The Episcopal Women's Caucus produces and an e-newsletter several times a year. If you'd like to subscribe to receive this please sign up on our website: here The current edition features article written by the EWC Board of Directors and considers how women are represented in the media and the world around us. Here is the first of several articles:
I’ve been thinking a lot about who is called a liar these days, in particular the repeated description of Hillary Clinton as a liar, but also how often women in general are thought of as liars. I’ve been called a liar myself, or more subtly people have alluded to, without saying outright, that I have been manipulative and deceptive. The truth is, whether we are conscious of it or not, and I suspect we are rarely conscious of it, women have been considered untrustworthy for centuries. Below are just a few quotes from some early Christian church fathers and their view of women:
“What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. One must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil.” — St. Albertus Magnus
Tertullian: “Women are the devil’s gateway.”
Thomas Aquinas: “As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten.”
St. Clement of Alexandria: “Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman…the consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame.”
St. John Chrysostom: Women are “weak and flighty…For what is a woman but an enemy of friendship, an inescapable punishment, a necessary evil, a natural temptation, a domestic danger, delectable mischief, a fault in nature, painted with beautiful colors?” and “Amongst all the savage beasts none is found so harmful as woman.”
St. Jerome: “Woman is the root of all evil.”
Considering that those who helped form the early Christian church held these views of women it’s no wonder that a base distrust of women pervades our global societies and infiltrates our thoughts and actions. Donald Trump, for whom statistics indicate that he is rarely accurate or truthful, faces little scrutiny for his words. Headline news rarely ever calls him a liar. Yet Hillary is called a liar so often that this notion of her has infiltrated the general public who consider this characteristic of her to be accurate, despite fact checkers saying otherwise.
A simple internet search on “women liars” pulls up stories about women rape victims whose stories are not believed, women as Jezebel’s, women who are “attention seekers.” It seems it all comes down to sex, women are not to be trusted because of sex. Consider how women are portrayed on television and in movies: liars, sexually manipulative, temptresses, mentally ill. Women are portrayed as untrustworthy and we support that notion, consciously and unconsciously.
I’m not suggesting that Hillary Clinton is always completely honest, but she is certainly not the liar that some portray her as. Men, it seems can lie and get away with it. At least that seems to be the case with men like Donald Trump and Bill Cosby. I’m not arguing that we should lie or accept liars. I’m only commenting on the disparity between men and women, and our assessment of who is trustworthy and who is perceived as being a liar.
Thanks to this presidential election, my awareness has grown. Much like the election of Barak Obama pushed open my awareness of racism and how embedded it is in me, let alone the corporate soul of the United States, so too, will this election year, should Hillary Clinton clinch the Democratic nomination, raise the anxiety of sexism and mysoginsm in this country.
Nonetheless these efforts to raise our corporate soul to greater awareness of these long held prejudices against women and people of color is met with a growing sense of anxiety. Our society is deep in what Murray Bowen, founder of the Family System’s Theory, calls “Societal Regression.” Edwin Freidman, a proponent of Bowen’s theory, writes in “Failure of Nerve” that the last time society went through a major regression based on anxiety and fear was in the Middle Ages. This angst and fear of change produced the crusades and instituted an idea that the world was flat and that nothing existed beyond a few known countries and continents. This regression was broken open when some explorers dared to break the fear and set sail across the waters. Fear was replaced by creative imagination. We have once again been in a societal regression, says Bowen, since the late 1950’s, post WWII. One might say we are deep in the throws of it now, with our fears right out there controlling what we do. We react through fear not create through imaginative responses. This, by and large is the response to white people, mostly white men, those who have been the dominant culture, losing their power. The world is not what it was, and it is not yet what it will be. The theory states that if white people could work toward resolving our own anxiety about who we are, and the anxiety that differences in class and education and wealth produce, we wouldn’t need to create scapegoats of people of color or women on whom we project our real anxiety. This is a simplistic explanation of a complex theory. You can learn more if you go to Murray Bowen’s Family System website and if you choose to study Family Systems. My point is, we are living in anxious times and making decisions based on anxiety and fear, reactive processes that never lead to people making the best decisions. As a society we are reactive, looking for the next person or group of people to scapegoat, to whom we can project our anxiety so we don’t have to deal with what is really going on.
My response to the rising tide of anxiety has been to choose to be less anxious and become more creative and self aware. I turn off the news and unsubscribe from email organizations that promote fear. I work on myself and how I can be a better person and how I can grow in my awareness of how I treat others. I’m doing what I can to become aware of the long held unconscious systemic and institutionalized biases that I have been raised with, so that I can try to behave differently. That means that I have to consider carefully the impulses in me to react and label other people. Calling Hillary Clinton a liar is just the tip of the iceberg, there is so much underneath that must be seen and dealt with.
For more on this topic read Soraya L. Chemaly at Role Reboot
Soraya L. Chemaly who writes about gender, feminism and culture for several online media including Role/Reboot, The Huffington Post, Fem2.0, RHReality Check, BitchFlicks, and Alternet among others. She is particularly interested in how systems of bias and oppression are transmitted to children through entertainment, media and religious cultures. She holds a History degree from Georgetown University, where she founded that schools first feminist undergraduate journal, studied post-grad at Radcliffe College.
And Murray Bowen’s Family System’s Societal Regression at The Bowen Center
|The Rev. Terri C. Pilarski, EWC Convener|
Terri has been ordained for sixteen years. She has been the Convener of the EWC since 2012 and is currently the Rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Dearborn, Michigan.