Monday, July 6, 2009

Are Women Inferior to Men?

Richard Rohr shared a wonderful meditation about women the other day ... and it launched a multi-forum discussion online. I'll share all of it here, in the hopes that it will further an awakening.

First, here's what Richard shared:
Until quite recently we white males of the Northern Hemisphere have been holding all the cards, naming all the questions, and providing all the answers for the entire Christian era—except for those few golden years when God took poor flesh in Jesus. He took twelve Jewish men and tried to show them how they could be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. Males continued to build towers and operate as lords over others, and the sacred feminine or human vulnerability just didn’t fit in.

That is the world and the Church that I was born into. It has been preoccupied with domination and status-quo logic to this day and thus finds itself largely incapable of understanding, much less believing, most of the clear teaching of Jesus. Poverty, meekness or nonviolence, tears, justice-love, mercy, purity of heart, peacemaking and reconciliation, and bearing persecution…are his eight opening statements. But try to get elected in a Christian country or promoted to high office in the church today while seriously following those teachings! Yet we all agree that Jesus called them the “Eight Happinesses.”

I shared that with a few loved-ones -- here's what my husband, Mark, had to say:
I don't think that we as men realize how pervasive the male superiority mindset is and how it has permeated every aspect of our lives. Actually, I know we don't. And, the sad part is, we don't want to. To acknowledge this mindset in ourselves, means we have to change, and there will not be a cultural change until enough of us have allowed the change individually. Interesting, I just went back and read the last line and the words "allowed the change" jumped out at me. We really don't have to work hard to change the mindset, we just have to see it for what it is. We were not created to have this mindset, it is a learned mindset. It is not who we really are, and it is not who we were created to be. It is a lie that we have believed, and when lies are replaced, the truth, that is always there within us, is allowed to take it's rightful place. At the same time, the mindset is so pervasive, so ingrained, that it's not just one big lie that we can deal with and it's gone, it is thousands of little lies that tell us how we react and what we say in various situations. What I mean is that I am aware, usually afterwards, of comments and attitudes that I have that show that I believe in form and fashion that I am better than Dena. On a conscious level I don't believe that, and Dena and I have had numerous conversation on this subject. So I make a comment or have an attitude, and Dena will say something, I will usually acknowledge that and go on, but there are times that I don't want to see it, or don't think that it applies under the circumstances. It is a cancer, it is a sickness, that needs transformation, revelation, renewal, healing.

I think that all of this is based on fear; fear of the unknown. We don't really know how to be men, at least not the men that God created us to be. And so what do we do when we are afraid, we don't become humble, we don't acknowledge our weaknesses, we don't accept our poverty; we take control, and we lord over people. We start with women and children, and then other men: that's where wars come from.

The more I write, the more frustrated I get, and the more I feel for the women of the world living in male dominated societies, or households. The sad part is that I was raised by my mother until I was 13, and did not have a male role model with this dominant mindset. If I, being raised without this mindset being demonstrated in my home on a daily basis, with the realization that it is wrong, still struggle, how much harder must it be for men who were overtly taught as small children that it was their job to rule. I know it may seem that I am now taking up for men, but I am not. I just think that we need to realize that this means an entire paradigm shift for most of us. A right shift , but a major shift none-the-less.

May God enable us all to be and live as He created us to be. In equality, love, humility, honoring others (especially those who have been dishonored for so long) above ourselves.

Then began the deluge, LOL...! I noticed that the folks who said this was "no big deal" and that we women really needed to "get over this" were white males. Funny that. Perhaps because my husband is Jewish, he's got an inside-track to how it feels to be maligned (just a wee bit)..?

Several brave and noble (not to mention self-honest) men dared to speak up, and admit that this male-dominance superiority is rampant ... though most men who are perpetrating it are largely blind to it (& that when they dismiss our pain, they're in effect ripping off our scabs). I then got this response:

Can you give me some examples of what you are talking about as far as this pain and the way that apparently most men are abusing women. It seems that I come at this from a different perspective than most on this board, but my observations over the course of my life is that women have been as equally guilty as the men. What are the things men are doing to cause these wounds/scabs? And how are these wounds any different than the wounds that men carry around? Thanks.


