Sarah Bessey :: Speaking

You know, for a girl, you can really preach.

I normally don’t read books by girls but I read your book

I never listen in while I’m running sound for these lady things but I listened this time and I thought you said a couple of great things!

We asked you to join this conference because we needed the whole diversity thing but we never expected so many people to actually like your session so much!

I didn’t think I was going to like your bit of this – I haven’t ever heard of you before – but it was actually pretty good for a girl.

I haven’t ever read your books because they’re not really my thing but I think I might tell my wife you’re safe.

I never thought I’d dig what you had to say but for a girl you were fine by me.

You know what? for a girl, you’re pretty good! I even took notes!

We’re just so past the need for feminism here. We’ve already taken care of this issue.


I usually laugh when people say these things to me – and yes, these are actual quotes from actual people at actual events over the past few years. I get it. I know people mean well. No one really intends to give offense and I’m not usually someone who looks for opportunities to be offended. People intend to give a genuine compliment, however backhanded or sexist it comes across.

I get that.


For a girl, Deborah was a pretty good army general and strategist.

For a girl, Junia was a pretty good apostle.

For a girl, Mary was a pretty good student.

For a girl, Priscilla was a pretty good teacher.

For a girl, Esther was pretty good for such a time as this.

For a girl, I guess I can see why people look up to people like, oh, Rosa Parks, Corrie ten Boom, Madeleine L’Engle, Dorothy Sayers, Harriet Tubman….

I think I’m getting a wee bit sarcastic now.


Me, I’m an ordinary woman – I write things and I preach sometimes, sure, I lead in my own way in a regular sort of life. But I’m hardly a hero, I get that.

And still I hear this everywhere I go: for a girl, you’re pretty good.

For a girl.

I’m not even going to touch the whole “calling me a girl” thing when I’m actually a thirty-seven-year-old woman but whatever.

I wonder sometimes when I’ll stop hearing the qualifiers.

When being the woman in the room isn’t a novelty.

When being a woman who preaches the Gospel or teaches with authority or writes a book that actually isn’t expressly meant to be shelved in the “Women” section of the bookstore isn’t so worthy of note.

When a man doesn’t need a cookie for how forward-thinking he is just for being open to receiving wisdom or leadership from a woman.

When I don’t have to have a form email that I repeatedly send to conference organizers kindly reminding them to add women to the line-up.

When I am not invited to speak simply to keep Twitter backlash from the conference hashtag.

When the secondary string isn’t mainly female at a conference or a church staff or a school.

When women preachers don’t need twice as much education or platform for half the opportunities.

When there isn’t a tone of surprise to find that a woman can hold her own in matters of leadership and ministry.

When casual sexism isn’t acceptable, no matter what our theological labels.

When women aren’t overlooked as elders or leaders or pastors or deacons in their own right.

When the gift makes room long before the grudging quotas.

When we each operate in our gifts and anointings, running in the race to which we are called, in the Body of Christ with joy and grace and welcome.

I wonder when the response will simply be: glory to God for the word that has been given, we receive.

One :: A Letter for a Birthday
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  • Kristy

    Amen to all of this.

  • Missy

    The junia project had a post on this yesterday. As a woman in her 60’s, I too wonder why we are still struggling with this. Why after 240 years, we in the US still deal with racism. I just dont get it. Keep preaching girlfriend. Dont stop

  • Amanda

    Excellent Sarah 🙂 just read a fantastic article on St Hildegard of Bingen – another brilliant woman! you might enjoy too…

  • I remember taking a preaching class at Seminary (not because I was looking to preach, but I wanted to understand this process that preachers agonized over weekly)…about 15 men and 5 women. We each had to preach a sermon to the class…I was the first woman to take my turn, and I was terrified on numerous levels. One or two sermons after mine, another woman had her turn, and then a third. And then, a casual admiring comment in passing during the break in-between class hours: “I wish I could preach like a girl”. It was a humble, generous, and unsolicited comment given because the men could hear this qualitatively different voice from the women in the group. We talked about it as a class, and the preaching professor said that the “just-learning-to-preach” men in the group were preaching with their fingers pointed in a “You should…” sort of way to the listeners, and the women were preaching in a hands open in a “Wow-God did…” sort of way. The male students who had not yet preached their first sermon in class went home and tweaked their sermons after that class.

