Saturday, 21 April 2018

A woman's place?

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him”... Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man... Genesis 2:18, 22

The paper the other morning was full of Barbara Bush, who has died at the age of 92. She was, of course, the wife of one United States president and the mother of another.

If I were an American, I very seriously doubt if I would ever have voted for the Bush family’s party, the Republicans (especially under the present regime), but I have to admit that from what little I have picked up over the years regarding Mrs Bush, I am something of a fan.

She was, it seems, sparky, humorous and characterful. She had strong opinions; no doormat, she. She got on with life with a robust and down to earth commonsense.

She swam vigorously against various currents, not least when it came to questions of female image. She was uninterested in fashionable clothes, was cheerfully unbothered by her prematurely white hair (she thought women who coloured their hair were “boring”), and happily granted that she “looked like a woman who has forgotten to iron her face”. Splendid!

She was involved in various charities and other good causes. She took a keen interest in run-down schools, Aids clinics and drugs treatment centres. Especially, she was an advocate for universal literacy.

You can, of course, wax cynical about this type of involvement - what person in political life, not least the American “first lady” (what a horribly twee expression that is!), doesn’t make sure they are seen in this kind of light? But there seems no reason to doubt her sincerity.

But perhaps the most noticeable thing about her was her commitment to “traditional family values”, and to an ideal of marriage which is becoming ever less common in western society (she was married to her husband for over 70 years). 
I’ve no idea if she was a serious Bible-reader - though I would be surprised if she wasn’t - but I suspect she would have been very much in tune with the words in Genesis 2 concerning the creation and role of Eve.

She saw herself first and foremost as wife and mother; her role was as home-maker and family-builder. (True, she was married to a very rich man, so wouldn’t have had to worry about many of the things that preoccupy most young mothers.) She once stated (if I have remembered this right) that the job of a wife is “to lean on your husband on one side and prop him up on the other” - quite a physical feat, that; but we know exactly what she meant...

(Forgive the completely irrelevant digression, but I can’t resist it... It reminds me of the footballer Kevin Keegan who once declared, in supporting a manager who had been specially good to him, that “you have to stand behind the man who stands behind you”).

No doubt Barbara Bush had her faults, as we all do. No doubt there were those, both in feminist circles and elsewhere, with whom she was deeply unpopular, and sometimes, for all I know, deservedly so.

In enthusing about her I am not intending to be either anti- or pro-feminist; I am just reflecting on a person who was very much herself, unashamedly against the tide, and as a result brought a refreshing and bracing influence into the public life of our modern western world.

The only conclusion or “lesson” I would draw is this. Whatever view we may take of feminism in its many forms, and whatever our understanding may be of the Adam and Eve story in those early chapters of Genesis, let us never dismiss or despise those women - many of them, like Barbara Bush, strong and intelligent - who have found their fulfilment in life in this “traditional” mould. “Unfashionable” or “outdated” doesn’t necessarily mean “wrong” or “misguided”.

Those who find her way impossible, or even offensive, are entitled to respect, understanding and support. I’m thinking especially of those who have not found their sexual identity as clear-cut as she seems to have found hers. But in this complex and potentially explosive area it’s particularly important that we all listen to one another and seek to stand in one another’s shoes.

Lord God, thank you for making us male and female, and for the wonderful beauty of both maleness and femaleness. Help each of us to find our God-given place in this earthly life, and to have open hearts and mind to those who see things differently. Amen.

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