It’s actually two short essays by the illustrious author/theologian/all-round-good-egg, Dorothy L. Sayers, taking a witty (and often, biting) look at the role of women in society. In some ways they essays are a product of their time (early/mid 20th Century), but of course many of the comments and observations are entirely relevant for an early 21st Century setting too.
A major argument that runs through the two essays is Sayers’ irritation with the fact that society so often regards women as a separate (inferior) subset of humanity: men are men, and humans; women are just women.
Sayers was adamant that she not be labelled as a ‘feminist’, mostly, I think, because she was reluctant to enter into a fight that she saw as insisting so strongly on gender as the ultimate definer, and was particularly opposed to the tendency of some feminists towards arguing for the superiority of women. In the first of the two essays she makes the following remarks:
‘In reaction against the age-old slogan, “woman is the weaker vessel,”… we have, I think, allowed ourselves to drift into asserting that “a woman is as good as a man,” without always pausing to think what exactly we mean by that. 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 person.’
She derides, in particular, the insistence of society to always look for “the woman’s point of view” on any number of subjects that have nothing at all to do with one’s gender:
‘I am occasionally desired by congenital imbeciles and the editors of magazines to say something about the writing of detective fiction “from the woman’s point of view.” To such demands, one can only say, “Go away and don’t be silly. You might as well ask what is the female angle on an equilateral triangle.”‘
I’d definitely recommend the essays to you, (you can purchase your own copy here), because they are, in equal parts, witty and wise. The latter mostly, because Sayers’ understanding of the humanity of womankind comes from her knowledge of our creator, and saviour. Sayers was convinced that whatever society at large, and the church in particular might suggest or imply or declare about women, which would relegate us to lower rung on the humanity ladder, the same attitude could not be attributed to God, and since he’s the one who made us, in whom we ‘live and move, and have our being’, I expect it’s his opinion that counts the most. Right?
With that in mind, allow me leave you with this marvellous quote, from the very end of the book:
‘Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. The had never known a man like this Man – there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, nver flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious.’
That perfect man, offers to all people (be they male, or female) the chance to be made really, truly human. [Find out more about that here.]
In summary: human. Really.