About a year ago, I was one of several preachers at a platform service. I was not the only woman, but I was certainly the youngest on the platform. Men outnumbered women by a large margin. That meant that every woman’s voice had to be that much clearer and more focused. That whole “twice as good” thing was vibrating on every frequency. I did what I always do before I preach: I read, researched, scribbled a little on a napkin here and a tweet there, talked to friends, watched some documentaries, explored some histories. I spent a lot of time preparing for this service even before I put words on paper.
After the service, I found myself in the line of greeting. I had an encounter with a man I’ll just call “Him.” “Him” was about 5 inches shorter than me and could have easily been a little older than my dad. “Him” started with “great sermon” and “I know you must know so and so” pleasantries. Fine and expected.
Then, “Him” asked me my age. Not fine and not expected.
Startled, I asked why that was important. “Him” said, without interruption, “because I got a son who needs a wife.”
I felt it all. Embarrassed. Shocked. Angry. Irritated. Frustrated. Patronized. I came here to work. I came here to worship. I came here to be with my folks. “Him” soiled that for me. “Him” made me doubt that I had anything worthwhile to say and maybe I was just “window dressing.” I had never felt so disgusted. His eyes danced around my frame, and I felt like he could see underneath my clothes. I wondered if “Him” even had a son at all. I wondered if this was his way of coming on to me in a respectful manner.
One of my strongest convictions is that church should be a place where everyone feels safe. It is not a place I come to be ogled. I wish I could say it has only happened to me, but it hasn’t. When I reached out to some peers and asked what their top gripes were, the combination of ageism, sexism, patriarchy, anti-Blackness and heterosexism absolutely jumped out. Here are the top three responses:
- Don’t try to marry me off.
Just don’t. Don’t be Him.
- Don’t aggressively try to mentor me.
I was at an event once and someone I had just met offered to mentor me. It threw me off because mentorship is an intimate relationship. She basically threw her business card at me and said, “I want to be your mentor.” RED FLAGS! Chances are, if we are in the same room, we are both here for a very good reason. Sometimes the “I want to mentor you” conversation can be condescending. If you’re looking to establish meaningful intergenerational relationships (which are always worth cultivating), I’ll say more about that below.
- Don’t make comments about my body.
Don’t ask me if I’m pregnant or why I haven’t had kids yet. Don’t comment on my weight unless I invite you to do so. You may affirm my fashion choices (yes, these are great boots), but please do not exhaust that.
Now here are three ways to be supportive to young women instead:
- DO value my work and my time.
I have rent, loans, and utilities to pay. Groceries are not free. If you are meeting with me in the scope of my professional work, please do take care to honor that. That doesn’t mean that every coffee meeting needs to be a billable hour. It means, if you say you need 15 minutes to run something by me, I’m asking what the next steps are at the fifteenth minute. Do not assume that I’m okay with being low-balled either. I know what you paid our Brother. He told me because he knows that’s his job as a man in this world, to be a traitor to sexist practices. Paying a man and a woman two different rates when they have nearly identical credentials and training is evil. And I will find out.
- DO encourage me with opportunities to dream and research.
I enjoy that this season of my career gives me the excuse to just listen and observe. I want to grow—we all do. I’d like to strengthen my capacities. I’d like to be more precise in my work. Send me to a conference and call it “professional development.” Invite us to do more than “do the Twit-stagram thing,” unless that’s our calling. As you reflect on how you got into this work, what spaces and programs affirmed your ideas and nurtured your imagination? Tell us about it, or even better, send us!
- DO ask my opinion.
If you’ve hired me, then you made a choice to be in a relationship with me. If you’ve contracted me as a consultant, you made a choice. Let’s dream about how projects can look together. No need to do all the work of designing your idea only to put it in my lap so I can make it happen. Collaboration must be generative and foster imagination. I’m not a machine.
This may seem like a trivial list in These Times™. I pitched it a while ago, and now it almost feels silly to write. But then I considered—what kind of world would we have if we had consistent respect for all genders? If we did not elevate the capabilities of cishet men just because we were obsessed with patriarchy and cisheteronormativity? Simply put: How many mediocre straight men have power while capable others are ignored, shunned, or shut out from opportunities completely? How much of the mess we’re in now was made possible by undervaluing the work of women? How many trans and gender non-conforming folk are being made even more vulnerable due to the current crisis?
How we treat people on a regular Tuesday night means something. Our seemingly mundane interactions hold a lot of power. We can choose to encourage and support those around us, or we can choose to doubt their capabilities. You never know—we might be speaking to someone who has the ability to open up new worlds for us. But if we treat people like they don’t belong, we’ve talked ourselves out of freedom.
“[I]t’s what we do every day that shapes us and says more about us than those grand moments of righteous indignation and action.”
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com