09 January 2009

Patriarchy in progressive places

I work at a church, a charge of the United Church of Canada. For 6 hours a week, I answer phones, word process the bulletin and announcement sheet, manage the rentals of the building, make sure the various groups get where they should go, work on the church's website, arrange funerals, weddings, birthday parties, keep the wireless network running (that sounds easy, but so help me God, there are office gremlins, and they hate me) and act as counsellor when the minister isn't available. The other secretary, who also works 6 hours per week (though not at the same time as I do), does much of the same, though she does more of the paperwork than I do. She's good at that, I'm good with the technology. We get paid handsomely, which is good, because otherwise I wouldn't put up with a lot of the crap, and wouldn't do nearly so much unpaid overtime. Also, they are happy to let me bring my two-year-old with me, which is the only reason I can take the job at all.

Oh pardon me, we're administrative assistants. Officially. I've never actually heard us called that. Usually, we're the "gals in the office". Sometimes we're "ladies", but not often, because "ladies" seem to be women over 65. Could be worse, we could be "girls".

Anyway, as I've said, the UCC is a pretty progressive church, in large part thanks to the utterly amazing Nellie McClung. Women comprise the majority of the clergy. GBLT people are welcome in both the congregations and the clergy, and our church lobbied the government to allow them to marry.

But still, within various congregations, the patriarchy still is going strong, and the sexes are pretty clearly divided. For example, there is a Men's Club (who hire the UCW - United Church Women - to cater their meals, but do not reciprocate), the UCW, the Get Acquainted Group, which I swear, call themselves GAG (all women). Then there is Session, which handles the spiritual affairs of the church (all women except one), Stewards, which handles the building and its use (4 men, 5 women, I think). The men's club handles the maintenance; the women manage the kitchen. The treasurer is a man, despite the fact that we have a woman on the same committee who is a financial planner. Interesting, I think.

The vast majority of the work at my church is done by women. Part of the reason for this is there are more women than men, but I find it very interesting that the work is so divided by gender roles. And I find it very interesting that none of the social groups are integrated.

The other thing about sexism in the church is that while the salaries are guaranteed to be equal, benefits are not. Benefits are negotiated with the individual churches. And surprise! (or not) Men get better benefits than women. I know of one church where the new incoming minister (a woman) got less of a housing allowance because she is single and didn't have to support a family. The outgoing minister got a larger housing allowance, despite the fact that his wife had a $100,000+ job, and they both drove cars worth more than $50,000. But because he is a man, he is expected to pay the housing fees. Ridiculous.

And finally, on a more personal level, talk to some female ministers sometime and hear about the sexism they face. Almost all of them will tell you a story about how some well-meaning older man has appointed himself her mentor, and told her how to lead properly, despite her years of leadership training. Or how the older folks try to set her up with someone, because she shouldn't be alone. Or how some committee or other decides it's not safe for her to be in the building alone.

Which reminds me, our security committee is comprised of men, all of whom are over 65, with three over 80 and one over 90, I shit you not. And they told me it wasn't safe for me to do security there, because I'm a woman. I'm a large, strong woman. I can run a hell of a lot faster than any of them, and probably punch harder. They said they were surprised my husband "let me" do the security that night - I was filling in - when I said, "He'd be hard pressed to stop me, not that he tried", they looked at him with sympathy. Hahaha.

Back to the ministry, and off my little tangent, I can personally tell you about the mail that is delivered to the office to "The Pastor's Wife", and the people who say, "Oh, I talked to the other secretary, the cute blonde", and I say, "Nope, the cute blonde is the minister", and they gape and say, "Uh, I don't think so!" and I say, "No, really." They look mortified, which is both funny and sad. The mail to the Pastor's Wife will one day be returned with "Our minister is not married and prefers men, but should both of those things change, she will pass this message on to her new wife". But I'm going to need to summon up some guts to manage that. I have a feeling a committee or two might frown on it.