On the 5th of every month, bloggers from around the world are open to write about rights and issues concerning women. First started by Shine and Marie, we’re hoping to bring a variety of women’s issues to the forefront to make people aware of what’s going on. For the month of September, we’ve chosen to write about Politics, Religion and Women. Please join us in telling us your stories, thoughts, and ideas on a monthly basis. To read previous installments, click here.
Firstly, to stave off unnecessary commenting on certain aspects of this post: this is about how these things affect women. I am not talking about how religion and politics impinge upon the lives of men in particular or human beings in general. I am just talking about these things from a female perspective. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing to do is not what I’m discussing here, though I may write that post another time. Then again I may not. It’s not as if I have anything new to say or any way to close the debate one way or the other.
Women and religion. This one interests me, because I’m in the (probably less unusual than I think) position of being a Christian with primarily agnostic-atheist friends. I have plenty of Christian friends too, mainly in Uni Town, and am actually Communications/Secretary on the Uni Town SCM (Student Christian Movement) next year. This is the sane equivalent to the CU (no comments about that either, I’m being flippant and ‘some of my best friends are in the CU’. This doesn’t mean I agree with a lot of the things they do or say, but nor does it mean I disagree with a lot of it either. It’s just not my kind of evangelism, or my kind of Christianity. Anyway, that’s by the bye).
Christianity is an Abrahamic (Abramaic?) religion and obviously these religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) have a fairly hefty tradition of not necessarily being great towards their womenfolk. There’s a lot in some of the letters of St Paul about not letting women speak in Church, there’s a lot about wives being helpmeets and surrendering to their husbands’ every word, and there’s obviously all that Islamic stuff where really strict Muslims seem, frankly, unable to tell the difference between rape, fornication, adultery, and a loving, adult relationship, mistaking all of those things for adultery, making the woman the culprit for having ankles or something, and then stoning her to death.
I can’t be bothered to go into the details of why this is terrible because I’m fairly sure you can all read and think and if you can’t, get out.
I’m not sure how Judaism has traditionally treated its women. Culturally from what little I know they haven’t been too badly off (as a gender I mean, not as a race, moving swiftly on…).
So we return to Christianity. I find it very peculiar that in the Church of England women have only been able to take orders since 1994; and we still can’t become bishops, although slowly things are moving in that direction. Furthermore, if you can be a priest, why can’t you be a bishop? What’s the big deal? I think most liberal Christians would agree with that, however there is a very vocal right wing of the Church which doesn’t agree and I do understand that it’s better to avoid Schism by delaying the women-isation of the bishopry for a few years or decades than it is to split the church over something like this. I mean, let’s be honest, conservatives tend to have a bit of a temper on them, and us lovely liberal types are nice, and forgiving, and tolerant. We can wait. We’ll win in the end. And meanwhile a lot of the cash comes from the conservative end of the church because that’s where all the slightly mad and therefore somehow creepily popular churches are. I can’t see what’s wrong with good old-fashioned Anglicanism myself but there we go.
I am massively paraphrasing my vicar and probably making his well-thought-out opinions into a total mockery of themselves even though I completely agree with him. Whoops.
So basically this is why the Church of England is seemingly completely backwards – we’re not, we’re just a massive body with a huge gamut of opinions and politics and people and thoughts, and it’s better to move slowly as one then to fall apart and faction off and end up in a right old tangle. Meanwhile we’re shedding more High Anglican members to the Catholic church, which doesn’t allow women priests, but nor does it allow its priests to marry and they have to remain celibate.
The thing is, Jesus was a great example, actually. Of course. He was a good moral philosopher and an example to us all and if you look at an awful lot of things in the Bible, well, he was always skipping about making friends with prostitutes and being nice to the ladies and, within the cultural context of his time, he was a massive, raging feminist. Sure, all the disciples were men, but that’s probably because culturally, women at the time did not and could not have the level of independence they would have needed to go wandering off with Jesus and his crew around the desert and various cities and what have you.
He was also pretty great as far as gay people were concerned (remember the story in Matthew about the centurion and his friend-who-he-loved-well? Yes. Almost certainly gay. So there).
And the thing is, there is a lot of stuff in the Bible that we don’t think is relevant any more – there are rules against ever cutting your hair or your beard, for example, mixed in with all these laws about not having sex with men and so on and so forth. So why do we reject some of those laws and not others?
People seem to forget that the Bible is a guide to life and principle and being a good Christian but it is also very much a work of its time. It’s all about interpreting the spirit rather than the letter of the law. And I’m not going to say that this argument therefore means I can sleep around and drink too much and do whatever I like because I’m still a good Christian because I pray every day, but I think it does mean that you have to read it, look at the culture we live in, and wonder if it’s still reasonable to say that women should not speak in Church given that we’re not in Corinth any more, Toto, and there was a reason, I’m sure, that Paul said that in the first place. In fact I know there was but I can’t remember it now and I can’t remember where I read that. Take this as an accurate and trustworthy source.
So yes, the old testament may be a bit harsh on women at times. But I don’t think Jesus was, and Jesus is the whole point really.
Meanwhile – the Amish. I’ve been watching a documentary about Amish teenagers coming to Britain and meeing British teens and seeing where their cultures clash and it’s very interesting. One of the Amish girls in particular is always trying to explain to the girls she meets about the idea of a woman’s place being in the home, at the side of her husband, allowing him to be the head of the family. And, despite being obviously a strong character and an intelligent girl who thinks for herself and ploughs her own furrow, this is something she really wants in her life. To be someone’s wife, to stand at someone’s side and do what they say. And if that’s absolutely what she wants and believes, is that so very wrong? I mean, I’m interested in what I might do with my degree, and I’m interested in all the things life has to offer me, but when I settle down, I want to be a wife and mother. I would love the opportunity to be a stay-at-home mother, living the male-breadwinner-female-carer model… but that said, I don’t want to defer to my husband in all things. I prize and respect my intelligence and maturity and I don’t want to be merely told that we need to spend less or that he’s bought a billion shares in Esso or something. Thankfully that’s not what I think my religion teaches me. I’m lucky enough that here in England we do have women priests. And I think it is in no way incompatible with my faith or with the teachings of the Bible that I have the right to be as respected for my intelligence and goodness and worth as a person as any man.
But I do wonder sometimes, just a little bit, if we in the West are just a little bit too convinced that we are right. Is this the only way to be? With an increase in depression in middle-aged women – the generation who supposedly have it all – the career, the kids, the facelifts – are we actually getting it right? Or is there some other way to approach this?
And then I hear things about stonings for adultery, or ‘corrective rape’ in African countries, and I realise that perhaps we have the best of it.
As for women in politics – there should be more women in politics, I think, but I also think we’ll get there, and it’ll take a while, and that’s fine. And meanwhile I like discussing SamCam’s yellow maxidress and Michelle Obama’s Amazing Arms as much as anyone. This is all I think I need to say on the matter.