Don’t you know what a Mistress is?

I do.  The question is, do you?  Or rather, do you know the true, original, and unsullied meaning of the title?  The one that has not been hijacked by shame and innuendo?

According to millennia of language and, mistress is defined as such in this exact order:

  • a woman who has power, authority, or ownership:
  • the female head of a household
  • a woman who employs or supervises servants
  • a woman who is in charge of a school or other establishment
  • a woman of the Scottish nobility having a status comparable to that of a master
  • a female teacher or tutor
  • a woman who has achieved mastery in some field
  • something personified as female that rules, directs, or dominates  i.e., when Rome was mistress of the world
  • a woman other than his wife with whom a married man has a continuing sexual relationship
  • used archaically as a title prefixed to the name of a married or unmarried woman

Do you notice that the implication of a sexually immoral woman is next to last in definitions?  But take a moment and review the list again.  All but the last two definitions describe a woman of authority, education and status.  They speak of a woman who is fully herself as she was created to be: leading and seen as a person with authority in their own right.

Unfortunately, for as long as we can remember, there has been fear surrounding a woman who is fully herself.  People are afraid and both genders do a bang up job of tearing that woman apart. Other women call them nasty names and create stories so they can justify their own feelings of doubt and discord over their own failure to be fully themselves.  Men subjugate and need to control, minimizing and discrediting based upon gender.

We all do it.  We don’t even realize how often and pervasive the message is.  A woman fully herself must be made less- and so we took the word for a woman in control and fully herself and made up a new meaning- and gave it more weight than all the other meanings had for century upon century.  Suddenly a woman with authority or education and in control-a mistress- was a slut, a whore, a home-wrecker… you get the point.

Initially, I was just joking that I didn’t have the right body parts to have a master of divinity degree- but the more I joked about it the more people pushed back.  They told me a “mistress was” immoral or at least implied it.  Simultaneously I was teaching the ladies Bible study to see women in the Bible as fully valued, equipped, and called disciples of Christ.  Awareness dawned over the paradox that  I was once more being pushed into a smaller-than-self role by completing a degree above a 2 year education in college.

To be a highly educated person, one must be male- Bachelor?  Master?  Do you see it now? Even Doctor was originally male and women fought to be “allowed”.  But I don’t want to fight to be allowed to hold a Master of Divinity.  I don’t want to ‘settle’ or remove my gender to make everyone comfortable and be politically correct like we did with so many other titles (actor, waiter, steward, etc.). I do not want to be neutered for your comfort so I can “fit” into an age old system that assumes only men are highly educated.  I want to be recognized as a woman with a degree in divinity…. a Mistress of Divinity.  Not because I want to cause a ruckus, but because I am a woman in command of my own life and person and I do not need to apologize, change, or deny who I am just to say I have an education.  God made me a woman. To accept a degree with a masculine title is to declare myself a ‘man’  or at least, ‘not a woman,’ for sake of education and thus, in turn is to deny my created self as valid and even denies the very creative genius of God.

Thank you Luther Seminary  and Fort Hays State University for giving women equal status in pursuing education- but now let’s really do it right.  Please issue me a degree that honors my gender a Bachelorette of General Studies and a Mistress of Divinity- because I do not need to give away my femininity as given by God in order to show the world an educated person.

And so it began, a small joke that took on it’s own life as I learned just how systematic and pervasive the gender domination remains- even in education.  So, as part of my call to preach and teach, to lead and serve, I offer myself up for criticism so that others might learn and grow just as I have- and so that I might do my small part in sharing the message that we are not to be ashamed of our bodies, our gender, or our created self.


Julie Kelly

Bachelorette of General Studies &

Mistress of Divinity


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