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Thursday, February 01, 2007
Root canal or Women's Conference?
So at the NW Emerging Women gathering I was part of a few conversations about how so many of the women there hate women's gatherings. This is something that I have felt before. I was unsure about attending the first Midwest gathering last spring because of that (but went because I trusted the label "emergent"). Then in Rachel's reflections on the event (here) at the Conversation at the Edge blog she mentioned that she would rather have a root canal than go to most women's conferences. I agreed with her, and while we both found the Emerging Women event to be a refreshing experience, that revulsion remains. Jim Henderson asked why that was the case and a discussion thread has been started at the Church Rater boards here. Here's my random and opinionated thoughts that I posted as part of that conversation. I would encourage the women here to add your perspectives to the conversation.

So why am I averse to women’s stuff?

-generally women’s events are Christianity “lite”. The theology is very very poor (if it is there at all). Any bible study is surfacey and generally takes a lot of verses way out of context. Many women are still under the delusion that women are not allow to think critically, and so what is presented is shallow and you are looked on with contempt if you try to change that.

- many women’s gatherings are focused only on emotions. There is nothing bad about emotions (and I think a lot of other settings would do well to include personal reaction times), but emotions are not all there are. I want theology, history, science, literature, philosophy. I want scholarship, tradition, and experience.

- women can be bitches, especially in the church. The gossip disguised as “prayer requests” is nauseating. The cliques, the fights over room assignments, blah blah blah… Not an environment I want to be a part of.

- most women’s stuff I’ve attended before focus on a woman’s relationship with her husband and her kids. Basically they are all about teaching women how to be pigeonholed into certain roles that the conservative church thinks they should be in. I don’t want to go be told how I can better submit, or how to pray for my husband and children, or or to be a more efficient housekeeper.

- these events often support stereotypes and cheezy faith. The promo stuff always has flowers on it. There are “spa” options. The worship stuff is so fake and performer oriented. A bunch of women talking about a male God and not really examining who we are as women. It is a place to rubber stamp contemporary christian culture.

- and there are those who think (my biggest issue/struggle) that women who think women must be separate from men to develop spiritually are just hurting themselves. This is something I really struggled with as I became involved with Emerging Women stuff (and for which I still get angry emails about). We do not want to create a separate but equal setting. Women should be fully involved in all types of regular church (emergent) activities. But I have come to realize that some women need the space to question and grow into equality. They need to be empowered by other women and encouraged where they are at. Sometimes this can only happen among other women. So are there issues with it all, of course, but I (obviously) have come to see its necessity.

Anyway - sorry for the superlong post/rant.

As for gathering for women who don’t identify as Christ followers. — I haven’t been to any other events, but I know there are things like the BlogHer gathering this summer (in Chicago) that may be similar. I know the upcoming Midwest Gathering while it will have a spiritual emphasis is open to all - atheists, “pagans”, liberal and conservative Christians… Its an experiment, but I hope we could all learn from, encourage, and empower each other.

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posted by Julie at 12:15 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 2/01/2007 01:58:00 PM, Blogger juniper

    Thank you for this post. I haven't been able to sit through more than an hour or two of any women's conference. There was too little theology and too much "how to be a better housewife" in most. I have found no intellectual depth and very little substance -- and must we always have SHOPPING as a feature? There's my rant. I'd like to go to a conference and genuinely discuss issues of faith with other women.

  • At 2/01/2007 03:12:00 PM, Blogger lydia

    I agree with everything you listed, Julie.

    Other reasons I generally dislike "women's" conferences (or bible studies, retreats, groups, etc):

    - My husband isn't invited. Maybe I'm odd, but I like having men around in group discussions. I don't mean to sound like a greeting card, but diversity is good for us. I tend to quickly grow tired of any group that's too homogenous.

    - I strongly dislike being forced to participate in meet-and-greet's (for lack of a better phrase). Many conferences - especially if they're geared toward women - have too many structured, get-to-know-you activities for my tastes.

    - Jesus is not my boyfriend. Many of the "women's" meetings, groups, or conferences I've attended or heard about seem to think he is.

    - I understand the need to make the best use of limited time, but I find the pace of many conferences to be overwhelming. As an introvert I need a little more time to decompress between activities, although I realize that changing the structure of conference for the needs of a few isn't realistic.

  • At 2/01/2007 04:42:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    Lydia - I think the need for introvert/reflection time is much needed - for more people than we know. (while others need the connection time in order to process). We are trying to build in time (and options) for both at the Midwest Gathering - but like you said, with limited time, its difficult to do everything we want to do.

  • At 2/01/2007 07:11:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    yes, I resonate with tons of what you described. But for the record, duh, Jesus isn't your boyfriend, Jesus is MY Boyfriend, like okay? ;)

  • At 2/01/2007 07:20:00 PM, Blogger anne

    I've never been to a women's faith conference, though I've helped organize one for a specific professional development event. It seems the faith oriented ones must be much different, though. Maybe I'm going to have to try one out sometime just to see what I think. When you *did* go, what made you decide to do so?

  • At 2/01/2007 07:58:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I can't say that I have ever been to a conference. I have been to "tea's" and traditional Bible studies. I, for obvious reasons (agree with the above) can't do those anymore.

    I was so glad to have this blog as a resource. I met with a few women in my church for dinner this week. Many of us are wanting to connect and have been turned off by past experiences. I had such a great time with them, and can't wait to get together again.
    I agree that I need some more depth, theology, and connection.