Thanks for the question, and the opportunity to discuss this!

First, yes, everyone has wounds of one sort or another -- none of us live this life wound-free. I even have come to believe that wounds are the vehicles by which we heal from the deeper things we're not even aware of.

Secondly, yes, women are as "guilty" as men -- but, let's be honest, there's not been a prevalence of women dominating men, telling men what they can do, and then punishing them (overtly or covertly) when they disobey or show defiance.

I recall hearing Paul Young speak to this ... he said (paraphrased from my memory):

"Men have historically been responsible for 90-something percent of all the crime in this world, of all the violence in this world, of all the rapes in this world, and of all the wars in this world -- and yet our theology tells us that it was God's idea to put men 'in charge'?!? Yeah riiiiight."

Let's look at those wars ... Sister Joan Chittister spoke before the UN, claiming that 90+ percent of all killed in war are civilians -- mostly women and children. War is a crime against women and children -- the very ones men claim to be protecting.

How's that working...?

Violence against women is at epidemic proportions -- violence against men, by women, is rare enough that it's shocking ... and the damage done is far less severe than the damage done to women by men (men are, by and large, more powerful and aggressive than women).

I do not say that men are not abused by women, nor am I condoning violence in any way, shape or form ... and certainly it can happen in childhood/youth. What I'm saying is that there is something within men, that if left unchecked, that seeks to lord over women -- to somehow feel better/bigger/superior by making women feel lesser/smaller/inferior.

Here are some of the ways in which men lord over/abuse women:

- Women (still) make only 3/4 as much as men, doing the same jobs
- Women were not allowed to vote in the USA until the turn of the last century (watch the movie "Iron Jawed Angels" for a gut-wrenching expose of the fight for those rights)
- Women were considered to be property (barely above cattle) for millennia
- Women still do not have equal rights in many counties
- Women are required to wear coverings (i.e., burqas), to "protect" the men, in many cultures
- The vast majority of those who are sold into sex trafficking are women - for men to use
- Women are told to be quiet in church gatherings -- "in the name of God"
- Women are not in positions of leadership, with rare exceptions
- Women are seen as objects by some men
- Women's opinions are not considered as valid, by some men
- Pornography is a means of dehumanizing and using women for their sexuality
- Women were burned at the stake, as "witches" for showing healing ability (i.e., knowledge of herbs), and for seeking to relieve the pain of women in childbirth (as recently as 100 years ago, in Spain)
- Rape victims were long blamed for the rape -- "asking for it" by the way they dressed, or where they went
- Women and girls are being gang-raped by male soldiers in The Congo, Rwanda, and other warring nations in Africa ... gang-rape is considered to be a male-bonding exercise, by the men who see women as little more than objects.

And then we have the prevalence of misogynistic quotes, down through the ages, even declaring this to be the will of God:

- "Praise be to God that he has not created me a Gentile, a woman, or a dog." (Hebrew Prayer said by Jewish men, even in front of their wives)

- "The courage of man is shown in his ability to command. The courage of a woman is found in obeying. (Aristotle)

- "Women are those who fell pray to their irrational, emotional side, and are therefore incapable of reason and making rational choices ... moresoever as irrational beings, women may not always know what they really want, and so it is the man's domain to decide for them." (Plato)

- "We have courtesans for our sex and pleasure. We have young slave prostitutes for our physical use, and we have wives to bring up legitimate children." (Demosthenes)

- "Even the most virtuous of women is a witch." (Old Jewish law)

- "Woman is a temple built over a sewer. It is contrary to the order of nature and of the law for women to speak in a gathering." (Jerome - who translated the Vulgate)
- "Because of you we are punished by death ... because of you, women, the Son of God had to die." (Tertullian)

- "Men should not listen to a woman even if she says admirable things or if she says saintly things. They are of little consequence since they come from the mouth of a woman." (Origen)

