Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Women Hating Women Priests

A piece of almost compete spite on a blog called "A Conservative Woman". You may not wish to follow the link. I had to check it out as I'm still not convinced it's not a parody.

Now I can't speak for the ministers in  Kathy Gyngell's parish. So I don't know much about whether they do indeed have " pudding basin " haircuts. Maybe they have bobs? If she's saying that all female clergy are unattractive then I can only assume she's not been watching the news lately. There are some very attractive women  priests. But then personal physical attractiveness isn't a required trait for a minister of God. If it were all the men would have been sacked years ago. Kathy Gyngell may be implying that all women priests are stereotypical lesbians. But then, at least to a degree, this would help mitigate her concern that these ministers would demand "family time" like those female doctors, with their work-life balance and other nastiness. Professional people should sacrifice their families and lives to their professions, in Kathy Gyngell's world. It's not a nice world though, I reckon.

Her reference to the clergy team being "feminised" is interesting. As that's not a word we generally use for cis women. "Feminised" implies that these ministers are either men who have suffered hormonal imbalances, or transsexuals. I personally owe no ill-will to either group. But it strikes me that this isn't what Kathy Gyngell means. I think she means these ministers are, simply, women. And she has used the wrong word, having heard it somewhere, assuming it's merely insulting.

There is then a fairly long passage complaining about one particular minister - especially in comparison to Kathy Gyngell's own sainted father. Well, I can't criticise Kathy Gyngell's father. He sounds like a model vicar of the George Herbert model, from the days when this was possible. Probably a good bloke.

But he seems only to have had one village. And we don't live in Dibley anymore. Even a place near me like Markyate - which would be a small town if it weren't in the Home counties - is bundled together with its neighbour. When Kathy Gyngell was living in an Enid Blyton book, you'd have the chance of knowing all your local farmers. But if your patch is half of Banburyshire, or massive stretches of North Yorkshire, it's not so easy. Especially when your time is taken up visiting an increasing number of frail parishioners, and filling in forms.

Amid the bile and anecdote, there are two statistics. So let's look at them. Kathy Gyngell tells us that since her father retired 40 years ago attendance at Church of England [Sunday] services has halved. This is true. I don't think we're expected to conclude that the loss of half a million worshippers is down to just one man's retirement, even if he visited every farmer in the UK. No, it's the women that's caused the decline, we are invited to believe.

Obviously, women have only been priests for half this time. So has all the decline occurred since the Ordination of Women Act came into force? Here is a stat from the Church Times:

"In another measure, the Usual Sunday Attendance, 784,600 people attended. Forty years ago, the Usual Sunday Attendance figure was approximately 1.25 million.... In recent years, Sunday attendance has continued to fall by a small amount each year. Five years ago, the C of E saw 823,000 people come through its doors on a Sunday."

So attendance fell by roughly 500,00 over the last four decades but 40,000 over the last five years. And when have we had most Anglican clergywomen around? That's right. Clearly the presence of women has slowed the decline an all-male clergy caused.

And Kathy Gyngell complains that, as the number of full-time female clergy rises, the men decline. Well of course.  As the number of female full-time clergy increases, the number of full-time males (if you see what I mean)  will go down, if general numbers are roughly level. That's what happens in any workplace in this situation. If the C of E were a proper business, the result of this would be a steady improvement in quality as competition increased. Being the C of E, who knows what really happens?

Then there's SSMs - those sainted individuals who sacrifice their spare time for God and their fellow humans. Obviously Kathy Gyngell's not gonna like them. They're often women, who still insist on having kids despite their haircuts and men's clothes (to quote one of the comments btl). They don't have time to visit all the farmers. But they're the people who keep the show on the road, for no money, in many parishes.

She ends with a beautiful non-sequitur - that unpaid women priests are keeping all the wannabe full-time male priests out of jobs. There is a simple eight-letter answer to this. And it's a word that defines the only real difference between male and female priests. If there were the money for full-time priests, and people for the jobs - they'd have jobs.

Kathy Gyngell's complaint seems, at root, to be that we don't live in Barsetshire any more. Well we don't. She doesn't like women priests, she doesn't like SSMs. But there's no suggestion from her that she and like-minded friends should pour money into the church to pay for this legion of hairy-chested, farmer-worrying, squire-bothering heroes of the BCP. But no. Just a load of spite and wishing her ideal of England still existed.

Well it doesn't exist, if it ever did. If it lost all the female priests tomorrow, the C of E wouldn't suddenly grow. It would crash at a rate it hasn't since Kathy Gyngell's dad was still active.

Happy Christmas to one and all.


  1. I disagree - it's *total* spite! And the comments are even worse - what a sorry bunch of misogynistic, fascist throwbacks!

