Woman - The Full Story: A Dynamic Celebration of Freedoms

Woman - The Full Story: A Dynamic Celebration of Freedoms

by Michele Guinness

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310250593
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 04/01/2003
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Michele Guinness, a broadcaster for many years, now handles media and communications for the NHS in Cumbria and Lancashire. As well as contributing regularly to magazines and newspapers, she has written eight books.

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Woman-The Full Story

A Dynamic Celebration of Freedoms
By Michele Guinness

Zondervan

Copyright © 2003 Michele Guinness
All right reserved.


Chapter One

The Life-giving Woman

Her story, and not just history, begins at creation. There is Adam all alone in his breathtaking, pristine, resplendent new inheritance. There is no one to share his pleasure in the landscape - the pure white puffballs of clouds that scud like clumps of cotton wool across the magnificent, encircling vault of a Wedgwood sky, or the dew that drips in diamond earrings from the heads of a riot of multicoloured flowers, nodding happily between the blades of endless acres of sweet-smelling grasses and stout, shady trees, or the foam-tipped, pie-crust edges of the vast expanse of dappled royal blue and aquamarine ocean that laps gently and rhythmically at the borders of his property. He tries to decide whether it's possible to have a meaningful relationship with any of the creatures roaming freely on his land, but, strangely enough, none of the animals meets his particular requirements.

Since 'the fall' hasn't yet occurred, the job spec is fairly straightforward at this stage - someone who will share his heart, body, soul and mind. Only later, once the human rot has set in, does he add cook, dishwasher, cleaner, childminder and general drudge to the list, someone to run the home and kids to free him to be the successful leader, to iron his shirts so that he looks the part, to fill his belly so that he doesn't suffer malnutrition on the way up, and to meet his bodily needs by becoming a sex strumpet in the bedroom as the clock turns midnight.

For most of the twentieth century, particularly after two world wars when women showed how tough and competent they could be, given the opportunity, a wife in the parlour contributed to a man's success. Singleness was not an advantage in the career stakes. Marriage meant upward mobility and a pay rise. He, in turn, kept a policy in the bottom drawer, providing for the little woman in the event of her being careless enough to lose her man. I remember as a child in the 1950s that when women did indeed face the trauma and ignominy of being without their breadwinner - for far less noble reasons than an unpredictable death - they often discovered that, despite their years of selfless service, when the bounder left them for a younger model they were in fact destitute, and since he hadn't done them the favour of dying, they were unable to claim the benefits of insurance.

The early part of the twentieth century could be cruel to women. Yet this rigid middle-class division of roles - the superior male doing the work, the inferior woman seeing to his domestic needs - was regarded as a Christian principle, supported by the Church and often based on an extremely convenient misinterpretation of the creation story in the book of Genesis.

Woman is the image of her Father

In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27 NIVI

The first account of creation in Genesis 1 reveals an amazing truth. Individually and corporately, men and women are repro versions of their Father in heaven. We have his capacity to love, laugh and form intimate relationships. We are his ambassadors or representatives. Small wonder God is so hard on graven images. Who needs them? 'You want to know what I'm like?' he asks all created beings. 'Then all you have to do is take a look in the mirror to see the pinnacle of my creative powers.'

Male and female are entirely separate beings, yet incomplete without each other. Both are given dominion over the created order and are told to reproduce. They are different biologically for reproductive purposes, but in no other obvious way. In fact, they are more alike than different - made from the same design, of the same stuff, two sides of the same coin, the image of the Father and Creator.

So how was it possible for the great Early Church Father Augustine to write in the fourth century AD, 'The woman herself alone is not the image of God, whereas the man alone is the image of God as fully and completely as when the woman is joined with him'? As early as the second century AD, Origen, the founder of systematic theology, said, 'What is seen with the eyes of the creator is masculine, and not feminine, for God does not stoop to look at what is feminine and of the flesh.'

How could they wilfully ignore what was written in the first chapter of the Bible? The key is in the writings of yet another second-century Christian sage. Clement of Alexandria said, 'Nothing for men is shameful, for man is endowed with reason; but for woman it brings shame even to reflect on what her nature is.' The Early Church Fathers, steeped in classical Greek culture, admired reason above all other human qualities. It followed, then, that for them, being made in the image of God meant that, unlike the animals, man had an intellect - he was an eminently reasonable being. Man, here, is the operative, not generic word. It was abundantly clear to every man that woman wasn't reasonable. She was irrational and incomprehensible, given to sudden mood swings and strange intuitions. You couldn't talk to a woman man to man. There was no way, then, that she could have been made in the image of God. Whatever the book of Genesis said, it was manifestly obvious that she was intellectually inferior, and a lesser being spiritually.

