Something weird happened on my flight back home recently. I was sitting in a row just behind first class and I noticed that there were sixteen first class seats. Of those passengers, fourteen were male and two were female. At the same time, I was listening to the soundtrack of Hairspray. One of the messages of Hairspray is that of inclusion and equality. There is a song titled “Come So Far (Got So Far to Go).” The message of the song is simple: we’ve made progress when it comes to inclusion and equality, but we have a long way to go. As I looked at the mostly male first class passengers, I couldn’t help but think about our church. As church, we have come so far when it comes to the inclusion of women, but it seems like we still have a ways to go.
What does this reflection have to do with leadership? There are a couple things that I have to come to grips with in my own way of thinking. Recently, I have asked myself some poignant questions:
Am I bias towards males? It has not escaped my observation skills to recognize that my entire team (of 3 people) is male. One hired personally by me, the other was already there when I was hired. We are also the only three males in an entire department of sixteen people. For a hierarchy that is dominated with male clergy, I have gotten used to the idea that the majority of professional lay ecclesial ministers in the Catholic Church are female (at least in my area). That is a great thing! The question still stands, am I biased towards males? Deep down, I really want to say no. But deep, deep, down, I know the answer is yes. Why? I don’t know. I’m sure our culture played a role in this, as well as stereotypes. My feminist Catholic mother would probably be upset to read this. Ask yourself the same question: are you biased towards males when it comes to your leadership in ministry? Are you biased towards females? How does this play itself out?
What can I do as a male to further women inclusion and remove gender biases and stereotypes? This is a much harder question to answer. I do believe it starts with first asking yourself the above question. If we study our church and ministry intently for a few minutes, I think we start to see the subtle ways that we are bias. I am reminded in the Rite of Baptism how we are all baptized to be priest, prophet and king. In our Catholic culture, all these words are male:
- Priest: Yes, there are female priests in other denominations, but when a Catholic thinks of priest, we think male.
- Prophet: There are female prophets in the Old Testament, but most are male.
- King: Clearly male.
What other ways is our church biased towards males? Once we can name some of these things, we can begin to make changes in our organization and ourselves.
I honestly don’t have a lot of answers in this blog post, mostly deep questions. Maybe you can help me answer some of these questions. Please share your thoughts in the comment section.