As the discussion about Theology and Gender continues to play out over multiple blogs, Facebook, and emails, I have noticed something that I find deeply troubling and I believe to be specific to the field of theology as such. To summarize how I have seen the discussion play out so far: Tony Baker puts forward an essentially unchanged, unsophisticated version of nuptial theology in response to a question about gender, the Theology Studio’s meeting regarding “the future of systematic theology”, and his own work. This is then responded to by a number of women, foremost amongst those are Brandy’s from last week. Their responses are across the board described as charitable and a model of grace, while any criticisms of their positions from TS insiders are pushed on to men who are putting forth essentially the same criticisms as Brandy. There is something deeply creepy to me about how the women are being treated in this conversation, sometimes a token woman will be held up as an example of someone who shares their views, or a woman who has acted with supreme patience (a patience I don’t have or have to have… but more on that below) is complimented for her ladylike behavior but her criticisms are ignored.
In private discussions, in the flesh and online, I have heard from a number of women that they are really frustrated by being treated this way — pat on the head and ignored — but they don’t feel safe in expressing that frustration for fear of being labelled “uncharitable”, code, I assume, amongst Christian theologians for acting “bitchy”. They are scared to get on the bad side of not just senior faculty, but scared of junior faculty. Scared of publishers. Scared of what it might mean if it gets back to their home institutions that they are being “bitchy”. Now, none of this is necessarily specific to the latest example of theologians famously missing the point (and I think we will continue to see the Theology Studio proclaim itself as the biggest tent in Theology Town, while allowing for a cultural policing of insiders and outsider). It’s a problem that runs deep in the discipline, one I don’t see, for example in other fields I work in like Continental philosophy. Of course, there is entrenched sexism there, but because there isn’t this emphasis on “Christian behaviour” the men have to be a bit more sneaky in how they police the women and how they find ways to ignore them. But in theology there is this real fear.
I know it because women have also told me that they were scared to post here at AUFS (a problem that we are trying to address in changes that are forthcoming). I want to be clear, our comment policy and our harshness has always had at its base a fundamental recognition of equality. The kind of patronizing of women that we’ve seen very clearly over the last few weeks may come across “nicer” but is far more insidious. Our comment policy was created as a preferential option against dominant voices. Of course, though, while this was our intent, in practice we didn’t do enough to address this culture of fear and so many of our female readers remained scared of us playing out the same aggression they are weary of in mainstream theology.
How does one address this culture of fear? Well, I hope in the future the changes we are making here means, at least as regards the issues at AUFS, women will not need to worry about offending us, knowing they can speak frankly and even call us out. But what can we do about the wider culture in theology? The discussion so far has focused on listening, and I think that is wise, but how do you make those in power, who control book series, journals, and the like, how do you make them listen? How do you make it such that the women who want to express frustration can? Perhaps AUFS should host a discussion on this at the next AAR, with a mixed-gender panel but chaired by one of our female authors here. Because, one thing is clear to me, if I have been able to be honest with my anger and still land a good job, still publish in strong journals and good presses, anyone else should be able to as well.