An Example Still Applicable 70 years later!

One of the things I love about the book Are Women Human?  is the logic with which she supports her arguments.  She doesn’t rely on emotion or supposition and she doesn’t start with a faulty premise to begin with.  She takes a situation, applies sense and reason, and then shows where we so often grasp at straws rather than see something in its entirety and without ignoring scripture. 


The following passage is one fine example and since it is quoted all over the internet, I decided to share it as well.

Let me give one simple illustration of the difference between the right and the wrong kind of feminism. Let us take this terrible business – so distressing to the minds of bishops – of the women who go about in trousers. We are asked: “Why do you want to go about in trousers? They are extremely unbecoming to most of you. You only do it to copy the men.” To this we may very properly reply: “It is true that they are unbecoming. Even on men they are remarkably unattractive. But, as you men have discovered for yourselves, they are comfortable, they do not get in the way of one’s activities like skirts and they protect the wearer from draughts about the ankles. As a human being, I like comfort and dislike draughts. If the trousers do not attract you, so much the worse; for the moment I do not want to attract you. I want to enjoy myself as a human being, and why not? As for copying you, certainly you thought of trousers first and to that extent we must copy you. But we are not such abandoned copy-cats as to attach these useful garments to our bodies with braces. There we draw the line. These machines of leather and elastic are unnecessary and unsuited to the female form. They are, moreover, hideous beyond description. And as for indecency – of which you sometimes accuse the trousers – we at least can take our coats off without becoming the half-undressed, bedroom spectacle that a man presents in his shirt and braces.”


Yep, seventy years after she wrote these words, we’re still discussing whether pants (trousers… such a nicer sounding word btw) are acceptable attire for godly women.  And, if that wasn’t enough, one of the biggest arguments is still that it is a feministic attempt to “be like men” rather than a reasonable decision based upon the needs of the wearer.  I’ve often used the example of climbing a ladder as a way of demonstrating that sometimes it is definitely more modest to don a pair of jeans than to wear a skirt.  You wouldn’t believe how often the reply was, “If you can’t do it in a skirt, you shouldn’t do it.”  Hmm.  That’s a nice sentiment but aside from not being scripturally mandated, it is also ridiculous in reality.  So, my family should suffer through 115 degree weather because I cannot climb a ladder and reattach some part of our swamp cooler blown off in the wind?”  Trust me, if my husband was home, he’d do it.  If I had a son old enough to do it, he would.  But twice in 20 years I’ve had to climb up there and both times, while I hadn’t put on jeans in years, I put them puppies on in a flash and did the job. 


When my health went south last summer/fall/early winter (what  a nightmare!) I was relegated to a recliner.  I wore my skirts.  I tend to do that.  I happen to be one who prefers to wear them and prefers to see them on my daughters.  However, sitting in this chair, sometimes my feet needed to go up to give my back a break and encourage circulation.  So i’d put mmy feet on the edge of the recliner footstool thing, my knees would go up, and my skirt would cover nothing.  Even long skirts didn’t do the job.  I put on a blanket when I could but eventually, I bought me more pants.  I needed something decent for the chair. 


Anyway, the point Mrs. Sayers is trying to make is that assertions that women are only wearing pants because they want to be like men are just as ridiculous as stating that men only wear neckties because they want to be like women.  “Women have always adorned themselves with bows and things.  Men just adopted the practice and masculinized the look and tying of them.”  How ridiculous that sounds and yet the reverse argument is supposed to be reasonable and solid evidence against women wearing pants. 


This isn’t an argument, by the way, for or against trousers for women.  I’m not making that assertion, and neither is Mrs. Sayers.  I don’t think she cared two whits what you wear and I know I don’t.  The example is used to show that assumptions about motive are not only illogical, but incorrect.  The point of the entire passage is that we focus so quickly on a method that we can assume we’re violating a principle that wasn’t even in question.  When a woman wears pants, the assumption that she does so in order to make a feministic statement about her philosophical opinions is ludicrous.  The same is true of whether or not a woman wears a skirt.  Who assumes that a Scotsman in a Kilt is secretly denouncing his masculinity?  Why then, must the reverse be true?


I think one could sum up Mrs. Sayers point by stating that majoring on a method can find you playing baseball on a basketball court.

Dorothy Sayers and Feminism

The first thing Mrs. Sayers asserts is that she is not only not a feminist but she is also strongly opposed to the movement as it was at the time of her speech recorded in this book  (1938).  When questioned by the Women’s Society about this assertion, she said, “… under present conditions, an aggressive feminism might do more harm than good.”  I wonder what she’d say about today’s feminism.


Her collection of essays could easily be summed up by stating that a person’s worth or identity should’t be automatically assumed to be understood based upon their gender.  Feminism today is all about elevating women to the highest level of existence merely because they are women.  It is a form of reverse discrimination that makes any attempt to take it seriously ludicrous.  The double standard is often justified by assertions of “historical evidence of double standards for men an women” but that is a weak argument at best.  A history of cruelty toward male children doesn’t mean that we now must be cruel to female children as a balance.


