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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Young and Old | Love and Respect

I’m sure I’m not alone in having noticed that RB 63 on Community Order, which we finish re-reading today, is interpreted differently according to one’s age group. If one is young and fervent but possibly a little insecure, one will home in on all the points at which Benedict directs the elders of the monastery to show love and kindness to the young. If one is old and fervent but possibly a little insecure, one will home in on all the points at which Benedict directs the young of the community to show respect and kindness to the old. The truth is, as Benedict’s constant reference to Romans 12.10 indicates, love and respect go hand in hand. The danger is that we may forget the mutuality at the heart of community life and sheer weight of numbers may distort how we relate to one another.

That would be a purely monastic concern were it not that in the West we face a major shift in demographics. The old will soon outnumber the young. How we cope with that will reflect what we are as individuals as well as what we are as a society. Government policy will always be affected by what is perceived to be popular with voters. At the moment, elder abuse is a hot topic, and we are rightly shamed by revelations about the ‘care’ meted out in some institutions. But more and more legislation is rarely the answer to anything. Perhaps we should ask questions a little nearer home. How do we see the old/young/people different from ourselves? If we want a society that is truly respectful and caring, there is only one place to start: with ourselves and our own attitudes.

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