    • pastordt

      YES! THIS! I preached my first sermon when I was 45 years old and a 1st year seminary student. I was terrified. I had never heard a woman preach in my life to that point and was in a preaching section of brilliant young Stanford grads, mostly male. Because we were in this student thing together – despite the huge age disparity – they were kind, gracious, affirming. Then I went on to be the head TA in homiletics for six years while I finished seminary, and then began an unpaid pastoral internship to complete the hoop-jumping required for ordination. Your teacher’s insightful comment is spot on in my experience (which is admittedly now about 25 years old – yikes!!) — the majority of our female preaching students got that part right, the “Wow, God did. . .” part. And the male students (most of them) watched, learned and adapted. It was a quiet, gentle, steady influence that helped all of us, male and female, become better preachers.

  • Melissa Vanden Bout

    Preach, woman.

    Sitting here in the middle of a holy messy ordinary full called life, with goosebumps on my arms. It sounds like prophecy to me.

  • Michelle Gunnin

    I realize that these kinds of ‘for a girl’ comments are commonplace, and that is disheartening to be sure. When I had cancer I had a change in my mindset and it came when I heard the phrase “fight like a girl.” Something rose up in me with that phrase because girls are fierce. They are strong. They don’t give up. Suddenly, what was probably originally meant as a statement of weakness, became my mantra. So I say to you…go out there and fight like a girl to give women a voice.

    • cbe
  • JennaDeWitt

    YEAH GIRL. I’m allll fired up now. Preach!

  • Sue Hay

    Exactly! Have heard it all So relate. Thanks for being such a strong voice.

  • Tell it.

  • someguysmom

    Lololol so fucking true

  • Preach.
    I think I was communicated to so many times how grateful I should be for having an opportunity that it took me a while to unravel myself from the sexism I was surrounded by. It took me a while to go from, ‘I’m so grateful these conservatives are even listening to me’ to ‘this is not okay.’

    It’s the surprise – the surprise that you can do a job as well as the ‘boys’ – that still gets me.

  • Hi Sarah,
    I too long for that day when our voice and the fact that God is using us will be the most important thing. In the meantime, there are moments of humor. There was the time that a man came up to me after I’d preached, during which he’d taken extensive notes, to tell me that I was causing him problems. The problem was that he didn’t believe that women should preach, but yet he loved my sermons and God was really speaking to him through them! Those are the moments when I just have to laugh and accept that as well as preaching God’s word, perhaps I’m also one of the people that God’s using to get people to reconsider this issue. It would be great if it were already resolved. However, since it isn’t, it’s great to know that in some small way, I can make a difference and perhaps help to change people’s opinions. It can be scary to stand in front of people who you know are waiting for you to trip up in some way, because they don’t believe that you should be there in the first place.
    Keep preaching and keep telling it how it is. Thanks for this post Sarah,

  • Sue Schlesman

    Preach it, sister! Amen and amen. You could get me started on my own tirade, but I think you covered everything just fine. For a girl, anyway. 🙂

  • Amen amen amen amen amen amen.

    I don’t come from a “happy clappy” church background but I think I would DISCOVER some loud happy-clappy if I saw you preach! Then all my Lutheran ancestors would frown at me. Granted, they frown at me for a lot of things already…

    Yes and yes and yes. Your soapbox posts are some of my favorite because your passion for what you do is always there but it just ignites in posts like this. We are people, and people only change very slowly and in very small increments, but every time they see you preach I believe they must change just a little bit more.

  • Excellent post – thanks for saying this so eloquently.

  • Lindsey Paulson

    True Story!

