Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Almy Catalog, The Episcopal Church, and the Smurfette Problem

Crusty flopped down on the couch after lunch on Sunday, ready for The Clergy Nap.  In preparation for this weekly event, Crusty likes to do something that stops his mind from racing from the events of the morning and allows him to settle down.  Since COD is easily whipped into a self-righteous fury, he was not looking for something to stoke his readily induced indignant rage. This Sunday, he noticed the fall C.M Almy catalog: sure to induce napdom.   What can be offensive about moderately priced ecclesiastical garb of moderate quality that never changes?  What's new in Guatemalan stoles?  Is it finally time to buy those preaching tabs?  What's the ugliest chasuble I can find?  Instead, he saw this advertisement while flipping through the clergy shirt section, and presents it for once without a snarky caption, in its fullness, without comment:

Far from inducing a nap, this resulted in the following reactions from Crusty:


Resulting in this blog post:


Let's enumerate what's wrong with this photo.

1)  It treats women differently than men, by definition a central component to sexism.

Example:  Almy has what it calls an "ideal" clergy shirt for men, which zips up in the back and has a flat front.  Hey, just like this woman's clergy shirt, which has a flat front and zips up in the back!

Have they ever, in the decades they have had this "ideal" men's shirt, EVER shown the back of the male model?  Never.  They have shown this guy, who's probably been dead for 10 years because the photo never changes.

For the woman's shirt in question, we have the shot of the woman's back, stretching down to her nether regions, paired with a frontal shot of the woman un/buttoning the front of a shirt.  We don't have this guy's back showing how the shirt zips up.  We don't have him showing us how the shirt works by pulling it over his head, revealing his 6-pack tawny port abs and Delta Tau Delta t-shirt underneath.  Given the warm feelings this photo imparts, he likely has a pipe and a glass of scotch on the table next to him, jaunty thumb on his belt as he dispenses homespun wisdom.

2)  You might argue, "Lighten up, they need to show that the clergy shirt layers over something else."

OK, here's the problem with that:




This is a particular trope: sexualizing women by showing them from the back.  Comic books have done this for decades, sexualizing women in a way that they would never sexualize male superheroes.

Hey, here's a widely distributed promo photo for Netflix's series The Defenders.  Guess who is photographed from the back, in order to accentuate her anatomy, while every other member is photographed from the front?  It's  Jessica Jones, the female member:

Hey, here's a series of promotional photos from the Avengers' movie.  Robert Downey, Chris Evans, and Chris Helmsworth are all very handsome, buff guys.  Guess who is regularly shown in profile, to accentuate her lady parts?  Black Widow!




Here's a screen capture from the DVD's main page.  Which one is posed differently from the others?

Crusty literally could go on and on and on.  And we're not even getting into Game of Thrones.  Thing is, I expect this from Hollywood.  But the f****g Almy catalog?

C)  It's also not how a specifically female-oriented company markets it.  Women Spirit, a company specifically promoting women's clerical wear, advertises the exact same shirt as follows:

The focus is on the garment, it tells us the story of the person who designed it, there is no person buttoning/unbuttoning her shirt, and the person is facing the camera.

So that's what's wrong with the photo:  It treats a female model different from a male model, markets an item for women differently than it does for men, and either intentionally or unintentionally perpetuates a stereotypical visual sexualization of women.

OK, so that's what's wrong with the photo.  Crusty is frankly baffled that in 2017 this somehow was considered a good idea for a marketing campaign.

Now -- why does this matter in the broader issue of sexism in the church?

1)  It represents the same kind of failure adequately and fully to bring women clergy fully into the life of the church, even though it has been decades since we have had female clergy in The Episcopal Church.  It matters because the church has to face its issue with the Smurfette Problem.  The Smurfette Principle is the concept that an otherwise all-male cast of characters gets a lone female character, often sexualized or some other stereotype, as a token figure.  Black Widow, as portrayed in The Avengers movies, is the perfect modern analogue.

The reason the Smurfette Problem matters is because it inhibits the full equality of women in the life of any group or organization: in the words of the person who coined the term: "The message is clear. Boys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central, girls peripheral; boys are individuals, girls types. Boys define the group, its story and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys."  Over forty years after the ordination of women, nearly thirty years after the consecration of the first woman bishop, we must address the fact that maleness is still the presumed as normative, women are tokenized, often placed into stereotypical categories.

Crusty wants to be clear that the Almy catalog is not the problem, and a write-in campaign will not fix the deeper, underlying issues in the church.

