In the Anglican Church, Sexism Still Runs Deep

by Jamie Manson

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Early this week in the Guardian, Lesley Crawley offers a comparison of the sexism she faced as an engineer and the sexism she now faces as a priest in the Church of England.

Crawley describes enduring catcalls, lewd gestures, and blatant displays of pornography by her male co-workers in the factory where she was an engineer. She writes:

Although these events were difficult, it was possible to manage well as a woman in the secular workplace, because the structures were not sexist. So I knew that the law of the land entitled me to work as an engineer, and that the procedures of our company demanded equality. Furthermore, almost all of the managers, and especially the managing director, were enthusiastically committed to equality. . . .

The Church of England is different, because the sexism is institutionalised, and that makes it more oppressive. Parishes can vote to opt out of discrimination legislation, and this compromises the whole church, as sexism is seen as tolerable. In fact, we aren't meant to call prejudice against women "sexism" at all: it is meant to be called "legitimate theological difference". For me, if it walks, swims and quacks like prejudice, then it is prejudice.

Crawley’s reflection was prompted by the recent appointment of two new “flying bishops” in the Church of England.

What is this episcopal position, you ask? Flying bishops are appointed specifically to oversee priests and congregations that refuse to accept the priestly ordination of women.

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said that these positions would be “permanent fixtures” because “the pastoral need will not go away.”

In response, Crawley makes another comparison:

Imagine if we were talking about black priests and Williams had said: "Racism is a permanent fixture of the Church of England. The pastoral need to care for priests who do not accept the ministry of black people will not go away." Not cool. We need to see sexual discrimination in the same light as racial discrimination – they are both unjust and dehumanising.

The Church of England began ordaining women in 1994 (though the vote took place in 1992). Nearly two decades later, misogynist practices are still protected by the highest ecclesial office.

For those of us who continue to struggle for women’s equality in the Roman Catholic Church, it’s a helpful reminder that, in many ways, getting women ordained is just the beginning of the battle.

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