Saturday, May 4, 2019

ADF Elections and The Wild Hunt article

I had the privilege of being interviewed by Sean McShee from The Wild Hunt in regards to the results of the recent ADF election. The article is a compilation of two interviews, one with me and one with the reelected Archdruid. The questions Sean asked me were centered on my perspective of women in ADF, specifically in leadership. We have been facing the same issues since I joined ADF ten years ago, and through the efforts of some of the most beautiful women I know, we have made a tremendous amount of progress, even gaining some important allies along the way.

I am proud of the work we have done toward gender equality in ADF, AND we have more work to do. Both of those things can exist at the same time. We can be moving in the right direction, we can hold a list of examples where we are getting it right, and we can still have more work to do. Our work isn't done. The work of the women in ADF is paving the way for all the other wonderful expressions of gender, and I look forward to continuing to be a part of this important work.

For transparency, here is the transcript of the interview I did with Sean. I stand by these words, and I am happy to discuss any of these points. Dialogue is the most effective instrument of change.

WH_ADFElect20190430 questions Ashton

Can you tell the readers of the Wild Hunt who are not ADF members a little about yourself?

Sure! My name is Rev. Melissa Ashton, Missy for short, Rev. Bee for fun. I’ve been a pagan for twenty years and an ADF member for almost 11. Prior to ADF, I was in a Dianic coven and then a solitary witch. I found ADF in Columbus, Ohio, when I grew tired of celebrating the high days on my own. Fellowship is what drew me to ADF, and it is for the fellowship that I have dedicated my life to service as a priest.

What motivated you to run for the role of Arch Druid?

The short answer? I was nominated. No, really. It actually hadn’t occurred to me to run before I was nominated on the Council of Senior Druids by a very well-respected ADF member. I do not sit on that council, so by the time I heard about it, I had been seconded, and they were contacting me to ask if I would do it. I finished my masters degree in Nonprofit Management specifically to help the pagan community, with ADF as my reference organization, and I was excited at the prospect of getting to put my skills to use for the organization. When ADF was born, the existing structure was great! It served the purpose of a bunch of druids communicating via snail-mail. As we’ve grown, however, some of the structures have become antiquated, and best practices for religious orgs have been established. I have a passion for this sort of work, and getting nominated was validation in my role as an administrative priest. It’s pretty funny—who else gets excited about updating things most people won’t even notice?!

I understand this is the first time a woman has run for ArchDruid. Given the large number of women in the Pagan communities, this is surprising. How would you describe your experience in that campaign?

Actually, I am the second. Interestingly enough, the first woman to run for AD ran against Rev. Skip Ellison more than 15 years ago. She also wanted to update some of our administrative structures to help build a stronger foundation for ADF that would grow and support the folk for years to come.
My experience was actually pretty quiet. I decided not to do much campaigning, because that’s not really who I am—which is probably why I lost! For me, I wanted to win because the folk saw value in the work I outlined in my platform.
What was the most challenging part of the campaign?

The most difficult thing was the number of folks who dismissed me because I am part of the “young guard” and “not a good spiritual leader.” I was quite shocked to hear that last one. I suppose those who feel that way just don’t know me or see the work I’m doing. But, you can’t let those sorts of comments hold you back, you know? I also heard there was a bit of behind-the-scenes campaigning against me, but I don’t want to feed that monster.
What was the most rewarding part of the campaign?

The people. Truly, I haven’t felt this supported or connected to the folk of ADF since I moved to Colorado. I heard from folks who left ADF who wanted to return if I won, because like me, they saw the potential for greatness still in ADF and trusted me to take her there once more. It was quite humbling.
Do you have any idea on number of female members in ADF and number of female officers? If not, can you give an estimate?

It may surprise you to learn that most of our officers are female, above 60%. I’m not sure of the numbers across the org, especially since I want to include all the beautiful variations of gender that exist. The issue isn’t the number of females in leadership: ADF has a glass ceiling.
What have been the barriers, if any, that women have faced the past that prevented women for running for Arch Druid?

We’ve joked about this in the Chenille Canopy, the unofficial group for people-who-identify-as-women in ADF. Back when the Canopy was created, it was in answer to the men folk sitting around the fire and making decisions while the women were doing other work. That is, of course, oversimplified, but it makes the point. The Canopy started to support women in ADF and help them achieve their personal leadership goals. It is actually their mentorship that led me to complete the clergy training program. I don’t think we’ve hit barriers in ADF that are different from any other organization. We’ve been passed over because we have jobs that take too much time, or because we have kids that take too much time, or because they are worried we’ll be too emotional. For Archdruid? I think we have done a poor job succession planning our non-male folk into leadership roles (leadership training is another discussion!).
Did you encounter any gender barriers (conscious or unconscious, internal or external ) in your campaign?

Nothing I don’t face in my career as a female in leadership. The diminishing, the questions about my personal life that are used to discredit my ability to do the job, assuming I’m too emotional or young or whatever. There are loads of ways to tear down a candidate, and since most of the stuff that made it back to me was passive-aggressive, it was easily dismissed.
What do you think can be done to encourage more women to run for leadership in ADF in particular and Pagan organizations in general?

Support. Support them. If you’re of the dominant gender, or you’ve held office before, get out of their way. If you really want to break the glass ceiling and make room for other genders to succeed, you have to create space for them. I have some male allies that have made all the difference in the world to my success. Rev. Robb Lewis declined his nomination to make room for me to run.
If you’re not of the dominant gender: encourage those around you, believe in them, help them to grow, and lift up those who will reach their hand back to pull you up with them.
Do you have any advice for other Pagan women considering running for leadership positions?

Do it. Seriously. Do it, and if you fail, learn, and do it again. Get your name out there and let us know how we can help. We are stronger together.
Is there anything you would like to say to the readers of the Wild Hunt about women’s leadership among Pagans in general, or ADF in particular?

Women are often very well-respected on the surface, but sometimes, under the fa├žade, the rumor mill is working overtime to tear the foundation out from underneath them. Integrity in relationships involves being loyal to the absent. Think about the words you use to describe people when they are not around. In ADF, I think we need to realize we aren’t as different from the rest of the pagan community as we seem—in some areas, we have plenty of room to grow. It’s time for all of us to outgrow misogyny in our religion.
Is there anything else that you feel is important to say to the readers of the Wild Hunt?

As polytheists, we have the capacity to embrace what Rev. William Ashton calls a “multiplicity of truths.” There is no one right way, no singularity of truth. I have a vision in which we embrace those around us who are different as assets instead of seeing them as threats. Make it a habit to ask for more information: “That’s a different point of view. Say more about that?” It’s amazing what the people around us have to offer when we simply open ourselves to receive it.

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