Home Religion Religion in the Ranks: Belief and Religious Experience in the Canadian Forces
Women in the Branch
As noted earlier, the chronic shortage of Roman Catholic priests created a need for pastoral associates, a number of whom were women. Before that, however, Protestant women had been serving in the branch since 1981. Not surprisingly, given its historical association with military chaplaincy and early recognition of female clergy, the United Church of Canada gave the CF its first female Protestant chaplain, Rev. Georgina Kling (1981). The first female Roman Catholic chaplain was Huguette Roy, a pastoral associate, of course, who started in 1982.
In 2006 the Office of the Chaplain General supplied me with a breakdown, shown in table 2.1, of their women chaplains by denomination (at that time there were 28 women and 157 men serving in the regular forces chaplaincy).26
In 2010, of the regular forces chaplaincy, women represent approximately 15% (there are now 26 women and 177 men). This is close to the statistics on women in the CF that places women at approximately 16.7% (DND 2006b). As with current efforts to integrate other minority
Table 2.1 Men and Women Chaplains by Denomination
groups, the inclusion of women in the branch was neither painless nor simple. Some faced gender discrimination and harassment, others struggled (and continue to struggle) with traditional aspects of the branch that graphically illustrate that the job was designed for Christian men.
One of the surprising discoveries of my research was that the affectionate moniker 'padre' is applied indiscriminately to both Roman Catholic and Protestant ministers and, more peculiarly, to female chaplains. While a number of male chaplains referred to this convention as a matter of tradition and military culture, not all the women agreed. One woman told me, 'That to me is just a lack of planning on the part of the Chaplain Branch. They knew women were joining and they were actively recruiting women but they didn't have the foresight to address the naming issue.' She continued that some male chaplains justify the use of the term, saying that it is 'associated with the [ministerial] vocation, but "padre" does not describe my vocation - "chaplain" describes my vocation. All they need to do is look at the name - it's inappropriate and it confuses people.' I asked this chaplain how she preferred to be identified and she said, 'I prefer "chaplain" but I don't usually make a big deal of it if people call me "padre." I believe naming is important; we have names for people who are important in our lives. People often ask me what they should call me. In fact, when I came [to this base], I gave a little training session on appropriate naming and meanings behind names. I taught people here to call me chaplain because "padre" was incorrect denominationally and gender-wise. There are female chaplains in the branch that refuse to answer to the name at all - they go by "chaplain" only. One used "madre" for a while...' she wrinkled her nose in distaste and laughed, 'She got in trouble for it too! But the name is important to the members and it should be important to the branch too.' She continued, 'I spent a weekend kayaking with one soldier and we talked about it on and off all weekend. He wanted to know what the issues were and what the right thing to call me was - so it is important to people. Just because something is historically and traditionally done one way doesn't mean it's ethically right. It's funny too, because you'd think it might be some of the old veterans saying this is how it was and forever should be, but it's not them. The old veterans, and there are a lot that come in to my chapel, they don't really care. It's the people who are really invested in the traditions that don't want to change it.'
Some women take the misnomer in stride, however, and even see it as an indication of being accepted by the rank and file. A young pastoral associate stated, 'When I came to my unit they were surprised that I was a Roman Catholic chaplain because I'm a woman. When they got used to that they said, "Well ok, now what are we going to call you?" I told them to call me padre! And they said, "No! We can't call you padre! That's for a guy!"' She said that she felt comfortable with the title because 'It's a term of endearment for the chaplain so why wouldn't I be? It only presented itself as an issue because the soldiers were uncomfortable with using this masculine term for me. So I said to them, "Well, what do you want to call me?" and they said, "What about padrette?"' She chuckled and continued, 'So that's what they call me! I'm the padrette! It meant a lot when they gave me a name because in the military, everyone has a nickname. When you get a name it means you're fully accepted into the group.'
Apart from trying to conform to or change masculine branch traditions, all of the female service members I interviewed, including the chaplains, have experienced discrimination and sexual harassment. One female chaplain described her early years in the chaplaincy as highly stressful because of the excessive pressures placed on her by male chaplains with whom she worked. She said, 'In my first posting I was posted with two older chaplains and neither of them had any time for women as ordained ministers. I was struggling because I was doing all of my boss's work and I had no guidance and I was new at the chaplain role and they were rude and aggressive with me. When I'd walk into a meeting they'd remark, "Oh, better watch out! She's being a real bitch today!" That kind of thing. I ended up going for counselling and they moved one of the chaplains because there were other problems with him.' She described how that chaplain already had a number of sexual harassment complaints against him before her experiences and added, 'I would say that most women in the forces have been harassed. If you don't come into the military with thick skin you become that way very quickly.' Other women I interviewed affirmed this position, although most of them also commented that the situation for women in the CF has improved significantly in the last decade.
Other forms of sexism female chaplains face are slightly more subtle and come as much from personnel as from other chaplains. One female pastoral associate, in describing the differences between herself and her male counterparts, said, 'I don't really want to perform all the sacraments but it does bother me that they treat [women] different. It's easier for the men who are pastoral associates because everyone just assumes they're priests. But I have the exact same training and the same degree as them or the priest, yet they treat me differently. If I'm standing in a room with a male pastoral associate or a priest, people will direct their questions to the men even though I might be the one with the most experience or training in there. That kind of bugs me but it's gotten better over the years. When I first joined, I was [quite young] and it was a lot harder to get respect. As I get a little older I find people more respectful and the priests on base are really good about sending people back to me because they know that I know what's going on better than they do.'
