Wednesday, August 17, 2005

you are what you read?

Feminism isn't new to this blog. Neither are books. And I've occasionally commented on both at once. But G. Brooke has inspired me today.

A while back, I commented that of the 200ish books on my shelf, 32 are by women - counting several just by Madeleine L'Engle and a few specifically about women - and relayed Hope's comment that that's probably more than most seminarians have. More recently, Hope and I were discussing how little we read at Seabury that's written by women. I suggested that, in my experience, at least some of the faculty make a sincere effort to include works by women. Hope reminded me of my 32 book statistic and I went home and looked at my shelf - and I was even more dismayed:

**In my one year at Seabury, I've been assigned 46 required books, 10ish recommended books (there may have been a couple others I didn't actually buy), and one assignment where we had to pick one of three books to read.

**Of that count, 4 required books, 2 recommended books, and one of the three possible choices for the assignment were by women. 3 more required books were coauthored by women. That's about 1/8 women, 7/8 men; 1/11 women and 10/11 men on required books.

**The 4 required books authored by women: Women in Travail and Transition; Understanding Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality; Preparing and Evaluating the Liturgy; Soul Feast. In other words, mostly from disciplines examining the "softer, gentler" side of priestly formation/theological study, rather than the "harder, more academic" disciplines. None of these four books came from classes that might be offered in the Smith College Department of Religion & Biblical Literature. It's cultural studies and prayer. That's not to say that we don't need to hear what women have to say about liturgy, prayer, gender studies, pastoral care, etc. - or that women have had an easy time breaking into those publishing fields. But they're still areas that have opened a little more readily to women. Of the three coauthored by women, one is on race, one is on systematic theology, and one is the sayings of the desert fathers and mothers (so you can guess how equal the writing in there is). And incidentally, of those four books, most of my class pretty well dismissed two of them - just didn't like them at all.

Fewer than 10% of our required books were by women. Half of those that were, students deemed to be subpar.

I want to know why. I know there's still less out there by women than by men. I know we read articles by women, and that's great, but when I want something on baptism or Jeremiah or Calvin, I don't look back through my syllabi and files unless I have to - I look first to my bookshelf. I know there are classes where primary source readings will just be mostly by men - most of the church history primary sources, for instance. I understand that sometimes you can look and look and just not find things.

But I will no longer be satisfied with that answer. I have heard it and found it false in too many other situations. I have heard professors acclaim the work of this or that female theologian/scholar outside class. I have read excellent articles in class by women who I know have also published books. There are books out there. I'm not even asking for equal press time just yet. But it is ridiculous that I have taken 14 classes here and only 5 of those syllabi have required books by women (if you count systematics as one of the 5 but not the desert fathers & mothers). It is ridiculous that I can't assume that any of the books I'll be assigned this fall for ethics, preaching, and congregational development will be by women. It is ridiculous that the prize for "best gender balance" goes to Systematic Theology, where one book was coauthored by a woman, two were a reader that included articles by women (but not as editor), and two were just by men - that this one class makes me feel like there might be a place for me if I chose to try writing and publishing.

I know most Seabury faculty never read this blog, and I don't want it to appear as though I'm speaking particularly to those who do. Nevertheless -

Seabury faculty: Where are the books by women? Who on your syllabus teaches me not only about biblical studies and theology and pastoral care and history, but also that I too can write and publish - that if I have something worth saying, someone might listen? Who on your syllabus brings a female perspective to your subject? When I look on my shelf for a book on your class's subject, because I trust that you have taught me well and your materials would be worth reusing, what will I see that was written by a woman?

It is not too much to ask that every class at Seabury include at least one book by a woman author on its syllabus. Not a reserve reading, not an article, a required book. Make us buy one more book if you have to - if there's simply nothing on your syllabus that a woman has said as well as the man you have there now.

I know I don't have much power to change this. But I will no longer give adequate or excellent ratings for "gender balance" on evaluations simply because we read articles by women, or talked about women, or read books by men about women. I will no longer consider it adequate unless the class syllabus requires at least one book by a woman. If that means no class is adequate in this regard, so be it - I will not engage in "relative evaluating." I encourage my classmates to join me in this.

I want to see women on my shelves.


AKMA said...

I take it you aren’t counting Egeria’s Pilgrimage because it doesn’t appear on your bookshelf; and The Martyrdom of Perpetua and Felicitas and the Life of Macrina were presumably written by men, though they report women’s lives and teaching.

Well, the gauntlet is down for New Testament II. Thanks for giving me some lead time.

G. Brooke said...

Hm, I don't know what to do about Hebrew and Greek: a lot of people use Bonnie Kittel for Hebrew, but students already go broke on the texts, I hate to add one. Our Handbook is co-authored by a woman, Jennifer Green, but that's not much.

In the Daniel seminar across the street, one of our two texts will be Narrative Fiction by Shlomith Rimmon-Kennan; and that is not soft stuff: excellent and engaging writing, but quite demanding.

Thanks for giving me something to think about...

Micah said...

