How to Walk Up Lexington Avenue…

…While Female and Wearing Both a Clerical Collar & Knee-high Red Leather Boots

Andrea Roske-Metcalfe, Associate Pastor at Grace Lutheran Church of Apple Valley, MN

  1. AndreaBe female.
  2. Be ordained.
  3. Be in Manhattan and, if at all possible, have plans and credentials to attend sessions at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

  4. As you prepare for the day, put on a dress with a clerical collar and knee-high red leather boots.

  5. Leave your hotel room early in the morning and walk up Lexington Avenue, in search of coffee, before the first session begins.

  6. Note the odd looks that people give you (when they don’t completely ignore you, as do most New Yorkers), and remember what you are wearing. Breathe in, breathe out. Note that it takes more energy than it should to be a walking contradiction. Plan to go to bed earlier tonight as a result.

  7. Locate a Starbucks and stand in line.
  8. Barely register the fact that a man has gotten in line behind you, until it becomes quite clear that he’s trying to get a good look at your collar without being too obvious, which isn’t working.

  9. When the man says, “Excuse me, but what *are* you?” remind yourself that he hasn’t had any coffee yet today, either. Smile your best smile and say, “I’m a pastor!”

  10. When the man registers this and then asks, “So, are you like the Mormons?” remember to breathe in, and breathe out. Ask him, “What do you mean?” and then immediately realize that a simple “no” would’ve sufficed. Tuck this realization away for next time. Reflect for a nano-second on the fact that there will always be a next time.

  11. When the man leans in closer and asks, in a tone reminiscent of trying to pick someone up in a bar, “Do you have to wear that special underwear?” take a brief moment to consider your options. Recognize that your least-favorite response is also the safest. Choose safety, every time. Glare at the man long enough to make him understand that you find both him and his question repugnant and then say, quite curtly, “No.”

  12. Go back to looking at the menu above the register, even though you knew what you would order before you walked through the door. Recognize that this man, knowing as he now does that you aren’t wearing Mormon underwear, is quite possibly still thinking about what kind of underwear you are wearing, especially now that he knows you got to choose it yourself. Resist the overwhelming urge to use any and all self-defense moves on this assho- I mean, customer. Order your coffee and head to the bathroom.

  13. When you find the only unisex bathroom stall occupied, wait patiently, hoping the underwear customer will be gone when you are finished.

  14. When the bathroom door opens, and the man who comes out is startled by your presence, find it odd that he stops for a moment to look you up and down, before he sneers at you and then chuckles. 

  15. Connect the dots after he leaves and you walk into the bathroom stall, only to find that he has left the seat down and pissed all over it, not in the manner of a man with bad aim, but in the manner of a man who gets off on the idea that whoever comes after him will have to clean up his mess; this marking of his territory. Realize that he didn’t necessarily expect to see who that person would be, but that in his wildest dreams he probably couldn’t have conjured you up; try not to think about what he’s thinking about right now. Breathe in, breathe out.
  16. Because you really need to go, wipe the seat (and handle and floor and wall) with what finally amounts to half the roll of toilet paper. While you do, make connections between this man and the group of male Ivy League students you heard about in a session yesterday. (They were asked, by someone researching the effect of pornography on men’s brains, to list one thing they wanted to do to a woman, but never had. Every single one said, “Come on her face.” When asked why, they said it was a matter of power. When pushed further, they were able to articulate, “It’s because we know that women hate it.”) Try again not to think about what this man is thinking about right now; this man who somehow needed to prove himself by pissing all over a Starbucks bathroom. Breathe in, breathe out.

  17. When you have finally finished your surprise janitorial duties and used the bathroom yourself, grab your (now lukewarm) coffee and continue up Lexington Avenue.

  18. At a stoplight, when a cab pulls up and three men tumble out, appearing still drunk from the night before, move over to give them plenty of room. When one of them spots you and yells, “Hey, are you a priest?? Are you a priest?!?” simply smile and nod, especially given that this is the most tame encounter you’ve had all day, and it’s not yet 8:00am. Walk on, with your head high, as he yells behind you, “Hey, I’ve got some confessing to do!” Laugh to yourself, because you know no other way to survive.