  • Jory Micah

    I love when you get on this topic!! 🙂

  • Elizabeth F

    Yes, yes and yes!! Thank you for speaking out, Sarah.

  • Heather

    One of my close friends is a pastor. My husband says he would rather hear her preach than anyone else! Love this!

  • Sandy Hay

    So glad your safe Sarah. Sorry for the wife who has to have permission from her husband. Wonder what she reads with a flashlight…that’s what I did as a “girl” when I didn’t want my Dad to know the title 😉 Hopefully SOON someone will tell the “boy” that they’re not past feminism. They haven’t taken care of it in the least. I can feel my rebellious side rising 😉

  • jill_richardson

    I have heard several of these. It’s frustrating because, even in a denomination like mine which encourages women, there is little to no proactive work. They think that believing in it is sufficient. It isn’t, when all your conferences, books, etc are led by men. And no one even thinks twice about it. Someone has to take the lead to actively seek out women, and it’s just not on the radar. On the fun side, I still recall the near rebellion among some male students when I won the senior preaching award at seminary. Oh, they were annoyed. And the female faculty members were ecstatic. 😉

  • Rea

    Amen. I long for the day when I hear more women’s voices from the pulpit. It makes me feel less like I am being ‘preached at’ and more like I am being invited into a conversation.

  • karen

    THIS will preach! 🙂

  • I might be guilty of gender bias myself. Whenever a man compliments me on my speaking, I assume it’s mostly because he had such low expectations to begin with. That’s a BAD on my part. I enjoyed this post. I mean, it’s sad but true, but it also made me laugh out loud. Sometimes it’s just nice to know you aren’t the only one having some of these experiences. (It’s probably not very smart of me to put in writing that I laughed about this.)

  • At my last youth ministers’ conference I watched with sadness as an auditorium full of young guy youth ministers got up and left when a seasoned woman, in ministry for decades, was introduced as the next speaker. She had good things to say. The people who would have benefitted most didn’t hear her.
    Five years ago God called me out of the church setting to a very new calling in a very secular arena. After years of being judged for my gender, age, hair color (grey!), I find myself in settings where I’m judged for what I bring to the table, what I say, how effective I can be. It was Paul who said “In Christ there’s no longer Jew or gentile, slave or free, male or female.” Unfortunately, the place I’ve experienced that most fully is outside, not in, the church.

    • patriciamc

      I’ll bet you money those young men were neo-Cals and as such, they have a whole host of problems. An inaccurate and un-Biblical view of women is just one of many things terribly wrong in their world.

  • Roos Woller

    So good!

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  • Many years ago I was sitting in a pizza parlor taking a break from standing vigil in the hospital with my very sick mother-in-law. As I absolutely killed the video game I was playing, a boy about 10 years old said in an amazed voice, “Wow! You’re pretty good…for a girl!” I responded with “I’m very good. Period. And I’m a woman, not a girl.” I don’t know whether he got my point or not, but his backhanded compliment rankled even then.

  • Deborah West

    I’ll go into the whole ‘for a GIRL’ thing. I’m a 58 woman and I’ve been an adult woman for 40 years. I simply put it right back on them and say ‘You know, for boy, you’re not that bad either’. LOL. Some grown boys still don’t ‘get it’, but a lot grown men are starting to. We should never keep silent. Silence only condones that attitude that men can put women ‘in their place’ by referring to them as girls, like they’re children instead of adults with equal rights and responsibilities. I’m not saying be rude about it, I always laugh when I say it. But I am saying to not put up with it.

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  • cbe

    Amen sister. Thank you for this post.

    From a brother.

  • Love it! @EmergingMummy – it will be a great day when people are viewed as people and talent and viewed as talent. Thanks for writing this!

  • Right on Sarah!!! Thank you!

  • Yes, yes, yes.

  • Yes, yes, yes.

  • Lindsay

    Add “single” (instead of the safer, more comfortable, more understandable “married”) and it’s an even harder uphill climb.