March 2, 2007

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

In today’s world, women are hard to keep in check

Cynthia DewesWomen are a tough bunch to control, by and large. Or should I say, small and large? Anyway, according to some people, they really need to be kept in line.

This morning, I heard a Jewish woman on National Public Radio speaking about the “Talibanization,” as she called it, of Israeli society.

She said that ultra-Orthodox Jewish men are trying to put Israeli women in inferior positions in public and private life. They’re copying what the Taliban did to women in Afghanistan and other places in the Middle East before the American invasion.

These ultra-Orthodox believers do not confine their efforts to women of their own sect either. The speaker said she was threatened by several men to move to a back seat on a public bus because they felt she was dressed “immodestly.” She said she was dressed in ordinary women’s clothing like that worn in Europe and the U.S.

One of the men who threatened her was a 300-pound bully who stuck his long beard in her face and barked orders to move. Unfazed, she looked him in the eyes and said until he could point out a section of the Israeli constitution requiring women to sit in the back of public vehicles, she would not move. He backed down, but the woman reported that other women have actually been physically assaulted in such incidents.

Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women are well-covered, the speaker said, and she fears that wearing veils may be next for everyone. Not only that, some conservative men have called for an end to education for all Israeli women after they finish high school.

Well, we may say, these people are all Middle Easterners, still tribal in their customs and attitudes. They fear giving equal power to women who are, after all, smaller and weaker, and even described as less important in the Old Testament and the Koran. They need to be kept in their place.

Remember the Blessed Virgin? She, too, was a Middle Easterner with similar customs in her society. And look how uppity she was! At the wedding in Cana, she ignored her son’s warning that he wasn’t ready to be revealed as God yet and confidently told the waiters, “Just do what he says.” She knew there would be wine forthcoming, and the best wine at that.

Women, especially mothers, can be like that with their sons, son of God or not.

And how about the woman who, according to Jesus’ friends, wasted expensive oils anointing his feet and then drying them with her hair? She was determined to show her affection and respect no matter what the men thought.

The men’s attitude, sometimes verified by the Church, considered all women to be occasions of sin because of Eve’s successful temptation of Adam. Never mind that he was as guilty as she.

Maybe this streak of independence is what gets women in trouble. Men were in charge early on because the times required it. They got used to their role as hunters and warriors, and needed to protect and provide for their families. Women and children understood that and went along with the arrangement.

Today, when hunting and warring are not usually necessary, women are getting feistier and even harder to control.

Nowadays, they not only talk a lot and argue back, but also write grant applications and law briefs and medical diagnoses. They behave like men’s equals.

But then, that’s the way God made them.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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