Any look at any objective series of data confirms this.  Women clergy still lag behind men in the church in the following ways:

--Overall, average compensation for male clergy is $60,000 and $45,000 for women
--Women tend to receive less in average compensation than men for the same job with same years of experience.
--Women are less likely to be rectors than men: 93% of male clergy have held a Rector or Vicar position, as opposed to 65% of female clergy.
--Men are 61% likely to say it is difficult to balance being a clergyperson and parent; 84% of women clergy say it is difficult to balance being a cleric and parent.
--Married male clergy received more in compensation than unmarried male clergy.  It is the inverse with female clergy: unmarried women receive higher average compensation that married women.
--Men are more likely to say it was "easy" to find a suitable paid position (42% of men vs. 28% of women)
--We have been consecrating women as bishops since 1989.  We have over 100 dioceses in the Episcopal Church.  We have had 15 women diocesan bishops in those thirty years over those 100 dioceses.

And more!  Here's 40 pages of recent data on women clergy which demonstrates differences with male clergy crunched and explained by the Church Pension Group!

Just like electing Barack Obama as President did not solve the issue of race in the United States, electing Katharine Jefferts Schori did not solve the issue of sexism and full equality of women in the life of the church.  We still have a glaring Smurfette Problem, down the level that a photo like this was considered appropriate for a marketing campaign.

2)  In fact, there are precisely those who think because we have lady bishops, lady rectors, and lady doctors [note: this, as the Official Child of Crusty Old Dean (OCOCOD) would say, with an eye roll, is "sarcastic voice." There is no such thing as a lady bishop or a lady doctor, appending a "lady" in front of something only reinforces the Smurfette Principle that maleness is the normative paradigm] that sexism is no more.  Over a year ago Crusty was serving as supply clergy and preached a sermon where we spoke about the need for full inclusion in the life of the church, and specifically named racism, homophobia, and sexism as areas where the church cannot pretend that these issues have been resolved.  Someone came up to him afterwards and said, "I can understand you naming racism and homophobia, but why sexism?  Women can do anything men can do in the church."  Literally, Crusty laughed and said, "Yeah, amirite? So many people think that."  See, I thought the guy was joking.  Staring at me stone faced, I then stammered, "Oh jeez, you were serious?"  Crusty then rattled off the statistics cited above and more, but the man walked away, clearly unconvinced.  Another parishioner came up and said, "I don't mean to pry, but I overheard.  Don't be so hard on him, nobody has ever talked about sexism in this church from this pulpit except you here this morning.  Nobody's ever told most people this.  It's probably is news to him."

Another example!  Crusty was on a non-voting observer on a search committee for a church institution which brought in three candidates for a senior leadership position:  a white male clergy person, a male clergy person of color, and a female clergy person.  It came down to the white male clergy person and the white female clergy person.  One prominent member of the search committee solemnly intoned that they were both great candidates, but the female "Just isn't ready for prime time."  People around the table nodded.  Crusty thought, "WTF are these people talking about?  The woman headed an organization with a larger number of employees and larger budget than the male clergy person, but somehow the male clergy person was "ready for prime time"?

So not only do we have a Smurfette Problem -- not only are women tokenized and marginalized -- many times leadership is complicit.

Nobody had spoken to that congregation about sexism, so it was a surprise to some.

No voting members challenged the assumption that an equally qualified female candidate leading a larger sized organization than the male candidate was "not ready for prime time."  [Crusty, who was an observer, and had no voice and no vote, but did express this concern privately, during a break, to several members of the search committee before the vote was taken.  I felt it was not my place as a non-voting observer publicly to insert myself into another organization's decision making process.]

Church leadership stand convicted of failing to call out and name this kind of sexism, particularly and especially  male clergy, who benefit from the systemic sexism of the system.  We speak of poverty having systemic components.  We speak of racism having systemic components.  We must name the fact that sexism in the church has systemic components which transcend whatever individual persons may or not may not express.

And these examples here are ones of discrimination in employment and deployment and equal opportunity and access, which, as reprehensible as they are, pale in comparison to other manifestations of sexism in the church.  This does not take into account sexual misconduct, sexual harassment, and physical and verbal abuse towards women and women in leadership in the church.  It wasn't even until the 1990s that our disciplinary canons were amended to remove statutes of limitation for sexual misconduct, and to permit single individuals to bring charges of sexual misconduct (rather than needing people to "sign on" to a presentment, which was the previous process.  Can you imagine being a woman who has been the victim of sexual harassment or misconduct and having to go find some priests to convince them to sign on to your complaint?).

