As human beings, we mentally bank a variety of experiences and memories during our lifetime. A memorable experience for me occurred when I was in elementary school. We lived in Atlantic City, New Jersey for four years in the early 1950s. I remember my mother taking us to see the Miss America Pageant parade on the boardwalk. This venture enabled the parade watchers to see the Miss America contestants as they rode by in their respective vehicles. In recent days, however, I have been compelled to revisit this childhood experience because of what we see unfolding in our nation as we participate in the 2016 presidential election cycle.
In 1965 the theologian Harvey Cox published a book titled “The Secular City” that describes what Cox calls “The Girl.” He says in part, “…that The Girl is an idol. She functions as the source of value, the giver of personal identity. But the values she mediates and the identity she confers are both spurious. Like every idol she is ultimately a creation of our own hands and cannot save us.” In Cox’s assessment, Miss America represents The Girl.
Harvey Cox further notes that the “Playboy” magazine “does for the boys what Miss America does for the girls.” He argues that the boys “need a total image of what it means to be a man.” “For ‘Playboy’s’ man, others – especially women – are for him. They are his leisure accessories, his playthings. For the Bible, man only becomes fully man by being for the other.”
The above quotes suggest that there is a problem in American culture. The problem has to do with our lingering perceptions of women and how we treat women. The problem also relates to the designated place for women in our society. Historically, women tended to stay at home, and when women entered the workplace, there often seemed to be a glass ceiling when it came time to rise up the corporate ladder. Even today there is a serious issue of pay equity for women.
We have heard the term, misogyny, bounced around in this current political season. In plain language, misogyny is the hatred of women. Is there a hatred of women in the United States culture? Perhaps, hatred is too strong a term.
Let me venture to say, however, that it seems to me that there is a subtle anti-female sentiment that continues to manifest itself in our American culture. On the one hand, the woman is idolized. On the other hand, women are less appreciated when they step out of their traditional roles in the society.
It was not until 1920 that women were allowed to vote [Nineteenth Amendment] in the United States. The election in 1920 marked the first time that women were allowed to vote in the United States presidential election. Ninety-six years later a major political party has nominated a woman to run for the office of president of the United States.
The United States has not yet elected a female head of state, however dozens of countries around the world have had female heads of state at one time or the other over many decades. Sri Lanka elected a female head of state in 1960, while 20 years later the United Kingdom elected its first female prime minister. Switzerland has had five female presidents.
It was not until 1956 that the General Conference of the Methodist Church approved full clergy rights for women. Twenty-four years passed before Marjorie Matthews was elected and consecrated as the first female bishop in the United Methodist Church.
Why? Why has it taken so long to get the first female nominee for president, and why did it take so long before women were ordained in the UMC and a woman elected to the episcopacy? In the case of the UMC, there has been a cultural bias against women ministers that has been fostered by both men and women. It was my experience, as a district superintendent and a residential bishop, that there was often reticence, if not vocal resistance to the appointment of female pastors. To be sure, this was the exception and not the rule; yet, this cultural dynamic was real.
This same kind of cultural bias is present in our nation in general and in the current presidential election process in particular.
Women are not to be treated as “The Girl.” They are not to be treated as some kind of trophy. They are not to be physically abused, psychologically abused or sexually abused. In plain language, women must be treated with respect and dignity in the church and in the larger society.
The presidential election cycle should be devoid of any signs or symbols of misogyny.
Think about it!
Resource – Harvey Cox, “The Secular City. New York: The McMillan Co, 1965.