Ah, Beth, you make an interesting challenge. My immediate reaction was, "There are a bunch of good preaching books by women." But as my friend Ken says whenever I make a sweeping claim like that with no evidence, "Name Five!" So, here goes:

1. Voicing the Vision: Imagination and Prophetic Preaching--Linda Clader (my advisor!)

2. Performing the Word: Preaching As Theatre--Jana Childers

3. Preaching As Weeping, Confession, and Resistance: Radical Responses to Radical Evil--Christine Smith

4. Birthing the Sermon: Women Preachers on the Creative Process--Jana Childers (again, ed. this time of lots of other women)

5. The Preaching Life--Barbara Brown Taylor.

And I'm hardly done.

6. Thematic Preaching: An Introduction--Jane Rzepka

And, as a bonus...

7. The Gendered Pulpit: Preaching in American Protestant Spaces--Roxanne Mountford

And do not under any circumstanes pass up:

8. The Princess in the Pulpit: Preaching Like a Girl--Sarah Gaede (a D.Min. Thesis from last year at Seabury)

I am proud to say that I have read and enjoyed (and heartily recommend) all these books, except for The Gendered Pulpit, which I haven't been able to afford, but you will find it near the top of my Amazon Wishlist. John may or may not have any of these books on his syllabus next year (he tends to have a short booklist), but here are some supplementary suggestions in case you want them. Preach it, sister!

Emily said...

Excellent post; I'll be curious to see what responses you get on and off-line.

Frank said...

Beth, thanks for the challenge. I concur with you. It SHOULD be a requirement to have a required textbook from a woman (and I would add a person of color…you will notice that most of your texts are also written by WHITE men). I will refrain from a long-winded excuse, telling you about the difficulty in finding introductory texts in biblical studies written by women; because, in the end, I believe that such words are just that, an excuse. I, as a male scholar and professor, need to listen to the different ways that male privilege continues to work itself out in its subtle and not so subtle ways.

I have been thinking for a long time now that I should require the Women’s Bible Commentary. It is useful, provides an explicitly feminist interpretation of the bible, and covers all of the books within the canon. It is the kind of book that I believe that every seminarian should have in their library. I have difficulties with the form of commentaries in general, but this might be something that I have to pursue further.

I would also add to this discussion the idea of primary “text books” in general. The notion of a primary text smacks of interpretive hegemony: “Read this week all of these other interesting folks in the article folder, but continue to read chapter X in your primary textbook.” Economically speaking, by requiring only 3 to 4 required texts, we are reinforcing the privileging of these authors and books, whether we believe that they are the most important or not. I think it is time for us to move more toward course packets for the following reasons: 1) Packets do not assume the constraints of a single author, though the collector’s selections provide a specific angle into the field of study. 2) Packets can provide a good diversity of readings from women, scholars of color, LGBTs, postcolonialists, etc. 3) It is much easier to find good individual articles from these perspectives than it is to find entire books on the subject, esp. when you are dealing with specific topics in the Hebrew Bible. 4) In general, I find articles and essays to be much more interesting than a book written by one author. The “form” of a book often limits the usefulness of its content. And, of course, 5) I believe that course packets can be cheaper than 3-4 textbooks (depending on which copy place does the packets). Course packets give me the type of control for which I am looking. Now if I could only have an extra week or two to put them together. Do you want a job at the end of summer?

Sorry for the length of this response, but I wanted you to know that your concern is a good one and needs not only to be heard but needs to provoke change in our curriculum. Oh, and occasionally some of us do read your blog ;)

Frank said...

Oh, by the way, after the Wabash consultation that I went to last month, in which we had a lengthy discussion about the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality, I made a personal commitment to have both a primary text by a woman and a scholar of color in each of my classes. Enough is enough.

Tripp said...


I am glad that Micah can give such a list. I must confess that my knowledge of women writers in Liturgics is sadly limited. I'll have to put some volumes on my wish list.

Ruth Meyers. She has a book.
Ruth Duck. She has many books.

Mary Catherine Hilkirt is fierce, though not really a litugist, her books on preaching...where I borrowed the phrase "sacramental imagination...are good.

Benedicta Ward has written numerous volumes on history and spirituality tied to the monastic hours.

And, honestly, now that I am thinking about it, there are many more.

Gail Ramshaw.
Heather Murray Elkins.
Anne Field.
Miriam Therese Winter.

I should compile a list.

And since you brought up Calvin, I would be remis to not list Martha Moore-Keish for you. Oooo Aaaah. I think she's incredible.

Tripp said...

Oh, and I got curious. Hilkirt teached at Notre Dame (all hail) and so I went to see who is on their liturgy staff.

All men.

Good scholars. Yes. All men. Maybe I should no go there after all. Sigh.

Tripp said...

"teached" should be "teaches"

Dern typo.

Raisin said...

I heartily applaud Beth's question as well as the request for more equal authorship.

Emily said...

Re Frank's post re books v. packets: I have to say, as an alum and a working clergy person, that very few of the packets have survived x moves. (Although I have referred to Egeria from a packet). When I pause to look something up, or have one of those musing moments, it really does start with my shelves (or the Internet, which raises an entirely different set of issues). It's not just education for now, but also what we'll take with us in our vocation, what our parishioners will see in our offices, what books we'll recommend in the future, what we'll use if we get involved in local formation programs.