Advancing justice for women and girls and promoting their spiritual growth

UUA Presidential Candidate Jeanne Pupke

Justice:  First of all, Jeanne, I’m Justice. I am the President of the UU Women’s Federation. We’re going to kind of pass it around with various board members and as they go the first time they’ll introduce themselves, as well. So I think we’re kicking it to Beth.

Beth:  Yes. Hi Jeanne. I’m Beth Dana. I am part of the UUWF Board, our Vice President for Recruitment and Outreach. I’m the Minister of Congregational Life at First Unitarian in Dallas. My question for you … As you may know, the UUWF is one of two associate member organizations of the UUA, the other being the UU Service Committee. My question is: How do you see the relationship between the UUA and the UUWF currently? And kind of a second part to that is how would you like it to change or to look if you become President of the UUA?

Jeanne:  I’d say that, were I to become President of the UUA, I don’t know that I have an immediate need or something that would be justified in my hypothesizing how to change the Women’s Federation. You know, religion today, as we live it, religious community today, is dominated by men across so many religions. Right? You’ll go to different religious traditions and, nice folks, and at the same time, clearly there’s a male influence in control and ultimately that has a tendency to marginalize the voice of women consistently. Yes, even when women are leading the organization. Now, in our faith, like a lot of faiths, we have a majority of women involved in the faith. We’re the ones with majority of women in ministry. I wonder about the proposition of how thorough-goingly we have really exorcised ourselves from patriarchy and other remnants of days gone by. I think we have a tendency to put a gloss on ourselves.

One of the questions I have is, when do we perform an analysis on women’s roles in the UUA? That’s a question that I have; would the Federation be a good partner for that? Because every now and again I run smack dab right into something that tells me that we’re not yet always the religion we say we want to be. Those are questions that I have in partnership with the Federation, but I’m not certain that the Federation would be seeking those things. We always begin with a conversation and build a relationship, and that would be my goal.

Beth:  Well actually it is something we’ve talked about, just so you know. I think that could be a great potential.

Jeanne:  You’ve talked about it with the UUA?

Beth:  Not with the UUA, but the idea of doing some kind of report or assessment of the status of women in our UU movement.

Jeanne:  Well good. We’re having emergence here.

Gretchen:  I’m Gretchen, VP of Communications. Thinking about women in the UU Movement, what do you feel is our most pressing issue?

Jeanne:  Boy, this is such a garden of choices. I’m concerned myself with women in economics. I’ll just say that. That’s how I tend to see things. The sustained inequality in women’s roles, compensation, benefits, time on the job, family medical leave … you know … Child care costs. We could go on and on and on. Okay?  The disadvantage that women feel is felt decidedly in this country and as a result we have the world’s largest industrial country with a homeless population of women and children. We pretend it’s like it doesn’t matter. The notion that it would take us 50 years for women to catch up economically to men. The idea that we are supposed to somehow be accepting right now the idea that women should be grateful, somehow, because we’re making progress at a snail’s pace. That bothers me greatly.

The patchwork of inadequate healthcare, you know, maternity care … It’s just in every way we still see long lasting patterns. Now, I think, Unitarian Universalists are able to perceive what that costs, what that means. We should be articulating that. We should be joining with the people who are doing Fight for Fifteen, because a lot of what they are doing is fighting for women’s rights to earn. It’s shocking to people to think that the fight for 15 dollars an hour should be waged, when in fact the actual adjusted price of the minimum wage should be in the mid-twenties. It’s pretty clear there is still a war against women, in many ways, and I think that Unitarian Universalists should be speaking out about that.

Claire:  Claire Sexton. Vice President for funding programs of the UUWF. I live in Waco, currently, though I lived in Brooklyn, New York for a long time. My question is a two-parter. How do you define intersectionality, and where does gender fit within?

Jeanne:  Well, intersectionality, to me, is a representation of the reality that injustice is not narrowly foisted nor separately found in the population. Injustice generally tends to appreciate the opportunity to visit itself upon people who already have experienced other injustice. Intersectionality recognizes the fact that there’s a relatedness between class and gender, class and race, that, in fact, incarceration, education, housing and other things are unequally granted in our society. Intersectionality, for me, is the recognition that we cannot pluck on one string without affecting all the other strings. Therefore, it’s the work of removing the illusion that we can narrow down to one topic and do something there and not be obliged to address the issues found elsewhere.

Claire:  Where does gender fit within intersectionality within Unitarian Universalism?

Jeanne:  Well gender is, in Unitarian Universalism, is becoming a lot more fluid. Especially in the lives of our young people. Their gender fluidity is a lot higher than prior generations, so we’re actually seeing an interesting enactment of freedom to identify along whatever gender identity one wants to embrace. That’s a good thing.  That’s a good thing.

However, it also means that our children are, in expressing themselves, often finding themselves unwelcome, rejected, bullied, sometimes even attacked about this or their identification with persons who express gender fluid identity. So we now see our kids going through a deepening awareness of the injustice of gender politics and gender binary preferences. We’re actually in a learning curve that’s a very intense one. You know?  I’m not sure that there’s a place where we’re capturing the truth of that. I’m holding a great concern right now for that in Unitarian Universalist, as one of my greater concerns about gender politics and gender identity.

