I haven’t posted to this blog for a few days, primarily because my day job has taken over. As many of you will know, the Church of England just voted not to allow women to become Bishops.
The system of voting is set up to deliberately weigh votes in favour of the minority being heard – i.e., for something to pass, there has to be an overwhelming consensus. A vote must pass all three houses – Bishops, Clergy, and laity (ordinary people in the pews) by a two-thirds majority.
This vote passed the house of Bishops and the house of Clergy by about 80%, and got 64% in favour in the house of laity. Unfortunately, for those who know basic maths, 64% is not quite two thirds.
What makes it even more maddening is that this vote does not reflect the actual opinions of the ordinary people in the pews, 80% of whom are actually in favour of women as bishops.
So why am I talking about this on a book blog?
Well, for several reasons. One is because I am sad and angry, and that sadness and anger are leaking over into other parts of my life.
Reading novels, it was said, would “excite our passions” and distract us from domestic responsibilities (okay, the second part is true, but still not sufficient to ban us from reading). Women’s minds, it was said, were so frail that books might drive us mad.
And women as writers? Forget it. Quick, name one female writer you know of BEFORE THE NINETEENTH CENTURY.
After a minute, I came up with Anne Bradstreet.
After another minute, I came up with Phillis Wheatley.
Women only really began being taken seriously as writers in the mid 19th-century, and many of them hid their true, scandalous identity either behind anonymity (“Sense and Sensibility, by A Lady”) or a male pseudonym (George Eliot &c.). Even now,
many women are told to make their main characters male, so men will be interested, or to use initials (J.K. Rowling, anyone?) to make their gender ambiguous enough that men won’t be put off buying their books. And you do it, because you want to get your books in the hands of as many people as possible, not sacrifice yourself to make some kind of pointless stand. And I don’t presume to judge any individual author for doing that – but I do judge the society that requires it of her.
Writing and the bishopric are both intellectual pursuits that require an ability to read and interpret text in the context of its genre and the time of its writing, and a broad understanding of and sympathy to humanity’s flaws and foibles. They both require intellectual confidence and inquiry, and the ability to put forward your views in a way that will be clearly understood by, and meaningful to, your audience. They are both vocations that require study, discipline, and thoughtfulness.
It’s easy for feminists to think that we’ve won the battle of being “good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me!”, and to focus on what seem like much more pressing and urgent issues like rape culture and the gender pay gap. But I can’t help but feel as though, in both literature and the church, the idea that we’re just as smart and rational and thoughtful and studious as men still hasn’t quite caught on.
And that’s frustrating.