As I’ve been preparing my presentation on the incomparable Dorothy L. Sayers for our upcoming education series at the church, I have had the opportunity to re-discover her insightful lecture “Are Women Human.” In it, she hits the nail on the head of the challenge of female empowerment in a patriarchal society: Women are not viewed as fully human. Males are human. Women are … something else entirely. As she notes:
“Women are not human. They lie when they say they have human needs: warm and decent clothing [as opposed to merely attractive clothing]; interests directed immediately to God and his universe, not immediately through any child of man. They are far above man to inspire him, far beneath him to corrupt him; they have feminine minds and feminine natures, but their mind is not one with their nature like the minds of men; they have no human mind and no human nature.”
Sayers’ point is very simple. The culture of mid-20th century Britain she inhabited was decidedly masculine. Women were truly the “opposite” sex. To be fully human is to be male.
It hardly needs to be said that Sayers was decidedly ahead of her time in this manner of thinking. Still today, we see evidence all the time that males are normative. Female is the other. My friends are probably sick of me railing against toy stores marketing what I would see as purely gender-neutral items to boys and clearly “gendered” items to my daughter. (Seriously, does she need *pink* stacking rings? She’s just going to chew on them anyway.) On a more serious note, I have been watching the video game industry explode in recent weeks, as male games launch violent, sadistic threats against female game designers and commentators who threaten their erstwhile boys’ club.
As much pleasure as we all know I get from railing against the patriarchy, I do think the same question can very rightly be turned to all of us in the west (both male and female) as it concerns the plight of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. At this point, we have probably all heard the cries from various individuals calling for Canada (or the US) to close its borders to any travelers coming from West Africa. Yes, we know that it will just make the problem worse *over there.* But that’s *over there.* Our responsibility, and the responsibility of our government, but be to keep *our* people safe, no matter what the cost. The implication is that the people of the developing world are, ever so slightly, less than human for not being affluent, educated, predominantly white North Americans. This image making the social media rounds sums the situation up nicely.
Admittedly, most of us are not going to be so heartless as to put up a giant wall around West African and leave its inhabitants to their unfortunate fate. Yet I wonder how often we grasp the full humanity of people on the other side of the world. It is all too easy to write off those who live in different cultures, whom we encounter only superficially (if at all) in the media, as not quite as fully human as ourselves. We see them as statistics, as headlines, but not always as complicated, joyful, suffering, faithful, broken people.
We were very fortunate this past week to have Bishop Dhilo Canagasabey of Columbo, Sri Lanka visiting us at Grace Church this week. He is a fascinating, inspiring Christian leader, and he put a very human face on the tumultuous situation between the Nationalist and the Militants that continues to this day in Sri Lanka. I was particularly touched by his meditation on the sacrament of the Eucharist in the Christian Church in his country, as Sinhalese and Tamils drink together from the same cup of Christ’s blood. There is no division in the Body of Christ.
I think that, in our own context, we can expand the application of his words. In the sacrament of the Eucharist, we are made one not just with our brothers and sisters in Christ in our own community (though that is a powerful enough image). We are also united with those sharing the body and blood of Christ around the world, whether that means a family suffering from Ebola in Liberia, a community living under the threat of ISIS in Iraq, or a disenfranchised Christian living in Palestine. Our faith gives us no room to view their experience as somehow less human than our own. Once we grasp our connection with our Christian brothers and sisters throughout the world, we might remember as well that all people, regardless of race or religion are made in the image of God. We have a responsibility to seek our their stories and put a face to their experiences. We cannot always wait for them to come to us.