Last Thursday (see here) I started a short series of posts focused on Dorothy Sayers’ essays published in the volume Are Women Human?. The first essay in this volume is an address given to a women’s society in 1938. Sayers starts the essay by relating her invitation to speak to the group and noting that she did not consider herself a feminist and did not wish to be identified with feminism. She did, however, think that “a woman is as good as a man”, but goes on to explain what she means by this phrase:
What, I feel, we ought to mean is something so obvious that it is apt to escape attention altogether, viz: not that every woman is, in virtue of her sex, as strong, clever, artistic, level-headed, industrious,and so forth as any man that can be mentioned; but, that a woman is just as much an ordinary human being as a man, with the same individual preferences, and with just as much right to the tastes and preferences of an individual. What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual. (19)
Classifications and generalizations can be useful – Sayers does not deny this – women tend to be smaller, Swedes tend to be blond … we can go beyond this to personality traits and abilities. But such classifications do not define any individual human, male or female,
What does it mean to affirm (for those of us who do) that all men and women are created equal in the image of God? If you don’t, why don’t you?
This question has serious consequences for how we look at many issues of our day, including gender, race, culture, and ethnicity. Equality does not mean homogeneity – it really means that we all are equally valuable unique individuals and should have equal opportunity to be human. Our humanity is not defined by subdivision and classification.
Sayers continues – and remember here that she was among the first women to obtain a degree at Oxford and fought these battles her entire life:
When the pioneers of university training for women demanded that women should be admitted to the universities, the cry went up at once: “Why should women want to know about Aristotle?” The answer is NOT that all women would be better for knowing about Aristotle – …but simply:”What women want as a class is irrelevant. I want to know about Aristotle. It is true that most women care nothing about him, and a great many male undergraduates turn pale and faint at the thought of him – but I, eccentric individual that I am, do want to know about Aristotle, and I submit that there is nothing in my shape or bodily functions which need prevent my knowing about him.” (20-21)
Which brings us back to this question of what jobs, if any, are women’s jobs. Few people would go so far as to say that all women are well fitted for all men’s jobs. When people do say this, it is particularly exasperating. … What we ask is to be human individuals, however peculiar or unexpected. It is no good saying: “You are a little girl and therefore you ought to like dolls”; if the answer is, “But I don’t,” there is no more to be said. (p. 29)
Classification is constraint – when pushed beyond the immediate purpose it is demeaning, destructive, and counterproductive. Sayers gives the example of girls and dolls – but we can turn this around as well to say “You are a man and therefore you like football.” Well, the generality is of no consequence if you don’t (and perhaps others can give better examples). This is a real problem in much of the Christian pop literature for men and women as well … the generalizations may well be true, as generalizations, but for those who don’t fit they are worthless (or worse).
A couple more quotes – and then an observation and a question…
A difference of age is as fundamental as a difference of sex; and so is a difference of nationality. All categories, if they are insisted upon beyond the immediate purpose which they serve, breed class arrogance and disruption in the state, and that is why they are dangerous. (p. 34)
To oppose one class perpetually to another – young against old, manual labour against brain-worker, rich against poor, woman against man – is to split the foundations of the State; and if the cleavage runs too deep, there remains no remedy but force and dictatorship. (p. 36)
Things are changing. Within our society at large there is movement in the right direction – far from uniform, far from perfect – on many of these issues. We may not all agree that the direction is “right” on gender issues – but I think we all agree that the direction is “right” when it comes to race and ethnicity. Scot rails against the rampant individualism of our culture (and I agree with many of the points) but there are aspects of individualism that are “good” – particularly those that affirm all others as equally human individuals.
What are the ramifications of this for the church? In the Church, as in the State categories, if taken beyond the immediate purpose, breed arrogance and lead to some form of “dictatorship”. I received an email after the first post in this series that really made the point that I intended (and still intend) to make today. I quote a part -
Its not just women at issue here, its all people. The question becomes do we believe all people are human, each person made by God and worthy of respect and dignity. Once we begin thinking with Sayers its not just women who we see differently but everyone we meet.
There are those on the right and the left who will resist this line of thinking. Once we take this question seriously that means I can’t pigeon hole people as white or black, native or immigrant, generation x or y, rich or poor, red state or blue state. As a pastor I must take the time to know the people I serve and lead, to take their humanity seriously. That’s why I have resisted defining our ministry as a “Generation Y” ministry or an “emerging church” ministry. Our students deserve better than “you are 20 so you must think . . . . “
This is, I think, where the quote last week of Sayers reflecting on Jesus and his approach to women really comes into play. As I reflect on the gospels, Jesus treated everyone as a human individual; men and women, tax collectors and sinners, Samaritans and Pharisees, the rich young ruler and the poor blind beggar. This has profound ramifications for our church – ones that we must take seriously on all levels – in the very core of our being as Christ followers.
OK, I’ve had my say – and this brings us back to the question of the day. What do you think?
What does it mean to affirm that all men and women are created equal in the image of God? What does it mean to claim that we complement each other as parts of the body of Christ?
What does this mean for the church?
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.