On the other hand, being a woman has some advantages. A long- serving Protestant woman explained that, despite some of the early struggles for acceptance and respect, she had benefited by her difference with a number of branch 'firsts' She said, 'I was one of the first women in the branch. That was such a big deal back then and now, it's a non-issue. I was invited to preach in a Roman Catholic Church while I was serving [overseas] and a little old lady squeezed me and, weeping, she said she was honoured to hear a woman preaching in her church. I was granted this privilege because I represented the CF. While I was in [another posting] I also preached in a Roman Catholic church where they blessed me with incense and explained to the congregation why I could not take communion but then prayed for greater unity and cooperation between the churches. Both of these situations were a real honour for me.' Similarly, Major Leslie Dawson discovered that being a female chaplain serving in Afghanistan gave her significant advantages over her male counterparts in allowing her, a Danish female chaplain, and two other female Canadian soldiers to conduct regular visits to a women's prison in Kabul. She writes, 'We in turn heard each of their stories ... stories, difficult to comprehend through the lens of our Western norms, customs, and values . . . a young woman in her late teens wouldn't agree to marry the man chosen for her by her parents - sentenced to a 9-month jail term. Another fell in love with a man her parents did not approve of - sentenced to an 11-month jail term. Another, raped by her cousin, doused him in gasoline - sentenced to 5 years in jail . . . While riveted in conversation with these women, children came and went. Infants, toddlers, and youngsters all reside with their mothers within the prison walls . . . We have been granted permission to conduct weekly visits - females only' (Benham Rennick 2006c).27
On home territory, a female chaplain notes that 'Sometimes men actually prefer to talk to a woman. There are definitely those that have their guard up and won't talk to you, but when it comes to talking about relationships and families and stuff, they seem to prefer to talk to me because priests don't have that experience. They are often really open with me about their marriages or relationships.' One woman working in a counselling role described how, following the Rwandan genocide, a number of Canadian soldiers who came to her for counselling were very angry at religion and Christian clergy in general because of their participation in the killing:28 'So there was this initial anger at speaking to me as a chaplain but not so much because I was a woman. In fact, I think in some cases, it really disarmed them and there was less anxiety in speaking to me. I think a lot of the people felt that I was a "safe person" because I am a woman. A lot of times these old stereotypical infantry guys would come in and I'd look at them and think, "They're not going to talk to me," and they'd just open right up and tell me their troubles!'
Some female chaplains feel that their sometimes-tense relations with male chaplains cause conflict among the women themselves as they try to adapt to the male environment. One woman explained that there can be 'a kind of strange, strained dynamic among the women chaplains. Some of them tried to get some support going and some were really interested but then others were not at all interested. They don't want to segregate themselves - sort of a guilt by association thing, like "if I just hang out with the men here they might not notice I'm a woman and I'll get along better."' In comparison, another woman described a successful support system with her female peers on one posting, saying, 'I really enjoyed working with them and being able to talk to someone that understood what I was facing. We took care of each other and really supported each other. We would watch each other's house when one of us went on tour, we'd send each other care packages. We were on the same wavelength and we knew the importance of simple caring acts that could really make a world of difference when you are away.'
A pastoral associate made the remark that differences and tensions occurring between women sometimes result, not from their relationship with the men in the branch or their gender, but because of differences in religious culture. She commented, 'I find the Protestant women really have more of a killer instinct than I do. They learn the politics and they know how to fight for a position or a paycheque. They're much more savvy dealing with leadership and are willing to fight to get what they want - I mean that in a positive way. I wish I had some of those skills, but as a Roman Catholic, I've always just been told where I'll be assigned and what I'll be doing by the bishop and that's what you do. It's not like the Protestants who have to apply for jobs and be approved by congregations. They're more like business people than us. This is an advantage for them. For the longest time there were no women pastoral associates getting promotions but the Protestant women would get promoted. The Protestants knew how the game was played while the Roman Catholics accepted their lot and went where they were told. That's starting to change.'
Despite these points of frustration, the personnel within the branch manage to work together effectively for the most part. One senior female chaplain told me, 'There is a lot of professional cooperation and quality leadership in the branch. You can see where the weaknesses are - some people are in it for a job, for the money, some are not very kind. But at the same time, I see a brother- and sisterhood second to none because we need each other. If we don't, we lose the mission. We have to let go of the pettiness. The chaplain general and senior officers expect it of us and the COs know they need us for "their people."'
The incorporation of women in the military is a significant point of discussion within the literature on the 'postmodern military' environment. Female chaplains' experiences with intolerance, marginalization, and harassment, as well as their confrontation with branch traditions more suited to male clergy, give an important indication of some of the potential conflicts other clergy people who do not fit the traditional model of the chaplaincy might face when they attempt to join the branch.
|< Prev||CONTENTS||Next >|