Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Woman's Place and the Holy Family

Ancient and modern religious ideas regarding the roles of women, and even the roles of humans and what their relationship should be to God, are pretty fascinating when you look at them. There's this idea of subordination, always, that comes with it -- even today.

Of course, it isn't only women who are asked to take a subordinate role in most Christian traditions, but women are certainly expected to take the most subordinate role. Not only should women give themselves up to God, but also, we're often told that we should be subordinate to our husbands -- to our men. Just as Jesus is the head of the church, so should a husband be the head of his household and family, which I guess makes us girls into... a large social organization that requires careful and cautious stewardship?*

But let's talk about that husband/wife dynamic for a minute. Think about Mary, Jesus' mother. Because she was a most holy woman, according to the Bible. A virgin bride, utterly free of sin, engaged to Joseph. And when God chose her, and said "you're going to have my baby and serve me" I don't remember Mary stopping and saying: "Hold up, God, I need to make sure it's cool with my husband-to-be, first, because head of the household and all that, and as a woman, you know, I'm not really capable of making my own informed decisions without a man to hold my hand through it." I'm pretty sure Mary just said "Yes." Because it didn't matter what Joseph wanted, in that moment (and I'm willing to bet if the choice had been left up to him, he would have chosen otherwise for his own sanity), and it wasn't JOSEPH who had been Called, or Joseph's body that was going to serve as God's vessel. God [via his Angel] spoke to Mary, directly. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 dollars. And what's more? God didn't just DO IT, because hey, she's just a woman, and hey, GOD. God told Mary what was coming, and Mary gave CONSENT.

And what did Joseph do?
I remember sitting through masses as a kid, where the homily talked about how GOOD a man Joseph was, because he didn't break off his engagement to Mary when he found out she was mysteriously pregnant. Because instead, he took care of her and raised Jesus as his own son. He is held up as an example, an EXCEPTIONAL example of a husband and a father because he keeps his word, and doesn't throw Mary to the wolves. He considers it briefly, of course, but what bothers him isn't that Mary made this decision all by her lonesome, and didn't consider his feelings at all in the moment of truth. It's that she's pregnant. Nothing else, except for that. And once he learns that baby is God's? Pfft. It's all good! We don't get a peep after that about him being angry or taking Mary to task for not letting him in on her decision making process, or letting him make the decision for her, for that matter.**

And I can't help but wonder: if God was so set on this order of things -- a woman's obedience to her husband, and subordination to the man she marries, why didn't he go THROUGH Joseph, or Mary's father, when he made this choice? I mean, okay, maybe no one says no to God. And maybe it wasn't EXACTLY a question. But if Mary had said no and God had gone through with his plan anyway, that would have gone a long, long way against Jesus' messages of love and peace. And over and over again, we see Jesus defending women from injustice, even welcoming them into his fold and teaching them, encouraging them to learn from him. This is not a guy who thinks women should be in the kitchen or that women are, by their natures, meant to be subordinate members of society.

So then, of course, I have to ask --
Why does this idea persist? Today.*** I mean, if Christians are supposed to be using the Holy Family as an example, as THE example, and this is the example they're setting -- why aren't we following it? Why is Joseph's keeping his word and allowing his wife the governance of her own self held up as such an EXCEPTIONAL example, instead of the rule?

It's just a thought.

*If that is how men are looking at women, then I definitely agree they should be treading *very* carefully and cautiously. I am not a church. I am not a building inside which people gather to worship, in the more literal sense, and I am certainly not an organization which requires governance. I am a person with absolute and final authority over my own self, just like you.

**I realize that Joseph and Mary predate Christianity, but since they are THE Holy Family, and you know, held up as examples of how we should all behave... I'm just saying. 

***Rome was its own culture with its own problems and reasons and I'm really not sure we should be beholden to those outdated ideals necessarily, anymore? I mean. Rome was kind of a long time ago. We don't hold to OTHER Roman ideas. Like, I don't know, throwing people into arenas and watching them fight to the death by way of execution. Or keeping slaves. Or even having an emperor at all -- never mind later elevating said emperors to the level of gods. You know what I'm saying.

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