Tanya Riches recounts her experience battling veiled sexism in the form of a fellow seminary scholar who refused to cite her work.
Maybe three years ago, I had a younger male scholar colleague write me a quick note on Facebook. He asked if I would chat with him about his Ph.D. I agreed, and we set a Skype meeting. We chatted in depth about my four-year research on Hillsong Music, and I sent him a copy of my MPhil and some articles. He was doing a Doctor of Ministry — which at his university included a short research paper constructed after our conversation.
He emailed me his research. Interestingly, he’d used concepts of mine in his paper but failed to cite my work. By this, I mean that there were full paragraphs written by me – with no references.
When I pointed this out, he stated “Oh. I didn’t know I had to cite you, it didn’t seem like your ideas were that serious“.
I suspected he didn’t treat his male colleagues like this because they were all cited.
“Well,” I wanted to say, “seriousness in academics is generally measured by publication. And seeing as you’ve copied terms I’ve used in publications, then yes, you do actually have to cite where they appeared. And, although you’ve demonstrated you don’t take *me* seriously, I don’t give a Flying Fish Fritter about that, buddy. You still have to cite me like you would any scholar.”
But who needs to be considered hysterical?! … So, I quickly shot back a light-hearted comment that oh yes (surprise!) he did, in fact, need to cite everything he had read and used.
He again disagreed. He claimed that as nobody read Australian publications, his readers would have no idea who I was… in other words, You’re not North American… *and* you’re a girl.
So, I took all my emotion and put it in a Facebook post. It was just intended as a reminder to younger scholars like myself. Anyways, he saw the post, and ridiculously identified himself on the thread. In response, I said I was sorry for the pain I’d caused him (wait, he’d caused me pain too, for which he didn’t apologise) but his actions were still plagiarism.
It was only after he’d read the hundred or so interactions on my post, and people responded to him personally, that he changed his paper. It was submitted, he graduated, and while I’ll always forever double check his work, I don’t hold grudges.
I thought it was a ridiculous, once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.
Here goes my usual disclaimer, right? … I’ve worked with amazingly collaborative, genuinely brilliant male scholars who make ethnographic research into Christianity both fun and rewarding. And theologians I’ve worked are, koala’s honour, some-of-my-favourite-people-ever.
But I’ve also had a few encounters of the third kind.
My Seminary Ph.D. colleagues are disproportionately male (maybe 1 woman: 6 men), and I’m sure for Senior Professors it’s much higher. Within the church, stats are even more disproportionate. For paid worship pastors in Los Angeles, I’ve heard a statistic of 1 woman to every 10 men.
In my Australian denomination (last time I checked) about 3% of senior-level pastors are women. Senior roles are often described as the vision-casters, thinkers, strategists and planners. Whereas, management roles (in which women are over-represented) are the executors, builders, and practitioners. Although women can and do play higher level strategic roles, the huge imbalance often suggests to congregation members that men are God’s ordained thinkers, while women are not.
(Additionally, I should add, most ordained female theology Professors are white. So if you know a lady theologian of color, well she deserves a high five. And for you to listen very, very carefully to her view).
Anyways, I hope this basic picture clearly iterates: it’s not all men. Not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the opposite is proved true, right?! I interact with hundreds of male Christian scholars, many of whom are famous authors with huge impact globally — and yet they choose to spend time with me. I find them generous. honest. prophetic. helpful. respectful. collaborative.
And I get caught off guard by the reverse.
The popular author Rachel Held Evans has an awesome piece here. It’s called Why a Seminary Degree Doesn’t Have to Make you a Jerk. I recommend it for all theologians, particularly men. In many parts of the church, just being a woman and having an opinion causes an allergic reaction on the other side of the room.
I’m sure women do share elitist impulses, as it’s not particularly gendered behaviour… But generally, in higher level theology degrees, women have to work harder to be heard. In your thirties, the stakes are so much higher (kids now? kids later?). We aren’t thinking “how do I dominate my peers?” we’re either thinking “who’s going to date me if I’m a Doctor”, or “oh dear God, let me pass this course before my eggs age out” or “should I express before or after the seminar?”. While men are fathers and husbands, it’s often an entirely different experience.
I have a group of really close male colleagues I adore. I recently confided in one of them about a conversation that wigged me out. A first year Ph.D. had contacted me with a request that seemed like he was delegating work to me – and I also noticed he’d also contacted a string of other female colleagues. I wanted to know what my friend thought.
This friend was a little shocked at my interpretation of the conversation, and I felt terrible. I’d assumed he knew this was something that I had to be careful about, as it happened irregularly to me.
But he had no idea. And I felt like I threw cold iced water on him.
Months later, that friend contacted me to let me know he was submitting a paper. He’d had a dream that he plagiarised me, and when he reread his work, he thought he probably had, because it seemed based on research I had presented at a conference. So he’d decided to cite me.
This guy is a legend.
Be like this guy. Cite girls.
And, my takeaway lesson is: maybe it’s worth occasionally talking about this, even if the initial reactions aren’t great.
After I explained this blogpost to my husband, he said to me, “Tanya, when you talk about being a woman, it’s like you’re a spy and you’re explaining to everyone how your gun occasionally misfires. And we’re all looking at you thinking ‘oh wow you’re a spy?’”.
So. There you go. I’m a Pacifist, and not sure my life is *anything* like being a spy. But I recognize there aren’t too many television shows or movies that feature a scholarly woman with any character depth.
So… if you don’t speak my language and you need “spy” as the closest analogy, then so be it. There are all kinds of women, who have all kinds of experiences. This one is to amplify those of the women scholars um… serious spies.