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A look at sexism. . .

This summer, at Emory's Youth Theological Initiative we discussed many things over the course of the month.  One of the issues that we spent a good while on was the issue of sexism in today's culture.

At first,  I honestly  didn't know what the big deal was about.  Sure, old men call me "sweetie" during church related business meetings and commercials and advertisements featuring women can be pretty raunchy.  But, I figured that that was the way it is and that it wasn't hurting anyone.

Well, after watching one of the "Killing Us Softly" documentaries featuring the role advertising plays in furthering sexism (produced by Jean Kilbourne) I began to understand what an important and real issue sexism is in today's culture and in my own life.   The video that we watched at YTI was entitled "Still Killing Us Softly" and was filmed in 1987.  Unfortunately that one wasn't on Youtube.com so I had to go with the newer, "Killing Us Softly III". Take a look:

After coming home from my month with YTI I couldn't turn on the T.V. without cringing for more than a month!

I honestly don't think sexism is something young people really think about too often.  It's one of those "isms" that have fallen by the wayside;  we don't think it's an issue anymore.  And, I have to wonder why that is?

Sexism was never discussed during school like racism was and is.  Sure, you cover the suffragists and voting rights, but all of that is in the context of  "back in the day".  I honestly can say  that I have never heard the word "sexism" spoken in a classroom.  Since sexism is never mentioned young people assume that it can't be an issue in today's world.

In thinking about sexism this summer I came to a very very startling realization in regards to sexism in the Church (at least it was a startling realization to me):  I don't personally know any woman who is the senior pastor of a church.  I know of  2 women who are senior pastors, but I have never met them.  When I compared that with the amount of senior pastors whom I personally know who are men the difference was shocking to me.

I think one of the main things that shocked me (and scared me)  -- beyond not personally knowing any women who are senior pastors -- was the fact that I had never even noticed sexism as somthing that exists in today's world until then. Sexism -- like in school -- is not discussed (in my experience)  in church. . .

Why is that?

Have you ever thought about it?


a powerful video. and very relevant as i'm wondering much the same why we don't name the sexism within our society, especially being a youth minister. currently i have two youth that i know who have been hospitalized within the last month due to eating disorders.

thinking of the church, it is still a bit of an old boys club. however, i've got one good friend who is a senior pastor (small churches, but that is where she lives, and is still schooling). the larger church are easily pastored by men.

Natalie -
Great post, great clip.
I think that the 'isms' we *don't* talk about are the ones that are the most dangerous. They may be less overt than they once were, but since they are 'under cover', they are more easily ignored, it is easier to pretend they don't exist, that problems are 'solved' and people should quit complaning about said 'ism'. Sexism is of course alive and well, and this clip reminded me that, like the speaker said, we aren't unaffected by advertising, even if we'd like to pretend we are impervious to the pictures painted of what we should be.

Hmmm. It's an interesting video. I've heard that our younger generation responds considerably differently to ads than older ones do. I wonder how dated those ads are, or exactly what context they were in. I can't say I read many women's magazines, but compared to ads I see other places, some of those ads in the video seem pretty heavy-handed compared to ads that are more subtle, forthright (or appearing to be so), or even that mock the whole advertising form.

As far as the church, I haven't seen much true discussion of any kind of "-ism" that we face as society or church. I feel like "it" (racism, sexism, etc.) is acknowledged in some circles to be insidious and all-pervasive, and it is ignored by other circles. The result seems to be either fervent affirmative action or business as usual, both with no meaningful dialogue.

Good stuff (the blog, not sexism). Good luck with college apps, by the way.


one issue which is connected is the question of women in ministry -while this isn't an issue per se in UMC - it is some kind of glass ceiling that women are rarely senior pastors within the UMC and outside of the USA I'm not sure there are women bishops at all.

The church isn't the only area either - and I agree with your thoughts that sexism exists at many levels, yet it isn't talked about much in school or in church. When it is - it's usually linked with our stand (viewpoint) on homosexuality. Why, I have no idea really.

I like what you write. I bless your exploration of issues that are of importance and pray that you can always focus on Jesus as you do so. That will keep you sane and remind you that no one of us can carry (or fix) the burdens of this world - but that yoked with Jesus we are always a winning team.

I have been looking at salary figures til my eyes have turned dry as of late.
Two figures have really caught my attention since I have a wife and sister in ordained ministry, as well as myself.

The median (middle #, not average) salary for men with a graduate degree is $71,918/yr and for women with a graduate degree it is $47,318/yr.

