The King of NASCAR Richard Petty recently spoke about female driver Danica Patrick. When asked about her chances of winning, he said it would happen “[only] if everybody else stayed home.” But he went on to say that Patrick does have some value to the sport. He explained, “If she’d have been a male, nobody would ever know if she’d showed up at a race track. This is a female deal that’s driving her. There’s nothing wrong with that, because that’s good PR for me. More fans come out, people are more interested in it. She has helped to draw attention to the sport, which helps everybody in the sport.”
This has led me to ponder what the “value” of women is in a profession that has historically been dominated by men. There are many such professions, but of course my own profession of pastor is one of those. So, what is the “value” of women in the profession of pastor? Going through seminary with many gifted women (including my wife) gave me ample opportunity to uncover some of the answers to this question. So, without further ado, here are 7 (the number on Danica Patrick’s car) pieces of value that women bring to professions historically dominated by men.
This may seem like an obvious response, but I think we often underestimate the power of diversity. We don’t always realize the importance of diversity until we’ve experienced it and then left it behind. When I was in seminary, I was blessed in my classes to have many gifted, capable women to share ideas, struggles, and the work of ministry with. Upon entering ministry, my wife and I took a call to an area of the country where my wife was the only female minister. Commission and Classis meetings felt noticeably strange to me with few or no women present. It felt wrong. Diversity was missing.
Any group that is by choice or by chance a homogenous group will undoubtedly be out of balance. It’s kind of like walking while carrying a weight in only your right hand. You will be out of balance. You may not notice it right away because your body shifts weight to keep you upright, but as soon as you pick up some weight in the other hand, you will see how much more balanced you become. An elder of my church once told my wife that he never thought women should be ministers until he experienced women doing the job and he realized how much it brought to his experience of ministry.
Women bring a different perspective to the table than men do. They’ve had different life experiences. They’ve grown up in the shadow of patriarchy. Women look at life differently than men do. It’s not that women see all flowers and rainbows and cookies. It’s that women see life as someone judged because of something beyond their control. They understand discrimination and injustice. This is a much needed perspective, both in the world and in the Church.
With the insertion of a new variable into a system, change is inevitable. When my wife was preparing for ministry, she often told people that she did not want to be a trailblazer. One time when she said that to an experienced female minister, the minister responded, “You already are.” My wife is a trailblazer because of who she is. Her very presence in our church and denomination is bringing about change. The same is true with Danica Patrick. Her very presence in Sprint Cup series racing is bringing about change in the system. Hopefully that change will be positive and without extensive pain.
Women entering a profession historically dominated by men will create within that system a new image. Young girls will begin to look at those professions as a part of their possible future. Young boys will see the field as being open to anyone. What once seemed impossible becomes possible. And suddenly the history that was lauded a lot in the past looks different. It looks like it is missing something…something important. The image has changed.
With a catalyst for change in the system, controversy is sure to follow. A woman’s presence in a profession historically dominated by men will be sure to come with its fair share. But controversy is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be an important piece in bringing about significant change. Controversy does two things. First, it brings broader awareness to an issue. And second, it facilitates discussion…even if those discussions are not always productive. If it weren’t for controversy surrounding Danica Patrick’s presence in Nascar, I would not be writing this post.
In order for women to enter a profession historically dominated by men, there must be an openness in the system. The men in the system must open themselves to change. They cannot continue to hold exclusionary views, but have to open their minds and hearts to something new. This openness will often take time to achieve fully. It is perhaps the last of these things to reach fruition. It requires letting go of prejudices. It requires love. It requires time.
Women bring a great deal of value to every profession (as do men), yet there continue to be many professions that exclude them. It is my hope and prayer that the people (aka men) in power in those professions will discover what they’ve been missing and lead change. What do you think of the pieces of value I’ve listed here? What would you add to the list? I’d love to hear from both men and women in all sorts of professions. Feel free to chime in!