This month, Women of Faith discussed our perspectives on women in the workplace as it relates to our religious paths. Our discussion primarily boiled down to a woman’s choice to work outside the home or to stay at home and by and large, we agreed that a woman has the right to choose her occupation. We have a bit of a sampling bias, all of us being strong-willed women, so this came as no surprise. Methodist Cindy and UU Jill told us about their respective organizations’ statements on fair labor practices, Free-thinker Sara put out literature on unions and talked about discrimination in the workplace, Muslim Dahlia asserted a woman’s right to both stay home with the kids and to work out of the home, and Christian Science Juli spoke to the radical pro-woman nature of Mrs. Eddy’s teachings. I talked a little bit about women in ancient homes and how the Pagan movement rode the wave of feminism in the ’60’s and ’70’s.
What I found more interesting still, was something Methodist Cindy had said on the shift in gender balance in the clergy that tends to occur over time. According to what she had learned, many women were often present in the leadership of new movements, but men became dominant as a religion became more mainstream. She cited several examples, including John Wesley’s early licensing of women as preachers and, while the United Methodists have been ordaining women since 1968, the current leadership is predominantly male. Her examples were all Christian, but it brings up something that we can observe (potentially) happening amongst the Pagan faiths.
Perhaps Christian Science Juli and I are the outliers. The Church of Christ, Science was founded by a woman, Mary Baker Eddy, who was a suffragette before being a suffragette was cool and the church continues to be led by women, even at the level of the board of directors (four out of nine members of the board are women). I’m going to make a comparison here that might be a little unusual, but bear with me. Gerald Gardner had something in common with Mary Baker Eddy in that both understood the strength, power, and magick a woman can hold. Our Christian Science friends would not refer to what they do as magick, but healing through prayer translates as such to me. At any rate, Wicca specifically, Paganisms generally, and the Church of Christ, Science have, at their core, this idea of the power of women and that continues to be reflected in the leadership of those respective faiths today. But in the past fifteen or so years, I have seen a shift in the gender balance of the clergy. In short, at least in my own small community, more males have been called to serve as clergy. While females still vastly outnumber males and those outside the gender binary are very small in number, it seems to me that there are more priests than there used to be.
We’re also gravitating toward being mainstream. We’re not there yet, but being Wiccan isn’t nearly as big of a deal as it was even twenty years ago, though other Paganisms are still widely unknown or misunderstood.
I would love to see a good balance of priests and priestesses as Paganisms grow, but are we going to move from a vastly woman-led movement to established male-dominated religions? I really don’t think that’s going to happen and I really don’t think more men in leadership roles is necessarily a bad thing. In my own personal religious practice, balance has always been important and we function best when males, females, and others are in partnership, each learning from the other. I believe my marriage has worked well for thirteen years because my husband is my partner and I expect we will continue in this way for many years to come. I expect also, that women will continue to lead in Wicca and in other Paganisms for a very long time.
The best statement of the evening? My neighbor, Coptic Orthodox Amira, thought it was great that one of my goals in life was to make my husband a househusband. That really is one of my life goals and it tickled me that she picked that out as something she thought was interesting and cool. I keep forgetting that other households are not like ours.