My Road to Deconstruction: Part 3 The Reckoning
Another quick disclaimer, a huge part of my story revolves around me leaving the missions organization and how much changed for me after I did. So the story of me leaving is important for those reasons, but also because I think women in ministry often don’t share their stories for fear of seeming gossipy or resentful or vengeful. But this story is important to me and to who I am now, so I will share it with the reminder that I truly have no bad feelings toward anyone involved. Most of them I still like them as people and I know in their stories they think they were right. And that’s ok.
My Story About Misogyny
Misogyny is at the core of evangelical Christianity, so whether or not we see it or believe it, it’s woven through all evangelical churches and organizations as well. Misogyny is a tricky thing, because no one ever truly believes they’re being sexist, and they would never admit it even if they did. So when you claim you’re being discriminated against people usually call you crazy, give you a million other reasons why you’re being treated that way, gaslight you into believing that you’re not really being treated differently. This is why so many women in ministry don’t talk about their stories. There’s no way to prove it and people think you’re being dramatic or seeking revenge. But that doesn’t change the fact that women in ministry have an incredibly different experience than men.
At the beginning of my time with the organization I truly believed I could make a difference. Multiple times I was told that they wanted me to potentially run the organization one day, that they felt I had all the qualities necessary to make a huge difference in the world. This is what kept me going even through the bullying and the criticism and the hard times. I felt like I would really get a fair shot, which is hard to find for women in ministry.
I switched roles a few times, eventually joining the communications department. My boss at the time was a Vice President and was a member of the org’s leadership team, as all other department heads were. When he left and I was tapped to replace him, they told me I would not be a VP or be allowed to join leadership team. I would instead be a Director and would have no voice at the leadership level.
I was upset to say the least. I felt so small, so belittled. Every other department head had the same title and same voice in leadership, but they made a new title specifically so I would not have the same title and voice awarded to everyone else, even though I was doing the exact same job as my predecessor. They went out of their way to make sure I knew I was not welcome at the table. When I asked why, I was told (and I promise this is true, there was someone else in the room who can attest to this conversation) that I was young and had just gotten married and I would probably have babies soon and they didn’t want more turnover on the leadership team, so they didn’t want to give me the promotion until they were sure I either A) wouldn’t have babies or B) would come back and be committed after having babies.
I was shocked. As was the other person in the room.
I pushed back and told them that not only was that illegal, but super sexist. You wouldn’t say that to a man who had just gotten married and was going to potentially have kids.
They backtracked and said, “Well that’s not the real reason. It’s just that you’re not very experienced and we want you to get more leadership experience first.” I’d been there for 4 years at this point.
As upset as I was, I was still committed to this work. I loved what I did and I thought it was important. I was hurt, but I continued on as Director with no voice on leadership team. It was embarrassing. I had always felt like people didn’t like me, but now it was like a big placard on my door. A brand new title created just for me: Director, which really meant “we don’t really want her to have a voice here.”
My Story About Gaslighting
To be clear, there WAS a woman on leadership team. Just one. But she had the same views as everyone else, she was older and had lots of years of missions under her belt. She was certainly not a rock the boat kind of person. I think having this one woman on leadership team made it very easy for them to look at me and say, “See, we’re not sexist! There’s a woman on leadership team!”
But again, as any woman in ministry can tell you, that doesn’t mean there’s not still plenty of misogyny to go around. But that does usually mean there’s lots of fun gaslighting where they convince you that YOU must be the problem because there’s already a woman here and we like her, so if we don’t like you it’s probably because of something you’re doing wrong.
I think this is one of the largest misconceptions about misogyny, that it means you hate all women. Not the case. Sexist people and organizations always have some women they like, which is how they convince themselves they’re not sexist. It’s when women don’t fit into the box they want that they’re outcast and discriminated against. And I did not fit into their box.
Fast forward a couple years. I’m pregnant. I once again approach them about being on leadership team. I’ve had a few more years experience leading, we’ve made headway in our department and implemented some great changes.
I’m told they don’t want to make the decision yet, they want me to prove myself to them once I’m back from maternity leave. They’re afraid I’m going to decide not to come back or I’ll be too distracted, so when I get back from maternity leave I need to prove I’m committed to the org and then they’ll talk about putting me on leadership team.
I am furious, but not in a place to fight it. I decide to play their game, give them no reason to exclude me. Because still, despite everything, I fully believe in this organization. I believe the work we do is important. And I truly believe I can implement change from the inside once I have a voice.
I come back from maternity leave, work hard, show my commitment. A few months later I ask again, what’s the timeline of me being on leadership team? Leadership team meets about it and they decide no, I’m not fit for leadership team.
This time the reasons they give me are because I’m young (32, not young), don’t have any experience in the field as a missionary (I’ve visited dozens of teams but never lived anywhere longer than a few months, so I guess that doesn’t count), and I haven’t led my team for long enough (at that point I had been there for 8 years and led my team for 4 years).
I probably should have left at that point, but I still believed that we were helping people. And also, I was scared. Scared of something new, of finding a new job with a 6 month old baby at home, of our financial situation if I left. I had spent years raising the financial support I needed and it was scary to let go of that.
I was angry, but I let it go. I stopped trying to prove myself to anyone and just did my work. I went down to part-time but was still Director of my team. I decided to just focus on what I could control, on my awesome team and the work we were doing.
A year goes by. I’m still upset about it if I think about it too much, but at this point there are multiple teams who have directors instead of Vice Presidents so it’s not quite as embarrassing as it was at first. I’m come to accept where I’m at and what I’m doing, all the while still struggling with this doubt about what it really means to be a Christian and what I actually believe.
My Story About The Last Straw
Then in the summer of 2020 I hear some news. One of my co-workers, a young man who is at least 5 years younger than me, who had only been at the organization a year or two, who had no experience on the field and had never even led a team at the org, was being promoted to leadership team. Everything they told me disqualified me from a position on leadership team seemingly had no affect on this man’s qualification.
The hypocrisy was astounding. And everything became very clear.
They never had any intention of giving me a voice. Whether it was just my gender, my politics, my views, maybe even my personality, I don’t know. But I realized why I never felt like I fit in. Because I didn’t. I was being boxed out.
I know what some people might be thinking, because I thought it too. Maybe I just wasn’t good at my job? If that’s the case no one ever told me. No one ever said I wasn’t doing my work, I wasn’t trying hard enough, I wasn’t completing tasks. My team expanded when I was in charge of it, which I assume wouldn’t have happened if I was bad at my job. I went through a million reasons about what else could have been wrong. But there was no other explanation I could see. They had made their stance clear.
I knew this organization did not care about me like I had cared about it. They did not value me or my work or my voice, at least not as much as they valued the men. And I decided I could no longer work for an organization that did not value me.
So I quit.
Up Next: Part 4 The Freedom