The Inferiority of Women

A chilling trailer on the BBC website for a programme to be broadcast on Sunday, 8 March, makes difficult reading. Even those of us who live in the so-called civilised West know perfectly well that some of the attitudes expressed there are commonplace here, though sometimes given a discreet veil of ‘hunour’ or irony. If one is a woman, one knows that the expected way of dealing with such views is with a shrug and a smile. To challenge anything is to prove one is a humourless old biddy, not to be taken seriously. Even an intended compliment can turn awkward, like the Pope’s reference to female theologians as ‘the strawberries on the cake’.

I seem to have spent long hours of my life wondering why women should be thought inferior and come to no very sure conclusion. Even today, I find some of my friends will cheerfully lecture the women of their acquaintance in ways that they would not normally address their fellow men. But although I cannot explain this phenomenon, I think there are a few conclusions we can draw from it that may be helpful this Lent.

Today’s gospel, Matthew 23. 1–12, reminds us that we are all brethren. To exalt ourselves, to lord it over others, is not the Christian way. Of course, some are teachers and preachers and have a duty to teach, preach, warn and correct; but not all of us. The one thing we ALL are, male and female, is servants. The root of that word is in the Latin for slave. Once one starts thinking about slavery, we are in a different territory, where concepts like inferiority and superiority count for very little. Perhaps one of the most important lessons we can learn this Lent is how we must stand together in Christ. Mutual respect and love go hand in hand. If there is anyone we think of as being inferior, anyone we look down upon or regard as of less value or account than ourselves, we have gone seriously wrong. Society exalts the concept of equality but rarely practices it, or rather, practises it selectively (which is a nonsense, if you think about it.) That isn’t an option for disciples of Christ. I gave this post the title ‘The Inferiority of Women’ because I know it will encourage people to read it. The tragedy is some will see it as being true.

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14 thoughts on “The Inferiority of Women”

  1. Just tweeted your post and used the same title, now waiting for responses! At Buckfast Abbey last weekend I attended the first session of the Catechists Foundations Course for the New Evangelisation. It was mainly women who ran the course and sessions and women were the majority delegates. The gender issue didn’t even cross my mind, they were excellent teachers passing on authentic faith. Far from being inferior, I felt I was in the presence of some awesome people whose one goal was to serve Jesus Christ by transmitting the Gospel.

    • That’s lovely, Christopher, but may have something to do with your being a husband and father and someone who thinks deeply about his faith! I think many people want to believe we have passed beyond thinking women inferior, but then we run up against something and realise that it’s still there — in the same way that racism still exists. I must say that when someone calls me ‘dear’ without intending affection or threatens me with some vulgarity or other, I tend to sigh interiorly; and, of course, being a nun does sometimes seem to invite patronising attitudes/remarks. Mary Beard wrote very well on this subject after her experience of being trolled on Twitter.

  2. I am a Protestant clergywoman. One of my colleagues and I were recently at Presbytery and during a break, were talking about this subject when out of the blue, one of the male clergy persons happened by and pinched each of us on our cheeks saying something I can’t remember as I was too stunned to think of anything else. My friend and I looked at one another and almost at the same time said, “I feel like throwing up.” Why did this man feel he could be so intimate with us? Invade our space? Touch us and we would enjoy it? He would not have done this to any of the male clergy persons.

  3. A message came back to me saying that I submitted something twice. However, I don’t even see it once. Did it get lost, or does it have to be approved? Just curious. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for reminding me of something that I may have been (may be?) guilty of. I’ll watch out and start thinking about why I’m saying what I say.

  5. My suspicion is that we might all have unconscious prejudices, some related to our upbringing and others due to our own egotistic selfishness.

    I was brought up from an early age in Care. We had strong women in the form of Nuns and House mothers who looked after us. I and my siblings lost or mother at age 4 (she left home, never to return) so apart from those I knew as a child, I didn’t have a mother figure to respect or to love. I believe that this was a loss, as my view of women as a teen (with male teachers) somehow became biased in the direction of putting all women onto a pedestal – which is fine, until you meet someone who doesn’t fit that image.

    Joining the Army, where Women were kept separate, in their own Corps, and were even paid less, often for doing the same job, only reinforced the widely held view at the time that Women (who were expected to resign on marriage or becoming pregnant) were better suited to be housewives.

    It took me a long time to overcome this inherent prejudices, but probably as I grew older, married and also met women who were successful I came to see that there was no inferiority about women, it was all in my mind.

    This change was like a revelation – and I learned to respect people for who they were, not for their gender identity. I would say that this was a gift from God in many ways, because the change was permanent.

    Learning to respect others integrity and personal space, is as important for both men and women, but needs more attention for women, because of the prejudices, conscious or unconscious that still pervade our society.

    Your post and the responses here are powerful evidence of how far we’ve come on the legalistics of equality, but how far there is still to go on the unspoken, unconscious prejudices that persist, despite our so called enlightened times. 🙁

  6. My wife is an Episcopalian (Anglo-Catholic) clergywoman, recently ordained. She began her duties on Sunday and gave a short precis of what her duties at the parish would be, Pastoral care and contemplative prayer being high on the list. The next day, one of the counters came to her and asked if there were an account set up for ‘this’ and showed her a cheque for a thousand dollars for her announced ministry!
    There is a deep hunger in the world for the grace and quiet love that women bring as servants of God, they who prepare our Lord for death and wash His feet with tears, wipe them with their hair, who anoint with oil the brow that will wear that mocking crown.
    It is women that do not run from life and death, who wait along the road to Calvary, wipe the bloody face and stand by His side as His human life is extinguished.
    I find that many, many, see this aspect of womanhood when they see a woman in service to the Lord. For women especially, one of their own is there, standing on the hill, setting the table for that last supper, carrying balm to the soon to be empty tomb and they, our mothers and sisters and wives stand a bit taller, offer a bit more, pray a bit longer that these ministries of kindness will succeed.
    The world is not to be trusted, nor is culture the lodestone. If most of the ‘work’ of a priest is deaconal, women seem quite suited to it.
    As to your point that men, often unconsciously ,treat women as unequals and patronise then or worse, actively abuse, I can offer no excuse. We need to learn a better way.
    Whilst taking a course in sexual harassment, a nun said that she was very grateful that when walking down the street, some men would look down at the pavement or a way rather than at her. She said, “May God bless those men from whom I have no need to feel defensive.” I became one of those men from that moment.
    My prayer today is that we continue to learn that lesson every day.

  7. I was born into a small Welsh town 73 years ago, and looking back am saddened, and not a little angry at myself, when I realise how insituitionalised anti feminism was in my young days.
    For instance it is extraordinary to remember how so many bright girls, many of whom went on to good universities, and good degrees, accepted without a murmur that some courses, and colleges, would be closed to them, but open to our fellow male students. We just largely accepted the satus quo.
    Looking back I wonder why it never occured to me to kick up a fuss but the fact was I accepted the version of myself society held up to me. Keep holding up a different mirror sister!

  8. I read the BBC article during my lunchbreak today, and found myself having a little weep at my desk. Then having to look around anxiously to check the (men) in my team hadn’t noticed: My own gender bias showing there!

    However, it is so saddening to think that attitudes like this can still exist or prevail. By contrast, getting irritated when someone patronises me (maybe because I’m young, maybe because I’m female), seems a bit of an overreaction…

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