Ode to Being “Unladylike”

Blog — By on February 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm

I was three-years old the first time I heard Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz” on the radio. In 1971, Dad (though not a fan of rock and roll) thought it quite funny, and we heard it several times during a family trip that year. Forty years later, Janis Joplin remains one of my favorite female singers – scratch that, make that favorite singers period – of all time.

Janis sure wrestled with her pain and her demons; a fight she soon lost in this world. But, she was incredibly gifted, too. One of her greatest gifts was that she refused to conform; she played by her own rules; and she risked being very unladylike to make the music God placed within her.

One of the most inspiring and challenging preachers I have ever heard is also a dear family friend – Rev. Karen Thomas Smith. That’s right: her name is Karen. The daughter of a Baptist preacher-man, in the mid-1980s Karen attended a Baptist college and then went on to non-Baptist divinity school to prepare for the ministry herself. Karen grew up in a denomination which was fighting internally at the time about the “proper place” of women; today, she is among the growing ranks of female clergy who dare to know that “their place” is wherever God leads them (for the record, like her dad she’s a Baptist preacher).

One of Karen’s greatest gifts (and she is very gifted in many ways) is her stubborn determination not to be confined by social expectations. Even today she risks being seen as unladylike – both in America and around the world – because of her openness to the Holy Spirit.

Pam Hogeweide is a “virtual” friend, a writing colleague, and the author of the new book, Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice and Inequality in the Church. Pam is sort of a mixture of Karen Thomas Smith and Janis Joplin. Her multi-colored tattooed arms and her style of dress suggest she’d fit right in at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival; First Respectable Church of Anytown – not so much. Yet, the preacher-like conviction with which she writes reveals an intimate relationship with Christ and with our Holy Scriptures.

Unladylike is Pam’s wrestling match with a largely male-dominated Christendom in which women still have “their place” (“polite oppression” Pam calls it). With stories, humor, research, and a Spirit-led, biblical passion for justice, Pam celebrates women who dared to play by a different set of rules within the patriarchal Church, and she challenges women and men together to follow the way of Jesus which tends to buck convention and tradition.

If you’re looking for a good resource for a small-group study on the role of women in the church, or if you’re working through this issue yourself and want to read a great book on the subject, be sure to get a copy of Pam Hogeweide’s Unladylike.

If you’re looking for a Baptist preacher to fill your pulpit one Sunday, I can connect you with Karen Thomas Smith (note, though, that her schedule tends to be quite full – most of the year she’s pastoring outside of the United States).

And if you’re looking for an incredible soul-filled bluesy voice, you can’t go wrong with Janis Joplin.

But if you are looking for God’s work in the world to be limited to a private club for men, then you are in for a very big surprise. For brave, unladylike women everywhere – thanks be to God!

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  • “largely male-dominated Christendom in which women still have “their place” (“polite oppression” Pam calls it)”


    Why can’t people simply accept that some people believe the bible says that Christ is the head of the husband, and the husband is the head of the wife, and not try to make people who believe those verses to be true out to be sexists or chauvinists? It may or may not be a correct interpretation of Ephesians 5, but clearly, as reasonable person could read that passage, as well as other ones, and conclude that it means what it says. To throw accusations toward such persons (“domination” and “oppression” are accusations, folks) is the kind of broad statement that would, if it were aimed at any other group of people, be decried as sexist, racist, -phobic, etc.

    I guess tolerance of the beliefs of others only goes so far.

    • Ryan says:

      I wouldn’t call Pam’s veiwpoint entirely intolerant. She certainly does not agree with the idea that women should be kept out of Church leadership, but I don’t see her trying to stop or end the practice. I do see her speaking out about her personal experiences growing up in such traditions and finding her way to fulfill what she sees as God’s plan for her life. Some practices and traditions are oppressive; that does not fundamentally mean they are wrong, but those who are oppressed by such traditions will most likely form a negative opinion about them.

      Personally I think wholeheartedly support the idea of capable women occupying positions of leadership. I am glad there are people like Pam and Bert who are willing to take up the work of making that more of a reality because that is not my personal calling.

    • James, how would you feel if you at were at the bottom of the chain in the Bible? How would you feel to grow up knowing that everyone has authority over you? Simply because you are male? How would you feel not being able to use the gifts that you’ve been given, because you’re male and it’s not your place?

    • Kim, how I would feel is not the point. The focus is: am I going to bow the knee to God and let Him be God, or am I going to do things my way, based on my feelings? It’s my viewpoint that the latter choice is based on a lack of trust that God wants the best for us.

  • @ James – for the same reason I can’t accept that some people believe the Bible says “slaves obey your masters” … sure it says that, but that is not in keeping with the spirit of liberation at the heart of all the scriptures and at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.

    • Matthew says:

      The human condition is one of submission… Paul states with simple clarity – we are either slaves to righteousness or slaves to unrighteousness. When will this generation understand oppression from an eternal perspective rather than temporal? Sin is the only true oppression from which we need liberation.

  • Thanks all for taking time to read. Appreciate that Ryan and Kim and of course, Bert, resonate with the message of equality in my book.

    @James, oppression is oppression. God does not oppress. Telling one human being that another human being is meant to rule over you and that you are meant to serve under by virtue of some characteristic you possess (skin color, gender, socioeconomic class,etc…) does not represent the kingdom of God as I understand it.

    I am a total Gal 3:28 kinda woman.

    Thanks for chiming in, though. Sample chapters available at Amazon if you want to take a peek at more of where I’m coming from.


    • Pam, when I read:
      Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.
      Eph 5:24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

      I don’t see anything about husbands ruling over wives. I do see that the husband is the head of his wife. Does that mean “ruling” to you?

  • karenzach says:

    I must be really old. This kind of back-and-forth bores me. It’s kind how I feel about the Presidential race. Who cares? God is Lord over all. I’m good with that.

  • Mabel says:

    James, what do you say to the wife who is abused by the husband? Read today:
    “A PROOFTEXT is a verse or short passage from the Bible used by someone as part of his proof for a doctrinal belief he wishes to substantiate to others. However, since verses and passages may rely extensively on the context in which they appear for correct interpretation, pulling these out of their context and having them stand alone in a “proof” can, at times, be very misleading. In addition, a set of such proof-texts can completely ignore other passages which, if added to the mix, might well lead to an entirely different conclusion.
    Someone who relies strongly only on a list of proof-texts in order to make a doctrinal argument may have a very weak case for his argument. Noting that a religious teacher relies heavily just on proof-texting is viewed in theological circles as a very negative evaluation. Doctrinal beliefs based strictly on proof texts can lead people to believing, and even whole churches to teaching, something which is not Biblically correct. “Definition of Christian Terms – BibleStudy.Org

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