Saturday, December 16, 2006

Pass the Question

I've been trying to explain to a couple Christians I know why I, an athiest, am cranky, but it's hard to explain. If I'd grown up a non-Christian, I might be able to feel neutral, but I grew up in a Christian denomination, so my non-Christianity isn't "natural" but at least partly a reaction to my early experiences.

Here's a question for the blogosphere: When I was a kid, the denomination I was in didn't ordain women or allow women to serve at the altar. Women (and girls) were responsible for cleaning up, though, for polishing metal and wood stuffs, for dusting, for washing linens. This service, I was told was an honor, a privilege. (It was the 60s. Yeah, I'm old.)

At this point, that denomination now ordains women and allows women to serve at the altar. But still, at the parish where I grew up, all the cleaning is done by women (and girls). So women now do men's work, but only after and in addition to doing all the women's work.

So, those of you in the blogosphere who know parishes in denominations where women are ordained and serve at the altar, do men participate in the cleaning activities, or are those still considered women's work?

Whatever the parish's practice, why that practice?


  1. Hello~ Very nice! Welcome to Taohayuan in China!

  2. Anonymous5:44 PM

    Die, spammer, die!

    Your crankiness makes OOODLES of sense to me (enough to justify a typo in oodles, even).

    My Episcopalian parish actually does have men, as well as women, doing the cleaning, washing, and bread-baking. Now that I think about it, even for sewing, one of our most accomplished sewers (can't say seamstress) is a man. And it used to be a man who was in charge of floral decorations.

    But while to a certain degree this is the result of the parish being remarkably progressive and not holding to the old traditional gendering of work, it's also a question of our simply attracting people who have nontraditional skills that they love using (as with the floral arranger or the seamster (I like that better, though it sounds like teamster!)), or having people who simply have the knowledge and know that things need to get done (our main plumbing expert is a woman, for example).

    So I don't know that we can take much credit for it (and I am pleased to report that I haven't ever HEARD us taking credit for going against tradition in those areas).

    I've gotten into this sort of discussion with other Christians occasionally, but it's a hard subject to broach.

  3. Anonymous7:39 PM

    Interesting food for thought...I grew up "Catholic" with all of the dogma that implies -- and yes, it was only the women who cleaned (and were honored to do so!) while the men did all the clerical work. As time went on, the church introduced Eucharistic Ministers -- lay people who could administer communion, and this was a position open to men and women. That's pretty much as far as it's gone, although I have heard rumors that girls are now allowed to serve as acolytes -- the position formerly known as "altar boy". I say I've heard rumors, because I abandoned the Catholic church many years ago, and after bouncing around for a while found myself comfortably becoming a Presbyterian. While our parish still has male pastors, we've had women come and serve as guest pastors without too much feedback from the congregation. And for as long as I've been a member here (>13 years), it's been a man who has been in charge of cleaning up; it's only been recently that a woman has been hired to help.

  4. We thought that women actually *liked* polishing things. They happily volunteer. :-)

    OK, I'll fess up.

    This is a cunning plan to ensure that women eventually do *all* the work, leaving men to play console games, surf for porn, and eat cookies.

    It was hatched at the Council of Trent between 1545 and 1563 under the cover of preparing a PR offensive against the reformation.

    It's working rather well and should conclude about 2045.

    As a fellow atheist (note spelling), I would point out that most organised religions adhere to anti-democratic social hierarchies and are heavily geared towards the male gender, usually tarting it up with some guff about how women are really special, so need to be protected, cover every inch of their bodies, not drive, not have any fun, do all the dusting (cleaning, ironing, cooking, washing and other menial tasks), pop out as many kids as possible, raise them, and do anything else the men can't be naffed to do whilst they do the cool high-status stuff.

    In normal life in many western countries, a lot of this has simply fallen away as folk realise it is all tosh. But organised monotheistic religions don't do democracy. They are based on a pyramid with a diety at the top, a male social hierarchy below it, and women below that, just above the heathens and the animals.

    Allowing women a few places further up the hierarchy keeps the uppity ones happy with a career path. The rest are left to polish things and do their religious duty, particularly in the kitchen and the bedroom.

    Which is yet another excellent reason to be an atheist, and why most organised religions have not welcomed feminism with open arms.

  5. I like to hope that this gender difference will change along with the demographics of the church.

    I can see how some women, wanting to participate in the life of the church and to make contributions to an institution that has deeply influenced their lives, would believe the 'it is an honor to clean God's house' stuff. I don't buy it, but that is because I'm in my 30s, not my late 60s... and my mom worked and didn't have time to clean the church or bake cookies etc...

    When women like you and I are the ones in charge, our partners won't be able to get out of the polishing and dusting by calling it 'women's work'... if only for the simple reply that we also ought to quit our jobs so the man can support us, because that is 'man's work'.