Saturday, July 6, 2013

Galship: A rant.

This is a very tender topic for me.  I started out in ministry before women were thought to be of much value  in my family or the Church.  Consequently I didn't value my womanhood for a long time.  It was only when I entered the convent that I began to realize the real talent and intelligence that I found there.  It was there I experienced a wide ranging experience of women who lived out that wonderful Kinsey spectrum of female sexuality as celibates.  But most of all I found women who could think, not just follow the social convention of the day.  They had opinions, and wrestled with what it meant to be women in orders but who thought differently than the local hierarchy. They
were women of prayer and transformation.  We were all struggling to be what we understood God called of us.  But I did not know 'support' as we know it now. No hugs and tears comforted or pats on the back. It was prayer that was to be our support.  There were sisters who lived their lives of prayer so that it supported you.  But there were no long talks and warm fuzzy sessions with wine that so often characterize today's support.  'Galship' or 'sisterhood (as we called it) was just a compassionate smile in silence as we left chapel.  I knew I was in the prayers of my sisters and they were in mine.  An hour of meditation in the chapel at 4 am with the whole community allowed one to center ones prayer on those I lived with.

When I left the convent because it was not my vocation, I began to meet with a group of women who were lobbying their judicatories for the ordination of women in many different denominations. (1975)  It was the
height of the Feminist movement and was full of strident women.  I was strident alongside of them and  I found myself falling farther and farther away from my Roman Catholic faith.  I was looking for 'sisterhood'
but it wasn't in that group either.

 I did meet J in that group and found in her the kind of sisterhood that I imagined the convent was trying to imitate.  It was a companionship and love that centered in our ministries rather than on a 'coupled' life or making a family.  We have lived together for almost 40 years growing to know what it to live through hardship, fear, misunderstanding simply because neither the Church or 'sisterhood' could really open their eyes to what it means to live holy lives without the support of either marriage or partnership.

Early in women's ordination movement there was a figment of 'sisterhood' because we were all working for the same thing.  We had many different ways of addressing the common goal.  But it was not long before the women embraced the same hierarchical thinking as the men.  It was this characteristic that I hoped women would be able to show a different way of living in the Church with Women's Ordination.  I had hoped to find the kind of sisterhood that I had known in the convent, but the ordained ministry is just as cutthroat as finance, banking, academics or any other secular job.  I believe that the Christian message says something about the commonness of our lives--the same level of our lives where ideas and hearts were supported, personalities were respected, and even dumb ideas shared and enjoyed.

I must admit that I do not trust 'galship' much.  I have met many in revgals that I have come to know and cherish just as I do members of parishes and those who do not even believe in God.  I have been iced by women colleagues just as surly as I have been men.  Maybe I am a horrible person but I really think I am just 'odd.'  I am different, not fitting into anyone's pigeonhole .  I don't mind being in that spot.  It is how I have been called to live my life--but is not one where there is a lot of support and friendship.  I speak my mind.  I resent being excluded.  I work hard to make sure that people are accepted as they are.  I am also very short on those who 'pee on my leg and tell me it's raining.'  I have a hard time accepting insincerity from colleagues.  I can tolerate a bit more from parishioners--but not from those who have sworn to live the Truth of Christ.

I find younger women incredible dense when it comes to us older ones. They want everything the way they invision it without having had to pay their dues by working for it.  They do not realize they will be where we are in the future and they are scared pissless of it.  The thought of being stoggy doesn't even cross their minds.  They too will become what we are--what I am becoming simply because we are being excluded from the ministry, society and shuffled off into age 'appropriate' residents rather than accepting and listening to us.

So much for "Galship".  It may work for some but do not count on it.  The time will come when all will be just those who are smiled at, called 'Sweetie' and ignored.  

If we were about real sisterhood, we would be trying to organize what is particular to women's gifts for the ministry and highlighting those particular gifts even if the 'boys' don't like it.  If we were about real sisterhood we could sit quietly in prayer with one another and not play one upmanship simply because we cannot abide someone else getting ahead or the silence of real togetherness.  If we were about real sisterhood we could tolerate the wide ranging differences among us rather than dwelling on the samenesses that make us look like the male-imaged priesthood/pastorhood that we seem to emulate.

Ok, now that I have shot off my mouth, I would invite you to agree or disagree.  You are welcome always.


Grandmère Mimi said...

We can't win, can we?. Women move forward, with occasional reverses, and hope to make progress from here to there. Too bad so many young women don't realize that they arrived where they are today by standing on the shoulders of the women who went before.

Terri said...

I hear you...coming as I did from a more secular and then a kind of "new age" spirituality, I did not come to ministry intending to meld my womanhood into a male model of priest. I paid dearly for this, being myself, being outspoken, being honest. But always with a need to have integrity in all ways. And yes, some of the women I met along the way were as male-modeled leadership oriented as the men we worked for (because the men were the rectors, women were the associates)...thankfully I have always had a group of women clergy who provided me with great support because they were facing the same realities.

