I once told some colleagues that reading even basic children’s books as Dick and Jane or The Cat in the Hat was a different experience for girls than it was for boys. Although Dr. Seuss was far more enlightened than much of the standard children’s literature from the era, there’s no doubt that the Cat is an active male, as are Things 1 and 2. The human girl (and her brother) are somewhat more passive, and thus the raring, rollicking action is mostly male. I try to stop frequently and notice how the message is still broadcast too widely that gender stereotypes contain the truth. Back when the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature met in San Francisco, a west-coast publisher, White Cloud Press, showed up. One of their books, Resurrecting Eve: Women of Faith Challenge the Fundamentalist Agenda, seemed appropriate for someone who’d been at Nashotah House as long as I had. Written by a psychologist and a pastor, Roberta Mary Pughe and Paula Anema Sohl, it raises many points that, while not new, again reminded me that men have to take responsibility to learn how women experience the culture that masculinity continues to dominate.
Reading stories of women who’ve suffered at the hands of a hyper-masculine fundamentalist Christianity, it is difficult not to cringe. Young girls molested by ministers in a culture where no one’s voice trumps that of the preacher, have no chance of justice. The mere thought of the few who’ve managed to build the courage to speak out suggests that far more choose to suffer in silence. The abuse isn’t always sexual. Damage to the esteem is rather a specialization of literalist groups, but males get off comparatively easy. Women and girls are provided with a unfair framework from the beginning and they often spend their entire lives conforming to it. These stories, even with the new age-ish kind of framing the book gives, must be told. More importantly, they must be heard.
In a world where our technology is so advanced as to make a Wright brother’s head spin, we still refuse to admit the equality of women. The United States comes nowhere near the top of democracies that have a significant portion of women in government positions of power. We like to think we’re advanced, but we still keep half of our people back from their true potential. We sent a satellite out of our own solar system before a woman president was ever elected. We call ourselves civilized. Of course, Pughe and Sohl are mainly concerned with fundamentalist Christianity. When we look at the demographics of government officials, however, the picture in this regard is not encouraging. Fundamentalism won’t be changed by scholars, for they are easily ignored. It will be changed by everyday men who pick up a book, perhaps because of the seductive painting of a woman on the cover, and realize that there’s far more at stake than cheap thrills and Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues. Treating women equally is merely the first step in becoming truly human.