The Contributors to WIT are beginning a series this week titled “Why I Write for WIT.” This series will appear weekly (approximately) throughout the summer and by its conclusion will include semi-autobiographical reflections from each of our current contributors about what attracted them initially to write for WIT: Women in Theology.
Looking back over my academic career thus far, I can only think that I was hopelessly naive when I started out about what it meant to be a woman in theology because it wasn’t until I reached the level of the PhD that I started to really notice the gender disparity in the field. I did my undergraduate degree in theology at Georgetown and quite literally never had a female professor in theology. Now, part of that was of my own doing—I sometimes joke that my major was actually in the Jesuits because the majority of the classes I took were taught by either Fr. Thomas King, SJ or Fr. James Walsh, SJ—but I did notice that in the Christian theology track there were only two female students in our senior seminar. But it never occurred to me at the time that this was a problem.
Then, I did my M.A. at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. It also had a very small female population, even given that it was a Catholic seminary so there would naturally be a higher male population. By the time I left the number of women studying at DSPT had increased, but again, it never occurred to me that the gender disparity was a problem.
When I really started to question this dynamic was at the doctoral level. I attended Saint Louis University because—at the time—they had a very unique program in historical theology, the likes of which no longer exists anywhere in the United States (as far as I can tell). When I reached the level of candidacy and applied to join WIT, the department as a whole had 31 full-time professors, of which only 2 were women, and 29 students in the historical theology PhD program, of which only 4 were women. Out of all the areas of specialization in theology, I suspect historical theology has the greatest gender disparity, though—to be completely honest—I don’t have any hard data to back up that assertion.
During my PhD program, I also began thinking seriously about the intersections of my life and career and asking myself questions about the way in which my gender affected my progress. Questions like: Will whatever department I end up teaching at support my family life, especially children? Are the subtle challenges to my teaching authority in the classroom the result of my gender? Is my voice not being heard in classroom discussions at times because of my gender? For the latter, I have a very distinct memory of one of my male friends talking over me and interrupting me in a class discussion in such a way that I was never able to make the point that I had been trying to make, the male professor not even noticing that this had happened. There was, at the time, virtually no one else who I could talk to about these things, who might be having similar experiences to mine.
These questions opened my eyes to the way in which certain issues affect women in a theological context in a different way and that is why it is so important to have a place in which women can dialogue about their ideas, their experiences, and issues in the church and the academy that have a real effect on the lives of women. The shared space for women that WIT provides is what drew me to the blog. I had been reading posts for a while, but becoming a contributor really gave me that space to share my ideas with other women (and men). Now, when I started, I was the only contributor who identified as a historical theologian, and I was especially happy to have the space at WIT to develop my own thoughts about the nature of historical theology and the voices of women as part of the Catholic tradition. These questions drive my current research.
It is this space for women to develop, discuss, and share their ideas that I find so important in WIT. As I said in my initial application for the blog, “I think that it’s really important for women to have a space to get together and express their thoughts—whether related to issues facing women or just broader issues—because women still are the minority in many doctoral-level programs in theology.”