Saturday, April 23, 2011

Clarity - it's what's for breakfast.

First off - Happy Easter to All! Buona pasqua! Christ is Risen! Glorify Him!

I have friends across the globe and it's beautiful to observe the Alleluias sound in Rome, touch the East Coast, and roll inexorably onwards towards the Bay Area. I can't wait until the Vigil this evening when we add our voices to the celebrations of the Universal Church.
Secondly...Clarity - it's what's for breakfast.

Subserve: sub - to be under | servire - to serve = "serving or acting in a subordinate capacity."
Obedient: oboedire - to obey = "complying with authority"

There is this one phrase that will, in 3 seconds, start a fire-storm: "women should be subservient unto men."

Oh no you did'uhnt.

Since Ancient Greek Times, there has been some equivocation between terms regarding people in subservient positions. I.e. slaves. Aristotle proposes, for our intellection, that there are two broad categories into which people fall. People incapable of self-direction towards contemplation - and ordering action to that end - are slaves by nature. Slaves by convention are those people who have the above capability but, through circumstances, have somehow been prevented from exercising that capacity. There is more to being free for Aristotle - like being a Greek citizen (male, 35+ years old) - but I'm setting that aside.

Instead, I want to expand on the concepts of nature and convention. Say that you are a free citizen. In fact, I hope you are a free citizen. If you're a line-cook, I'd say you are subordinate to your boss/owner and must comply with legitimate orders. However, the boss is not able to exercise authority in those areas beyond his level of expertise: i.e. the plebeian owner cannot tell the line-cook how to chop veggies. There is a proportional relation between the boss and the cook.

Being under (in both line of command and capacity) a legitimate authority is not a bad thing. Human beings are marvelously diverse and our capacities are not uniform. Some need more direction than others. Bertie Wooster needed his Jeeves. But when a person tries to usurp an authority to which they are not entitled then the entire operation goes janky because the proper relation is disturbed. There are many benign reasons for such errors: a person might overstep their authority because they mistake particular circumstances. It happens. This is quite forgivable, though unfortunate.

However, we are mostly speaking so far of conventional things. The claim that women should be subservient to men is something that goes deeper than convention and is analogous to the claim that men should give right worship to God: it's something that goes down to our very being and nature. Incidentally, my mind may be playing tricks on the Gospels I always seem to remember Christ as being obedient rather than subservient to the Father, which makes sense since Christ is, with the Father and Holy Spirit, worshiped and glorified. I think that might help shed a little light on the matter. Christ came to make us Sons of God, to join in His heritage. I am not claiming that we may ever be equal in any capacity to God. But consider the language. God does not want us to be slaves but sons.

The problem that I have with subservience is when it is understood as being rooted in inferiority of nature. That is, women, by nature, would be akin to slaves: incapable of self-direction. This pernicious idea often masquerades as something unobjectionable. In the natural order, men are so constituted that they are particularly fitted for the task of directing a family though the woman is co-equal with the man in terms of her nature. Consider partner-dancing. You have a leader and you have a follower. The unity of movement is accomplished only when the man and woman come together voluntarily to create harmony and beauty and the woman voluntarily hands over control to the man. The follower is no less than the man - her role is simply different. She *could* direct herself, should she so chose and freestyle dance like none other.

The idea of inferiority of nature happens when this role of being-directed is understood with a slave-mentality. That is, that women, by nature, do not have a certain role which it is particularly fitting that they take within certain structures/relations - but that women, by nature, lack something that only men - by nature - can have. This causes women to be subservient/inferior and gives men a privileged status of master-like authority de facto.


The equivocation is dangerous and simply appalling. That is why I have a problem with anyone who says that women should be subservient to men. We are plagued in our times by fuzzy and hasty reasoning, by sayings, by soundbytes. It is easier to stick with a phrase, chanting it like a mantra, enshrining it in the saying of a holy authority or text, than to actually untangle all the meanings and distinctions or to scrutinize the phrase within the context of the universal church and submit to her opinion.

I also suspect that many people don't know what they really mean when they say women should be subservient to men and that is why they resort to examples of subservience when pushed for clarification. It's actually rather Socratic. What do you mean by subservience? Well, the woman should ask her husband for permission before doing such and such a thing, a woman should not interject herself into rational arguments, the woman should know her place is to take care of the kids, the woman should not get a job or an education because that makes her uppity, etc.

Let's recast this: if you had a daughter, wouldn't you want her to plunge deeper and deeper into the knowledge and love of God? Isn't God present in all aspects of being? Including the sciences? What if your daughter has a passion for science and wants to be a nano-technologist? What earthly reason would you have to stand in her way? Don't you love her?


My sisters tell me that I usually have a huge grin on my face when sleeping and that it's rather creeeepy. I can't think why...