I’ve been living in Berkeley just short of a month, and my experience of the beginning of my doctoral studies already has been full of gifts and challenges. During this time, I often find myself reflecting on the impact my gender and my perspective on gender more broadly could have on my work.
Coming into the program, I knew that in my Area–systematic and philosophical theology–the majority of students are men. This isn’t a bias of my particular program; this is the norm around the country. However, it was a totally different thing to experience that first-hand during Orientation. As my colleagues and I made our way to our Areas for a group activity, I looked around the systematics table of seven people and realized I was sitting next to the only other woman in my Area in my incoming cohort. Both she and I are interested in feminist perspectives on theological anthropology, among other questions, so it has been exciting and encouraging to spend time together and to get to know one another as colleagues and as friends. As each of the five gentlemen at the table introduced themselves, questions arose in the back of my mind. How will he respond to the feminist perspectives that she and I bring to the table? Is he interested in becoming a male ally in dialogue on questions of gender? Does he see us as tokens? If he does, would he be willing to own that and engage with it? How can we spark conversation around these issues in a way that builds community?
Grappling with these questions remind me that I am not the first to do so, that I stand in a long line of women who have faced similar questions, in my tradition and in others. They have forged the way for me to be here at all, and I feel a deep and abiding responsibility to that gift, a responsibility to do well and to continue make room for the young women who will come after me in these pursuits.
I struggle in this space because I come from a church that allows women to teach at this level but often dismisses perspectives that urge the Tradition forward in a more egalitarian way as angry or misguided. While I believe that there can be a place for righteous anger in these conversations, as there can be in any movement for change, in reality, I rarely feel angry. Left out, ignored, misunderstood, misrepresented–yes. But that doesn’t lessen my love for this community of believers, from the bottom up. It is a reminder of our brokenness, of the not yet-ness of this community that is genuinely striving to discern what should stand the test of time. And in that brokenness, we rely on the Spirit of God and one another to keep going.
How can we be agents of healing in a church that is so broken? This is the question I find most on my heart as I begin my doctoral studies. How is God inviting me to be a part of a movement to bridge the rifts in the church today? And how can my example invite others to be a part of that movement, as well?
Jen Owens is a co-editor of From the Pews in the Back and a first-year doctoral student in systematic and philosophical theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, CA.