the same age as me. There were women who had been to seminary, who were pastors of their churches and clerks of their meetings, and who were doing important peace work around the world. It was an impressive assembly.

We shared the dining room at Menucha with other groups and one night another big group of women came in to eat. They ranged in age much like our group and some had babies with them. There was one young man in the group, looking very out of place. A friend and I asked him who they were and he said that it was a women's retreat for their church. Confused, I asked him why he was there. He responded, "Oh, I'm their pastor."

My reaction to this is one of the reasons that I feel so strongly that we need to keep the conference for women only, at least for now. The idea that women need a guy in his 20s to teach them about God is still alive and well in our culture, and I think we need to appreciate that Quaker women are equally called to ministry. I also think we need to encourage our women to speak up. A setting like the Quaker Women's Theology Conference is a place where women can feel safe and nurtured as they find their voices.

The night before we left the conference, a Friend described how early Quaker meetinghouses were divided in to men and women's meetings for business, with a wall between the two. She said that this was revolutionary because at the time women were not usually involved in any sort of business. So the women would conduct their business and the men would conduct theirs, and then the clerks of each group would meet. I love this idea.

I suppose I should be grateful to live now and have the opportunities that I have as a woman, and I am, but I also know that equal access does not guarantee equality. We can't undo centuries of repression and segregation simply by allowing women access to the same things men have; sometimes we need a chance to learn and grow on our own. I don't know whether it will be a good idea to invite men to the conference at some point in the future, but for now I believe that we still have business of our own to take care of.

1 comment:

  1. amen! preach it! =)
    I also like the all-women conference (hope that I can attend again some day). As with all things like this, it's important to be purposeful and thoughtful about why we're doing it "this way." I would hate for Quaker women to think they're better or for them to feel totally uncomfortable around men.
    We aren't man haters just because we have a women only conference. (Does anyone question men on having men-only conferences?)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.