The last couple of weeks I’ve been feeling pretty low. The current parish continues to be a difficult place to be and the job search is slow and currently fairly fruitless. I seem to have descended into a state of extreme tiredness, sleeping far beyond normal and having no motivation. Aside from this, I have been trying to continue as usual with parish life.
There is, in the parish, a rather old-fashioned and bizarre form of sexism, masquerading as ‘chivalry’ going on. What usually happens is that I pick up a chair or similar and a man 50 years my senior rushes over and says something like “let me help you with that, dear”. I know that people think they are being helpful and nice, but my ability to carry a chair is generally greater than someone 50 years older than me, and to be really honest being called ‘dear’ or ‘sweetheart’ really grates on me, and my male colleagues are not treated similarly.
A few days ago I was helping a small group with an activity, we were clearing up, putting things back into plastic crates and taking them upstairs to where they are stored. The crates are fairly large, but not at all heavy and 3 of us picked up a crate each. The man said to the other lady, ‘here, let me take your crate as well, just put it on top of this one’. She declined, saying she was ok with her crate. So he turned to me and said the same. I also said ‘thanks, but I’m fine, I can manage’. He said to me, “I know you can manage, but for once in your life will you be quiet and do what you’re told!” I was so shocked that I just let go of the box and he walked away.
The following day I raised this with my supervisor. He said I should just forget about it. But really, should we just let this kind of thing go? It was incredibly rude, and I was shocked and upset and being spoken to like that. I suspect that had I been a man I would have been allowed to carry my crate upstairs, no questions asked.
The Church in generally seems to be a place where rudeness is not challenged and certainly in this parish there is quite a culture of a lack of respect for the female clergy. I’m angry with the person who spoke to me, why on earth would they think that was ok? And I’m angry with my supervisor for telling me just to forget about it.
My experience of working in this diocese is that bullying, rude and ignorant behaviour is tolerated and not challenged. This is such a sad thing. In the past when I have stood up for myself and challenged rude behaviour I’ve been told that I don’t know how to handle conflict. I have been bullied by clergy, congregation and churchwardens alike and I know that I am by far not the only one this happens to. At no point have I ever been offered appropriate support, nor has the behaviour of those responsible been challenged.
It is unrealistic to expect the Church, and all its members, to be perfect. But if the Church is to be a community that shows the love of Christ it must address unreasonable and rude behaviour, not just pretend it isn’t happening or just doesn’t matter. Just as Jesus had harsh words for some in the gospels, so too must the Church have harsh words for some, even when this feels uncomfortable.