Are female religious leaders taken seriously?
We see deeply religious women taken seriously, in religious or political settings. But when you hear about a female minister or reverend, do you feel the same way that you do about a male minister or a reverend? Do you feel a sense of pride that senseless inequality in church settings is slowly going away?
Or do you start to make assumptions about the woman in question—assumptions about what sort of congregation she has (or wondering if she has a congregation)? Assumptions about her religious and political views (possibly New Age Christianity or ultra-liberal)? You might wonder about these things not because she is a woman, but because of the sorts of cultural circumstances in which many women who are also in positions of religious authority are sometimes found.
I’m not saying whether or not these (hugely unfair) stereotypes are misogynistic or simply unfortunate byproducts of how human minds work. I just want for people to think about how they see women in positions of religious authority. It is important to be consciously aware of your knee-jerk assumptions when you see a woman in the pulpit—if you have those assumptions.
“Religion” is not, of course, a synonym for “Christianity,” and this problem is not limited to Protestant Christianity. There have only been female rabbis since the 1970s (and there still are not in Orthodox Judaism). Nuns are in positions of revered service in Catholicism; they are the female equivalents of monks, not of priests, and do not wield religious authority. There are some female imams, but simply the fact that they are female can be controversial.
Of course, in my religion (and in various faiths within the “umbrella” of Paganism), women can be found in religious positions with at least as much frequency as men, and regarded within the community with as much respect (or, sometimes, greater—though that probably should not be the case). In Vodou, a mambo is the female equivalent of a houngan (priestess and priest). Anywhere in Western society, you will find Pagan communities led by women, or in which Pagan priests and priestesses are on equal footing.
But I wouldn’t say that Pagan women have any advantage over women in other faiths in terms of external perception. Too often, Pagans (from Wiccans to Kemetics to practitioners of Santeria) are either shown as superpowered fantasy characters on television or referred to as people who “claim to be” in news reports. Neither of which carry the kind of respect that women (or men) who are serving their religious communities deserve.
What about you? Do you have any thoughts on these stereotypes for women in clergy and other religious positions? Have any of you had experiences with anything like this?