the new stereotype

oh dear

i love rev, i really do, it's sharp insight leaves most clergy wincing and laughing in equal measure. and this week we saw, come to life on our screens that most vulnerable of relationships, the curate/ vicar ensemble.

enter our world.....curate abi.

isn't she great, isn't she lovely, isn't she teeth grittingly annoying....

the thing was that, on the surface she did absolutely nothing wrong, she was bright, good looking, energetic. but she was also stonkingly un self-aware and/or deliberately unkind. she did the 'wide-eyed' 'what have i done wrong' thing well - because of course she hadn't done anything 'wrong', she'd done what she'd been asked to do. but sometimes it really doesn't matter if the vestry is colour-coded and highly efficient - sometimes it's, in fact, really important that it's mildly chaotic (frankly, if you've got a reader who's as anal as nigel, it might be better)

i don't think that adam smallbone was really ever the stereotypical 'insecure' vicar, who can't let his bright young(ish) female curate shine - so suddenly making him that character was slightly inconsistent - and as a training incumbent, it would be adam's job to give her space, but also to help her understand the nature and dynamics of relationship. here was a woman, with a PhD, but who couldn't fathom the basics of her relationship with adam.

i guess one of the problems with rev, is that the research is done amongst vicars. and this relationship between the vicar and the curate - and now especially between young female curate and older male incumbent - is one that has notoriously been about the insecurities of the vicar and the competency of the curate. i don't buy it. we all have insecurities. quite frankly colour coding the vestry seems to show up a high level of insecurity. i know that when i'm feeling insecure i can pretend to be highly efficient. and don't get me started on the equating of being on 'twitter' as representing a 'better' priest....

i've noticed that 'bright young thing' is becoming the new stereotype for ordained women - and because most of us who might at a push fit this category are still curates, this kind of stereotyping comes a little too close to the mark for me. it especially comes close to the mark if it means that i'm being made to compete with my female colleagues about who is the 'brightest youngest thing on the block'. it's a pathway that is opened up before us my lovely female colleagues and i suggest we avoid it like the plague. i will not pretend that i'm on top of everything all the time, that my house is ordered and my relationships are great. or that i entirely 'get' all the social networking that's going on (i like it, i can't deny it, but sometimes it bewilders me). and whilst doing all this, i'll set up new services left right and centre and preach the best sermons ALL the time.

in the 80s, women had the curse of the oxo mum to contend with - yes, women, go out to work, but now you have to be the superwoman and do it all. now, for ordained women, we have the curse of abi, be the perfect wide-eyed innocent, bright, beautiful, high achieving, media savvy curate, whilst making sure that you've pissed off your incumbent just the right amount that you get yourself moved 'up the clergy career ladder' for the privilege. yeuch.

i have to say i think i'll take vicar of dibley all the way


Jon Kuhrt said...

But Jody - wasn't Abi just good at lots of things - wasn't this the contrast that the episode was showing? Her friendliness, competence and skills aroused Adam's insecurities. Despite his attractive honesty he has been represented in many episodes as lazy, lecherous, unmotivated and struggling - and here was someone presented as entirely the opposite. She connected and communicated well with people - was innovative and creative and generous.

Of course she was just a fictional character but it was hard to fault her too much. Last night's epidsode showed how ineffective and dying organisations and institutions can do - squash and repell people who bring positive change.

I really like Rev - but not because it affirms the church but because it shows the true state of parts of the church. Adam Smallbone is a British hero because he is ineffective and self deprecating - and people love the church being in this quaint but inoffensive place. But surely leaders like him can only preside over decline and closures?

I thought the baptism at the end was too poignant - it should have been the centre piece of a public event - instead it was just done in an empty church between drinking pals...

radical disciple said...

hmmm, i think i see it quite differently. abi was good, perhaps, but also, she was just different from adam. (and she was good in the sexy ways that are visible, not necessarily the unglamorous hidden stuff)

in some ways it's recognised that it's the job of the curate to be the novelty and show up stuff that the vicar doesn't do - but the curate doesn't do everything either, so it's an unfair comparison. and eventually the novelty will wear off. curate will show their own inconsistencies soon enough and the congregation will be less inclined to instantly liking everything she does.

and i'm not sure that she was so 'great' at communicating, she seemed terrible at communicating with adam!

i think the point with the baptism was that abi had raced in to offer confirmation, without any knowledge of colin or the relationship, or his journey of faith, which was then done between the priest and his friend.

i agree in principle that baptisms are best done in the community of the church, but that's not always either right or practical. i can see that in this case it was good telly :), but it might also have been the right thing for 'colin'

i'm less inclined to judge adam quite so harshly. sometimes our interactions with people are quite ephemeral and that's ok.

i think that a lot of what i reacted against was this supercurate image though - both in a versus the vicar way, but also in a really poor 'ideal'.

it doesn't help with the women in ministry conversation when the only images we're given are that women are either rubbish or perfect.

radical disciple said...

oh i know i didn't comment on the rubbish vicar thing - i'll have a think about that

Martyn Saunders said...

Just reviewing the list of consultants again and wonder whether it was not intended to be stereotyping but a comment on Lucy Winkett's career.

Most training incumbents are not as insecure or crazy as Adam!


radical disciple said...

yes, i did wonder if this was a lucy winkett reference, especially as the archdeacon commented on the 'woman bishop' thing.

but i think that's part of the problem, that it's a rolling together of some different stories - a number of different assumptions being made in the telling of those stories and you've got an interpretation of a stereotype on the screen, rather than even an interpretation of the real person.

i don't know lucy, but i do know that the implicit assumption that any woman under 40 is a purple shirt chaser can't be particularly helpful for anyone lol!

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

They bang in loads of elements into a half hour programme. It was a crack at Lucy Winkett, but also not at her because of the other in-joke about Neo-Orthodoxy and the thesis. She wasn't typical in any sense. He is the tortoise that gets there later and better. The archdeacon is a pantomime character but based on some in authority. As well as the in jokes it has some knockabout that outsiders can understand as well.

Jon Chilvers said...

Surely Abi's poor relational awareness re: Adam was hugely exaggerated to make the episode work, and was therefore inconsistent and didn't ring true with the relational strengths she showed with the congregation.

radical disciple said...

absolutely jonathan

i know it's telly, and that this is part of the problem, so i don't necessarily want to dissect the character's behaviour too much.

i think my point about making her a new, just as damaging, stereotype for ordained women, is valid though. it's especially the case because the research has come from ordained CofE people and so it can be seen that she is an up and running stereotype.

part of the problem also is that she is based on truth and the last thing that i would want to do is have a crack at a confident, intelligent, highly competent young woman. i know a few of them and perhaps fit a few of the adjectives myself lol.

but as soon as it becomes a 'type', then it's a little bit more malevolent, especially if it's the current 'type to be'. that not helpful for women.