I’ve known Bonita Joyner Shields for several years within the Adventist publishing world, where I’ve often had dealings with her in a professional capacity. I know her best as an excellent writer and editor: until her book Living in a Man’s World came out I either didn’t know or had forgotten that she began her career in pastoral ministry. Living in a Man’s World offers some insights into her experience as a woman in the male-centric world of Adventist ministry, and shares tips and suggestions from women who are trying to break through the glass ceiling in any traditionally male-dominated profession. Shields writes with gentle and often self-deprecating humour and a very positive tone.
In fact, the tone was so positive throughout that I found myself wondering whether there was an alternate, “secret” version of this book that wouldn’t have gotten published by a church publisher. I’m sure there were more painful stories Shields chose not to tell, stories that would have reflected more negatively on her male co-workers and superiors. While this is an insightful and helpful book, it’s also a careful one. She presents her experience of church employment as having been generally very positive despite some challenging experiences, and while I’m sure this is essentially true, I couldn’t help feeling there was an “untold story” here. But this is not a tell-all memoir; it’s more of a how-to guide based on personal experience, providing guidance for women in similar work situations.
Some feminist readers may be disappointed that Shields’s approach to male-dominated power structures is as conciliatory as it is. For example, while she served as a woman in ministry and clearly supports the ministry of women within the Adventist church, she does not address the ordination issue head-on (it is discussed in an Appendix). The book is not about changing power structures, which may be frustrating for some readers, but again, it’s important to keep the purpose, the publisher, and the audience in mind. This is a book about working with and within existing power structures. Shields’s insights will be helpful not only to women in the ministry but perhaps to women in other traditionally male-dominated work cultures as well.