- "What is seen with the eyes of the Creator is masculine and not feminine, for God does not stoop to look upon what is feminine." (Origen)

- "By herself woman is not of the image of God. The man, on the other hand, alone, is the image of God." (Augustine)

- "Her low estate was not simply a result of the Fall. Woman was an inferior person even at the moment of her creation ... Image has to do with authority and only man has that ... Man is subjective to no one while woman is subjective to man. For a man to go to a woman for advice is like going to the lowest kind of animal to seek advice." (Chrysostom)

- "Woman is defective and misbegotten." (Aquinas)

- "The wickedness of women is greater than all other wickedness. a dragon is more curable than the familiarity of a woman. Avoid them like poisonous animals." (Pope Innocence III)

- "There is no gown or garment that worse becomes a woman than when she would be wise." (Martin Luther)

- "Let the woman be satisfied with the state of her subjection and that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex. Because she receives her origin from man, therefore she is inferior in rank. She was created for man, therefore she is subject to man. All women are born that they may acknowledge themselves as inferior to the male." (Calvin)

- "You would not let an eleven-year-old child stand up in a meeting and talk. Then why should you allow a woman to speak in a meeting?" (statement made by a man at a Christian conference in the 21st century)

Shocking, no?

This is the collective perspective of many of our "church fathers." Elements of those beliefs are still prevalent within Christianity ... far too many men are still believing themselves to be inherently superior to women (& believing that it's backed up by Scripture).

I know who I am as a woman ... I know that I'm not in any way inferior (or superior!) to men. I know that each person is endlessly precious and beloved, as an equal child of God. But, as a woman, I do have to say that I feel the weight of the collective consciousness of women's subjugation. It's a reality, just like the air I breathe. Just like gravity. It's there, in effect.

It's the hallmark of a largely unconscious, reactionary, and immature way of life, of relating to others. It's a self-absorbed, "I'm the center of the universe; I'm bigger and entitled, and can do what I want" perspective that we're meant to mature out of.

For the most part, because I'm blessed to have been born in this nation, where, at least by law, I'm considered a whole human being, but I still run into this very UNconsciousness, all too often. It still breaks my heart, whether it's done to me, or witnessed by me. I long to see all people set free from all things which enslave them ...!

Shalom, Dena


Darcy said...

ooohhh... good post!

I'm right with you here.

Sister to Sister... woman to woman...hear us roar!!!!

Simply Marian said...

And so Eve became God’s final creation, the grand summation of all of the marvelous work that had gone before. Notwithstanding this preeminence given the creation of woman, she has so frequently through the ages been relegated to a secondary position. She has been put down. She has been denigrated. She has been enslaved. She has been abused. And yet some few of the greatest characters of scripture have been women of integrity, accomplishment, and faith. We have Esther, Naomi, and Ruth of the Old Testament. We have Mary, the very mother of the Redeemer of the world. Mary of her, a woman, He first appeared as the resurrected Lord. Why is it that even though Jesus placed woman in a position of preeminence, so many men who profess His name fail to do so? Every woman is a daughter of God. You cannot offend her without offending Him. Gordon B. Hinckley

“Man can not degrade woman without himself falling into degradation; he can not elevate her without at the same time elevating himself” (Alexander Walker, in Elbert Hubbard’s Scrap Book [1923], 204).

All my life I have been surrounded by women who inspired, taught, and encouraged me. I am who I am today in large part because of these singular women: treasured daughters of our Heavenly Father with infinite worth. Dieter F. Uchtdorf

In the sequence of events as set forth in the scripture, God first created the earth, and the earth was without form, and void.” (Gen. 1:2.) He then separated the light from the darkness, and the waters from the land. Then came the creation of vegetation of all kinds, giving the beauty of trees and grass, flowers and shrubs. Then followed the creation of animal life in the sea and upon the land. Having looked over all of this, He declared it to be good. He then created man in His own likeness and image. Then as His final creation, the crowning of His glorious work, He created woman. I like to regard Eve as His masterpiece after all that had gone before, the final work before He rested from His labors. Gordon B. Hinckley

Someone said, “When you teach a boy, you teach an individual, but when you teach a girl, you teach a whole generation.”