It is without doubt that with regard to women, 19% of Congress are women, some pitiful four or five percent of CEOs are women, boards in the financial realm, women on boards are so rare and so difficult to find that often times women are serving on multiple boards. They go to Davos and talk about how awful it is, and gee, can’t they change it? Actually, it can be changed, quite readily. There are many, many qualified women, in business, who have been held back, marginalized, dismissed, and found quote unquote “unqualified” because the criterion is unfairly gender biased toward the male understanding of self-identity. I’d really love for us to challenge there. If we could take all of our 401K money, track down where it’s gone, and chase after it to insist that boards become representative of women at 50%, and just hammer away on that for ten years, I think we’d see what corporations value, be radically changed.

Justice:  Thank you. This question is kind of a current and then future question. Currently, in what ways do you see the UUA addressing issues surrounding women and girls, and under your presidency would you see the UUA put in new resources into legislative work on behalf of women and girls?

Jeanne:  Currently, I think that the work we do is to create an environment that is welcoming to all people, which we do imperfectly. Lots of people from historically marginalized groups do not feel adequately represented, do not feel equally welcome, do not feel equally included. Each person and each group might have to answer as to how specifically they think that is favorably done or not. I notice that there’s a good amount of attention being given to the question of whether male children stay in religious education. That seems to be a question that rises in the professional religious education community. I’m a little worried about the possibility that we might forget to ask the question of what is valuable to girls, female children, in that environment. We certainly have never really verged the question of what happens to children who are not in that gender binary. So it’s a lot of work.

I think in terms of the future, would we spend more money on legislation? Well we have to be honest with ourselves and say we have to work to receive more money first. The budget of the UUA has been remarkably still for the past decade or so. As a result, we don’t have money for new projects without taking it away from another project. The growing proportion of the budget that goes to both compensation and benefits is rising, you know, so there’s even less flexibility each year. Now, that said, I’ve noticed since the election a certain vacancy on the national scene of our voice, women’s march was relatively painful in the sense that there was no organizing UUA entity there. Not that we could have gotten there, ’cause the fact of the matter is, you couldn’t move. You know, you just could not move. It sort of said something about our prioritization of planning that that didn’t merit the kind of organizing we’ve seen for GLBT events, or for immigrant events, or for other events. That was a little surprise to me, and maybe that was just a one-off. It did kind of say to me, have we become complacent about women’s issues? Do we think we’ve got it going on in our faith, so therefore, we don’t need to show up quite in that way? That made me pause and think. We have to raise money if we want to do more legislation.

Gretchen:  Our question is, what do you see as the UUA’s role in the future of trans women’s rights and safety, and especially trans women of color?

Jeanne:  I’ve been worried about the advocacy of trans persons generally. The GLBTQ environment sort of lost some energy after marriage equality was achieved. It’s been my concern that we would leave behind the issues relative to trans rights, particularly the rights of trans women, who are murdered at a rate that beats everything in this country. I mean it’s just still amazing and internationally truly so. The marginalization from access to healthcare, proper healthcare, the access for other medical needs and procedures is denied the trans community and trans women sufficiently often that the church winds up being a community of support for the trans community.

I was lucky enough to be serving a congregation as a student, the very first congregation I served, in which there were only 35 people. And of the 35 people, there were three trans persons. One of whom was a woman who was undergoing surgery, reassignment surgery. She was undergoing that two hours away, and that little congregation saw to her needs, to her doctor’s appointments, follow-ups, hospital visits. It was truly humbling how well they cared for her. I feel as though all of our congregations are not yet at an emotional spot to do that, so I hope that part of the work we have to do is to examine our capacity to welcome trans folks. To support women particularly who are so often marginalized in the extremes.

Beth:  What do you think the UUA and UU Congregations can do to improve the health and lives of women that they employ?

Jeanne:  Well first of all, I want to note that those congregations that participate in the UUA Health Plan are participating in a strong plan. The work that has been done by the UUA to create that plan which allows for people who have conditions to move about within the UUA is a really great help to anyone’s health issues, but women in particular. The question that comes up for a lot of folks are about family leave, maternity leave in particular. A number of our congregations do not have paid maternity leave, or paternity leave for that matter. Which we know is a goal we have, but the economics of congregations often are juggled between priorities, and, as a result, I’m not sure we’re always a welcoming employer to women who are parents or have children. The UUA, in general, has tried to improve compensation, the fairness of compensation, but there still is a gap, I think.  I’m not sure we know what causes it, but there’s a small gap between women professionals and men in our movement.  It’s probably the residual of a lot of socialization, but that’s one thing we really need to examine and determine whether or not there’s an option or anything we can do to improve it.

When I think about women employed in the association, in the congregations, I get a little concerned about the family question and the children and maternity, in particular.