  2. It sounds to me like she's just someone who has a different view on appropriate social roles than is really acceptable today - that's where the "feminization" comes from - it means a shift in roles from the male to the female; nothing to do with hormone levels at an individual basis. There are, very naturally, changes in occupations that move from being male-dominated to mixed or even female-dominated, and that's called feminization. The process results from the changes brought to an occupation by the changing demographics of the workers.
    She does have a rather overly dramatic way of expressing the idea, and not only conflates the sex (or gender? I sometimes get confused) of the officiant with their liturgical style and music choices, but resorts to other dubious rhetorical devices too. She's not too strong on the distinction between correlation and causation, either; that's a common failing.

    But feeling more comfortable with the same kind of people in the same kind of roles that worked well for you in the past - that's just normal human behaviour.

  3. In my Church the same kind of argument is raging, between those who accept female altar servers, readers and EMHCs, and those who don't. (Women sacristans have a long and assured history; women as priests and deacons is a whole different issue.)

    The melancholy fact is that the Church (Roman Catholic, that is) had to make the presence of females in these roles licit, for the simple reason is that men and boys weren't stepping up to volunteer. It was a question of girl servers etc or none at all. Of course, now the voices are raised to say that the shortage of boy/men volunteers is due to the feminization of the role, and that has led to the subsequent lack of vocations to the priesthood - as neat an example of putting the cart before the horse as you could wish to find.

    I haven't read the article you cite (I have blood-pressure problems enough as it is) but I do think that Cheryl makes a good point. Being the age I am, I grew up seeing only men on the altar, and altar boys, and secretly would prefer that. There, I've said it. It's a gut reaction, just as there are some men (and women) who refuse to consult a woman doctor, or a woman barrister, even today.

  4. I agree with Cheryl that this is mainly to do with someone not accepting that the world has changed from when she was growing up. It is only natural to feel more comfortable with things that are familiar – although I’m surprised that she should not have come to terms yet with moving on from the BCP, which I’m not aware of being used except for minority “special” services anywhere for the last thirty years.

    Kathy Gyngel’s recent experience of male clergy must be very different from mine, if she really believes that they would be able to provide the sort of ministry that she describes her father as having given. Younger married male clergy usually have children and expect to spend time with them. They also frequently use modern liturgy and are not averse to christingles. One of them (a good number of years ago now) told me that he did not consider parish visiting to be an important part of his role. Clergy wives are not always keen on their homes being “open house” to the entire village, with consequent disruption to themselves and their children.

    That brings me on to my next point, which is about the reasonableness of expecting clergy families to make themselves nothing more than appendages to their husband/father’s calling. Kathy Gyngel’s description of her father’s ‘open all hours’ hospitality reminded me of a my mother’s report of a debate among the congregation in their rural Methodist circuit when it came to replacing my father, who was moving on to another ‘station’. The church members were opposed to one candidate on the basis that he was unmarried and so would not be able to provide anyone to run the “Women’s Work” meeting etc. The superintendent politely reminded them that they did not employ the minister’s wife! I can’t help thinking that Kathy Gyngel’s father probably relied on her mother to do a lot of the work involved in keeping open house at the vicarage.

    In our village, we can only afford to pay 10%of the full Parish Share, which means that we only get 10% of a vicar. So, we (the congregation and PCC) undertake some of the duties (including some of the administration and pastoral visiting)that a vicar might have done in the past. This seems to work well. it may even be better for community adhesion than having a full-time priest in the village.

    Finally, Kathy Gyngel assumes that the churches would attract more people if the services were more traditional, old-fashioned and Anglican. Our CofE church has survived (and is now growing in a very modest way) in a parish with a population of 600 (including a smattering of farmers, who will be invited to share in our Plough Sunday service) by being open and inclusive, which means having services that are not totally alien to the large proportion of members (including several members of the PCC) from non-conformist backgrounds.

    1. Judy, you say "we ... undertake some of the duties (including some of the administration and pastoral visiting)that a vicar might have done in the past." This implies you think the normal state of affairs is a vicar who does everything. Unfortunately, the mindset which sees congregation members doing these things as "helping the vicar" rather than "being the church" is part of what's led the CofE into its present sorry state.

    2. "that a vicar might have done in the past" was a reference to Kathy Gyngel's article where she talked about her father's ministry 40 years ago. As a lifelong Methodist, it was quite a shock to me to discover that in the CofE the church members seemed to expect the vicar to be in charge, to make all the decisions and to do most of the work (apart from baking and making cups of tea, of course). Happily that has changed a lot now and "we" are all much more confident about being the church for everyone else in the village. (I might suggest that the large proportion of members from non-anglican backgrounds may have something to do with the change, but it isn't just us - the old stalwarts whose families have been attending the churhc since it was built in 1861 are playing a big part too.)

    3. Quite right Judy, the vicar in the C of E isn't expected to make cups of tea and bake.

      That's his wife's job. No wonder people don't like female vicars.

  5. What about women-hating women priests?


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