Woman, Thou art Loosed! Now Get ye Self to ETS!

I have just noticed that there are about 700 hundred papers being delivered at ETS this year and only eight of them will be delivered by women. What is more, I think I actually know half of the women presenters. Now maybe there are more, I looked up the index in the ETS book and some names like “Leslie” can be unisex, and I don’t know the gender of most Asian names. But even give or take a few, this would mean that women presenters make up only 1% of the papers at ETS. This is not satisfactory.

Now I know that ETS is theologically and culturally conservative in ethos, but ETS has no official position on the gender inclusion issue concerning women in ministry and the academy. In fact, full and frank discussion between complementarians and egalitarians takes place very year, it’s one of the highlights. So there is no reason why female scholars and female grad students in theology/biblical studies cannot come. So where the heck are they and why aren’t they there?

As long as ETS is representative of the evangelical church, then we should expect a strong cohort of female scholars to attend, but they are absent. There are probably several reasons for this. Demographically, many evangelicals are complementarians and don’t permit female scholars (you don’t have to like it or agree, but it is a contributing factor). What is more, I think it is safe to say that some women do not think ETS is a “safe” place to go. Some tell me, anecdotally, that they get sick of being asked “Where does yourhusband teach?”. Or else, they fear being ignored or looked down upon by male peers just for being there.

But let me give five reasons why women should go to ETS!

1. Not everyone at ETS is a “hard” complementarian who prohibit women from teaching ministries in church and academy (I don’t mean “hard” as “mean,” rather as conservative in conviction on the gender debate). Some complementarians are “soft” in the sense that they permit women to have pastoral and didactic roles in the church except that of senior pastor/bishop/big kahuna etc. Many complementarians, I think for instance of Craig Blomberg, encourage women to pursue academic ministries. So don’t think the presence of complementarians means ETS is closed to women. Also, many egalitarians attend and Christians for Biblical Equality even have a booth.  So on gender issues the membership of ETS is rather broad in spectrum rather than monolithic on the gender issue.
2.  Women voices are appreciated by many ETS members and we would like to see more women attend.
3. If you are a female evangelical scholars/student who believes that you have something to contribute to the church and to the academy, then this is a great place to make such a contribution.
4. If you don’t speak out for women’s issues among evangelicals, then who will? Not count on me, I’m male, and I’ll be too busy going to the various receptions and browsing the book exhibits, so it’ll have to be you girlfriend!
5. Look on the bright side, ETS means no big ques for the bathroom!

Let me ask this: What else can we do or needs to be done to bring more women to ETS?

  • http://twitter.com/JeremiahBailey Jeremiah Bailey

    While not strictly true, generally speaking inerrantists tend to also be complementarians. Maybe the number of egalitarian inerrantists is higher among academics, but in the wild, so to speak, I rarely come across them.

  • http://twitter.com/JeremiahBailey Jeremiah Bailey

    While not strictly true, generally speaking inerrantists tend to also be complementarians. Maybe the number of egalitarian inerrantists is higher among academics, but in the wild, so to speak, I rarely come across them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1513149313 Steve Walton

    You might like to note that Craig Blomberg is not a complementarian – your note makes it appear as though he is.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Bird/1814624096 Michael Bird

      Steve, no, I think he is a compl. based on his writings on Paul and gender issues.

      • Eric Weiss

        Per his chapter in the 2005 Revised Edition of Two Views On Women in Ministry (Zondervan, Counterpoints Series), Craig Blomberg is Complementarian:

        See Table of Contents http://www.zondervan.com/media/samples/pdf/031025437X_samptxt.pdf

        His chapter is titled 2. WOMEN IN MINISTRY: A COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE CRAIG L. BLOMBERG

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1513149313 Steve Walton

    You might like to note that Craig Blomberg is not a complementarian – your note makes it appear as though he is.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Bird/1814624096 Michael Bird

      Steve, no, I think he is a compl. based on his writings on Paul and gender issues.

      • Eric Weiss

        Per his chapter in the 2005 Revised Edition of Two Views On Women in Ministry (Zondervan, Counterpoints Series), Craig Blomberg is Complementarian:

        See Table of Contents http://www.zondervan.com/media/samples/pdf/031025437X_samptxt.pdf

        His chapter is titled 2. WOMEN IN MINISTRY: A COMPLEMENTARIAN PERSPECTIVE CRAIG L. BLOMBERG

  • http://profiles.google.com/rosatcollege Ros Clarke

    I can’t speak for Craig Blomberg but I’m definitely a ‘hard’ complementarian who thinks that the academy is distinct from the church and that there is a very important place for female biblical scholars. I’d go to ETS except I hate travelling and have neither the time nor the money to spare.

  • http://profiles.google.com/rosatcollege Ros Clarke

    I can’t speak for Craig Blomberg but I’m definitely a ‘hard’ complementarian who thinks that the academy is distinct from the church and that there is a very important place for female biblical scholars. I’d go to ETS except I hate travelling and have neither the time nor the money to spare.

  • Carl Mosser

    I’ve just scanned the index and count 20 female presenters out of 571 total presenters. Given unisex names, there may be a handful more female presenters. That is still a very small proportion (3.5%), but more than twice the number you came up with.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Bird/1814624096 Michael Bird

      Carl, I took a minimal view because some names are unisex like “Leslie”, but even if I’m out by a few, let’s agree that 3.5% is not exactly a great number to aim for!