It never seems to have occurred to the Early Fathers that it takes a very practical, rational person to run a home, a husband, children, a dog, a rabbit and a budgie, let alone fulfil the other jobs most women do. It never seems to have crossed their minds that men simply don't understand women's logic. Instead, they reasoned, women's so-called moods, their contrariness, their sheer illogicality, must have something to do with that monthly mystery they found so distasteful. Nowhere in the Bible is there any suggestion that female hormones, whether they're kind or contrary, have any major effect on our ability to make decisions. Yet until recently in the West, and still in many Muslim countries, that imagined monthly emotional nosedive has meant that women have been deemed unsuited to certain jobs - usually ones that involve thinking.

The tragedy is that the clear and special message at the beginning of creation, the innate equality of men and women, was entrusted to all those with eyes to see it, no longer blinkered by history and culture and the fall from grace that was to come - in other words, the Church. It certainly isn't preached by orthodox Judaism, or Islam, or Hinduism, which all put a far greater value on boys than girls. For instance, from a Muslim point of view:

A woman should conceal her husband's secrets. If she is experiencing a difficult time she should not reveal this to anyone. She should always express joy so that the husband is not grieved. In this manner she will win him over and her respect will increase in his sight.

A successful wife is one that recognises the husband's nature. You should try and understand his temperament. If he is angry do not utter something that will increase his anger. Always watch his mood before speaking. If he responds to jokes by expressing happiness then continue doing so, otherwise not. If he is displeased with you, do not sit with a sullen face. Instead, plead with him for forgiveness and try to win him over whether it is your fault or not. This will result in his love increasing for you.

Sadly, instead of proclaiming a radically different message from Islam, the Christian Church banged the same drum.

The abuse of creation and the environment is deplorable, but the wholesale tyranny of men over women throughout the world is even worse. In many developing countries women die in childbirth, often because the man still has to give his permission for his wife to have a Caesarian section and is missing at the crucial moment. Anne Garden, consultant gynaecologist at the Liverpool Women's Hospital, who has also worked in India, told me she discovered that, 'When men own women's bodies they abuse them'. She claims to be the world's most reluctant feminist, but seeing how dispensable women can be changed her mind - at least about campaigning for the rights of women overseas.

In the Afghanistan of the 1960s women had the vote. In the 1980s seven women were members of parliament. Before the mujahedin took power in 1992, 50 per cent of university students in Kabul were female. They were interested in fashion, wore make-up and miniskirts and took education and a career for granted, much as women in the West do. In 1996, when the Taliban filled the power vacuum created by the Russians, women were threatened with a lashing if they dared leave the home without being robed from head to toe in the heavy, scratchy burqa with its small, crocheted grille that barely allows the wearer to breathe, let alone see out. Professional women were denied any right to their careers and ended up destitute, begging on the streets for food for their children. One in four women died giving birth in filthy, infested maternity hospitals. Education for girls was forbidden. Half of the population were dehumanized and made invisible. And while their world closed down around them, we in the Western world forgot them, too hidebound by personal political considerations to care - until our worlds collided.

In fact, contrary to what we would like to believe, the culture has changed very little since the Taliban lost control. Women are still the property of their husbands and are often subject to domestic violence. In some places little girls have had acid thrown in their faces as they walk to school, young women are beaten if they appear in public without the burqa, twelve-and thirteen-year-olds are sold into marriage to much older men and, as wife number three or four, end up as servants.

In this day and age a woman can still face death by stoning for having a child after she has been raped. Female circumcision is becoming more, not less, prevalent. In Saudi Arabia fifteen teenage girls were burned to death in a school fire, as the religious police would not allow them to flee the building unveiled. But the oppression of women hardly receives any political consideration, though we would be naive to think it couldn't happen to millions more women, even in the West.

So when the Early Church Fathers turned their backs on the message of equality in Genesis, they failed to lead the Church in fulfilling part of its special commission, and therefore failed the world. What a radical message it was. It challenges the reduction of the female to a commodity and the wholesale abuse of girls and women everywhere - by inferior status and lack of human rights, genital mutilation, child prostitution, sexual exploitation and domestic violence.

