Fake Feminism & the Wee Free Women

I don’t suppose you could really call Cailleach an Deacoin a feminist. Mind you, ‘she’ certainly harboured political ambition. For the uninitiated, the Cailleach was the persona assumed by Murdo Matheson of South Lochs, a female impersonator well before the time of Eddie Izzard, or Lily Savage. It was before my time too, but I have heard the recordings from his gigs in the ‘town haal’, where Cailleach an Deacoin roundly mocks the men in parliament and the church, to uproarious laughter from the audience.

Cailleach an Deacoin would certainly have something to say about the hubbub over an all-male Comhairle nan Eilean, following the recent local election. Of course, her intent was always firmly fixed on Westminster, but I’m quite sure that she would have encouraged less ambitious ladies to try for Sandwick Road first.

Feminism is the new secularism here in Lewis. That is to say, it is being hoisted as the latest flag of convenience over the leakiest vessel in the harbour: the good ship, ‘blame the church’. According to some local pundits, the failure to elect any female councillors can be laid squarely at the door of the Kirk session. Over the years, they have subjugated women, kept them in the kitchen, and out of any really important decision-making. Presbyterian women are submissive, pliable, dumb. I know, because I am one. If I had a brain in my be-hatted ceann, I might object to the picture that these feminists paint of me, but I leave all that confrontational stuff to the men. They’re much better at it than me.

Funnily enough, it was suggested by three different people that I should consider standing for the Comhairle. All three were men: two of them church elders, the other a communicant. I was about to use this as proof that the coves in the Free Church don’t see politics as a male preserve, but I’ve just had an epiphany (don’t tell, though, because I haven’t asked permission from the Presbytery). They probably only wanted me to stand in the first place because I’d be easy to manipulate, plus there would be someone to pour the tea at the members’ meetings. Luckily, I have no desire whatsoever to run for elected office anyway. That is the real reason why I – and probably many other women – did not stand for council.

It has nothing to do with the churches’ influence on the lives of women. That kind of suggestion is insulting to the countless articulate, capable and even feisty women who are also churchgoers in this island. Like so many other popular myths regarding religion here, it springs from a complete ignorance of what the church is to her people. Yes, ‘her’ people. And it is also born of that other insidious misconception, that Christianity must ape and conform to contemporary culture.

God created man and He created woman. Each have their own unique attributes and characteristics. These are to be applied in God’s service. He does not love men over women; He does not single one gender out for special treatment. His Son died for both genders, and people of both genders have followed Him and served Him faithfully. Jesus first revealed His divine nature to a woman, and it was to women he first appeared following the resurrection. Christianity does not discriminate because Christ does not discriminate.

The church, of which Christ is the head, tries its best to imitate Him. Recently, I heard a lecture in which the speaker properly described God as genderless. We think of God, traditionally, as a man because – amongst other reasons – to us, He is God the Father. However, in His perfection, God combines attributes which we think of as male, and those we would consider female. No single human being can hope to emulate that on their own.This being the case, the closest any church will get to imitation of God is one in which men and women work together, bringing their best gifts into the service of the church, and of the Lord.

Church isn’t a gender-based competition. Biblically-speaking, there are roles for both. Yet again, the world fails to understand that the church of Christ does not follow society’s norms and obsessions. Contemporary thinking tells you one minute that gender is a social construct, that it doesn’t matter; and then it tells women that they mustn’t let men push them around, and that they must assert themselves. If we follow every prevailing wind, we will be buffeted to and fro like fallen leaves.

There are indeed places in the world where it is considered normal for women to be subjugated and maltreated by men. The Isle of Lewis is not one of them. When my father died, one of the first things my sister said to me was, ‘he was a great father for girls’. And she was right – never once did he make either of us feel that we were less in his eyes than our brothers, or less capable of . . . well, anything. He loved Christ, he was a member of the Free Church, and he treated women as equals. I am offended on his behalf, and on behalf of the many gentlemen I am privileged to call my brothers in Christ, when I hear it said that they are misogynistic bullies. Equally, I don’t appreciate the inference that my sisters in Christ are biddable simpletons with nary a brain-cell to call their own.

Actually, it’s quite straightforward: there are two genders, each with its own attributes and divine calling, each called on to submit to  the other out of reverence for Christ. This is the blueprint laid down for us in Ephesians 5; wouldn’t it be something if the world tried to emulate that instead

5 thoughts on “Fake Feminism & the Wee Free Women

  1. I doubt I have any connection to the Isle of Lewis, all I know is that I’m a descendant of the Ulster Scots, who were originally from Scotland and resettled into Northern Ireland before making their way to America to win the Revolutionary War (among other things.) I understand that the main religion back in the day was not Protestantism or Catholicism, but Presbyterianism. As Presbyterian pastors were in short supply in the expanding regions of America, most Ulster Scots became either Methodist or Baptist as both pastors were cheap enough for several communities when shared on a circuit. Methodists became an egalitarian denomination, one that valued the input of women and promoted them to be pastors. Baptists are mainly complementarian and have relatively few women in leadership in their own right. Having attended both kinds of churches, I find complementarian churches to be stiffing, they usually have me run the sound board or the nursery. Neither of which outlets are suited to my skills and knowledge. In any given egalitarian church, I don’t have to be a guy to educate fellow believers about the connections of faith that I have learned. But in any complimentarian church, it is precisely the reason that I am not a guy that I am forbidden from teaching. I tend to think of it as burying my talents or hiding my light – because somehow I’m a threat to them. What you just posted uses significant complimentarian terminology – which isn’t a problem for all those married women with children who fit according to the statues of it’s teaching. But what does it offer those who do not?

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    • Hi Jamie and thanks for reading my blog. Presbyterianism, by the way, is a form of Protestant church governance, not an alternative to it. I don’t have any experience of Baptist or Methodist churches, so must take you at your word when you outline their practices.
      Yes, I am a complementarian, as I believe that’s what the Bible teaches us. There are dangers inherent within that view (as in all cases)if we adhere too rigidly to it. Believing in the complementary roles of men and women, for example, does not equate to saying that women should be in the kitchen and men in the boardroom, nor am I saying that women should not have a teaching role, if that’s where their gifts lie.
      I’m sorry you feel as you do about stereotypes within the church. As a young widow with no children, I don’t fit the pattern you mention either. However, I don’t feel marginalised because of that status, nor because of my gender.I am sorry if you do. Complementarianism works best if everyone buys into it.
      Blessings, Catriona

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      • True, but it was different form of Protestantism than the one practiced in Ireland, if I’m not mistaken. The Ulsters found themselves hemmed in by two groups who didn’t see eye to eye and didn’t want to be involved in a tug-of-war match given that odds are they would have to choose sides and it wouldn’t end well with their other neighbors.
        Why buy something that doesn’t apply? I tend to think in terms of culture, the Bible existed in a patriarchy and it’s only natural they would speak in that context in which their society lived in, not necessarily saying that it’s the ideal for all time. Were it so, modern American Christian women would still be wearing head coverings – but we’re not.

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      • Oh, I get nervous when people start to dismiss parts of Biblical teaching as ‘cultural’. That, I think, is the beginning of the very thing I was writing about – our society’s idea that it knows best. Take that view to its natural conclusion and we can discard any part of Biblical teaching that doesn’t suit us. But whose authority are we acting on then? Our own? God forbid that Christians should go down that broad road.

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