Today is the Women’s World Day of Prayer. In many countries it has become simply the World Day of Prayer, but in England, Wales and Northern Ireland the older title is kept, and I think with good reason. It is a tacit reminder that in many parts of the world women and girls are confined to the roles their menfolk decide for them. Even among Christians, many are excluded from active roles in worship, such as reading the scriptures or leading prayers, while the Churches endorse the social structures that place many at a disadvantage in other aspects of life.
Were I to suggest that we in the West should take a long, hard look at ourselves before assuming that this is a problem for other people in other lands, I should immediately be branded a ‘feminist,’ as though that were a pejorative term, accused of lacking humility or humour or both, and dismissed with a few highly selective quotations from scripture and some very simplistic history. The trouble is, we in the West indulge in what I call ‘a careless misogyny’ which affects both men and women. Perhaps if we could see that attitudes to women and girls affect the whole of society we might learn to drop some of the hostility, the instinctive aggressive or defensive reactions we all tend to have.
I admit I myself just don’t ‘get’ some of the masculine jokes about women or the way in which kind, intelligent people sometimes talk or write about women. I find it demeaning, and trust I never talk about men or boys in the same way. I also don’t ‘get’ some of the angry and contentious remarks of those who see themselves as ‘victims’ of patriarchy, etc, etc. The situation is much more complex, and deserves a much more thoughtful response, especially when it is the Church that is in question. As I remarked in my post about Cardinal Burke’s remarks on the feminisation of the Church (you can read my post, with a link to the whole text of his remarks, here), some of the arguments put forward in defence of the status quo really don’t stand up. Indeed, they are quite worrying as they seem to posit that the Church, and by extension the whole economy of salvation, exists for the benefit of men only.
I come back to something that, in retrospect, I realise had a profound effect on me. I never once heard my father make a slighting remark about women’s intelligence or crack even a slightly ‘off’ joke about them. He was a great believer in women’s education and had an enormous respect for my mother’s ability and professionalism. But — and this is an important ‘but’ — it wasn’t because he was a feminist, or an old-fashioned gentleman, or a complete wimp, it was because he believed in fairness and the importance of everyone’s contribution to the family and to society.
On this Women’s World Day of Prayer when the women of Cuba ask us to pray especially on the theme ‘receive the children; receive me’, perhaps we could pray for insight into our own attitudes and how they affect the younger members of the Church and of society. I believe that Christ died for the salvation of all; that each and every one of us has a unique role to play in the working out of that salvation; and that in heaven there are no second-class citizens. So, how can there be any here on earth?