While walking through a men’s-only dormitory at Texas A&M University I once noticed that someone had written upon his door in capitalized white chalk letters, “I WANT MY RIB BACK!” At the time I laughed thinking that despite this young man’s obviously wounded pride he was still able to maintain his sense of humor. It wasn’t until several years had passed that I had the good sense to be offended.
Much of my life I have spent yoked to the presumption that women, being the inferior creatures that we are, owed everything we had (even our very existence) to men. Men graciously allowed us to play their games, work in their offices and read their books, but they were the better musicians, doctors, lawyers, athletes and even the better drivers. If a woman’s talent somehow surpassed that of a man’s she was the exception to the rule. Men were always better.
Though my parents endeavored to teach me likewise, I was convinced that I had been born into a world in which I could never successfully compete because half the competitors were given at least a twenty minute lead. I would always be second rate and on top of this my value as a woman was dependent upon how men viewed me. Could I be rational despite my proclivity to female irrationality and emotionalism? Was I pretty enough? Was I seductive enough? And yet as soon as I was seductive I became the archetypal female temptress; the slut. Filthy used goods. And to top it all off, my female seductiveness was to blame for the Fall of Humanity and the entrance of sin into the world. The woman made me do it! And by the way, don’t listen to the “femi-nazis”. They are in line with the devil.
But I have listened to feminists, and while I am very grateful for so many of the liberties their fight has won for me, I have to admit that – due to the conflicting voices within the movement, their embrace of relativism and outright rejection of the God-given distinction between the sexes – the messages from the modern feminist movement are not only confusing to both women and men but are deeply troublesome and damaging to woman’s psyche.
Modern feminism mistakenly confuses gender equality with sameness concluding that, despite contradicting scientific evidence, men and women are identical beings and that any behavioral difference exhibited between the sexes is the result of nurture from a misogynistic society. And yet modern feminists blatantly engage in misogynism by condoning a hierarchy of characteristics in which stereotypical male traits (being analytical, aggressive and unemotional to name a few) are elevated above stereotypically female traits (being nurturing, empathetic, supportive and congenial).
Well, of course, a woman can be just as analytical, competitive and level-headed as any man, but the problem arises when a woman does not possess these qualities. Maybe she is a non-aggressive, “old-fashioned” sort who prefers to be at home nurturing her children and caring for the needs of her family and has little interest in intellectual pursuits. Some may even call her dowdy, but has she lost value simply because she does not possess the more valued qualities of our society; because she does not behave like a man? Many would say ‘yes’. Ladies, be warned! You must show no preference for high heels, tea parties, fairy tales or the color pink lest you be labeled backstabbing, conspirators who have betrayed the entire movement.
There are feminists at the other extreme who practice a reverse sexism professing that women are simply better than men. And we must not fail to consider the feminist sex wars within the movement: the anti-pornography, anti-prostitution feminists vs. “sex-positive” feminists. We can thank the feminists for throwing out all historic Biblical imagery and language about God that reeked of patriarchy and then insisting upon such gender neutral language as “Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer” (though how such sterile language would entice anyone into personal devotion to God is beyond me). That is unless, of course, we’d like to use “Mother Goddess” when referencing God. Don’t even ask for their thoughts upon Mary, the Mother of Jesus. They will make your heads spin.
In all of this confusion is it any wonder that young girls and mature women alike are baffled as to who they are or what they are to become? At the end of the day, it should come as no surprise that so many women flaunt their sexuality in exchange for a little attention, a little affirmation of their worth. What should we expect when their value is constantly and fiercely debated?
There is one place that few of us have thought to turn in our efforts to determine what we are to think of women, and that is to Christ. As I recount the stories of Jesus’ encounters with women there is no doubt in my mind that He saw all women as fully human, imbued with eternal value, and as equal heirs in the Kingdom of God.
- Take for example Jesus’ encounter with the hemorrhaging woman (Mark 5:25). This was a woman whose bleeding had caused her to be shunned by society for 12 long, lonely years since anyone who had contact with her was made ceremoniously unclean. And yet, when she reached out and touched Christ, He did not recoil from her presence but He healed her from her suffering.
- There was also the woman who was caught in the very act of adultery and who was to be stoned for her sin. Once the zealous crowd retired and she was left alone with Jesus, He turned to her and said, “I do not condemn you” (John 8:11).
- And then there was Christ’s affirmation of Mary’s desire to sit and learn from Him as a disciple, at a time when women were not formally educated, instead of slaving away in the kitchen like her sister, Martha.
Dorothy L. Sayers once wrote in her collection of essays Are Women Human? that Christ was:
“A prophet and a teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as ‘The women, God help us!’ or ‘The ladies, God bless them!’; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything ‘funny’ about woman’s nature.” (68-69).
I can’t help but think this is why woman were always fussing over Jesus: washing his feet with tears, kissing and pouring perfume on them, caring for His needs, hanging around the Cross until the bitter end and rushing to the Tomb as soon as the Sabbath was over. No man had ever treated women quite like He did.
So, to all those who claim that the Gospel of Christ is distinctly misogynistic and subjugating to women… I would say flatly, “You have not been paying close enough attention.”
Rebekah Durham Hart is a relatively recent convert to Catholicism. After graduating from Columbia Theological Seminary (a Presbyterian Seminary in Decatur, GA) in 2002 and working within various ministries of the United Methodist Church, she entered into full communion with the Catholic Church in 2006.
Rebekah’s conversion story has been published on the popular site Why I’m Catholic and has shared her story with Gus Lloyd on Sirius XM’s Catholic Channel. She is currently a stay-at-home mom, and when she is not stepping on her son’s Legos or having tea parties with her two little girls, she is blogging at http://instinctivephilosophies.com/.
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