Thursday, October 23, 2008

Making things more complicated than they have to be

I got a phone call earlier this week from the counseling minster at a big-steeple church in our part of town. He told me about a project he was working on and an upcoming lunch meeting with a woman in our area who may be able to take the project to the next level. I thought he was about to say, "I know from our conversation at the Marriage Summit that you are interested in this project so I'd love for you to join us." What he actually said was, "Our church has a policy that we don't meet with women alone and so I was hoping you would come to the meeting to be the third person at the table."

I'm vibrating with frustration. I'm frustrated that I said yes. I'm frustrated that he couldn't just talk to me like a professional colleague (his subsequent email said, "Thanks for helping me stay above reproach"). I'm frustrated that I'm not going to call him out on it.

Sarah Palin's emergence on the political stage has held up a fascinating mirror to our culture and to women. I have shuddered when foreign dignitaries from countries unfriendly to women leer at her during photo ops. I was repulsed when a gross old man in Alaska said to a reporter, "If she wasn't married, I'd definitely bang her." I get irritated when young men talk about how they will vote for her because "she's hot." I've been encouraged by conservative women's willingness to embrace her as a working mom and I've been disheartened by liberal women questioning the same.

I've also been intrigued by the nation's response to her overt femininity. Hillary Clinton is derided sometimes as a "strident" feminist and ridiculed for her wrinkles and her pantsuits and other reminders that she is an "older" (meaning, post-feminine) woman (although I think she also garners respect from women for the same thing.) Condoleeza Rice is widely respected but is portrayed as asexual, which seems to put everyone at ease. (Last winter, when she was photographed wearing high-heel knee boots, you would have thought she had taken up pole dancing!)

So here is a woman who is young, beautiful and knows how to use her feminine power. Men all over America think she winked directly at them during the debates. As Amy Poehler observed, when she is backed into a political corner, she becomes "even more adorable." Being a PTA mom (a form of community leader, by the way) is suddenly taken seriously by many. I think that's an improvement. I'm interested to see where this all takes us.

So, back to my lunch today with a secular professional woman in business and a well-intentioned ministry guy. If I get there and realize that I'm part of the team and that the project will go forward, it will be a win for everyone. If I realize, though, that I'm just there as a chaperone, I'll cut my losses and move on.

I'm working to get the chip off my shoulder. As a wife and as a Christian protecting my own integrity, I appreciate his commitment to avoiding temptation and/or avoiding compromising appearances. I just wish that these guys didn't bring it up every time--and I do mean every time--we have a conversation, especially since we have only met in public conference rooms and lobbies. It implies that there is something illicit about our working together and reactivates the archaic Christian view of women as "temptresses." Surely we can do better from both ends. And, I really do believe that if I'm not willing to talk with him directly about it, I'm not allowed to hold on to all this resentment. That's passive-aggressive and unfair. I'll keep you posted.


Electric Monk said...

Wow. That's a really weird situation. I'm surprised that he didn't see the awkward situation it puts you in!

The Palin Effect in this election has been interesting to watch. As a consumer of primarily liberal media, I think I can say that she certainly doesn't seem respected by the left side. But man, the right sure is loving her!

Cara said...

Wow is right. Am I the only one that thinks that his attempt to keep himself in the clear seems a bit smarmy or something?

I guess in connecting you incident with Palin, it seems like tokenism. It doesn't matter what you bring to the table--you are a body--in this case a body that can keep him legit in meeting with other women in Palin's case a body that says the Republican party is progessive and thinks women are ok. But what I have found most upsetting is that no one has looked at the other strong, capable women in the GOP that were over-looked. McCain and the rest of the party leaders will always know more than here and thus alway be in the power position. Which brings me back to the other sounds to me like he invited you over other women because you actually do relate to the issue he was meeting about (I am sure there are other women he could have invited just to sit there) but by inviting you he could jostle for power as the local authority and power player in your common interests.

Just a thought...could be completely off base.

T said...

Right--I don't think I was strictly a token or an object. I do believe that he was trying to connect with me as a colleague. My experience with so many of these guys, though, is that they don't seem to be able to get past the "woman" part to the "ministry" part. It shows up in so many other ways as well. To connect it to the world stage, for example, just this week we've seen Palin labeled as a "diva" and Pelosi called, repeatedly, a "harpy." Both of those terms are specifically feminine--and language does matter.