3)  One may argue, "Oh come on, Crusty, it's just a photo, they didn't mean it."  You know what?  Crusty doesn't care whether this was intentional or not, just like it doesn't matter whether one intends to be racist or not, whether one unintentionally invokes racist tropes or motifs.  That perpetuates the power dynamic:  those with power do not get to define what is sexist and what is not.

4)   Hey, full disclosure:  my wife is a priest.  Mrs Crusty [again: sarcastic voice;  Mrs Crusty kept her maiden name, we have a child with a hyphenated name, all of which has caused untold confusion when it comes to compiling church directory time] was ordained at age 25 at a time when only 300 or so of the 7,500 or so clergy in the church were under 35 years of age, let alone female.  We have been married for nearly the entirety of her ordained life, so Crusty has had a front-row seat to sexism in the church.  Crusty has seen her subjected to a whole range of sexism: from explicit sneering, to using passive-aggressive tactics as a cover, and even from people utterly clueless they're being sexist.  COD has always always tried to be as helpful and supportive as possible to Mrs Crusty, while also realizing he cannot reinforce patriarchal paradigms and be some kind of  savior.

But guess what?  One does not need to have a gay nephew to understand homophobia and discrimination against LGBT persons is wrong.  One doesn't need to have a black friend to understand that racism is wrong.  Just because COD is married to a female clergyperson does not mean one has to have a connection to a woman to realize that sexism is wrong because EVERY HUMAN BEING ALIVE TODAY HAS A CONNECTION TO A WOMAN BY VIRTUE OF BIRTH.  While giving you my own testimony, it doesn't make me special, one shouldn't get a cookie just for doing what is right, and doesn't let anyone else off the hook.  Standing against injustice should not depend on having a personal connection to a particular injustice. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

I call you out, whoever approved this spread in the Almy catalogue.  But that was only the symptom that set off Crusty's rage: we have much deeper, systemic issues around gender inequality.  So while I call them out, Crusty does not want the Almy catalog to be the issue, that will only keep the church from addressing the deeper questions.  I call out a church that doesn't think it is a problem.


  1. Thank you indeed, Crusty.

    I keep encountering the phenomenon of being encouraged to take part time (or non-stipendiary) employment by men whom I am pretty certain have never themselves accepted part-time or non-stipendiary employment. In fact, I wonder if part-time employment positions are automatically considered to be perfect for women, since, apparently, this is 1960, and I'm just working for what they charmingly used to call "mad money." I would also like to see this part-time/full-time distribution broken down by diocese.

    And ANY shirt with buttons or zippers in the back is the work of Satan, whether for men or women. Further, it presumes that one does not live alone, and has a person (spouse/main squeeze/roommate/handmaiden/ gentlemen's personal gentleman named Jeeves) to help one dress oneself. And a pox on that.

    Also why the "lady" in front of any vocational title (I know YOU were not doing this but making the same point)? It also leads to inanity, besides being diminutive, as I know schools that call their girl athletes "Lady Rams" and "Lady Stallions." Your second paragraph under number 1 makes a wonderful point about this.

    It's not just about catalogues, as you ably point out. It's about perception and presentation.

    PS- That report made me sick to my stomach.

    1. I was intending the mock precisely the absurdity of those who would use the kind of dismissive, infantilizing overtones to using "lady" as an adjective. I will edit it to make that a little clearer. And agreed zippers are abominations on any clergy qwear.

    2. Gee, and I thought it was only me (not really), who as an ordained woman was offered part time, below minimum stipend, calls.

  2. Thanks-- only yesterday a woman visiting church told me that her church who has a fantastic woman as their rector but who is retiring -- decided they want a "man this time" And so many church can have a string of abusing male clergy but one mess up by a woman and "we will never hire another woman" arggh.

  3. I'm still trying to understand how anyone would find it necessary to have a "clerical collar undergarment" in the first place. It would seem to me that, if you want to be in clericals, you should be in clericals. The notion of having a "dog collar" *under* a regular shirt collar seems somewhat ludicrous to me.

    Beyond that, and not to deny the larger issue of continuing sex discrimination in TEC, I would point out that the Almy photo is very different from the movie shots you posted. The latter are actually three-quarter profile shots from behind, and are explicitly sexualizing in that they're posed to highlight both the actress' bustline and her backside (the old "T & A"). The Almy photo, by comparison, is more full-on back with no profile view, and cuts off at her lower back instead of showing off her posterior. While it's an odd shot, it doesn't strike me as overtly sexualizing the way the Hollywood posters do.

