Femme Writes: September

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.



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10 responses to “Femme Writes: September

  1. Adam

    Leviticus is a rather wonderful read for a woman I imagine… Being told that whilst menstruating and the week that follows it, you are “unclean” and thus should be shunned…

  2. Clare

    Yeah, that’s my favourite one. On the other hand, it lets you off certain hooks when you probably need an excuse…

    Meanwhile, I agree with a lot of this, Jen. I like the sound of Jesus, he sounds like a nice guy. (I’m still an atheist, sorry, but the bloke himself sounds cool, sans son-of-godness.)

    I do, however, think that maybe (at least for a few years anyhow) we ought to have some sort of law that means that constitutionally we should have more female MPs. Without that, parliament is going to remain fundamentally rather hostile in practise to women becoming MPs because, for example, a lot of the important discussions and things are scheduled at awkward times for women who, statistically and regardless of job, still do a lot of home-looking-after. Also, the old-boys-club style of politics that britain seems to espouse, with a lot of posh white males squabbling in a childishly aggressive manner is, probably, quite difficult (and not very mature) to get into if you’re a woman. There have been quite a few instances in recent years of male MPs being fantastically rude to female MPs during debates and, although it causes a brief 20second flurry in the news, no-one really gets too fussed. They’re less rude – or certainly less personal – to other men. Unless those men might happen to be, or are rumoured to be, gay. It’s going to be a difficult environment for women to break into, particularly as there isn’t (unlike in America, and other countries, for example) any sort of program designed to encourage intelligent young women to go into politics. And I think that if an equal percentage of male-female MPs isn’t enshrined in law, well then, we need to do something about encouraging women to go for parliament anyway, and that means not only making parliament more welcoming to women, but making women see it as a viable Thing To Do. Which I’m not sure many do at the moment. Certainly not as many as men, otherwise we’d be more equal than we are.

    I feel quite strongly about that.

  3. Requiring that a male-female percentage be enshrined in law would demonstrate a ridiculous contempt for the voting system.

    If voters are uninformed and are choosing less competent male candidates over well qualified female ones, then we have to let them. It is not the place of the law to deal with ‘mistakes’ that voters make.

    Personally, I would love to see a less male centric parliament. Your suggestion about encouraging women to actually get into politics in the first place makes a lot more sense than the idea of any sort of legal enforcement.

  4. Adam

    What’s the likelihood of a law requiring more Female MP’s getting passed by the male-dominated parliament??

    Moreover, the moment you start legislating to equal the numbers of women, you need to legislate to have an equal number of heterosexual and homosexual MP’s, an equal number of MP’s across the Religious and Ethnic boundaries, an equal number of MP’s from less well-off backgrounds, an equal number of MP’s with disabilities…

    I’m not saying more women in politics is a bad idea, there some truly excellent female MP’s – Caroline Lucas is a prime example of a committed and passionate MP who was elected based on her policies and ability to do the job, not because she’s a woman.

    Perhaps as an alternative, pressure should be put on political parties themselves put more female candidates forward for election… That way an excessive amount of pointless legislation doesn’t have to be drawn up, there is more incentive for women to get involved in politics, and then it remains up to the electorate to decide.

  5. Pingback: Femme Writes – Politics, Religion and Women « Femme Writes

  6. “There have been quite a few instances in recent years of male MPs being fantastically rude to female MPs during debates… They’re less rude – or certainly less personal – to other men”

    I wonder if Michael Gove agrees? 😛

    I agree with Dominic and Adam btw, positive discrimination is a little bit shit.

  7. Clare

    fair enough. poor chap. he does look like a ventriloquist’s dummy though.

    okay, so if not positive discrimination, what about reorganising parliament so that it is no longer biased against women becoming MPs?


  8. What do you mean by reorganising it? The childcare issue, that you mentioned in your comment? The hours etc are unsociable, yes, but I would think that being an MP (let alone a member of government) requires a hell of a lot of work (if done properly, anyway. I realise MPs still get paid even if they don’t turn up, but surely no-one has the gall to be that neglectful of their duties…). So is it actually possible to reorganise it? I say this from a position of relative ignorance btw; maybe it is possible to reorganise – and if it is then it should be – but it seems unlikely to me.

