This week I was invited to speak at Newcastle CU’s ‘Big Question’; a fortnightly event where the CU provide lunch and a speaker to address a question considering a common objection to the Christian faith.
The location for the talk was the basement of the Newcastle Student Union, a giant room that can be partitioned-off into three spaces, and as we were about to begin a porter came to put one of the partitions across, because, irony of ironies, the next-door section was being used for a lunchtime pole-dancing class.
Feminism in action, ladies and gentlemen. Or not.
Anyway, I thought I’d share the details of what I spoke about on Wednesday, here on my blog, and Feminine Friday seemed like an appropriate place to put it. There’s quite a lot to say (and certainly more than can fit in one post), so this will have to be another mini series-within-a-series. I hope you enjoy it, and I’d certainly love to get your feedback if you have the chance!
I thought I’d open the talk with a little joke, so I went looking for a couple of sexist jokes to set the scene, and this is what I came up with:
“Why aren’t there any women astronauts?”
“Because the moon doesn’t need cleaning?'”
It’s not at all funny, naturally, but ultimately that’s often all we think of when we’re asked to consider sexism from our perspective as 21st century westerners. Sexism is merely bad jokes about making sandwiches, or snide comments about sporting ability, but surely not anything more than that.
We’re clear, I suppose, that the situation is a bit different in other parts of the world, where girls are prohibited from attending school, or women are banned from driving, or forbidden from voting, but, of course, things are fine here in the UK. Right?
In this country we have had laws to allow women to vote since 1928, and laws to require equal pay for women since 1970, but we still live in a society where a national newspaper publishes pictures of half-naked women five days a week. We have had a women Prime Minister, but currently in the Houses of Parliament, there are only 144 female MPs, and 500 male MPs.
In 1970, Germaine Greer’s famous treatise, The Female Eunuch, was published. When it was reprinted a generation later she wrote a new preface to the book, explaining that her original desire for the book was that it would become outdated and unnecessary; she had hoped that the world would change and the feminist ideals would become a reality. In this new forward she notes that unfortunately, although the world has changed since the ’70s, the call that she made then still hasn’t been satisfied, namely, ‘freedom’ for women.
Despite the freedom to vote and the freedom to earn a fair wage (to name a couple of things fought for, and won, in the last 100 years), women are not free from objectification, or harassment, or rape, or other forms of violence.
We live in a world that is sexist because, by and large, men are stronger than women. So, despite the fact that we live in a society with many laws in place to provide protection for women, the reality of the situation is that they cannot protect women, and so provide this desired freedom. Rather, they merely allow for punishment after the fact, which is of little use or comfort.
The overwhelming assumption, in this country at least, is that the sexist baggage that our culture is carrying is due to our Christian past; we look back on a 1000 or more years of history as a country, and it is steeped in sexism, and ‘Christianity’, so they must be linked. It is widely assumed that Christians, Christianity, and God, himself, are all sexist.
The question I’m here to answer is, is that correct? Does God really want all women barefoot, pregnant, and chained to the kitchen sink?
In summary: to be continued.