Down from the waist they are Centaurs,
Though women all above: But to the girdle do the gods inherit,
Beneath is all the fiends';
There's hell, there's darkness, there's the sulphurous pit,
Burning, scalding, stench, consumption; fie,
fie, fie! pah, pah!
Give me an ounce of civet,
good apothecary, to sweeten my imagination:
King Lear (IV, vi)
Very few pieces that I have read convey the blind irrationality and fear that lies at the root of true misogyny as this evocative passage from King Lear. We all know that this kind of fear that women might contaminate and infect existed throughout history and is still alive and kicking in some parts of the world. Perhaps we don't quite expect to find it in the Church of England?
Just recently I received the account below; it was written by a woman who attended the same meeting described in the recent post on the debate on women bishops and describes the views expressed as "bile" and as "venomous". I am not going to name the diocese, but it occurs to me that it must have been quite some meeting! It reads as follows:
"I recently attended my first Deanery Synod. My expectations were not high; I anticipated a slightly dull evening with a serious, if somewhat worthy, discussion of the agenda items. The main issue was the legislation for the ordination of women bishops.
My expectations were totally confounded; it was far from a dull meeting. I witnessed a shocking display of misogyny that would have led to disciplinary action being taken in any of the areas that I have worked in. There was a palpable sense of outrage expressed by one of the speakers at the temerity of women in the Church. His forcibly expressed view that the ordination of women transmitted a contagion that was irreversible and rendered those involved with their ordination unfit for ministering to, or in conjunction with, those opposed to women priests was offensive. That these views were allowed to pass unchallenged compounded the offence, and it made matters worse that those attempting to counter this bile were effectively silenced.
There was much talk of the pain and hurt felt by the opponents of women priests and their desire for an honoured place within the Church but the hurt and distress felt by women exposed to such venomous views was not mentioned."
Since the meeting I have been assured by a retired clergyman that my concerns regarding the role of women in our diocese are unfounded as our bishop is very tolerant of women. I, and most other women I have spoken to, do not want to be tolerated; we want to be valued and encouraged in the same way that our male counterparts are.
I don't want to comment too much on the specifics of the above, it was not a meeting I attended and it was not my experience, but it does leave me disturbed that, in the midst of what has been an overwhelming groundswell of support for women bishops, views have been expressed in such a manner to have left some women feeling shocked, offended, unvalued, spoken about as unclean. It reminded me of the concerns that menstruating women would transfer taint to the sacrament when women were first ordained. One of the most tragic aspects of all of this is that is so contrary to the gospels, in which Christ was touched by and touched all manner of women with a wonderful disregard for the fact that such association would have probably been regarded as rendering him constantly ritually unclean.
I do understand those who wish to find an "honoured place" for those opposed to the ministry of women, but honouring others cuts both ways. Some of the underlying theologies of those opposed are not sound, not rational, not humane and not bibilical. It is simply not acceptable to describe others in a way that shows contempt, disgust or revulsion for who they are, and such views should be challenged.