    As Lydia said, I too, hope to bring men into the mix, at least periodically. In our situation, many of us are not theology experts, and in our community many of the men (at this point anyway)are further along in this area. Not to mention that I think we can learn from different perspectives.

    I understood from meeting with these women that there are strong feelings and thoughts, but sometimes those are not expressed. Sometimes we feel intimidated, not heard or understood, fearful, and embarassed, so we keep it to ourselves, or only share with "the trusted few". I hope we are moving to a place where women feel confident, loved, empowered, and an important part of our community.

    Julie, we may be asking for a "Women's Conference" near us some time. Many of the women loved the idea!

  • At 2/01/2007 08:35:00 PM, Blogger Julie

    hey - we're trying to figure out where to host the next one. Right now the top options are Austin, TX (basically because I grew up there, my parents live there and details would be really easy - plus there are strong emerging groups there) and Las Vegas (cheap to get to, cheap to do conferences there, and close enough for the LA crowd)... but we are open to suggestions...

  • At 2/01/2007 08:51:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    I'm voting for Philly, but I may be the only East Coaster around here...

  • At 2/01/2007 09:56:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    Yeah, I stopped going to the women's retreats sponsored by my old faith community a few years back for pretty much the same reasons as you all described above. I started to feel the same way about them as I do baby showers and the like...

    : )

    Oh!...and Jemila...I saw Jesus first, so, that makes him MY boyfriend!

  • At 2/01/2007 10:01:00 PM, Blogger Nancy

    Julie: I am not registered yet but do plan on making the Midwest conference and look forward to meeting you there. Who else is going? C'mon now!

  • At 2/01/2007 10:33:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Nancy, you wanna take this outside girlfriend? ;)

  • At 2/01/2007 10:44:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I was hoping to make it to the Midwest, but don't know if it's going to happen. Las Vegas is close for me. I am Arizona, some great places here...but I don't know how "emerging" this area is. I am only aware of our community and that is about it. Not sure if it has caught on here like it has other places. That's my vote.

  • At 2/02/2007 02:48:00 AM, Blogger Sally

    as a serial avoider of womens conferences I pray that you will find the depth and engagement and empowering you seek.

    Have a wonderful time all... just sad I can't come!

  • At 2/02/2007 07:02:00 AM, Blogger wilsford

    the topic in general reminds me of the phrase "self-hatred."

    yet i also steer away from most women-oriented events. it may be the lowest-common-denominator factor.

    afterall, i have many wonderful women friends i respect and would gladly spend time with in a group setting.
    (this is from wilsford, in case i can't get logged in again)

    bottom line, however, is that the religious-themed women's group stuff has been a big turn-off. plastic flowers, fake lace, low-budget, white-bread affairs.

    come to think of it, women's events tend to be reflect the same self-sacrificing low-budget approach as so many of us apply to ourselves in our family settings.

  • At 2/02/2007 10:50:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Yes, I relate to the "lowest common denominator" factor; I find that it's challenging to find women friends IN GENERAL with similar passions and life philosophies in my area, even outside of churchy spheres. Most social groups for women who are not currently working full-time in a professional field seem to center around having kids, but for me, anyway, I don't necessarily want to invest time with someone JUST because they also have kids, if there's not a deeper basis for connecting.

  • At 2/02/2007 11:30:00 AM, Blogger Julie

    You're right about the low-budget thing. While for the big conferences (male run/dominated) they can charge $350+ just for conference fees. The guys can pay it - either they are in ministry and have conference budgets or they just do it anyway. Women do not have that option. For women to be "allowed" to spend money on anything personal (especially something spiritual or intellectual) is really hard. To make it so women come at all, the price has to be low - really low (to the point that the planners generally spend a lot of their own money just to pull it off). So yes, it is low budget - but its better than nothing. Plus I think the unpolished decentralized power structures of these events provide a good model for a new way of doing church - one that isn't all about performance and is more about community.

  • At 2/02/2007 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    Hey...we have some great places here around Denver should anyone be interested!

    Regarding budget, there's a difference to me between economically aware and chintzy. I loved the Emerging women's gathering last April and it was very economical. Unfortunately, I think a lot of women's retreats push the pretty at the expense of depth. It's depth I'm wanting.

    I love the thought of doing a retreat with my husband, but quite frankly most of those don't appeal to me either. Most of the ones I'm familiar with will encourage us to play roles we're not really into filling.

    Nancy, I'm hoping to make it to the Midwest gathering as well!

  • At 5/15/2007 09:28:00 PM, Blogger Genizah Keeper

    I agree too! For a long time, I have sadly been steering away from focusing too much on women in my biblical studies for the same reasons... they're too weak, not enough good scholarship, and overall makes it look like foolishness. My gospels prof gave us a wonderful question to ask of every scholar... "What are the falsification controls?" How do you go about setting up the "support beams" that show that your research is solid. Sadly, too much of the women's stuff conclude with things that don't hold up to rigorous scholarship - but it is totally possible!

  • At 10/12/2007 03:23:00 PM, Anonymous Kristine

    Finally. And I thought I was the only one who feels this way about "women's retreats" and "women's ministry" groups. As a shy person, I esp. detest being forced to participate in those contrived "meet and greet" sessions. I also agree that the frenetic, jam-packed pace of most retreats/conferences leaves me more exhausted and wiped out than when I arrived - and isn't the whole point of a "retreat" to be refreshed and recharged??!!

    Thank you SO MUCH for this post. No one at my church understands this. Now I don't feel quite so alone.