    You mentioned what I reckon is the real issue (and not just for MPs) in your first comment:

    “women who, statistically and regardless of job, still do a lot of home-looking-after”

    I think what’s needed – and I’m talking more generally now – is for those gender-defined roles to be abandoned somewhat. The idea/expectation that it’s women who look after the house/kids, that men go off to work and PROVIDE! just doesn’t seem appropriate to me, and it doesn’t particularly benefit anyone IMO. The barrier (if this is what you suggest) isn’t that parliament isn’t conducive to looking after the family; it’s that looking after the family is generally perceived to be the woman’s job.

    So I’m not sure that I agree that parliament is biased towards women becoming MPs; or at least if it is, it’s somewhat more oblique and symptomatic of other biases within society generally. But I do agree that women could/should be encouraged to get involved with various things, to be a politician or an engineer or a doctor, if that’s what they want to do. And similarly men should be encouraged to look after kids or be a nurse or a hairdresser, if that’s what they want to do. They shouldn’t continue to be pigeonholed as men or women’s jobs.

    To come back to the issue of how to do that, I haven’t got a clue! I’m hopeful that it’s transitory; that the status quo is the result of historic prejudices and that they are slowly being whittled away. But whatever, I’m fairly sure that positive discrimination (be it through legislation as you proposed, or all-women shortlists, or any other method) is merely a cosmetic fix, rather than an efficacious solution to the problem.

  9. Clare

    I think where the problem lies (I’ve been reading up on this at the moment) is that care-giving is not perceived as being of particularly great social importance, whether that’s childcare, housework, or looking after the elderly and disadvantaged.

    Which means that people who have more primary caregiving responsibilities (statistically speaking, that’s mainly women) are disavantaged throughout the job market, because despite the introduction of more friendly measures such as flexible hours etc, employers are still basing their recruitment decisions based on the ‘ideal worker’ model, which is someone without any responsibilites outside of work. So they’ll bend a little in allowing flexible time off and stuff, but it’s still more difficult for someone with more caregiving/home responsibilities to fit in acceptably and thus makes it harder for someone like that to rise through the ranks to the level whereby the salary received is adequate to cover the time off they need etc, etc etc. (She says, rehashing badly the chapter she’s just read)

    You get the picture. The perception of gender roles in the binary “Men get food/money” “Women keep house” still pervade society. Even if men wanted time off to look after their children, studies have shown that actually women requesting flexible hours for childcare are more likely to receive more generous allowances than men – which sucks for men and makes it economically harder for the balance of out-of-work work (such as childcare and housework) to be shared equally between both members of a heterosexual monogamous couple.

    If, however, caregiving were to be given the priority and importance that it deserves (raising children being probably one of the most important things anyone could ever do) and if employers (and in this I’m including Parliament) were to give it the priority it deserves then perhaps that would involve a fundamental shake-up of the models by which we judge productivity and social value (i.e. not just based on an economic “how much does s/he earn?” value) and possibly thus a reorganisation of the way that companies (and in this I include Parliament) structure their method of operating.

    I don’t, unfortunately, have any real ideas as to how this could be possible. Except perhaps scheduling important debates for a time that would fit in with the operation of a normal family life, so that female MPs who also still have responsibilities in the home would be able to participate fully, or providing childcare for MPs so that they didn’t have to pay for it and didn’t have to worry about it and thus could participate fully.

    And if attitudes towards the split of gender roles became more balanced and egalitarian, I think we’d see a vast increase in the number of men taking on more balanced caring responsibilities, because actually there is evidence that the majority of men would like to be able to but employment legislation at the moment means that that is not economically viable. Two weeks paid paternity leave, in comparison with the amount women get, just isn’t fair*.


    *and I know that’s because women actually give birth to the children but why not allow joint parental leave, allowing parents to split the leave equally later on in the child’s life?

  10. dave trunton

    i just think that the fundamental biological fixes will make always means that people will be pigeonholed into jobs based on gender. I dont agree it is how it should be but a real problem is the fact that despite opportunities for parental leave to be shared, which it is in the public sector, biology plays a role in how we react to childbirth. I think all the opportunities for parents to split the workload so that it is a completely personal choice as to who works who looks after the child need be available. however, you will still find that the mother will want to spend more time with the child, and unfortunatley that very occurance sets the roles within the home and is usually propagated. We need to as a soceity shift the roles so that from the moment and child can percieve the functions and roles within a family, it knows that the roles are not gender typed.
    just wait and see over time things change and usually better education and the strong role models over the course of history define the next generatrion.

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