A set of statistics has floated around lately; the results of the past two search years in the UUA. They go something like this: 3/5 of the persons in search for a new church are women. 35% of those women were successful in search, vs. 46% of the men. The larger the church, the more likely it was a man who was called to serve it. In congregations of 250 members and above, it seems, a man was twice as likely to be successful as a woman.
Ouch. This is disappointing. We UU's think that we're beyond this.
What does this mean? One possibility that there's a lot more sexism amongst us than we'd like to think. Another possibility is that male ministers pursue their career path more vigorously and are able and willing to move, to put in full time work while raising children, and to move into ministries where they must supervise staff and exert considerable, overt leadership. (ie, fewer of the women in search are applying for the larger churches)
It may be that women still have to be better than their male competition to get a job, and this phenomena gets worse the "more prestigious" the pulpit. It may be that churches and search committees have unconscious prejudices or that their expectations of their minister-to-be are so high that only a man with a wife to hold down the home front could possibly do them, especially if there are young children in the family.
It may mean that, these days, the average male minister (now a minority entity,) is more skilled and dedicated and "together" than the average female minister. (This is very politically incorrect to think, I know. But I'm sure I noticed the reverse when I was in theological school; the average women, though a minority, was more skilled and dedicated and together than the average man. This was much more obvious amongst my Methodist friends, where women were less welcome than in my UU circles. Why beat your head against the brick wall of minority-ness unless you're really good at this?)
Thinking about all of those women, many of whom are now retired, and their careers leads me to my own theory about sexism, women, and ministry. I'm inclined to think that search committees are fairly open minded on the subject of having a woman minister. I've been in conversation with a dozen or so over the years and I've only once thought I detected a real strain of sexism. But I think that the women ministers themselves have been beaten down by the difficulties of being a woman in ministry. It's not easy being a man in ministy, either, but to all those shared difficulties, women add the difficulty of the unconscious, unspoken sexism in our society, which means that women have to be twice as forceful as a man to be heard but are liked less and less the more forceful they are, and women ministers bear a burden of projection of people's "mother stuff". Male ministers get "father stuff", but in this society, "father stuff" is a lot less potent and troublesome than "mother stuff".
So a woman's first ministry is hard, the resistance is subtle, (and often from women, which is confusing and painful), and the line very thin between being a leader and being strident. It's extra hard for the woman minister to figure out, when she gets negative feedback, what's sexism and what she really needs to look at. Conflicts with others are always her fault...after all, women are supposed to get along, and women ministers are supposed to get along with everyone. So ministry for women is harder, more perplexing, not as much fun, always requires a kind of heightened survival instinct. Because of all that, it is easier to quit, harder to take career risks, harder to imagine oneself a minister of a large church.
So if it turns out to be mostly true that women are self-selecting less challenging ministries, that does not absolve us of sexism. And if we are making things harder for our talented women ministers, we're the losers in the end, after all. There are apparently not enough ministers willing and able to serve our larger churches; several very attractive larger churches didn't settle a minister last year. We can't afford to handicap 3/5 of our pool with the results of a sexism we don't believe in.