Claire:  Thank you. So, Jeanne, as you may have noticed, the Declaration of Conscience that was put out in January from the UUA made no mention of the status of women as an oppressed group. Do you care to comment?

Jeanne:  Yes. I signed it. Because I felt it was, in the main, a good thing to do and because it was important to folks of the UUA that the candidates support it. I don’t know. Were they thinking that we’d arrived or not? I’m not sure. It’s sort of an index of how we believe we have addressed the issue. It’s not on our radar anymore. Which is why I really want to do that analysis, you know, of how women are faring in the movement. That’s a pretty good indicator it’s time to do it, isn’t it?

Nobody’s got that portfolio, right? The portfolio is, how did I put it, externalized to you. You know? We did that. That was Women and Religion. We did that a long time ago. Right?

Claire:  40 years now.

Jeanne:  Yeah. Of course, here we are. No Equal Rights Amendment.

Justice:  Excellent. We’re just down to the final couple questions. This one you’ve actually touched on a little bit. We’d love to hear deeper thoughts around how you see the UUA strengthening the spiritual growth of girls. Thinking about our future women and connecting with our girls.

Jeanne:  Well, I believe it’s not enough to say, “Let’s protect our girls.” You know? You sometimes hear that, still. Or, “Make a place where they can come and everything will be good, and they’ll see women ministers up on the front of the chancel, they’ll see women educators, they’ll see women in leadership” … I actually think we have to prepare them to do an analysis of patriarchy and misogyny in this world. Every one of our children, hopefully, are feminists, but women have to have the tactical skills in addition to the sexual education that we provide them. They have to have a political analysis, they have to have an economic analysis. I think that they don’t really get that from us, yet. How do we start to think practically about what these young children, all of them, are going through in terms of our faith being able to say, “There is a real world out there and you can have the skills to negotiate it.” That’s a little tougher or perhaps a little more pragmatic than we sometimes like to be with our girls. It seems so necessary to me. It’s as though we’re sending them out to adulthood without all the needed background. We’re real good on the sexual responsibility, but I’m not sure we’re good on the bigger picture for them. They will experience harassment. They will experience marginalization, and they will be taken advantage of, unless. Let’s equip them.

Claire:  I have the final question for you. This one’s a little more fun, I hope. We are primarily a funding organization and we’re curious what are your pet projects or personal passions on behalf of UU Women and Girls.

Jeanne:  Okay. The curriculum for girls, right there. The assessment of the progress of women in this, and the perception of the larger Unitarian Universalist Association. The equality that they are experiencing or not, in all kinds of leadership within the movement. You know? So to speak, in the pews, as well. Those are two things I’d love to see happen. Could we talk about legislation? I think we could. I’d rather talk about what’s the seed money by which we could raise other money to do those things.

Claire:  Right on.

Jeanne:  Yeah.

Claire:  Excellent.

Jeanne:  You’re a great vehicle also to receive grants, right? You could potentially receive grants.

Claire:  Yes. Jeanne … Any questions that you have for us?

Jeanne:  Yeah. Post-election, are you experiencing a little bit of a boom?

Justice:  I would say that we are. It’s interesting how you mentioned the externalization of women’s issues to our organization and Women and Religion, International Convocation of Women. I think that we definitely, for instance, in our end of year appeal after the election this year we had much greater success than we had in our past, the most recent year.

Jeanne:  Mm-hmm (affirmative)-

Justice:  We’ve seen … I think a lot of it though also is the great leadership of these incredible women on the board. I know we’ve also seen Claire has been helping with Gretchen with the network and reaching out with the communications, newsletters, social media. We’ve seen huge uptakes in that.  I think I speak on behalf of all of us when I say that we feel like this is an extraordinarily critical time for women and girls, and both the Unitarian Universalist Association and movement and congregations but also just in our nation and world. Figuring out how to partner effectively so that, for instance, when the next Declaration of Conscience is written, we’re at the table to be able to have that conversation and be a true partner with the UUA. That really, I think, is our primary goal, at this point.

Jeanne:  That’s great. You know, for years we’ve had women’s groups, small groups, spiritual groups. Suddenly we have a feminist organizing committee. In the church that I serve. You know?

Justice:  That’s great!

Jeanne:  Just like poof! You know? It is a prosperous time for the issues of examining women’s condition in this society and whoa, they’re powerful folk. It’s really cool.

Justice:  That is so fantastic. Well we feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to be addressing these issues on behalf of UU Women and Girls, as well, as to have some resources to give toward the projects that are going to move the wheels, with regard to the issues that matter. We’re just really excited. We appreciate you making the time. I just want to say on behalf of all of us to you is how grateful we are to have such powerful candidates that are willing to step in at this time in our movement and nation …

Jeanne:  They are powerful, aren’t they?

Justice:  You are a powerhouse group of women. You are an amazing group of women. We’re just really excited for the fact that … I would find it a very daunting task to be President of the UUA and so all of you who are really willing to lead, that really means a lot to us. We thank you for that.

Jeanne:  You’re welcome.

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