Monday, 11 May 2015

Lady Vicars and Sarcastic Rage

I got a bit wound up in a lecture this morning when someone referred to 'Lady Vicars'. It's a phrase I loathe. Someone once said to me 'Ooooo......... you're the new lady minister' and the sarcasm bubbled up. What am I? A minister of ladies (evidence suggests otherwise)? A lady who happens to be a minister (I'm not really sure about that word lady)? A minister who happens to be a lady (really, I'm not sure I am a lady....)?

Someone said to me, 'What's wrong with being a lady, surely it's a compliment?'


I'm currently absorbed in the world of Post Modernity, both in real life and in my lectures (but often living in a world that still thinks of itself as un-post, just modern which is why we are in a strange place in church (but that's another story)). Being absorbed in this world means that I've come to grasp the idea that meaning is actually, often, all relative.

So I have a few problems with the phrase 'lady minister' (don't get me started on the vicar bit).....

Firstly, by calling me a lady minister, you're implying that this is unusual. Where we have two categories that overlap so completely (one bigger than the other) of ministers and lady ministers, you put me in a sub-category that implies I do a different, more defined job to those we just call ministers. So please stop calling me lady. I'm just a minister. Although I have some peerage ancestry in the far distant past, that's been and gone, so there are no reasons to define me as different or to give me the title 'Lady'.

Secondly, there are meanings attached to the world 'lady' that I am uncomfortable with (why are female ministers 'lady ministers' and male nurses 'male nurses' - why not 'gentleman nurses' (why not just nurses)?). Meaning is all very relative. When I was doing some research with my ace sister for her dissertation on the League of Nations and trafficking and slavery, we looked at some original meeting minutes where they were looking for someone who was female to work with them. One of the women was ideal for the job but they found her too strong and opinionated. They wanted someone who was gentle and compassionate - softly spoken. The problem with the word 'lady' is that I associate it with the second kind - the kind who is there because it is nice to have a female there but has a particular role and status within an organisation that is non-offensive.

And that leads me to my third problem. To identify 'lady ministers' in a separate category implies that ministers who are female are to be treated differently and are to act differently. The baggage attached to the word 'feminist' expresses some of that. Feminists are militant and outspoken, oppressive of men and always shouting up at the wrong moment (when Feminism is about lifting the status of women to equal, not higher, than men). Unfortunately people can attach that same baggage to ministers who are female. To attach the word 'lady' to minister perhaps makes us a little less offensive and easier to control than a female minister who has the same status and role as a male minister. A lady minister can be put in her place (and believe me, that happens) in a way a male minister isn't. Until we take away the baggage implied by attaching 'lady' to the front of my job title, that assumption and behaviour is not going to go away.

So please, don't define my role by my gender, instead, define my role by my calling. I've been called by a church to minister to that church, so my role is the role of minister. Not 'lady minister', 'lady vicar', 'woman of the cloth' or anything else (lady? I don't see no lady - nah that's something else...!). I'm Claire the minister, and that's me; God's called me, chosen me, and sent me, just as I am.

This recently came up in my facebook newsfeed, it's worth a watch..... A bit about not being 'that' kind of lady.....