• Jo Page

Woven Witness

Women's History Month has concluded (with the same small fanfare that inaugurated it) and you'll get no flack from me about that. It's not that I'm lining up behind Colorado senator Vicki Marble who likes white men so much that she voted against equal pay for women in her home state. Wait, what?

No, it's that the ghettoization of specific groups into alloted calendar months is simply absurd. I mean, with Black History and Women's History Months checked off, gangway for the Memorial Day parades, Fourth of July barbecues, Columbus' "discovery," and the celebration of European encroachment on First Nations people--Thanksgiving, that would be.

Having served twenty-five years as an ordained pastor in a field where many, many women are still excluded, I know the struggle to be accepted into the clergy club (hardly an across-the-board acceptance, by the way). The same is true for women in other professions that have been traditionally male-dominated: funeral directors people assume are secretaries, doctors people assume are nurses, professional women whose credentials are questioned or overlooked. (The former interim president of the large university where I live told her husband she thought I was an exotic dancer. Wait, what?)

In my first parish hemlines were a topic of concern. Mine were sometimes too short. Our musician, a club chanteuse by night, organist come Sunday, would wear midriff tops and minis and it was fine; female entertainers can be sexy. Female pastors were most trustworthy when dowdy. Wait, why?

This all makes me hearken back to seminary days when the (female) dean said that there wouldn't be parity until women could still be accepted even if they were only C+ students (we female seminarians were hell-bent on getting A's to prove our worth). There wouldn't be parity until women could dress as they wish and be who they are instead of accepting androgyny as the only way to be taken seriously.

Just recently I led a retreat where several women recounted criticism of their hair or their shoes as they led the worship service. It reminded me of hemlines. Because that is relevant to getting the job done, how?

The social burka of androgyny, if it's not a considered choice, may not be a good look for women. Women's lives inform their work. Why must we hide that?

My colleague, the Rev. Lori Kochanski, began a project a year ago, weaving stoles--which pastors wear in worship services--for female pastors. She requested that those participating pastors designate three meaningful garments that she would then rip up and weave into something new.

I want in, I thought. But I didn't know why, exactly. And I thought about what garments I would render to her for tearing up. Eventually I decided to give her a maternity dress I'd made when pregnant with my first daughter. I gave her a kind of sexy dress I'd bought for when I performed weddings and went to the reception after--and actually wanted to look like a guest someone would ask to dance. And I gave her the dancing dress I bought for my Mom's funeral because in the very last conversation of her life, Mom told me she wanted to go out dancing.

Out of these, Lori wove wonder.

With this beautiful stole, she taught me that women's experiences are never to be specialized, nor ever to be marginalized. The stole doesn't scream "yet she persisted"--though so very many of us do and have to. Instead the stole is encoded with the three things that define and connect me to all that I am and have been: a daughter, a mother of daughters and an incarnate, passionate woman.

I will wear Lori's stole with joy. Hemlines, shoes and hairdo be damned--every woman needs a garment like this one, a garment made up of who she was and who she yet will be.


© 2018 Jo Page

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