Mrs. Sayers argues that sweeping statements such as “A woman is as good as a man” are as meaningful as “a Frenchman is as good as a Kafir.”  As good for what?  This is the material question.  She goes on to demonstrate that one may be better than another at specific tasks but does agree that in the eyes of their Creator, both are equally “good.”


She asserts that what we should mean is that women are just as ordinary human beings as men are.  Each individual person his or her own preferences, tastes, and the like.  She isn’t so idealistic as to encourage the wholesale dismissal of all stereotypes.  As repugnant as they can be at the wrong time or when they most definitely do not apply, the fact is, they exist because there is enough substance behind them to create them in the first place.  There wouldn’t be stereotypes about “jolly chubby men” or “tempermental artists” if enough of them didn’t exist to make it seem like a universal truth.  Does that mean there aren’t  irritable men with beer bellies or actresses with ice in their veins?  Well obviously there are both.  However, I must admit, those that I know who are heavily involved in the theater on a regular basis tend to be high strung and tempermental and I know many many more cheerful and jovial chubby men than rotund men who are easily irritated.


I love this quote:


“What is irritating and unreasonable to assume is that all one’s tastes and preferences have to be conditioned by the class (or sex?) to which one belongs.”

Will Work for-

Continuing in her introduction, Ms. McDermott moves into the discussion of work, talent, the mind, and our responsibility to society based upon our strengths.  I disagree with her.  I don’t owe society anything but adherence to the laws therein.   I am, however, responsible for my mental and physical employment whether financially rewarded or not.  He gave me my talents, strengths, and the duty to utilize them.  I owe Him the appreciation shown by my diligent work.


This introduction inimates that Mrs. Sayers was opposed to the idea of women remaining in the home if they didn’t choose to be there.  The objection is to the “placement” as though they are therefore only quailfied for basic and domestic tasks because of their womanhood.


Here I think they make a valid point but I reach a different answer.  Paul specifically gives married women the responsibility to “keep house” in Titus 2:3-5.  Specifically, the word used means “house despot.”  I think this refers to the specific running of the home.  I don’t believe the scripture means that the woman must do every specific task related to that job by herself, nor do I believe she must limit herself to the purely domestic.  Furthermore, tasks generally characterized as ‘feminine’ should be carefully scruitnzed by scripture before being defined as such.


For instance, the birthing and nursing of babies is a definite feminine accomplishment.  Why, however, do we consider sewing, crocheting, knitting, quilting, and other needle arts to be so “effeminate?”  I think I remember reading about Scotch fishermen crocheting or knitting out on the moors or maybe it was fishermen.  Somehow I thought they invented the first cables.


Why is woodworking, auto mechanics, or hunting specifically masculine? 


I think it would be wise to classify things as masculine or feminine based only upon physical or emotional limitations.  And yet-


In our androgynous society, blurring gender distinctions is a serious problem.  God created us male and female.  This was intended to be distinct.  We’re physically created differently.  We need to be sure not to blur that. 


However, can we not allow the BIBLE to define what is masculine and feminine rather than present or past culture?  If scripture says that women are to have a meek and quiet spirit, I think that a truly feminine woman will be humble and at rest in Jesus in her spirit.  If we are to win our husbands without a word, perhaps true femininity doesn’t nag.  If we’re to be modest and not obsessed with the ‘putting on of gold and pearls and wearing of dresses’ then maybe true femininity is not a fashionista or a diva.


Notice that scripture seems to address the heart more than the specifics of action?  Rather than a list of actions that may or may not suit a given woman, God addressed her heart.  Rather than defining femininity as loving pink, ruffles, cooking, sewing, or crocheting doilies, God seems to say through His Word, “A godly feminine woman is gracious, kind, her words are pleasant, her spirit is untroubled by the world around her, and she’s not ostentatious in her garb…” 


I’ve met women in jeans, flannel shirts, and working on vehicles with gracious words and a calm spirit and I’ve seen women in floral dresses crocheting on a couch sipping tea and eating freshly baked cookies from their own ovens and shredding their brothers and sisters in Christ with their tongues.  Honestly, which is more feminine? 


This is the point Ms. McDermott (and ultimately Mrs. Sayers) is trying to make.  We’re trying to genderize (Cool word huh) actions rather than the people behind the action.  What is almost worse than this is the idea that what we do is who we are.  That’s the next point in the introduction though.


The Introduction to Are Women Human?  The introduction is written by Mary McDermott Schideler.  I found as much meat and interesting infrmation in this introduction alone as I’ve found in many other entire books.  


For starters, Ms. Schideler emphatically asserts that despite three essays on the subject of women in society, Mrs. Sayers was not a feminist.  In fact, Dorothy Sayers considered the aggressive feminism of her day as dangerous.  Dangerous.  In 1938 she considered the feminist movement dangerous.   I wonder what she’d say about today’s feminism.


