Again with Commencement ’10: Red Shoes Edition

In what ways does your institution recognize the continuing indispensability of women’s scholarship? How does it “high five” women who join its ranks?

Careful observers at our annual commencement would have noticed some of the women faculty, admins, and graduates wearing red shoes. The run-up to Commencement ’10 was marked by higher-than-usual student interest in this Garrett tradition, and on the day itself, red shoes seemed to catch the light everywhere.

But why red shoes? Preacher Mom did some original research along that line. The short version is this:

We wear red shoes to remind us of our place as courageous, outrageous women, and to celebrate the rich tradition of female scholarship at GETS.

Read the whole post. You will learn something of Georgia Hearkness, Professor of Applied Theology at G-ETS from 1939–1950, and of her grandmother Abigail (AKA “the woman in the red coat”). You will also find that Rosemary Skinner Keller, first women to serve as Academic Dean at G-ETS, was the first to remember Hearkness’s story by wearing red shoes.

Speaking personally, I am happy to say that I was raised largely by women teachers and scholars. I remember my mom (a lifelong registered nurse) staying up late nights to earn her Masters degree in Gerontology so that she could reliably make the kind of money needed to deliver us from a certain hazard besetting the family in that time and place. My next-oldest sister (now long since a career teacher) played school with me, teaching me my letters and words faster and more engagingly than any of my elementary school teachers could. My oldest sister (who went on to CalTech to become a chemical engineer) stayed up late with me nights to talk speculatively about science, relativity, elementary particles and their habits, the colonization of space, the relation of mind to brain to senses, and how we know what we think we know. (She also opened her bookshelves to me, allowing me to read constantly over my head and regardless of subject matter or age-appropriateness. Rock on, Sis.) Women teachers and scholars had defined my life and its prospects before I mastered long division or graduated to chapter books. While the patriarchy was undoubtedly well at work on me during those years, it’s still the case that women scholars were normal to me before the patriarchy could get very far in abnormalizing them.

I hear stories from time to time, mostly from women academic bloggers, about how some faculty succeed informally but consistently in “high-fiving” their women graduates, not to the exclusion of their male peers but in an above-and-beyond sort of way. What is your experience? Are faculty “putting on the red shoes” in any noticeable way for women’s scholarship and women grads? How or how not? And what do you think of such an attempt?

[Again with Commencement ’10: Red Shoes Edition was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/05/18. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Again with the Women…


When a community or an activity is overwhelmingly dominated by male voices, I simply assume that this is a sign of extreme ill health.

I might make arguments about why the community is in such a state, and about which external or internal factors are to blame, and how to bring the patient to a healthy state. But, nothing could convince me to spend time debating about whether the community is in ill health, any more than I would be drawn into a discussion about whether a 98%-white community were in ill health. Exclusion simply is a condition of ill health, an indicator of pathologies.

I bring this up because the Bible-blogging community has again asked itself, “Where all de wimmin at?” (see comments there, and if possible see this older post also).

To which I say, “Good”; frankly, I am not sure there are any more urgent questions to be asked.[1] [A belated clarification: I mean by this to say, This is an urgent question; sorry that my phrasing was not as clear as possible.] Anybody who wants to can compare the level of participation of women in SBL or AAR to that in the Bible-blogging community and see the disparity.

That said, depending on how the conversation takes shape, it may or may not be a conversation I want to be involved in (not meant as a threat; I know that the world turns with or without my help; just processing things aloud in my head).

Insofar as the conversation is about whether there is a problem or not (especially in the mode of, “Won’t you complaining wimmin just kindly explain one more time why you think that there’s a problem here?”), I’ll just wander off to the punch bowl and see if any other like-minded folks are also there, rolling their eyes and trying to look like they just came in to get out of the rain.

Insofar as the conversation is about the role of wimmin in the (a, some-or-other) church, you’ll find me elsewhere, waiting for notice that the talk about biblical studies is scheduled to begin.

Insofar as the conversation is about why the women bloggers just can’t enjoy a healthy (persistent, endless) debate about how uncomfortable they make traditional, complementarian-minded men feel, and why they can’t just be more sensitively tolerant of world views that prefer to see women’s voices marginalized, I’ll…well, no, thanks.

But, insofar as the conversation acknowledges at the outset a problem in exclusion—no matter what the possible internal or external root causes of that exclusion—and seeks to discover and address root causes; insofar as that search for root causes is well-meaning and sincere, however naive and fumbling; insofar as the conversation partners are eager to be self-critical; in short, insofar as the conversation situates itself in 21st century academia, then I am cautiously excited for its possibilities and earnestly committed to participate.

(Postscript: I can imagine a related post dealing with the fact that Bible-blogging is less independent of sectarian confessional writing than is the peer-reviewed work associated with SBL or AAR.)

(Second postscript, later: J.K. is also welcoming conversation.)

BACK TO POST Though some other questions might be closely related, such as that of the relation of privately-held sectarian claims (about gender, for instance) to the publicly-shared evidence and lines of reasoning that characterize academic biblical studies.

[Again with the Women… was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2010/04/05. Except as noted, it is © 2010 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]