In the clergy (general, I don't have UM numbers yet) the figure is formedian weekly earnings. Men make $813/wk and women $597/wk.

This is definitely sexist in its leanings. One other anecdotal piece of data I have (because I do not have the source to affirm or deny) is that men and women with the same jobs find that women have higher salaries. It just goes to show that women are not making it to the top as often, and quite possibly it shows that women are being passed over for better positions and raises.

Sexism still exists, and it may even be worse in the church than elsewhere.


Thank you for this post. I've as of this hour referred six young folks to it.

Thanks for sharing the video; very, very powerful.

For the church, I think it varies with what part of the country you are from. In the UMC in New England, the balance is slowly shifting - we usually have more women ordained than men in a year, and I think we're the conference with the highest percentage (35%...off of http://www.gcfa.org/PDFs/Gender2004.pdf). New England is very attuned to issues of gender, for which I am very thankful.

What a powerful video--thanks for highlighting it!

I've never really had sexism affect my life noticeably; I know plenty of female senior pastors, the schools I've gone to have always been attentive to gender issues, being female helped put me at the TOP of the list for my grad school application, etc., but I know that's not the case for everyone.

I am a Director of Christian Education, and I preach once a year as we kick-off our Sunday School year. This year a man said to me on his way out of church, "You know, I never like listening to women preach, but you did a good job."

It took me a second to come up with an answer ("Thanks, I think . . .).

This exchange is pretty typical of my experience with sexism in the church (at least in my denomination)--it is in the undertones and subtle enough to keep us from discussing it.

great post.

Ahhh!! You went to YTI!!! I can't even read the blog yet. I am in shock.

I went to YTI the very first year they had it at Chandler. That was 1993. I was a naive, country girl from North Carolina. But the experience changed my life.

Now I'll have to go back and read this entry.

It is great to meet a fellow YTIer!!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the video clip. I aspire to be a pastor, but I haven't got there yet. I wonder what would happen if I began to initiate conversation about sexism with members of my church....

I'll be thinking about that.

Good to meet you. I'll check in on your blog from time to time.

Interesting reading! It's not just men who don't like to listen to a female preacher. A lady I bring to church is adamant that she won't come if there's a female preacher (after two services led by women that 'fell rather flat') but she never misses coming to the other services.

Now a personal plea, if I may. For two years I have enjoyed blogging with Modblog which had a large number of young bloggers and it was a great joy to share conversation with them. Modblog appears to have died and I am frantically searching for a new server with a young clientele. I will be so glad of suggestions, please.


Good, thoughtful stuff.

As the husband of a senior pastor, I write to offer you hope. I wish you could meet Ginger. She works hard to not only talk about sexism but to challenge people to change both their values and their behaviors.

I think one of the challenges in the church is to look at our language. For the most part, we use almost exclusively male language when we talk about God, who is not exclusively male. We still act as if "men" can be used to mean all people. It was only a universal term when women were considered property. Some ministers still "give the bride away," which also harkens back to days when women were property being exchanged between father and groom.

Keep speaking up. Make a nuisance of yourself. Make people look at how they talk and what they do in church. You are not alone.

If you want a good resource on church language, read Brain Wren's "What Language Shall I Borrow."


PS -- If you have time, please read my post "Missing the Point" at http://donteatalone.blogspot.com/2006/10/missing-point.html -- one more thing: I'm adding a link to your blog on mine.

Hey, Natalie,

Yup, I've been doing a lot of thinking about this over the last few months. I agree strongly with Milton about this being partly a language issue-- we've trained ourselves to exclude women.

I'd like to encourage you (and it sounds like you don't need my encouragement here) to think about the other ways that some of these attitudes affect your life. My sweet, sensitive, feminist husband and I had a real wakeup call about a year after we were married-- sexism sneaks in even for those who idealogically oppose it.

My prayers are with you, and I'm so excited for you about this new growth in awareness (even if it's unpleasant).

One more thought-- there's an incredible show/book called the v*g*n* monologues (I'm not sure that word will escape censorship) that's really healing for woman. Might be worth looking into.

Delurking this week...good for you, for exploring the issue of sexism and its implications for especially younger women. I've noticed that, among my younger female friends, it's almost politically incorrect to address issues of sexism in society; that the thing to do is to cop an attitude of cynicism and denial: "That kind of thing doesn't affect my life." Speaking as a middle-aged broad...oh, yes, it does. Thanks for keeping the discussion going in your peer group.

BTW, if you're not already acquainted with Bitch magazine, it's a great resource for exploring women's issues -- and it's very witty and edgy. Their editors/writers have a keen eye for societal sexism.

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