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Are Women People?

On October 01, 2010

A hundred years ago a woman's suffrage advocate authored a column in the New York Tribune, entitled "Are Women People?" In 1915, some of the writings of Alice Duer Miller were published in a book by that title. The following is from her introduction:

Father, what is a Legislature?
A representative body elected by the people of the state.
Are women people?
No, my son, criminals, lunatics and women are not people.
Do legislators legislate for nothing?
Oh, no; they are paid a salary.
By whom?
By the people.
Are women people?
Of course, my son, just as much as men are.

We would find that dichotomy humorous, except it is too true. Women were excluded from the electoral process, but conveniently included when it came to paying lawmaking and lawkeeping costs. Subtle reverberations of this attitude remain into the present.  It hasn't been all that long ago that car salesmen said to female prospective buyers, "When will your husband be able to come in with you?" Just recently, I overheard a delivery man make a disparaging remark about no women being present (or so he thought) to give the guys a hard time. Sometimes this slighting attitude is present even in the Church. One fellow made it clear that the men were meeting to pray about important issues like war and politics. The women, he scornfully assumed, met in "tea party" style to pray about the Sunday School and Aunt Susie's rheumatism.

So, it has ever been that men take care of serious business, while women are supposed to be less interested and certainly less capable.  Are they?  Society as a whole, and the Church in particular, believed that men and women were quite different inherently—God having made it so—and therefore must confine themselves to their prescribed roles. Those who study human behavior have changed many of their earlier-held views, but sadly, much of the Church has lagged behind.

Inequality, even arrogant domineering, shows up in many homes of the faithful. One writer, a man, says that ever since Eve, women have wanted to control their husbands. Is he implying that this would be wrong, but that it is okay for men to control their wives? Maybe so. With all due respect for his education and experience, I think that ever since that incident in the Garden, people--both men and women--have wanted to control other people. Unfortunately, some Christian men feel that the Scripture gives them license to do so with authority and sometimes cruelty.

Women, along with everyone else and perhaps not to any greater degree than others, want safety and security. Not all women need or choose the same means of being secure. Some women want someone telling them exactly what to do; they depend on a father, a husband or a pastor to do that for them.  They have the right to make that choice.  But for someone to tell all women that they must feel that way is ridiculous! Some women prefer the security they find in knowing that that they cannot fully depend on anyone or anything but themselves and their relationship with God. They feel safe in their knowledge that there is no real security outside God Himself.

Of course women are people!  In spite of traditional difficulties and prejudices, more and more women are recognizing that we matter to God and that we matter in His plan for life in this world.  But what can we say to the woman who still leads a  narrow, restricted life because of her beliefs about herself and about "woman's place"?  Were any of you formerly in that situation, and what changed your viewpoint to acceptance of Biblical equality?

Source of Miller's piece: womenshistory.about.com/library/etext/bl_awp000_introduction.htm (Is part of The New York Times Company)

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