    1. I'd find life harder without a clerical collar undergarment as, like many ministers, I am non-stipendiary and have a paid job as well as ministry. I am not permitted to wear my clerical shirt in the paid job and it is incredibly useful to slip on a 'Jenny' as they are called when I go from work to ministry business.
      I found thatt is also very useful in hospice chaplain work where many people don't want to see a vicar in uniform - as it makes them think they are about to die (I'm not joking) and, of course, many folk in hospices are atheists and although they may want to talk about issues they don't want religion in their face.
      I'm sure if you are a full-time, paid member of the clergy with a churc, you might not need one.

    2. The "dog collar" as you call comes in handy for late night unexpected hospital/home calls. It allows for one to put the collar on in a hurry and be recognized without a lot of explanation.

    3. I'm a 32 year old female priest. Finding appropriate clergy clothes that don't make me look like I'm 60 is actually a gigantic, expensive pain that men never have to deal with. They can just throw a clergy shirt on with a black pair of slacks and a jacket and walk out the door and they just look like "what a priest should look like." I, however, am constantly judged on my appearance. I get comments on my hair and make-up all the time -- it's too much, it's too little-- or on my shoes - professional or not professional enough-- or even the way I talk. Or my posture. Or you know, basically, my entire existence. This is exhausting and pointless, and NO ONE EVER SAYS THIS BS TO MEN.

      Every single day I wear clericals I have to balance how professional I want to look with not being "too much" because I have to look a certain way to be taken seriously. I don't want to play into the game, but I want to do my job well, and to do my job well I need to be listened to. So I wear "clerical collar undergarments" underneath professional-looking dresses on a consistent basis. And you're right. It is totally and utterly ludicrous. But not for the reasons you think.

    4. Darling, the 60 year olds, including female Priests, that I know are beautifully dressed! Their clothes and make up are classy, well tailored and stylish and they are drop dead gorgeous!

  4. I'd like to add the point that, most of the time, women's clergy shirts are nearly twice as expensive as men's. Economic bias, anyone?

    1. Thank you, actually most clothing is more expensive. But a 5 pack of T shirts as compared to 1 well made bra can't find a package of 5 sports bra's.

  5. https://www.facebook.com/We-Demand-Better-Looking-Clergy-Shirts-for-Women-288024667134/

    The demeaning of female clergy begins with the difference in the clerical clothing that we are provided. And "Nick Danger" ... "clericals" are men's shirts designed to have some kind of attached collar. It's not the shirt that makes you identifiable as clergy, it's the collar. There is no reason on God's green earth why women clergy have to dress up in men's clothing. I am wearing a very lovely black WomenSpirit dicky (as shown in the advertisement above) with dog collar under a regular collared shirt today. I look professional and clerical. And I shouldn't have to justify my clerical collar choices to "Nick Danger," whom I assume by the comment is a man ... Yet, there I go, just like women justify themselves over and over again in this church.

  6. Also, in my experience, clerical shirts were designed for men's bodies and do not always fit women's bodies well. Too short, too tight, too bulky. These are also useful for pregnant or nursing clergy. AND clergy shirts are very expensive, so being able to use some of your existing clothing helps economically.

  7. Since women's clergy shirts were clearly patterned off of men's clergy shirts, there's this glaring problem.

    Men's clothing is sized by neck size. Which accommodates just about any chest size.

    To continue to size women's clergy shirts by neck size when chest size can vary widely is what fries my chops. And why I wear a Dickie, Janie, or Jennie or whatever you prefer to call it.

    It doesn't matter how petite or large or you are, for most women if it fits in the neck it will not fit in the bust and if it fits in the bust it will not fit in the neck.

    1. Yes! I would have to buy a an Almy shirt four sizes too big to fit my neck.

      And my "Custom" alb I paid 20% more for in 1999 is just hemmed shorter; the pockets it me at my knees.

      And all the rest.

    2. Living in D cup world, I decided to start sewing my own clericals (with all the spare time I don't have). Because yeah, bust size not coordinating with neck size.

    3. Clergy Image puts your collar size on your garment - so your shirt fits your body and your collar fits your collar. www.clergyimage.com

    4. I finally just took my various "female" clergy shirts to a tailor and had them tailored so that they actually fit my body and had some sort of shape. It was simple work, cheap, and well worth it. But I agree also that clergy image is good. They did my maternity shirt and I absolutely love it. It was so well done that I can wear it even now that my shape has somewhat returned to normal because of the subtle way they placed the elastic.

