About twenty years ago, my then-husband landed a job at a decidedly modern prairie university. I was still working on my PhD and had one baby and another on the way. When I applied for sessional teaching, the Chair of Religion offered these encouraging words: “Well, you have two strikes against you—one is that you are a theologian, and the other is that you are a feminist.” I don’t know what the third strike was (perhaps it was all those pregnancy hormones I exuded), but at that university, I was forever out.
The sting of that moment still lingers as I recall it, but I suspect that when the resurrection comes, that wound will be transformed into a badge of honour, and why shouldn’t it? After all, what could be more bad-ass than being a feminist theologian, particularly in a world in which God is so1819, and feminism remains a source of derision and disdain?
Even twenty years ago, in spite of the blow to both pride and pocketbook, I knew that Dr. Two Strikes knew absolutely zero about the sheer discipline (what Sara Ahmed calls the “sweaty conceptual work”) that being a feminist theologian required. Languages, philosophy, and 2000+ years of history are not other disciplines to Theology, they are its handmaidens, and Theology requires firm knowledge of these to even begin to do its work. But the “sweaty conceptual labour” was doubled among my feminist colleagues, because they had to accrue and justify additional modes of analysis that were not traditionally afforded in theological schools—sociology, economics, critical theory, political science, to name but a few. Certainly women of my generation were taught by powerful mentors who were feminists, but they were so rare in Theology, and often so marginalized. Theology remains a profoundly male-dominated discipline in my country (see my post, “Women in Theology: A Canadian Snapshot”) and it tends to fetishize tradition to the degree that it becomes impossible to engage thinkers outside an increasingly narrow scope. In my PhD studies, we were all trained to think through modern theological problems through our conformation to a male theologian’s project (Barth or Lonergan in my training). Those of us who were interested in feminist theology did so as an occasional pursuit, or were hived off to a special section of the Program dealing with “Ethics.” Those of us in Systematic or Philosophical Theology were few and far between, and often there were only one or two women in the graduate seminars.
So I found my own way. I learned to read Lonergan and Barth and the “Fathers,” but I read Ruether, Schüssler-Fiorenza, and hooks, too. And then I read Cixous, Derrida, Foucault, Butler, and Mahmood, none of whom were assigned to me in seminary. I suspect many of us did something along these lines. We found ways to indulge our love-hate for traditional theology, and we supplemented it with other writings to create for ourselves what Ruether called a “usable tradition.”
I write for “Women in Theology” so that I do not have to feel that degree of isolation any more: the isolation of a theologian in a religion department, or the isolation of an interdisciplinary scholar in disciplines that are becoming ever narrower. I write on the cusp of theology and feminism in a world that still disdains both, for a world that is desperately in need of their insights.
I also write for WIT because I am inspired by the bad-assery of younger theologians for whom the old strictures and separations seem not to apply. These are women and LGBTQ folk who have said no to gender essentialism and to Christian apologetics and to spending their lives becoming an expert on the one dead white dude. Such younger feminist and queer theologians are not intimidated by crossing borders into other disciplines. They refuse to believe that the church has some special revelation that makes it impervious to radical critique and they know that naïve appeals to the authority of the Bible and Tradition are sources of evil.
I live in the prairies and Professors Two Strikes still exist along with the their female gatekeepers.
I carried on anyways and I have no regrets, it was hard work, and yes, it required extra work; but it has all been worth it.
Hi! I am this young theologian and am always shocked by the many stories that women in our field have…it makes me so sad! I love that there are others that have gone before and I know I must not only cling to their example but also engage with the women around me to become stronger together, I love the semester starting because all my focus (besides mass amounts of studying) is Women IN seminary! I have so much faith in us all and believe a win for one is a win for all. Thank you for leading the way, as you continually make it easier for others to follow!
Thank you so much, Female in Seminary! Best of wishes to you in your work and in your witness!