Saturday, 15 January 2011

Grasping The Nettle

In a post written yesterday, I found myself happily and gladly advocating the place of women in a given sphere (here, blogging). I am delighted to do that, but I count myself as one who really doesn't care about gender, but rather quality of being. Yes, there are things that I appreciate about women as distinct from men, and vice versa. For me, that is where it ends. In my post, I argued that there is no disparity between male and female bloggers (none that is imposed, or caused, at any rate).

After writing that post (and then defending myself a fair bit elsewhere) it occurred to me that in my defence of my post, I was, de facto, defending men as a whole single group. There has been much written about how much women have been and are discriminated against. Some is right, and some is wrong (from my own perspective as a human being). 

Let me say to all of you reading this, it is bloody hard at times being a man in the church today. 

Why? For the vast majority of us men who support everybody and anybody despite gender, we are still the implicit baddies in every article written on the subject of the discrimination of women. We are disarmed to comment about how we feel for fear of accusation. We daren't match the plethora of women-specific interest groups with men-specific interest groups. The vast majority of men in the church are not the ones who have drafted difficult legislation, marginalised women in the expression of their faith. Yet we are bound and gagged, at grass-roots level. I want to celebrate how it is to be a man in the church, to celebrate what we bring to things. I want to talk about what makes me tick, what floats my boat without fear of a pointing finger (I started writing this blog partly for that reason). Little wonder that men fear church life, or frankly refuse to engage except for being the taxi-driver on a Sunday or the obedient husband or ferrier of kids. Not a million miles away from here, men are sought like rare beasts under the titles 'un-churched' or 'de-churched' - such unhelpful labelling as I could imagine. (For clarity, I should point out that I am speaking about church local as distinct from Church institution - in other words, day-to-day church at community level)

I can hear a chorus building now. "But Cloakey, this is how it has been for women for centuries", and yes, that would be correct, and an appalling truth and one I acknowledge freely. But what have women quite rightly done? They fought past it towards a place of equality which in some ways is not yet fully realised. But part of me wonders if it not 'payback time', a little of our own medicine. Well, at times that is how it feels. 

I acknowledge that some women have cause to feel discrimination, and there are men who for many reasons, some sincere, some misogynistic, seek to maintain a disparity between men and women (and let us not forget the women who hammer those nails too, of which there are plenty). They are a slim minority of men. The rest? Barring a couple of percent of them, they fled (because that is what men do, sadly) for ever. 

So, not all men are bastards. Some of us aren't so bad. Many of us get it wrong at times, but want to get it right all of the time. Yes, some of us even wear black clerical shirts, practice their faith under the banner 'Anglo-Catholic' and find a way to accept women as equals in life and in ministry. Actually, the majority of that group are that way inclined, if the truth were known. And so too, it is the case that most women are not discriminated against in the Church. If you want to be a bishop and you happen to be female, you may make that claim, for example. My experience of being male in church life is that on a Sunday we are the tiny minority, and the other six days of the week. 

(Postscript - This post in no way seeks reduce the pain caused to women through discrimination. I acknowledge is effects at alive in some quarters today. Discrimination of all types, and against anyone is wrong and should be identified and countered by us all)


  1. I might add another category to your debate, which is that of the single male clergyman when looking for a new post. "Oh, he's not married. We want a married vicar with wife and children. Why isn't he married, is he gay?" Then we enter the whole homophobic debate, which is an entirely different proverbial kettle of fish.

  2. As a woman I feel I have to respond ....... And say I couldn't agree with you more! I have always felt/feel equal in the church, I have been given opportunities, my calling was embraced, my selection happened and my training had been affirming. Our church is 60% women I'd estimate (pretty good I'd say) maybe more, we are a real family church with a lot of couples. We have a mens curry night which is enjoyed by churched men and husbands like mine who don't worship but do feel part of the community.

    I however am of the post feminist generation, I had a successful career as a civil engineer, one of a very few women, I even was accepted when I started my own business, in fact I was encouraged and embraced. In my whole life I have never felt that the gender differentiation mattered, it annoys me when it becomes an issue. But I do know that that is due to those pioneering women who went before.

    I'm a little off topic, sorry, but my point is, I wish we could be in a world and a church where we were more focussed on everyone as individuals rather than worrying about gender equality. Each individual is valued by God, let us value then the same way.

  3. If it's hard being a man in church today what steps do you think could be taken to make the situation better? Anwers on a postcard please, or write a major thesis if you must.

  4. Saintly - with the circle of friends that I have, the kettle to which you refer is familiar to me, and yes, fraught with presumption.

    Nancy - gladly. You may have noticed something in your diocesan email on the matter. I asked to be part of that, but have now waited 8 months for the reply. I have much to say, and will say it (and have touched on it already here). I think the problem goes far wider than I have suggested here, I admit.

    Emma, thank you for your comment too. I am delighted that so many of your wishes have come true, and I wish it for all people. It is also reassuring, as I was in mid flinch-reflex having written this, that someone shares this point of view. Perhaps I am just terminally optimistic, I don't know, but I just don't see the clouds that are talked about do often.

  5. I am not sure as an adult I have ever felt discriminated against by individual men, but I do see women discriminated against by the system as a whole. Why do less women blog, for example? Maybe it is because we are too busy juggling jobs, careers and housework (not me, obviously!) Why do less women reach executive positions - maybe because they know this would entail sacrificing time with children and family - maybe women have too much sense?

    I think church is quite a feminised environment, quite ironic when it has/ is taking such an embarrassingly long time to allow women to be equal!
    I really value men in church, I guess it might be hard to be a man in church. You'll have to tell us more!

  6. Thanks Suem - I will do just that in some postings this week. I accept that my view may be skewed in one sense because my mother (at one time single with three kids) went on to become a senior civil servant. My wife, mother to our two, is a successful solicitor in a team of almost all women. I grew to adulthood almost completely under a female Prime Minister and enjoyed church life (yes, barring the priests) that was run almost exclusively and wonderfully by motivated women!

  7. For at least the last 30 years, my definition of a Real Man has been one that goes to church NOT under cover of Sunday.



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