  8. COD, I've always believed the "jaunty thumb on his belt" pose they use for the male models is intended to signal "See! I have my pants on!" He isn't posed with Bible, missal, or prayer book in his hand. No need to convince you you'll look studious in these shirts. No, you just need to be reminded to wear pants to complete the ensemble. Preferably with a belt.

  9. Did I miss something? No mention at all in the article or in the comments about the bare midriff? Isn't that the worst part of it?

    1. I have to admit it bothers me a bit too. WomenSpirit manages to photograph it rather more tastefully, and Clergy Image's version of the janie/crop top is displayed on a dressmaker's form...http://www.clergyimage.com/products/new?id=9

  10. I agree with all the above comments regarding dearth of good rector positions, decent fitting clericals, the various needs/applicabilities of a clerical dickie. In addition, when you are a second career cleric or one with more than 15 years of parish ministry experience, there's AGEISM. And don't get me started on RACISM, as I have exoerienced as an Asian woman priest who is third generation American. Finally, mea culpa, I confess to getting steamed everytime I see that a parish just called a young, fresh-faced, slender white male priest with his beautiful white wife with one or two perfect looking children. How many good women priests were passed over??

  11. Some people are really steamed about this Almy ad! I'm totally bemused by the fact that you, COD think the back view of a woman shows her "lady parts"? (your words, not mine.) I for one always like to see the back of any garment I might be buying online. I guess men couldn't care less. I was more surprised by the slightly riske sight of the midriff in the first photo. Her shirt could have been buttoned up and we'd still get the idea. But really, all clerical garment models look slightly uncomfortable in every catalog I've seen. And please, all those people referring to a clerical collar as a "dog collar" in comments above? I find that REALLY offensive. COD you have a good point about sexism in the church, but I think you are way off beam trying to claim that Almy is sexist. Ageism exists too. But you haven't reached that point yet, I assume. Try putting together an older woman looking for a position in the church! Yeah. Try that.

  12. Thanks for your comments, Anne; I, and many others who have given me feedback, still find the images chosen to be a point of concern. I also note that they market this item it differently from an item designed for men, and differently from the way others market the exact same item. More importantly, perhaps, I also say several times that the Almy catalog is not the main focus, it is a point of departure for a broader discussion on issues of sexism in the church. The posting was not meant to be exhaustive: ageism, racism, and many other forms of exclusion are also ones we must address. Like you, I have never cared for the term "dog collar", since it looks nothing like any collar my dog(s) have worn. I agree that I can never understand what it would be like to be an older woman seeking a position in the church, nor do I claim to do so.

  13. And here I thought I just liked you because you have a great snarky voice! Thank you. Well said, and very much appreciated. But no cookies for you, just genuine thanks.

  14. First of all, they could have put that that crop top on a sewing dummy for the front shot and done a close-up of the back to show that zipper in detail.
    A word about the actual fit of women's clericals and sexism is long overdue. I have moved through most of my ordained life wearing unflattering clergy clothes. Only in the last year or so have I found work clothes that actually fit and flatter my body. The first time I went to work so dressed, was the first time my very clothing marking my office was not whispering to me "You don't really belong; you're just playing dress-up" by its ill-fitting uncooperativeness. It honestly felt like my wardrobe had been gaslighting me since my seasonal ordination. I simply wept to feel empowered finally rather than hampered. I don't think ill-fitting clergy clothes for women are a conspiracy, but they are yet another symptom of sexism in the church.
    Clergy Image is company that actually gets clergy clothes for women RIGHT. I wanted to like WomenSpirit. I really, really did. I spent lots of money with them, but nothing ever fit me right, especially not that @$&% Janie. Almy still hasn't figured out that women actually have bodies that differ from men.

    1. Thanks Rilla. We've worked hard to create clothing that fits women's bodies - maybe it helps that we are women! Your comments about how our clothing changed how you felt about yourself as a priest was very powerful and resonated deeply for me. It's why we do what we do.

  15. What? Nobody mentioned the pink jacket? And would you wear a jacket over a Janie without anything covering your midriff? What happens if you take your jacket off? I didn't like that picture either. And i might add that you can't seem to buy a clergy shirt with a breast pocket to put your cross in, so that it doesn't bang against your desk when you're working in the office.

    1. Clergy Image will make you a pocket. Not shown on our website, but please email me. Linda@clergyimage.com

  16. I would love to see how peopl would react if they had that back and midriff shot of a 65-year-old woman in a "foundation garment." Or me as a woman who has a body that just bore a child.

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  18. Ha. You're funny Crusty Old Dean. You should see the "lady minister's dress" in Whippell's

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