  19. Arrive just in time to help lead worship for a group of ecumenical women at the Church Center of the United Nations, where it is so busy and chaotic that you forget about what has just happened until lunchtime.

  20. Stand in line for lunch at the U.N. cafeteria. While you wait, notice a woman approaching you. When she greets you, with a thick east-African accent, saying, “Good afternoon, Reverend! How are you?” realize immediately that she seems to know you, but that you can’t place her. Say, “Please remind me how we know each other!” When she responds that you have never met, but that she saw your collar and simply wanted to greet another sister in the church, smile wide and embrace her.

  21. After this woman leaves, remain in line, waiting to pay for your pre-packaged sushi. Notice the tears welling up in your eyes.

  22. Breathe in.
  23. Breathe out.
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15 thoughts on “How to Walk Up Lexington Avenue…

  1. Dear Andrea,

    When I was on internship at a Lutheran church in Nebraska, one of my friends, pastor of a congregation nearby, asked me why she never saw me in my clerical collar. Honestly, I’d never thought about it before. Mostly it was because I didn’t really want people to ask me questions about religion and tell me their life stories while I was examining eggplants in the supermarket.

    At the time, I got, at least in a shallow manner, that this was a rather different question in her head than it was in mine. That being a woman (in her case, also being a grandmother and a Latina) made her choose to wear her collar all the time for reasons that I never would have to face myself. That I would probably never have to prove to anyone that I was a pastor, and that she, of course, sadly, would, daily.

    Thank you for your story, which reminds me that, even then, I only barely began to understand the tiniest part of what she was asking. How exhausting this must be! Thank you for being willing to give so much more of yourself to just walk out the front door in order to serve Jesus than many of us can ever imagine.

    Grace and Peace,
    Aaron Decker

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  2. It seems that you have a very negative opinion of men. Too bad you have not experienced the man who still opens the door for a lady or gives up his seat to allow a lady to be seated. Sorry, I am from the south and that is how I was raised. I know some women are offended when a man acts, in his opinion, as a gentleman. The guys you described in your blog would not be friends of mine. Nor do they represent men I know and with whom I have associated and do associate. They represent the part of the male population that most men dislike. If I acted like that my mom would reach out, from wherever she is, and jerk a knot in me. As a father of a very independent and strong young lady and the husband of an extremely successful and brilliant women, I am saddened at your view of men (from this blog). As a Lutheran who has experienced so many gracious, loving, strong, courageous, and brave women I can only suggest that you don’t have to work so hard. Just be yourself, love others, show the love of Christ, and pray for the types of people you describe. The rest will take care of itself.

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    1. Nowhere do I see in this post that the author generalizes the behavior of a few men to all men. Unfortunately, I do know firsthand that her experience of being objectified and asked inappropriate questions is common to many clergywomen. It is an awfully easy out for someone who hasn’t had these experiences to say “don’t work so hard” and “just pray about it.” It is not that simple.

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    2. Richard, I have a few problem with what you have written. First, I do not hear a negative view of men. I hear one woman’s honest experience of being herself. Who says she has not experienced goodness or kindness from men? It wasn’t her experience that morning.

      As a fellow Lutheran pastor, I can tell you that we do have to work hard at just being who we are because there is a system of patriarchy (not only perpetuated by men) that is constantly trying to make us fit into the box of the white, middle aged, male, pastor.

      It would do you well to ask your daughter and wife what their experiences of trying to be who they are and showing the love of Christ have been like. Ask them if and how they have experienced sexism. Hear them and then pray.

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    3. Dear Richard,
      It is lovely that your experience of men within and related to the church has been generally positive, and that you are supportive of your female relatives. I, too, have many positive experiences of men within the church, as well as male friends and relatives who are kind and supportive.

