"Men are pigs."
That was my response to a male clergy person when he said, "I don't understand what happened. Christianity is an incarnational faith. We take the body seriously. I think that something changed once women went to seminary."
We were discussing issues related to clergy health including our higher than normal rate of obesity. I was so surprised by what he said, that I wanted to shock him back.
In reflecting on this conversation, I know my response was not very thoughtful. Offended by the implication that somehow the mere presence of women among the clergy had removed a theological emphasis on the body, I wanted in that moment was to shock him. Still, I was trying to communicate an ongoing dynamic within ministry for women clergy.
For those first women who entered the ordained ministry, their very presence probably did change many things about ministry. They were surrounded by men, many of whom didn't want them there. By the time I entered seminary in the late 80s, the numbers were shifting. The seminary I attended was about 30% female at the time. Although female students were accepted as part of the "norm," certain attitudes still pervaded. Comments from fellow students included the stereotype of the "ugly woman preacher" saying that the women in seminary were there because, "God was the only one who would have them."
As a single young woman attending seminary and working in churches, I had to figure out how to navigate new dynamics. Figuring out new boundaries as I interacted with fellow students and with male parishioners, was challenging. Just because you set a boundary, doesn't mean that the person on the other side of that line will respect it. More than once, I experienced uncomfortable comments or gestures from men.
For me, "men are pigs" meant men objectify women. Our culture objectifies women's bodies. Women are viewed as sexual object, and clergywomen are not an exception. Whether I realized it or not in my twenties, one of the ways that I dealt with this objectification was to put on weight as an insulator from any unwanted attention.
The conversation is complex and the issues are not easy to unravel. Our psychological self is tied to our theological understanding as well as our physical health but wrapped up in all of this is our sexuality. And that last piece is what I think throws us off balance as clergy persons, particularly as clergy persons who are female.
For those of us who are overweight, does losing weight somehow equate to becoming more attractive? Would that mean attracting unwanted attention? How do we 'unwrap' weight loss from the idea of sexual attractiveness and instead marry it to the idea of self-care and health?