As Ms. Schideler states, “The liberation of women was not a cause that she espoused, but a way of life that she practiced on the premises that male and female are adjectives qualifying the noun, ‘human being’ and that the substantive governs the modifier.”


I think this is important because if Dorothy Sayers was “just another feminist,” it is tempting to discard her views because of the bias behind them.  Just as a seeker for Jesus doesn’t want to hear, “I believe it so it’s true” neither does someone seeking logic in the realm of women want to go to the choir to see if the preacher is making sense.


Ms. Schideler also discusses the tendency of women, and offers suggestions as to why they have these tendencies, to ask “What does this man want?” rather than “What do men want?” 


The question, “What do women want?” on the other hand, is a universally understood joke.  Whether or not it is a valid joke should be considered, certainly. 


There are general truths that cant’ be ignored, however.  People say that men are logical and women are emotional.  As a matter of course, this is true.  I can’t ignore it.  I know many many more emotional women than men.  And, I must admit, most women allow those emotions cloud their logic.  I’ve wondered why this is true but I dont’ know the answer.  My guess is that when God said “I will make a helper suitable for him (Adam),” this is what He meant.


There is no evidence in scripture that women were an after thought.  God didn’t finish Adam, wait until he’d named the animals and think, “Oh rats!  He needs help!  I better make him a helper.”  Let’s face it, God made Adam first, and then set him up to see how much he needed the “completer half.” 


So, in the realm of emotionally driven decisions vs. logic based ones, God knew that without the emotions, men would lose sight of the person behind the action.  It’s a guess, of course, but I suspect that God wired Adam (and subsequently most of Adam’s sons) with a strong sense of logic and justice.  Then, as He created the perfect counterpoint to Adam, He infused her with mercy and compassion which is, of course, an emotional response.  She of course, would pass this onto her daughters.  It’s in the genetic make-up of men and women.  However, when you mix genetic material, the dominant traits sometimes switch. 


Of course, it’s all conjecture, but it does explain why it seems that men and women are like this.  Then again, perhaps it is because they’ve been conditioned to be.  When you consider homonal differences, body type differences, and the like, it strongly suggests design rather than conditioning.


As I said, anomalies do happen.  I am generally not a very emotional person.  I also tend to be fairly logical.  (Or at least, people allow me to think so.)  Conversely, I’ve met highly emotional men who don’t seem to comprehend the concept of logic.


I’ve pontificated on all of that to say, her point is a valid one.  Perhaps women tend to think about men as individuals because of conditioning, or perhaps it is because of their more emotional bent that sees the emotional need of humans to be regarded as individuals instead of part of the pack.   An interesting paradox isn’t it?

The Feminine Anti-Feminist

I’ve long been an advocate for women being women.  Femininity.  I’ve never liked the attitude that says, “Anything a man can do, I can do and probably better.”  To me, that’s always been beside the point.  The reverse is true too but you don’t see men planting their identity on it.


I know, I know… women were oppressed for centuries so we must raise awareness of our worth to the world or we’ll be kept in our “place” without any kind of recogition of us as people.  Hogwash.


I read a book years ago, called Letters of a Woman Homesteader.  As most of those books about people in the last couple of centuries, it had a lot of wisdom to impart but one sentence has stuck so fixedly in my mind that I think I still quote it verbatim though I only read the book once.


“There were two things my mama said you never had to brag about: your blue blood and your religion, because if you had even a little of either of them, it was bound to show.”


I think the same could be said about women and their abilities.  Rather than crying our declarations of ability, why not just do it and let our actions speak for us?  I’ve heard they’re louder than words anyway.  These are thoughts I’ve mulled in my mind for years.  Oh, I’ve tried to embrace the current trend that defines femininity by hobbies, clothing styles, or housekeeping abilities but I could never truly grasp why it is more feminine to embroider than to build beautiful furniture.  No one calls a man who is no mechanically inclined “unmasculine”.  No one assumes immediate effemininity if a man likes to cook.  Why try to embrace the thoughts that say the reverse?  Do we really have to swing that pendulum from one ridiculous assertion (women should act like men to show their worth) to another one (women should stick to Victorian pasttimes to show their worth)?


So, imagine my delight and surprise when I found a book that says all I’ve thought and wondered and much better than I ever could.  I think I’m going to do a series of blogs on this book but for now, the book is,


Are Women Human? by Dorothy L. Sayers



Now, before anyone gets up in arms, this is not a “Christian Feminist” book.  She made one or two statements that were, in my opinion, contrary to scripture but I intend to reread them closer in order to see if in context, they mean differently than they appeared to.  And, contrary to one assertion I found on the web, Dorothy L. Sayers is NOT a “Christian Humanist.”  Even while ignoring that such an assertion is an oxymoron (there is no such thing as a “Christian Humanist”) she does not advocate any kind of humanistic philosophy  in the least.  She advocates looking at people as God made them, not as society wants to classify them and the way she does it, I hope, will amuse you in the coming days.