      As a fellow young clergy woman, however, I need to assert that the experiences recounted here are not related to a view of men but rather of an ongoing experience of society’s image of women as primarily sexual objects to be admired or dominated, which, it has to be said, is often embodied in women’s everyday encounters with men.

      These are not isolated incidents. These are scenes that play out so frequently for many of us that they are inescapable. In fact, most of these scenes happen to women all the time, and the clerical collar is a simple detail that shapes the words used but does not alter the tone, the arrogance, the pushiness, or the threat. Unfortunately, the incidents in this blog post were not shocking to me. They were familiar. They resonated with my own experience as a pastor and as a woman.

      Even within the church, well intentioned men and sometimes women make statements that point to our gender as something to be overcome, as a vulnerability rather than a strength, as something below the standard. People frequently cross boundaries related to personal health, body image, relationship status, sexuality, and so many more issues in ways that are not just inappropriate but can be incredibly scarring and hurtful.

      I am sure this is all painful for you to learn about, as it is for me to experience. I appreciate that you do not want this to be reality for women. I trust you will hold it in prayer and pay attention to how you can make a difference in these scenes.

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  3. This is why I am so impressed by you – smart, wise and real. Sorry that this is a reality for my female peers. Hope the rest of your NY experience was awesome and filled with more loving people!!

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  4. Sounds like I am just someone who wears rose colored glasses and does not notice the injustices of the world toward women. Nothing is further from the truth. I have seen first hand how women are treated differently entirely because of gender. It disgusts and infuriates me. It does not surprise me that a man would leave the toilet seat up and piss all over the place. The observation was accurate. The description of his motive, in my opinion, is based on a bias (based on what I glean from the article). And then his motive is compared to a group of juvenile perverts who vocalize what they would like to do after watching pornography? They are connected? Again, that comparison is, in my opinion, based on a bias.

    I am very happy to be wrong about Pastor Andrea. I am fortunate and blessed to be friends with many female clergy in Lutheran and Presbyterian churches in SC. I also know, from conversations with them that their experiences have been different than male clergy. There is a different expectation for female clergy that is not fair. I am fully aware of that. The fact the ELCA has a female Bishop gives me hope.

    I am a male. I am a white male. I don’t know what it is like to be a female pastor in a profession that has been male dominated. But, I will fight side by side with Pastor Andrea against the injustices, the inequality, the fairness gap, and a host of other ills that may come her way. Again, MY perspective on the article was a generalization of men. And as I stated above, I am VERY happy to be wrong.

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  5. Why is this written as a survival experience? I think survival is mentioned twice. Is that not what it means? Like surviving a hard day? Doesn’t seem that hard of a day. If you use a toilet at another store, it may solve the nasty toilet issue. It was probably not the guy that came out of the restroom that messed it up. Probably was in the same situation as you. Probably didn’t need to sit down, but he might of. His look was probably related to the state of the bathroom. Most guys are not very sensitive to how other people dress, despite the image of men as stone cold predators with rude comments. Those are just the Trump supporters.

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  6. Pr. Roske-Metcalfe, Thank you for your post. I find that your comments, and some of the responses remind me of statements by African descent people, and responses by others. The talk about people following them around in stores, and some people with pink faces respond that they are imagining this. Just a few months ago, there was a study that came out where people sent in resumes that were identical for various jobs, and those with names on them that would seem to indicate African descent received many fewer positive responses than those that would seemingly be attached to someone who was pink. The pink people who think that there is no discrimination are lying to themselves, whether because they avidly hate African descent people, or because they are afraid that they are guilty, or because they are simply ignorant. There is discrimination built into the system against many groups, some of these biases are mentioned, such as sexism, racism, ageism, bias against people who are overweight. Some are rarely or never mentioned. Thank you once again for your article.

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  7. I just loved this. Gorgeously written and relatable–particularly because I am a former-Mormon-now-ELCA-seminary-student entering candidacy. Sort of a gorgeous and surprising collision of my worlds. BTW, from the Mormon side, it’s not any less annoying to have people inquiring about your underwear. 🙂

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