Joshua Saint Germain
Elizabeth von Uhl
October 4, 2018
The Unpermitted Female
For many years my parents forced me to go to their Haitian church, and for many years I’ve been skeptical of the beliefs and behaviors within the institution. However, there is one aspect of their church I attend to which I am ashamed to have overlooked until now, and that is the relationship between men and women. The goal of this paper is to show how this church contains, within its social construct, a separation or an unequal distinction between men and women.
Last Sunday, I made the decision to arrive at their church early and use that opportunity to make some observations. Due to my limited understanding of the Haitian-creole language, I am unable to determine every word which was spoken during this observation. It was a small church in a quiet neighborhood in Canarsie, Brooklyn. The title of the church read: “ Church of God in Christ” in big letters, making it hard to miss the building. As I reached for the doors, I could hear the loud and passionate voice of a Pastor teaching the congregation about the Bible from the outside. I chose to sit at a corner in the back row, which allowed me to get a good view every person who entered and will later enter the church for that day. The morning bible study was underway which was led usually by a male pastor teaching the congregation about either the contents of the bible or general theology. During his teachings, he would say passionately loud exclamations while making frantic gestures, but these are normal expressions within Haitian culture to get a point across to an audience.
As the morning teachings were going on, I noticed more people entering the church. A couple regular faces, a couple old ones, and a couple new ones as well. Members of the church appeared to be middle aged or older with the exception of me and my brother as the outliers. As expected, all of the men wore their generic suits and ties while the women were almost completely dressed, most wearing skirts that covered past the knees. Every woman’s shirt was covering up the chest area for no chance of cleavage and almost every women wore a very wonderfully designed fedora for which I assumed was a part of the trendy fashion in church wear.
Then I took my attention towards where everyone choose to sit, and made some quite interesting observations. The church seating is divided into two columns with about 16 rows for each column with a space between both columns for people to walk up and down the church. Any noteworthy pastor who has been appointed as a teacher or a preacher by many churches sat at the first two rows on the right column. I can’t really remember a time during the service, and in my past experiences, where a pastor hasn’t decided to sit at those first two rows unless there was no more space for those rows, which in that case, they’d just sit in the third row or the fourth row and so on. There were very few women sitting in the third and fourth rows, but for the most part, nobody was sitting in front of noteworthy pastors. I also made the observation that a majority of the male demographic was sitting on the right side of the church, while the female majority sat on the left side.
This led to another major observation that there were signs placed on the walls adjacent to the columns indicating what person was allowed to sit where. The first sign located on the right side of the church read, “Pastors Only”, in French, which was also on the wall adjacent to the first two rows in which those noteworthy pastors I described earlier were sitting. The second sign which was on the opposite left side to the first sign read, “Women Only”. With my prior knowledge of the fact that only men are allowed to become pastors, I said to myself, “Holy crap, something is off here!”. I began to feel so ashamed of not noticing this seemingly unfair dynamic between male and female that not only existed within this church, but many other churches that I’ve been forced to attend in the past. Did growing up in the church for a majority of my life cause me to overlook such a thing, and how many other forms of inequality between men and women are also displayed in the church?
As I was having these contemplations, my mother yelled at me from all the way across the church, demanding that I set myself up with an instrument to play being that bible study was over and regular service is about to begin. This halted any precise future recordings of observations that I could of made during the regular service which consisted of the singing of gospel songs, prayers, and a reading of a bible verse. When it came to the singing of songs and reading bible verse, women became more heavily involved, in fact they were leading the regular service through those responsibilities. As usual, a woman was at the podium in front of the congregation leading everyone melody, which involved choosing the song, choosing how fast she wants everyone to sing and play the song, and even choosing when they were allowed to sing a specific verse. Now songs, and readings were done, and it was time for someone to pray or preach, a man came on the podium instead and the female stepped down once again. I, once again, tried to recall a time where I could remember a female praying for the church or giving a sermon, and I couldn’t remember.
This was the first instance where I decided to observe the workings of the church , and I must say that I am amazed at the results. Aside from my basic philosophical and religious disagreements, I’ve never thought that I’d perceive something that I’d consider as blatant misogyny. Women were allowed to read a couple scriptures and sing, which is good because most women in my church happen to be good singers. But on the other hand, I don’t think that restricting women from teaching and preaching is a good idea being that it stop women from giving a women’s view of things in which is potentially necessary for both men and women.