I’ve ruminated on this one for more than a month, to try to puzzle out why it triggered my gender-warning-radar so much. I’m not sure I have all the answers, but here are my thoughts so far, for what it’s worth. I think this one-off incident reinforces the many micro-moments I’ve witnessed over the last 3 decades of sexism in faith contexts.
I visited a local-ish Church, by chance on the occasion on which they were welcoming the group of young people from the neighbouring primary school to begin preparing for their Confirmation. At the end of Mass, students were invited to gather around the altar ‘girls on this side, boys on that’ to receive a gift to assist their prayer and preparation (an icon and a set of rosary beads). They then processed out in two lines, ‘boys and girls’.
No doubt this was a well-intentioned effort at supporting the young people in their faith formation, but it gets me that from this very early experience of church life, the message we are sending these young ones is that *your gender matters* as to how you are treated in Church.
Moreover, ‘girls’ were given blue rosary and ‘boys’ brown, presumably reflecting the colours in which Mary and Joseph are traditionally represented, and, to presume further (even if this is not explicitly stated, it is no doubt the undercurrent) so that the ‘girls’ can be virginal and pure like Mary, and the ‘boys’ can be earthly and practical like Joseph.
Let’s stop dividing young people up in their first faith experiences (or, indeed, later ones) into male and female, giving them the message that this falsely-imposed binary determines anything about their faith journey. Let’s be honest, in the Catholic Church at least, gender does matter. But let’s not make the situation any worse than it already is with such additional unnecessary divisions.