The “Hillary Effect”

9 comments Written on September 20th, 2016     
Filed under: Testimonies and Stories
Jo Ann Deasy is an ordained Covenant pastor currently serving as the director of institutional initiatives and student research at the Association of Theological Schools in Pittsburgh, PA.

I have almost always been a pioneer. Despite being a fairly anxious person, I have found myself forging new paths in the wilderness since I was 7 years old when I was one of the first girls allowed to play pee wee baseball after Title IX passed. I was one of just a few women to graduate in civil engineering from UC Berkeley. I was the first woman to preach at several churches. I was the first woman named as “dean” at North Park Theological Seminary, even if it was only the dean of students. I have been the first woman people have witnessed lead communion or perform a wedding.

Being the first has a thrill to it. You are often recognized as being “exceptional,” praised for “not being like other women,” invited into leadership positions because there are “so few qualified women.”

But being the first also means being the one who has upset the system and, if you have read any systems theory, you know that upsetting the system is no small thing. When a family, congregation, community, or culture faces challenges to the system, the natural reaction is to try to return to “stasis,” the way things were, even when we know it might be unhealthy or wrong.

We’ve all witnessed it. A church is struggling to survive. There are a few unhealthy congregation members that seem to control everything. A pastor, lay leaders, denominational official tries to bring about change. The pastor gets fired. The lay leader steps down. The congregation starts threatening to leave the denomination. Or, perhaps change does happen, but it only lasts for a short while. The pastor burns out and leaves. Things immediately return to normal.

Perhaps this has happened in your family. Someone in the family has decided to try and break the cycle of abuse or addiction. They go to counseling. Seek help. Everyone praises them for their efforts, but even so, in subtle ways, people begin sabotaging their efforts. It would require too much change, would require everyone else to look at their own issues instead of focusing on the “identified patient.”

In the last decade, we have watched this happening on a national scale. The election of Barack Obama as the first African American president brought hope to many that years of racial prejudice and systemic injustice might be coming to an end. In those first years, such change seemed possible, even despite the racial hatred President Obama and his family faced as they stepped into the White House. Current reality, though, suggests that far from bringing about racial healing in our society, an African American president has simply brought to light many injustices that had been roiling beneath the surface for years. Not only have existing injustices been brought to light, racial violence seems to be on the rise and people seem more free to express racist ideologies.

hillary-2So, what happens when a woman is running for president? What happens when a woman challenges the system? In a very insightful article in the Atlantic, Peter Beinart highlights the ways sexism has been a factor in this year’s presidential election. To read the article “Fear of a Female President” click here.

Beinart suggests that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy “has provoked a wave of misogyny—one that may roil American life for years to come.” He presents compelling evidence that, despite being a fairly conventional candidate, Hillary has faced opposition that has far exceeded that of similar white male candidates in the past, and her opposition has often been filled with sexist rhetoric. Beinart writes, “Standard commentary about Clinton’s candidacy–… doesn’t explain the intensity of this opposition. But the academic literature about how men respond to women who assume traditionally male roles does. And it is highly disturbing.”

I would highly encourage everyone to read the article and begin looking into the literature being referenced there. Not because I think it will convince you to vote for Hillary… but because the “Hillary effect,” as I’ll call it, impacts all women, especially those who serve in leadership positions.

Women pastors and leaders often face opposition that is full of emotion and, at times, violence that far exceeds the reality of the situation. Stepping into a new leadership role, upsetting the system, can provoke a violent attempt to return to stasis. Even when a woman is stepping into an existing leadership role, her leadership can be met with a surprising amount of emotional and passionate opposition. Like the time I changed when confirmation would meet and ended up in a conflict that required denominational intervention. When such conflict erupts, people often blame it on the woman herself claiming that she is being too emotional, too sensitive, or has blown things out of proportion.

When a woman leader in your congregation is met with resistance or is in the middle of conflict, it is always important to think about how gender might be at play. If the emotion and passion seem out of proportion to the issue, chances are there is something else at play and often that something else is sexism.

One other lesson for us to take away: If Hillary Clinton does become president, we cannot assume it will make things better for women. In fact, if we have learned anything from the Obama presidency, it is the fact that things may actually become worse. And if that is the case, it will be up to us, as the church, to stand alongside the women in our midst, just as we must stand alongside our African American brothers and sisters, to fight the resurgence of prejudice, to resist the attempts to return to the way things were, and to courageously fight for deep and lasting change.

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9 comments “The “Hillary Effect””

Once again, JoAnn challenges us to think. Thank you, sister! This is sad but true, and makes me marvel at the power of “the way it’s always been.” Lord, have mercy. Come to think of it, isn’t this kind of resistance what sent Jesus to the cross?

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Thoughtprovoking!! Thank you.

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Amen!! Thank you, Joanne!

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Thank you JoAnn!

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This expresses so much that I have struggled to find words for. Thank you JoAnn for your wisdom and words. 

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JoAnn – AMEN! How well those with a pioneering call know that being the first teaches you that few men and women struggle to look below the surface to expose how the root of stereotypical projections are being nourished. Thank you for naming the resistance to name cultural, traditional and societal prejudices for what they are – Words of wisdom that come from the heart of a women whose journey won’t allow her to remain silent.

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I am sorry to disagree with you. We have a woman pastor and she is wonderfol. She is making changes that are good for our church. If Hillary doesn’t get elected it is because she is not trusted or respected. It has nothing to do that she is a woman. Many women would love to have a woman for president. We have waited years for that. Just not Hillary! You have to admit her record is questionable aND she has been caught in many lies. Please keep an open mind to her record, and not support her just becasent she is a woman.

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Thank you for voicing the reality about the resistance women face when things are in transition for a given group.  Is there hope for churches and the women who are called by God and dare to lead them?  Or is this kind of resistance inevitable?  Must we burn out pioneers in order to make progress?

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