Throughout history, Christian women, mostly acting alone or in small, radical, often despised groups, have attacked basic injustices to achieve suffrage, improve the lot of prostitutes and proclaim new freedoms such as unbound feet. Largely, however, the Church dropped the ball. The feminist movement caught it before it touched the ground and ran with it. They rose to the challenge laid down by early Christian feminists, changed basic attitudes in Western countries to divorce, domestic violence, child abuse and rape, then went way beyond the God-given remit, claiming that women were morally superior and men dispensable. In today's post-feminist era, men in the West are struggling to redefine what it means to be a male in this strange new world, while the Church, at least twenty-five years behind the times, still can't decide whether and what a woman should be allowed to do, and blames feminists for creating the problem in the first place. Before Christians lay many of society's ills at that particular door, we need to take account of what they did achieve, and grieve for the trophy that should have been ours.

Man's little helper? It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. Genesis 2:18

It is the second, more detailed account of creation in Genesis 2 - 'I will make [Adam] a helper suitable for him' - that is used to justify the notion that woman was an afterthought, a PS at the end of God's correspondence. That one little English word, 'helper', appears to be the root of the problem - a justification for relegating woman to a supporting role. Of course, it could be argued that God's first attempt at creating humankind was a trial run, that he took one look at Adam, stood back, scratched his head and said, 'I must be able to do better than that!' - but that wouldn't be very generous.

The Hebrew for helper is ezer, used fifteen times in the Hebrew Scriptures, fourteen of them to refer to God himself. Ezer is used in Psalm 30:10, where the writer cries out, 'O Lord, be my help', and in Psalm 54:4, where he proclaims that God is indeed his helper. If God is our helper, is he therefore inferior to the humans he has made, a general factotum and servant? No doubt like any father he may have to change our nappies and clear up our messes from time to time, but that doesn't make him subordinate to us, an enabler of all our little schemes and projects, ambitions and goals, much as we're tempted to behave as if he was.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Woman-The Full Story by Michele Guinness Copyright © 2003 by Michele Guinness. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements..........................................................................9
Sometimes It's Hard to Be a Woman.........................................................13
Part 1: The Kosher Woman - A Jewish, Matriarchal Heritage
1 The Life-Giving Woman...................................................................27
2 The Manipulative Woman..................................................................55
3 The Assertive Woman.....................................................................81
Part 2: The Christian Woman - A Liberating, Life-Changing Inheritance
4 A Woman of Little Status?...............................................................107
5 The Silent Woman?.......................................................................133
6 The Submissive Woman?...................................................................167
Part 3: The Contemporary Woman - Living our Bequest in Today's World
7 The Sexual Woman........................................................................199
8 The Mothering Woman.....................................................................233
9 The Working Woman.......................................................................263
10 A Woman of Experience and Maturity.....................................................293

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

'An astute, humorous and moving insight into the lives of women from Eve to the 21st century woman...An enormous amount of valuable research has gone into the writing of this book, including anecdotes of the lives of pioneering women, such as Gladys Aylwood and Mary Slessor, whose courage is earth-shattering and a profound lesson for us all. They prove that we can all have a voice and that a few can make a difference for many...I underlined pearls of wisdom on nearly every page!' -- Fiona Castle

'Michele Guinness discusses the important issues for Christians today, both women and men. Her writing is perceptive, informed and challenging -- a blend of personal experience and biblical and sociological insights -- full of the wisdom, spiced with wit, we have come to expect from her.' -- Bishop Michael Nazir- Ali

'A terrific tour de force. It will get under your skin, challenge your assumptions, make you laugh at your silly prejudices and dare you to live equally alongside the wonder that is woman.' -- Russ Parker

'A delightfully humorous biography. Graphic revelations and great insights. Challenging, very readable and refreshingly original. Sell your bed and buy this book! You will love it!' -- David Pytches

'If there is one book that will really serve to liberate women from centuries of male dominated Bible interpretation, it's this one! This book provides a truly emancipating reading experience -- both for women who have been bound by masculine misreadings, and for men who have misinterpreted the true picture of women provided in the Bible. I cannot recommend this book more enthusiastically. It is beautifully written and immensely perceptive. Its greatest strength lies in the fact that its author comes at the Bible texts from a Jewish perspective, thereby exposing the true context and meaning of Biblical passages about women. Every woman and man should read this!' -- Mark Stibbe

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