Image © Austin Cline
Library of Congress
Even more suspicious is how readily religious conservatives will infantilize women. Is it really compatible with full social, political, and cultural equality of women to treat them as if they children who need to be protected, nurtured, and cared for by men whose "place in the natural order" just happens to be all the leadership roles? Sometimes, these men almost sound like they are afraid of strong, intelligent, and capable women who have no trouble being their equals if just given the chance.
Wayne Johns writes in a Letter to the Editor:
Whatever happened to little girls playing with dolls and dreaming of becoming wives and mothers? Whatever happened to young men looking for a good Christian wife and finding a young woman still clinging to her doll? Me, old fashioned? I guess. Me, a male chauvinist pig? To answer that I would have to say, Oink, oink, oink.
Source: Victoria Advocate (via Pharyngula)
When I wrote recently about misogyny in Islam, I noted that under an authoritarian Muslim system, even the lowest man is still socially, legally, culturally, and politically superior to every women he encounters. This sense of superiority over half the human population is one reason why such fundamentalist religious systems can be so attractive to men. Here, it's hard not to wonder if a similar process is at work with Wayne Johns.
What sort of man actively desires a woman "still clinging to her doll" unless he is looking for a child he can feel superior too and fears that it's only a child, not an adult, that he can appear superior when compared to? Some might also suspect the sexuality of a man actively seeking a child rather than an adult woman, but I don't think we need to go that far. To me, this looks far more like a matter of needing to feel superior to a spouse rather than wanting an equal partner in marriage.
As PZ Myers points out, some of the comments to the above letter are just as interesting as the letter itself. For example, "deyamorgan" writes:
I am a grown woman. Almost 40. Raising three children in this day and age isn't easy. I am a full time mom and also work full time and yes the work load is very taxing at times. I have a brain. My grey matter works as well as any other, but to say that me and my husband are equals as one of the posts suggested is a little off. As a follower of Christ, I realize God endowed each gender with special qualities, not necessarily equal qualities. These qualities compliment each other. This is what creates the home environment that children need to feel, safe, secure, and loved.
I am undoubtedly the easier going in my marriage. I am a push over. I do thank the Lord every day that I am married to a man who realizes that the children are not the center of our existence. He takes the hard line with them, and I feel that that compliments our relationship as a family. I sometimes have to subjigate my will to my husband. But as a Christian, that's what Christ commands. And that's actually a relief for me, because as a man, my husband is accountable for his role as head of the household. So men can be in authority, but they also have the responsibility of being accountible. When it is all said and done, I was nurturing, and my husband was the disciplinarian.
Its ok. Christ did command us to subjigate our will, and that is what is so hard for people to do in this day and age. It's all about "ME" in this day and age. Christ taught us humility and charity. As Christians, we are not our own, we are bought with a price. Christ paid it. If God tells me to submit my will to my husband, who is also in Christ, who am I to defy God's will? [emphasis added]
If you are always taking orders, it's easy to pretend that you aren't accountable to your actions but it's sad to see in this day and age that there are still people who think "I was just following orders" is any excuse for what they've done. This comment wasn't written by a robot, it was written by an adult woman who is responsible for her actions, choices, and attitudes. No orders not from her husband nor from any alleged god can mitigate that responsibility one iota. She is accountable for what she does and, sadly, for the example she is setting for other women.
Fortunately, not all Christians agree with Wayne Johns; rancourt writes:
I am a Christian, and I am married to an amazing and wonderful woman who is, frankly, strong, modern, and self-assured. I have something far more wonderful than a "helpmate" in my life; I have a *partner*. ...God gave to womankind the same capacities He gave to mankind; there is little question in the minds of neurologists that the grey matter between the ears is of comparable pedigree, and history will certainly bear out times when women carried the burden of executive power over men, as well as the opposite. Women are, of course, just as susceptible to corruption by power and privilege as men, too.
Yes, we can turn to a very important Christian book for text claiming women are inferior to men. By that book, I'm also entitled to throw stones at you until death for wearing rayon or eating ham. If you plan to make your wife live in a tent while menstruating, so be it, but should you make even a single concession anywhere in your life for differentiating between legacy, historical words of advice in the Bible and prescriptive law to last for all time, then we've let the genie of modern reinterpretation out of the bottle, and now we're merely quibbling over the best set of guidelines to use to filter out that "legacy" content from the "timeless" stuff.
I do think you might have a point, though. You argue that seeing women in positions of power caused these little girls to act unreasonably and irrationally, disrespectfully toward the opposite sex, and in a manner that we as a society should censure and criticize. Indeed, look at the way observing centuries of patriarchial power structures influenced you!
My personal take on it is that none of us human beings are particularly suited to leadership, so, frankly, we need all the help we can get, and we can't afford to categorically exclude any group but one: closed-minded, reactionary idiots. I leave it to each of us to come up with the best criteria we can to determine who belongs in that group. [emphasis added]
The perspective of rancourt is far more enlightened and modern than that of deyamorgan, but is it more consistent with traditional Christian theology? I don't really think so rancourt's arguments are more utilitarian and rational in that they point out the ridiculousness and ridiculous consequences of treating women as inferior, but they aren't theological. I'm not quoting everything in the original comment, but there is no argument about how full social, cultural, and political equality for women is more consistent with the biblical text.
Granted, I don't think it really matters what is or is not more consistent with the Bible. If women's inequality is the biblical position, then the Bible is wrong and should be ignored; if women's equality is more consistent with the Bible, then so what? Women's equality should be based on moral and practical arguments, not on what some alleged god allegedly told sheep herders several millennia ago. However, part of the point of the above discussion is what is the most appropriately "Christian" position on such matters and that in turn is dependent on the Bible.
What Wayne Johns writes is offensive and ridiculous, but it is the traditional Christian perspective. Traditional Christianity and most traditional religions, for that matter do not value the equality of women. In most religions, women have been forced into an inferior role just as they have been in most cultures and political systems. Religion, being a product of politics and culture, has simply reflected the prevailing patriarchal attitudes towards women.
The one critical difference is that religions have ascribed these attitudes towards gods, prophets, and otherwise unquestionable religious authorities. Whereas the opinions of ancient kings and other leaders could be ignored today, the opinions of ancient priests and prophets have acquired a fixed position in people's minds. People are unwilling to defy the will of their gods, so ancient misogyny is able to maintain it's hold on people's minds in a manner that simply wouldn't be possible if it had remained a part of secular ideologies.