Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thinking Poorly of Women

I've been very surprised by the number of views this post I wrote back in August continues to get.

I had no idea the topic of wifely submission was such a hot topic in the Christian and Catholic worlds, but apparently, it is, as are such related topics as the proper role of women and whether or not women can do such daringly unfeminine things as teach outside of their homes or be declared Doctors of the Church.

And here I thought the most controversial issue plaguing traditionally-minded women was whether or not they might occasionally wear slacks.

The idea that the Church herself, in her institutions, moral codes, practices, and the like is misogynistic is an oft-repeated, but easily dismissed, slur against her. Christianity, in general, has raised and protected the dignity of women far more than it ever was in the ancient world; the Catholic Church's teachings on sexual morality, abortion, contraception and the like contain a great deal of respect for the integrity of a woman's physical nature, and those who continue to believe that the Church's prohibition on women's ordination is motivated in any way by some kind of unjust prejudice against women haven't been paying attention to the crux of the matter.

However, it is depressingly true that there exists a certain type of male who is, at a deep interior level, perfectly convinced that males are superior to females in some intrinsic and important way, and that, further, this superiority is a gift from God to be cherished and protected at all costs. It is further true, equally depressingly, that these males can be found in nearly every church, and that the Catholic Church has her share of them.

Men and women are, certainly, different. It is not misogynistic to point out those differences, to be honest about them, to discuss the suitability for the average man or woman of some particular career based on these differences, while recognizing that exceptions may exist among either gender. It is not a terribly good idea to get into the habit of generalizing about either gender because of these general differences, though; the man who proclaims loudly that all women do poorly at math or science may find himself talking to a group of female astrophysicists, while the woman who laments all men's inability to be caring or sensitive may meet a man who runs a group home for troubled adolescents. Our general differences don't define us, however useful they may be for the purpose of general discussion.

But the misogynistic believer does more than merely generalize about women; he truly believes that women were created by God as a kind of inferior afterthought, that, based on some loose proof-texting of both the Old and New Testaments he can illustrate that God thinks very poorly of women, which justifies him in thinking poorly of them, as well.

What, exactly, do I mean by "thinking poorly" of women?

I should say at the outset that this does not mean celebrating and encouraging women who adopt traditional roles, who embrace the vocation of Christian wife hood and Christian motherhood wholeheartedly and generously, who are willing to lay aside their own plans for the sake of raising and nurturing the children of the marriage for however long this loving service is needed. Men who celebrate and encourage this are to be commended, especially when they are willing to accept the occasional sacrifices and hardships that will come about because they, along with their wives, have chosen this life with all it entails; for example, accepting a single income in an age of double salaries, or understanding the necessity for him to work very long hours or to take a job not perfectly to his liking for the sake of his family's needs. A marriage like this is a partnership, where each sacrifices for the good of all--such families often find themselves growing in grace and perfecting their love for each other.

But there are men who do think poorly of women, and worse, who think that God approves of this. Such a man may belittle his wife in front of the children with the mistaken idea that this will teach them to respect his role as head of the family; it usually has the effect of making the children, especially the boys, despise their mother, and refuse to submit to her authority when their father is not around. Such a man may treat his wife like a dependent (for more than income tax purposes) by doling out, grudgingly, the money she needs to purchase groceries and other supplies, and by demanding an accounting of all of her expenditures, as if she is a careless child who can't be trusted to bring him all of the change. Such a man may consider himself the sole arbiter of how his wife should dress, what she should (ideally) weigh, what sort of women she should befriend, how much time she is allowed to spend in pursuit of these friendships, even how much time she should be permitted to speak to friends or relatives on the phone, or to participate in conversations on the Internet.

In addition to all of these expectations, the man who thinks poorly of women will have whole lists, albeit unwritten, of demands. His meals should be ready promptly and should please him; he will frown, if they don't, and make cutting comments about his wife's cooking skills. His clothes should be laundered and ironed whenever he expects them to be; nothing pleases him more than the sight of his wife dutifully ironing his clothes after the children are in bed, and while he is relaxing in front of the television after his hard day's work. His children should have all their needs met: food, clothing, regular baths, etc.--but any request on the part of his wife for him to help with any of this is proof of her total lack of time management skills, with which he is perfectly ready to help her (if a lecture and the creation of a spreadsheet broken into half-hour intervals is any help). If she is homeschooling the children he will administer surprise "quizzes" to them and be dissatisfied with wrong answers, which reflect poorly on his wife's teaching skills.

He expects his wife to be a saint, a model educator, a flawless housekeeper and launderer, a talented cook, a tireless mother to the children, a perfect (mostly silent) companion, and...well, some things are private, so we'll leave it at that. But he truly believes that all of these things are his right, something which she owes to him, something which is his due not only because he is her husband, but because she is a woman, and therefore valueless unless she can daily prove her worth by being all of these things and more.

And what does he owe her? The thought doesn't cross his mind, at least not often, but if it did he'd say that he puts food on the table, a roof over her head, and didn't get too angry the last time she spent money on clothes without clearing it with him first. What more does she expect? After all, she's only a ...

Though some men may fall into this pattern, a Catholic man has fewer excuses than anybody to treat his wife in this way. He has the example of Jesus, the perfect Spouse, Who died on the Cross for His Bride, the Church. God does not think poorly of women; He died for us, too.

1 comment:

Hélène said...

I had to laugh at your post because I was just about to go iron the laundry since my children are both sleeping and because my husband does demand account of every penny I spend, but that is because he loves Quicken and uses it to keep track of where all our money goes. He is a very good man and respects women more than almost any other man I know.

Anyway, a few years ago I read that an indication that Vatican II was bad is that we now have female Doctors. So I was totally unsurprised when I found out from your link that Bishop Williamson is one of those who think that. He thinks so little of women's non-domestic abilities it is very sad. Not only does he not think that they shouldn't go to college, but he also thinks that they shouldn't homeschool their children. They need to spend all their time taking care of the house, but the home suffers if they spend their time teaching their children. That was his basic argument. But what can you expect from someone who thinks it is sinful to watch The Sound of Music?