Reflections on “Impact of Patriarchy” seminar at WIL

By Rhoda Keener

In February at the Women in Leadership conference in Leesburg, Virginia, I co-led a seminar on the “Impact of Patriarchy.”  Since I am in my 60’s, I invited two younger women pastors, Cindy Lapp and Carmen Horst, to also share their experiences with patriarchy.  We defined patriarchy as: “a system of beliefs and behaviors that gives more power and credibility to men than women.”  As we prepared for the workshop we wondered whether patriarchy would be an issue for women at this conference. However, our workshop was filled to capacity.

Several weeks after the conference, I received an email from a woman asking for the resources we made available in our workshop. She wrote, “I realize that patriarchy is still an issue in my life, and in the lives of many in our churches.”

Her email reminded me of my personal journey in growing up in a patriarchal church.  I struggled with questions of how I could use my gifts and of my own intrinsic value.  When one gender is valued over another, this can affect at a very deep level how a person views herself.

Twenty years ago when I was a graduate student in counseling, I presented a paper for the Indiana Association of Counseling and Development on the impact of patriarchy for women who believe it.  I incorporated research from a number of sources which indicated that women who believe in submission to patriarchal roles often experience:  1) lower self-esteem and self-acceptance, 2) greater passivity, 3) higher rates of depression, and 4) greater susceptibility to abuse.

When I presented this in the 90’s I said, “I am a Mennonite woman and I have lived what I am about to share about patriarchy.”  Before I could go further, women’s hands went up all over the room.  One said, “I am Roman Catholic and I have experienced this.”  Others:  “I am Jewish, Presbyterian, Lutheran…and… have experienced this.”  I realized then as I do now that the impact of patriarchy is far more widespread than any single denomination or religion.

As Cindy, Carmen and I presented our different experiences together in Leesburg, we noted that each of us in different generations had something to share about patriarchy in our lives.  Yes, there is progress in the church, but if the interest and thoughts shared from the audience at Leesburg are any indication, ongoing work is needed to bring full gender equality.

Below is a bibliography of the handouts and materials that were made available from the workshop.

Workshop Resources:
Created Equal: Women and Men in the Image of God by Linda Gehman Peachey (available in English and Spanish) free of charge from MCC.
“A Biblical Basis for Equal Partnership:  Women and Men in the Ministry of the Church” by David Scholer, abbreviated article from “Women In Ministry” Covenant Companion articles 1981, 1983, 1984
“What is Biblical Equality?” by Alan G. Padgett, Priscilla Papers, 2002:16:3
“We Ordain Women because we Baptize Girls” by Chuck Poole, Baptist minister with Lifeshare Community Ministries in Jackson, Mississippi
“Boys Don’t Cry and Other Lies We Tell Men” by Richard Rohr, Sojourners, July 2010
“The Persistence of Patriarchy” by Anne Eggeboten, Sojourners, July 2010
Women, Abuse, and the Bible:  How Scripture Can Be Used to Hurt or Heal by Kroeger and Beck, 1996
Why Not Women? A Fresh Look at Scripture on Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership by Cunningham and Hamilton, 2000
The Resignation of Eve:  What if Adam’s Rib is No Longer Willing to be the Church’s Backbone?  by Jim Henderson, 2012

7 thoughts on “Reflections on “Impact of Patriarchy” seminar at WIL

  1. Mert Brubaker on said:

    Carolyn. the Atlantic cover story recently was about the difference in confidence levels of men and women, regardless of their competence. I imagine this has something to do with patriarchy in the culture at large. In spite of all our gains, we still have a lot of work to do……much of it internal, I think. Mert

    • Hello Mert, Thanks for your note. I just purchased Jimmy Carter’s new book, A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, and he certainly echoes what you are saying here. I also believe that inner confidence springs from our deepest sense of who we are and that is inextricably connected with our beliefs about inherent value. Rhoda

  2. Carolyn Heggen on said:

    Thank you for co-leading this workshop, Rhoda, with two younger women. I’m sad there is still a need for teaching on patriarchy inflicted wounds, but am delighted to see the younger generation of women in the church continuing to deconstruct these issues. Mert, I did see the Atlantic article. I certainly agree that patriarchy is a problem in society at large. When social/cultural premises are given Scriptural and religious support, I believe they become even more insidious, damaging and entrenched.

  3. Joanna Shenk on said:

    Thank you Rhoda, for sharing about your workshop. I was disappointed to miss it at the conference. And thank you for the many ways you have helped me to recognize patriarchy in my own experience. That naming has lead to much transformation for myself and others! With deep gratitude, Joanna

    • Rhoda Keener on said:

      Joanna, I’m so glad for the ways we have been able to share our journeys – and very grateful for the work you are doing for women in the church. We need the voices of young women. May you continue to have strength for this work. Love, Rhoda

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