Earlier this week, Chelsea May and I waited patiently in a building’s lobby as a morning game show played on the TV; we were there for an introduction and potential interview at a small, rural hospital for her future work as a chaplain. Neither one of us were quite sure what to expect, but she hoped to have some general questions answered and perhaps we’d receive a bit of hope that this location could hold a potential position in her future. She had been my cheerleader in other things that weekend, but this was my time to stand with her and cheer her on as she explored her calling.
With substantial coffee breath, the man we were to meet with arrived and apologized for his tardiness, then introduced himself to us, “I’m _____. You must be…Sheth?” Then, turning to Chelsea May, “And you must be [mumbled/jumbled name]?” She corrected him, “I’m Chelsea May. It’s nice to meet you.” Before she could get that little line out, though, this man had turned to face me and began the conversation: “So you all are hoping to volunteer here as a couple when you move to town?”
Obviously there was a communication breakdown somewhere. I looked at Chelsea May and she clearly said that she was hoping to do a CPE residency in the nearby large city and she was looking to do her clinical experience remotely, either at this particular hospital or at one nearby. She wanted to know how she could do this residency without having to drive long distances every day, a valid question with a (hopefully) simple answer.
I’ve heard about women being ignored in conversations. I’ve heard about women being treated as ‘less than’. I’ve heard about men ‘keeping women in their place’. I’ve heard about blatant misogyny but had never seen it in action…
Within the first five minutes I felt a horrible pain in my soul as Chelsea May was ignored again, and again, and again as this man conversed with me – not her. He remembered and used my name – not hers. He asked me questions about her and wanted me to speak for her. He acknowledged that she was present, but not-so-subtly indicated that she should remain silent. He inferred that she was my partner, that she would follow my ministry, that she would do and say what I would tell her to do and say. His ignorance said that she shouldn’t/couldn’t work and indicated where he thought her place should be: at home making babies.
I was stunned as the minutes ticked by and this man talked with me about chaplaincy, a vocation that was definitely not mine but is hers – the woman who was walking with us. She is the one called to this ministry. She is the one who wants to work in hospitals. She is the one who wants to care for the sick and walk them to health or to death. She is the one who wants to care for people and their stories. This was supposed to be for her and her calling, not me.
We endured the conversation through the hospital and steered it to an end because we had to catch a flight. As the conversation closed, he told me he looked forward to talking with me in the future and was glad to meet me; he barely acknowledged Chelsea May and offered her a cursory handshake. She and I exited the building and I immediately apologized for I-don’t-know-what…
…for wasting her time…
…for this man treating her as less-than…
…for not uplifting her vocation…
…for this man being a jackass…
…for all men who have treated her in this same manner…
…to all women who have had to experience this attitude and treatment day after day after day.
I apologized for not saying something more direct at the beginning
for not standing up for her and her right to be there
for her and her right to be in ministry
for her and her right to be a chaplain
for her and her right to be an equal.
Chelsea May, I’m sorry. I’m sorry that this man assumed you would be who you are not and denied who you truly are. I’m sorry that this man ignored you and deferred to me. I’m sorry that this man refused your presence, your call, your vocation. I’m sorry that this man was the epitome of a hypocritical Christian, who “acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle.”
I’m sorry that this wasn’t the first time you’ve experienced this, but is just one of many moments that you’ll undoubtedly forget because it’s such a frequent occurrence. I’m sorry that men have treated you this way in the past and that you have had to struggle and work and push so much harder than I ever imagined just to have your voice heard. I’m sorry that we are not – and probably never will be – treated as equals. I’m sorry that this happens again, and again, and again.
I’m sorry that I didn’t say something at the outset when we both recognized that this man viewed women as submissive beings for men’s enjoyment. I’m sorry that I didn’t correct him and his thinking…I’m sorry that I didn’t steer the conversation to you… I’m sorry that I didn’t make room for you to stand up for yourself. I’m sorry that I didn’t end the conversation but instead played the game to protect some future interest, when the higher priority should have been to protect you and your interests. I’m sorry that I failed you in that moment.
Chelsea May, I hope that I will be better and do better. I pray that I will heed the Sprit’s voice calling me to advocate for you – and all women – in all situations. I pray that I will rely on God to empower me to use my influence and privilege for the benefit of others and not myself. I pray that I will be a true partner with you – lifting up and encouraging you equally in all things in all moments. I pray that you can live out your calling to serve God in chaplaincy and can face these misogynistic attitudes with strength, boldness, and resilience. And may we both call out the jackasses when we see them.
much love. sheth.
 Brennan Manning