In recent years a debate has raged about the equality of the sexes. Women are not in any sense lesser creations than men. In fact, they lose something when they are compared to men. James E. Faust

dena said...

LOL - I'm roaring with you, Darcy (& it ain't just the testosterone cream, neither!).

Marian - thanks for sharing those quotes - wonderful words!

I've often said that Mary of Magdala was the first preacher of the gospel ... she was told to go tell the Good News with the disciples! How 'bout dat?!?

Cynthia said...

OH, I am so with you on all of this.

On what may seem like a trivial example, but is just illustrates the subtle messages we send our children, this is the dress code for a week long service project that two of my boys are participating in this week:

"We are all part of an environment where we are trying to remove distractions so that we can concentrate on what God has brought us there to do. Here are some things that we ask you not to where: spaghetti strap tops or small tank tops, tight clothes, "short" shorts or skirts (Stand with your arms by your side. If your fingertips are touching yoru skin, your shorts or skirt should be longer), or clothing with questionable sayings, slogans, etc."

Now really who is this directed at? The girls and very subtly the message is that the girls exposed shoulders and thighs will be the distraction. It is a shaming message. My kids collectively refuse to attend any pool parties where they force the girls to where t-shirts over their bathing suits ... it's a double standard and heaps shame on a girl.

And there is really no way to address it with those in leadership. They all think I am a crazy feminist.

I have more to say about how it always seems to be the white men who don't get it ... as well as a few blog posts to point you to ... which you are probably aware of already. But, right now, I have to go take these two boys to their service project meet up.

Grace and Peace

MysticBrit said...

Short answer - No:). Long answer - No, but I'm well aware of the little ways that I still buy into the misbegotten fallacy (I'm weeding them out:)). The very idea that any human is 'inferior' simply because of a few genetic differences, some plumbing, and some woefully immature view of God's Love Letter is so repugnant to me... You are Daughters of the Most High, Beloved of the Father. My prayer for every woman is that they see this and live in it, totally.
A-men, Sisters!:D

dena said...

Cynthia - what an excellent real-life example! Thank you -- I'd love to hear of the creative/loving solution that you-and-God come up with!

Harry - you dear man, you! Your self-honesty and humility (& humor!) are so very endearing!

Thank you for pointing out the obvious -- coming out of one mind-set into another is tough. It takes time, uncomfy expose`s, and honest humility. And yet, ain't the freedom HEADY?!?

Shalom, Dena

graham old said...

Dena, it looks like I'm gonna be a lone voice here! As someone who spends a great deal of his time standing-up for men's rights (as Fathers), the following leaped out at me:

'What I'm saying is that there is something within men, that if left unchecked, that seeks to lord over women -- to somehow feel better/bigger/superior by making women feel lesser/smaller/inferior.'

No, no, no, no, no! At the very least, this reeks of the 'total depravity' that you wrote so well against recently. There is not something 'within' men that does this, as if there is some kind of design fault. And suggesting that there is does no favours to men or women.

I think it is far better to argue that: power - if left unchecked - corrupts. And as men, for societal and physical reasons, have traditionally been the ones with the power we have seen that corruption take the form of oppression of women.

The only people I know who seek to feel better by making women feel lesser, do so for transparent text-book reasons, not because of any fault instrinsic to their gender. I actually think that recognising that strengthens the rest of your case.

dena said...

You got me thinking, Graham...!

I see your point ... yes, that old total depravity heritage snuck up and bit me on the butt! Yes ... it's the delusion of being in charge that brings in the power-corruption. I see that ... not something inherent within men, but the temptation for ANYone who considers themselves to be in power.

Yeah ... as a parent, this is too often my default - as if I, by being older and bigger than my children, somehow have "rights" over them ... as if I'm superior to them. Wow ... that hits home.

So, feel free to unpack this a bit more, Graham ... I feel a shift coming on!

Shalom, Dena