Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Men, Women, Differences, and Equality

Before my wife and I married, I had to agree that any children would be raised as Catholics. Before I signed off on that, I had to learn just what being Catholic meant. Quite a few years later, I converted to Catholicism, and that's another topic.

I had to unlearn quite a few things along the way, but 'husband as lord and master' wasn't one of them.

I kept hearing that women being submissive to men was 'Biblical.' The notion that wives were supposed to be doormats for the Man of the House didn't make sense to me. I think part of the problem was that I knew about Deborah, Esther, Jael and Judith.

This post rambles a bit. You may want to skip over some of the stuff about Michelangelo and Commodore Perry, so I've linked to the headings:
If I had more time, I'd edit this post down to a more manageable size, but I don't: so I won't.

The 'Good Old Days' - Weren't

The 'submissive' verse is part of Ephesians 5:21-30, and I (accidentally) posted about that yesterday:
Back in my 'good old days,' that angle on Ephesians 5:22 appeared more in the '100-percent-American-Protestant' ethic. It's also one of the reasons I don't want 'the good old days' to come back. Ever. And that's yet another topic. Topics

Maybe you know a Catholic who really believes that he's got the right to treat his wife as a household appliance: with a status somewhere between his television remote and his dog. Like I've said before, some of the world's 1,100,000,000 or so living Catholics are jerks. And some of us don't understand our faith.

(Back to the list of headings.)

Male and Female: By Design

When God created humans, He made us male and female:
"God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them."
(Genesis 1:27)
As for the English language, terminology, and cultural quirks, I've posted about that before:
Moving on.

(Back to the list of headings.)

Power Tools and Getting a Grip

I grew up in an era when these were supposed to be compliments:
  • She's as smart as a man
  • A good shot: for a girl
Like I said, the 'good old days' weren't.

"Happy Days" may be a nice place to visit on television, but the reality was, in my opinion, overdue for major corrections when the '60s came along.

I get the impression that school administrators are getting used to the idea that it's okay for girls to like taking shop: although it still seems to be a 'controversial' idea. I don't see it that way, but not everybody has my background.

One of my sisters-in-law caused a bit of a fuss when she signed up for shop class. At the school. When someone from the school asked my father-in-law if he realized that his daughter wanted to take shop, his response was - I'm told - 'So? let her!'

(Back to the list of headings.)

"Equality" and the Olympics

Reaction to the 'barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen' ethic, and unwarranted assumptions about using power tools, wasn't entirely reasonable. I think we're getting past weird assumptions about all differences between men and women being imposed by male chauvinist pig authoritarian oppressors.

Or maybe Olympic weightlifting records are part of a vast conspiracy:
Sports is a facet of American culture that's been very resistant to 'gender norming,' yes I know that the Olympics is international, and that's yet again another topic. Topics.

I think part of the problem has to do with what "equality" means. And should mean.

(Back to the list of headings.)

Women aren't Men, and That's Okay

"Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. 'Being man' or 'being woman' is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator.240 Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity 'in the image of God.' In their 'being-man' and 'being-woman,' they reflect the Creator's wisdom and goodness."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 369)
Like Genesis says, we're created in the image of God: male and female. "In the image of God" isn't just about male human beings, or female human beings, it's both: "...male and female he created them." (Genesis 1:27)

As far as I can tell, that "perfect equality as human persons" doesn't mean that I'm supposed to pretend that everybody is a an androgynous statistical abstraction, standing exactly at the 50th percentile. That'd be silly.

I'll get back to the idea of equality - and difference - in a bit.

(Back to the list of headings.)

God, Michelangelo, and Commodore Perry

Michelangelo Buonarroti's Creation of Adam fresco, detail
(Michelangelo Buonarroti, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
Some of Western civilization's finest art shows God the Father as a rather massive European man with thick white hair, who's maybe around my age: and is in much better shape.

Human beings are very 'visual' creatures. We like to see things. Even things that can't, really, be seen.

Michelangelo Buonarroti lived in a time when Western civilization was rediscovering strictly representational art, and had the job of depicting God the Father for an interior makeover he'd been hired for. Small wonder that he chose to depict the Creator as a human person. Particularly considering some of the other options he had. There are a few descriptions of God in the Bible, including this set:
We can see fire, and doves, but if you were in Michelangelo's place, how would you paint a fire or a dove so that a viewer would immediately think 'Creator.' Trying to show what a sound looks like? It's possible to photograph the effects of sound waves, and artists have used quite a few visual symbols to indicate sound. But I think Michelangelo's choice makes sense: at least I don't have to wonder 'what's that bird doing there?'