I am a big believer in hospitality and I work hard to bring all people into the group. I am not very tolerant of some of the cliquishness that often forms in groups, including (even, sadly) the Revgals, much as I love the group and the members.

I have also read some blog posts written by young women entering ministry and am taken aback at the tone: the criticism and the arrogance and the failure to recognize that smart as they are they still lack life experience and experience as a woman leader in ministry...both of which if done with integrity and the companionship of other women, lead to greater compassion....well, enough...I could go on and on...but I am probably babbling.

Michelle said...

"If we were about real sisterhood we could sit quietly in prayer with one another and not play one upmanship simply because we cannot abide someone else getting ahead or the silence of real togetherness."

These are th relationships I cherish, and aspire to. To be able to sit in silence with each other, in communion with each other.

And God, yes, we are all human, neither male nor female, in so many things, not all of them things we might treasure. (Though I'm going to treasure that image about wet legs and rain, I have to tell you!).

Hot Cup Lutheran said...

well written and certainly thought-provoking... perhaps then i am truly blessed where i serve; about as rural as rural ministry gets... and yet as a single woman, divorced single woman at that, no children, no plans for children... i've been loved and accepted, supported here...

but i try to look ahead and imagine, as i age (in my 40s now)... when i'm no longer serving in a parish... where then is my support? community? family? seems it could be a lonesome road ahead.

Muthah+ said...

Actually I have had good friends throughout my life and I am thankful for them. But I just get a bit tired of all the 'talk' about sisterhood and the lack of real support or concern. And for some reason there is less collegiality among my own denomination than among the ELCA where I appreciated their since of being pastors for one another.
TEC has a tendency to emphasize 'professionalism' at the cost of just being good friends. I wouldn't want to be anything else but an Episcopalian. It is where I am called. But at the same time, I can't ignore that we need to do better for the sake of the Gospel.

Terri said...

Muthah+ - I agree with you that The Episcopal Church is big on talk and the professionalism of the priesthood and episcopate. Despite our many efforts to get more women elected as Bishops, which might (?) have an impact on this hierarchical "professionalism" and male model of leadership (business, corporate v/s collegial, companion, relational) - but only if women are able to stay true to who we are and gain access to increased levels of leadership. So far we are only able to get women on the platform of nominees, very few actually get elected. As a whole I think we still believe in the male model of leadership...I hope that the work I am doing with the Episcopal Women's Caucus is useful in this regard (building community, relationship, and leaders) - but it is such a complicated process! Still, as I said before, I have hope because I do have real life experience with women who do and have done this...

Jane Ellen+ said...

Thank you for this. I value and cherish my women friends; at the same time, like you, I've found that sometimes "sisterhood" does not live up to its reputation. It's a tension we live with (and, rightly or wrongly, sometimes accommodate). That tension is why I am and always will be grateful for my RevGal connections-- and also why I am unlikely to try going on a BE cruise again.

Dorcas (aka SingingOwl) said...

Sigh...beautiful, sad, honest post that rings all too true. Does it sound trite to say that God is the only safe place? And sometimes, of course, God doesn't feel very safe either. Some of the worst disappointments in my life and ministry came from women who should have known better. I used to trust. I'm sad that I know longer do, and that I have no one in my I can really call friend. Strange, at this point in life.

RevGal said...
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Muthah+ said...

Revgal, I think that being willing to own our own fears and discouragement allows us to recognize that it isn't "just me." That is the beginning of the revolution! Hang in there. We are dealing with issues that have faced the Church for over 2000 years. We will not see what we ache for in our lifetime, but we can begin to help those who come after to make their own strides. It is always the young who think that they know better and the Church that they are creating will be different until it sneaks up on them that they have sold their inheritance for a mess of pottage. Hopefully it will be the third generation who will get it right.

Crimson Rambler said...

[Came into this discussion earlier with unintentional anonymity -- or mis-identification, thought I'd best come back as me--and incidentally CLARIFY and SPECIFY] I was comforted to hear this discussion because I am tempted to say, "and here I thought it was just me..." and also tempted to wish it WERE "just me"; thank you, muthah+, for laying it on the line and thank you ALL for your candour... I think I'll have to put a post on my own blog in order to sort out and ruminate my own malaise into some sort of utterance from here. [Please bear with me, as my keyboard isn't happy with either "a" or "s" at this point, does impede one's eloquence rather!]
Dear ALL who have commented on this post, I'm glad you have done so and I'm very glad to know you and to "know you are there." I'm glad of my connection with RevGals, profoundly glad... I've shared laughter and sympathy and exasperation and joy in a way that hasn't been safe elsewhere, and that's a remarkable solace in great loneliness.