I can imagine that some people will find the idea of a blog called Beauty Tips for Ministers scandalizing.But as a woman and a potential-pastor I found the idea of addressing beauty and sexuality in ministry quite intriguing. The premise of BTfM is this: women are pastors. Women have bodies. Women who are pastors forget that they have bodies. Here’s a particular experience of thinking about embodiment.
Now, I’m not in favor of everything that comes over the wire from BTfM. I don’t buy new shoes every season. I’m certainly wary of the expense and potential for gluttony if PeaceBang’s spending trends became my own. And I’ve never teared up over a certain brand of mascara. But what I do love, what forgives all of these sins is that BTfM recognizes that there is a serious gap in addressing the particular embodied needs of female ministers.
We’re in a decade when over half our seminarians are female students headed for the pastorate. But this is obviously a new trend. Most of us planning to enter ministry have very few or no examples of women preachers, leaders, ministers and sometimes even teachers. This is new territory and while PeaceBangs doesn’t get it all right, I’m so thankful that someone is posing the question, sometimes in provocative ways.
The implicit message to young female ministers is 1) stop pretending that you don’t have a body and 2) stop pretending that the body you do have is some neutral space. Your body is a construct. Your congregation is negotiating sexuality, femaleness, youth, authority and normativity every time you enter the room.
I think the most telling cultural moment in this regard is the Mark Driscoll-type lifting up of the virile masculine pastor who thunders from the pulpit, giving tips on oral sex and encouraging men to put their masculinity (read: their sexuality) on display. But can you imagine if a woman got up in the pulpit in a form fitting dress and cleavage, preaching on the female orgasm? Of course you can’t, because power is at work in these displays.
But that’s the other option? No one knows because no one wants to raise the question. The failure to address sexuality and femininity in the pulpit stems not from the expectation of gender neutrality, but from the expectation that women should have bodies like men. What we’re really seeing is an absorbing of the female into masculine normativity.
My favorite posts from PeaceBangs come from questions from women in ministry navigating the very tricky terrain of gender and authority. What’s the best way to dress for an outdoor wedding? What’s too sexy? How should you respond to this comment or that? What’s an appropriate skirt length? Is this sheep stoll totally ridiculous? If for no other reason appreciate BTfM because it will help you see that every day is a negotiation for women in this new world of exercising spiritual authority over congregations where, for most parishoners, this is their first experience with a female minister.
But what about justice? Shouldn’t we be focusing on feeding the poor and tending the wounded? Do we really have time for this stuff? I argue we should make time for it because the body is a powerful space for control and oppression, and for women in the Global North this takes a very particular form, a subtle form. We can pretend it’s not happening, that we can carve out a neutral space immune from gendering, identity and power (and aesthetics) or we can start talking about it. From the pulpit, from the classroom, in our blogs and with our friends.
Most of these thoughts are an expansion upon my reflections on an episode of What Not to Wear that featured a young, female priest.