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.