Our Lady of Akita, from michaeljournal.org, used w/o permissionAs for making God the Father, the Creator of all that is visible and invisible, look like European? Michelangelo's a European. He grew up surrounded by Europeans. Under the circumstances, I think it'd be remarkable if Michelangelo didn't tend to depict all people as looking at least a bit like the folks he'd been seeing all his life. More recently, there's the statue of Mary in Akita, where Our Lady doesn't look particularly European. Then there's Our Lady of Guadalupe, and I'm getting seriously off-topic.

The point I'm trying to make is that when folks draw or paint other folks: they often seem to see the other person as a 'real person,' like the folks they've seen all their lives. I think this is fine, and a tribute to the basic unity of all people. But the results can be just a little odd. Like these efforts to depict a really strange-looking foreigner:

An unflattering caricature of Commodore Perry on the Japanese newspapers of the day
((left) United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs (digital ID cph.3b52813), via Wikipedia; and (right) The Art Institute of Chicago; used w/o permission)

'Strange-looking' depends on point of view. Matthew C. Perry probably looked quite normal in Rhode Island, where he was born. The North American east coast was thick with transplanted Europeans by 1794. But for folks on the other side of the world, his appearance may have been downright exotic.

(Back to the list of headings.)

God Does Not Look Like Charlton Heston

Charlton Heston as 'Moses,' The Ten Commandments (Paramount, 1956). Wax figure in Hollywood Wax Museum, later displayed in the Branson show, from LiveAuctioneers.com, used w/o permission.Michelangelo's Creator looks quite a bit like Charleton Heston in the role of Moses. Or, rather, the other way around. Michelangelo came first, by about four centuries. But God doesn't look like Charleton Heston. Not really.
"In no way is God in man's image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective 'perfections' of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband.241"
(Catechism, 370)
"God is pure spirit" is quite accurate, where God the Father and God the Holy Spirit is/are concerned. God the Son, Jesus, is fully human. And fully divine. (Catechism, 512-560, for starters)

No, I don't understand that. I don't understand the Trinity, either. Not completely. And I don't expect to. God's God, I'm not: and I've learned to deal with it. It's like the fellow said:
"If you understood him, it would not be God"
(Saint Augustine, quoted in Catechism, 230)
(Back to the list of headings.)

When Equality isn't Equal

I'm a 'recovering English teacher,' which may explain the definitions I drop into these posts. Long before I got that teaching certificate, though, I loved language - and knowing what words mean. I also think it's good to know what terms mean, like "equality" and "difference:"
  • Equality (noun)
    • The quality of being the same in
      • Quantity
      • Measure
      • Value
      • Status
    • A state of being
      • Essentially equal or equivalent
      • equally balanced
    (Princeton's WordNet)
  • Difference (noun)
    • The quality of being unlike or dissimilar
    • A variation that deviates from the standard or norm
    • A disagreement or argument about something important
    • A significant change
    • The number that
      • Remains after subtraction
      • When added to the subtrahend gives the minuend
    (Princeton's WordNet)
The Catechism's assertion that men are not women, and women are not men, but that they each have "perfect equality as human persons," might seem crazy: if "equality" is understood as "the quality of being the same in measure."

Since there are obvious (to most of us) differences between men and women, it's 'obvious' that we can't be equal.

"Equality" also means "the quality of being the same in value." That, I think, makes sense. I don't think I'm 'more valuable' than my wife. At all. But I like to think that God sees value in both of us.

"Both of us" is what the next part of the Catechism is about. (Catechism, 371-373) Not my wife and me, personally: more like what God had in mind when he designed humanity in two basic models.

And that's yet again more topics.

(Back to the list of headings.)

Related(?) posts:

Background:

2 comments:

Brigid said...

Missing an article, or maybe there's an extra word: "Creator of all that is visible and invisible, look like European?"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

P.S. "I had to unlearn quite a few things along the way, but 'husband as lord and master' wasn't one of them." Yeah. I can't really see Grandma being a doormat.

Brian Gill said...

Brigid,

Got it.

And: quite right, quite right.

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From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.