  • Carl Mosser

    I’ve just scanned the index and count 20 female presenters out of 571 total presenters. Given unisex names, there may be a handful more female presenters. That is still a very small proportion (3.5%), but more than twice the number you came up with.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Bird/1814624096 Michael Bird

      Carl, I took a minimal view because some names are unisex like “Leslie”, but even if I’m out by a few, let’s agree that 3.5% is not exactly a great number to aim for!

      • Deane Galbraith

        Ah – I thought you were a minimalist!

  • Leslie Keeney

    I had to comment because (1) I am a female grad student going to ETS for the first time this year and (2) my name is Leslie. I have been a little apprehensive about going because I assumed that it was going to feel weird being the only woman at table full of men. It did not dawn on until now, however, that people may assume that I’m someone’s spouse. So now I have to be worried that people will assume that I’m married to whatever man I’m sitting next to? Should I be even MORE worried than I already am?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Bird/1814624096 Michael Bird

      Don’t worry Leslie, people might “assume” that you’re with someone, but they probably won’t actually ask you “where does your husband teach?”

  • Leslie Keeney

    I had to comment because (1) I am a female grad student going to ETS for the first time this year and (2) my name is Leslie. I have been a little apprehensive about going because I assumed that it was going to feel weird being the only woman at table full of men. It did not dawn on until now, however, that people may assume that I’m someone’s spouse. So now I have to be worried that people will assume that I’m married to whatever man I’m sitting next to? Should I be even MORE worried than I already am?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Bird/1814624096 Michael Bird

      Don’t worry Leslie, people might “assume” that you’re with someone, but they probably won’t actually ask you “where does your husband teach?”

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  • Yvonne Wilber

    I am a seminary student and a librarian in a Bible college. This is my second year attending ETS. I was discouraged by the number of women presenting, but encouraged as I spoke to two of the women who did present. I was also very encouraged by the young male scholars I met who affirmed my desire to learn and eventually teach. It is telling that our conversations were in pubs over glasses of ale, and they all got their PhDs in the U.K. Oh, and hey, Joel, it was nice to meet you.

  • http://remnantofgiants.wordpress.com Remnant of Giants

    Congratulations! This post was included in the November 2011 Biblical Studies Carnival. This is quite an achievement. My word, yes.

  • http://OurRabbiJesus.com/ Lois Tverberg

    I have to laugh – I’m a woman who attended ETS (but didn’t present), and you’re right, there are practically no women there, especially not as presenters. I also go to the Zondervan academic author receptions at SBL, where I’m really, really the only female author in the room.

    People tend to assume that a woman who studies and writes about the Bible is either writing for a female audience, or passionately concerned about feminist issues, or has a chip on her shoulder about being a woman. None of these things describe me. My Ph.D. is in biology and I’m used to going to scholarly conferences in my field, which are of course more equally represented. When I started writing about the New Testament, I simply started going to those conferences too.

    I agree that women should go to scholarly meetings and not worry about being female. I never get any sense of being unwelcome. If anything, I chuckled at how polite the men at ETS were this year – I haven’t had so many doors held for me in a long time.

    I think that women would help their cause more if they just assumed that they were welcome and equal, instead of staying away and making a big issue about how inferior they feel. A lot of female angst is more their own projection on men than how men actually feel.

    • Anonymous

      “A lot of female angst is more their own projection on men than how men actually feel.” Perhaps this is true in some cases but allow me to present another side. A handful of young men that I graduated from seminary with applied for the same teaching positions that I did. I have an actual teaching certificate, 7 years teaching experience, a M.Ed in addition to Bible College and Seminary degrees, real-world church teaching/working experience and outstanding references while they were fresh from college/seminary with zero teaching experience; they were ALL hired while I did not even receive a response to my resume packet. The gender bias in this field is real, not a projection of female angst.

      • http://OurRabbiJesus.com/ Lois Tverberg

        Yes, I agree that the gender bias is quite real. I was thinking specifically about going to scholarly meetings. I empathize with you.

        I’d still say that women would help their own cause if they went to scholarly meetings and gave well-researched talks on topics other than women’s issues. They are welcome there, even though they may think they aren’t. Over time, the perception that women can’t be scholars will fade.

  • http://twitter.com/M4Faith Melody Moshkowski

    I appreciate you writing this and what your overarching goals appear to be, but at least for me, some of the answers as to why I do not attend ETS are evident in the body of your post. For example when you wrote, “Some complementarians are ‘soft’ in the sense that they permit women to have pastoral roles and didactic roles in the church except that of senior pastor…” They “permit” us? How generous of them. It is quite simply emotionally draining to stand in the company of a group of people who you know believe that your very presence there, or your work in the church, is a result of their benevolence or “permission”. The attitude is palpable and serves as a barrier to learning and a barrier to developing a collegial system. This just scratches the surface of what I believe the reasons are. It is a complicated issue; perhaps one that will not be resolved in our lifetime. As to what can be done? Begin with your wives and daughters. Care for the children and the home while they attend seminary. Build them a home office where they can retreat and conduct research and write papers. Encourage them with genuine positive feedback concerning their intellectual abilities rather than their physical appearance. Include “Theology Professor” in the discussion about future dreams with your daughter. Etc, etc… Change begins when each one of us takes personal responsibility to make it happen. I will make an effort to attend the next ETS conference.


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