Gender progress in the faith and work movement: or, I’d like to wait in line for the women’s restroom


By Jennifer Woodruff Tait

A few years ago, some of us who are now connected with this blog, and who were at that time connected with another project, were having a planning meeting for the project. The first time we had a coffee/water/restroom break, I noticed something odd.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, I’ll remind you I’m a mainliner. I spent a long time as a United Methodist clergyperson and now I’m an Episcopal clergyperson. Mainline seminaries are, I think, about 60% female, 40% male. Every time I go to church meetings I have to wait in line for the restroom because, as the entire world knows, women take longer in the restroom than men.

But suddenly I didn’t. There were about 20 people at this gathering. 3 were women.

This, as I soon came to understand, was about par percentage-wise for the course at gatherings of evangelical leadership. And it meant, and means, that certain voices were not getting heard.

I cannot fix the gender imbalance in the entire evangelical movement  (I applaud those, like Christianity Today’s Her.menutics, and InterVarsity’s The Well, who are trying.) But I can make an effort to raise the issue in a faith and work context.  Here are some of the things that me not having to wait in line for the bathroom means.

(I acknowledge that I write this having not yet read Katelyn Beaty’s A Woman’s Place. I think it’s going to be a game-changer and I hope to review it here. I also acknowledge that these things may exist in places that I haven’t seen yet. If you know of articles I haven’t run into on these topics, please share them in the comments!)

  • I haven’t heard much from the movement about Christians wrestling with the “marriage penalty and the “baby penalty.”  Come to think, I haven’t heard anything from the movement about faith and work and childcare.
  • I haven’t heard anything about how Christians reacted to Lean In.
  • I haven’t heard discussions of how the values we prize in leadership are negatively “read” when women display them. (Without making this a political blog post–I would be welcome to share my deep reservations about her for other reasons–I think this dogs a lot of discussions about Hillary Clinton.)
  • I want an acknowledgment of the dangers of “servant leadership” language to women who are already socialized to over-serve and over-humiliate themselves.
  • Despite the fact that I have trouble adding numbers higher than 6, I want more on the particular challenges facing women in STEM fields, especially Christian women.
  • I want to know more about the history of the movement from the perspective of women’s work, especially since the Industrial Revolution when we started seeing the huge split between men’s and women’s arenas of labor that still characterizes our society. Let’s not leave this whole particular bullet point to the Marxists, please.
  • I want more about how and why for most working-class women the choice to stay home is not even an open question and how faith plays into that.
  • I want somebody to write about how excessively gendered toys (I grew up in the 1970s and we all played with regularly colored Tinkertoys, folks) shape childhood expectations of adult work and what Christians plan to do about that. (Come to think of it, we need more on childhood perceptions of adult work in general.)
  • And I never want to go to another faith and work meeting where a talk that I expected to be about God’s sacramental design for marriage, a concept I thoroughly favor, turns out to be a talk justifying marriage to men in utilitarian fashion, including the statement that women like men who make more money. (At least if you must have a utilitarian talk, let’s do another one for the girls. OK?)

That’s my list. Anyone have anything to add?

Image: Shutterstock.

  One thought on “Gender progress in the faith and work movement: or, I’d like to wait in line for the women’s restroom

  1. Amanda
    August 18, 2016 at 9:08 am

    Ah Jennifer great points! Would love to talk with you by phone about this sometime! Hey & let’s hope there is a line at the Faith@Work Summit this October!


    • August 18, 2016 at 3:34 pm

      I’d love to talk too! Send me an email and we can find a time (or, if you are busy now, we can talk at the Summit). –Jenn


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