Essay on Women Clergy

Posted in Sample Essay

Within the hustle and bustle of contemporary life, times of personal reflection and assessment are rare. Whether it is when we learned to ride a bicycle on our own, the first time we felt love or hate, or when we first developed a passion for something like chocolate or jazz – these memories form part of our personal identity. The issue of women and religion was challenging sociologists for centuries because this role has been changing from passive and ignored to active and respected many times with the overall tendency to count women as those who do not have any privileges before men in clergy issues.

The history of female sexuality remains for the most part “terra incognito”. Only in the last century or so have women themselves openly discussed their sexuality in ways that are accessible to historians. Another problem has been that for most of human history, the written word has been largely a male preserve, so we, women, are almost always perceived through the distorting lens of men. In my opinion, women undoubtedly have always talked about sex and passed on information and misinformation to their daughters and friends. But this oral tradition, as regards past periods, is hidden from us. Anyway, literature can clue a reader into the values, morals, traditions, and beliefs of the time. It is through literature that we can discover how our ancestors lived and thought. That is why I have considered some literary sources to provide some evidence of what historians say about female sexuality in the Middle Ages and Victorian Age.

The history of female sexuality remains for the most part “terra incognito”. Only in the last century or so have women themselves openly discussed their sexuality in ways that are accessible to historians. Another problem has been that for most of human history, the written word has been largely a male preserve, so we, women, are almost always perceived through the distorting lens of men. In my opinion, women undoubtedly have always talked about sex and passed on information and misinformation to their daughters and friends. But this oral tradition, as regards past periods, is hidden from us. Anyway, literature can clue a reader into the values, morals, traditions, and beliefs of the time. It is through literature that we can discover how our ancestors lived and thought. That is why I have considered some literary sources to provide some evidence of what historians say about female sexuality in the Middle Ages and Victorian Age.

Middle Ages women and sexuality In general, the attitude in the 14th century to sexuality was simple: sex was bad. Virginity and chastity were held as the number one ideals and to achieve total purity you would have to stay a virgin for life. Marriage was approved as obviously people needed to reproduce and because it was better than having sex with everyone and anyone. The Catholic Church spread two very different ideas about women: that they should be pure and holy like the Virgin Mary and, like that Eve, they could not be trusted and were a moral danger to men. Such religious teaching led men both to worship and also to look down on women and also led women to give in to men’s authority. Apart from the religious matter, we have the fact of macho attitudes being women considered secondary to men and inferior. Thus, taking into account the inequality of roles existing in this period I have- like many others for sure – wondered, whether medieval women really enjoyed sex. After doing some research I have found out that the answer could be yes or no.

Considering the physiological structures for attaining sexual pleasure, anthropologists and medical doctors have recognized that medieval women were physically capable of enjoying sex, unless, of course, they were subject to the mutilation of the female organs. But this was never a practice in Western Europe. However, they also recognized that there were physical impediments to this enjoyment. Certain conditions could have interfered with their sexual pleasure: chronic ill health, dirt, a poor diet and heavy labor. There were also social and psychological barriers to sexual pleasure, especially for women. During the Middle Ages the society and culture denied its value and validity. Then, many women might have well be inhibited from accepting their own sexuality. The Catholic Church, a very powerful cultural arbiter of the day, was deeply suspicious of sexuality in general and female sexuality in particular. The clergy preached that sex should only occur for the purposes of procreation, not for pleasure -As I see it, the Catholic Church still sustains this point of view and sometimes, specially supported by certain priests, it is overtly stated in services.

Chastity was one of the seven cardinal virtues, and lust one of the seven deadly sins. In their role as confessors, priests questioned husband and wife about their sexual practices and placed limits on when relations were appropriate. Enjoying sex too much was viewed as a sin, although a venial one– as opposed to a mortal sin. For women, virginity was the highest possible state, widowhood next best, with marriage coming in a distant third. Widows who chose to remarry were viewed with suspicion. Certainly these attitudes toward sexuality, if internalized, could well have inhibited women’s enjoyment of sex. On the other hand, there were countervailing intellectual forces at work that suggested a more positive view of female sexuality. One that may have encouraged sexual pleasure for women was the existing Galenic medical misunderstanding of reproduction. Galen insisted that it was imperative that the woman ejaculate her sperm for conception to succeed. Many physicians in the Middle Ages had adopted this concept of the existence of female sperm. Thus, it was important that the woman as well as the man have an orgasm, preferably simultaneously.

A downside of this belief was the insistence that a woman could not get pregnant from a rape and if she did, she was believed to have been a willing participant. But there is no conclusive evidence that the idea that a woman must have an orgasm in order to conceive was widespread. One literary source about sexual matters was written by Thomas Aquinas. He was a dominant scholastic thinker of the 13th century and he gives a rather sexist and misogynistic view –by the 20th century standards of course- of the predominant image of women and women’s place in medieval society. Aquinas felt that while men were inherently rational, emotion drove women’s minds, necessitating those others, wiser than they govern them. As a Dominican, Aquinas never married and though it is speculation, probably had minimal exposure to meaningful interactions with actual women.

We still live in a male-dominated society and sexuality is deeply engraved with male behavior patterns. There have been significant shifts in social attitudes, behavior and institutional regulations surrounding sexuality, especially since Freud opened the debate. But the fact is that the proposal that over the course of the twentieth century a sweeping sexual revolution progressively eroded Middle Ages and Victorian views of female sexuality supplanting them with more liberal views is not totally true. Some ideas of those periods remain in flux today. Until now women’s traditional sexual duty has been to give pleasure and satisfaction to men, and to give birth to children. This view of our sexual role is still very common and deeply rooted in different cultures.

Sexuality is nowadays discussed openly through the media, but this does not mean that we women have become more natural and relaxed about our sexuality. Certainly women have been encouraged to own and enjoy their sexuality more, including indulging in masturbation and lesbianism. They have been more willing to indulge in premarital sex and to cohabit with men without marriage. In these respects women are becoming more like men. On the other hand, in my view, most women are still dependent on men’s approval of their own self-approval and are fearful of being considered sexually “bad”. Women (and men) still condemn “promiscuous” women, though they do not have a similar standard for men. In this respect women are holding onto their traditional non-equalitarian sexual status.

Furthermore, many women still want men to treat them in the chivalrous manner which had its roots in a very non-equalitarian sexual orientation. At the same time they want to compete with and control men in a wide variety of human activities. Twentieth century science has uncovered that men are not more intelligent than women. Nor women are more intelligent than men. In this age of equality, sameness between the sexes is emphasized as though differences have to mean problems. Well, differences can mean problems, but only when they are not properly understood. The two sexes feel, think and act very differently in such areas as sex, intimacy, child rearing, and housework and so on. We, women and men, are different. But neither is better, neither is worse. We have to learn to understand that it is not a competition. We, women and men, belong together; we are complementary and necessary to one another.

Bibliography:

Lenora Sleep, Personal Encounters with Sociology, Religion, and Issues of Gender. Source:  Sociology of Religion, Winter 2000 v61 i4 p473.

Robin Albee, A Clergywoman of the New Generation: Evolving Interpretations of Gender and Faith. Source: Sociology of Religion, Winter 2000 v61 i4 p461.

Zoey A. Heyer-Gray, Gender and Religious Work. Source:  Sociology of Religion, Winter 2000 v61 i4 p467.

Adair T. Lummis and Paula D. Nesbitt, Women Clergy Research and the Sociology of Religion. Source:  Sociology of Religion, Winter 2000 v61 i4 p443.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. womanclergyErah
    Aug 30, 2011 @ 07:16:16

    While it is true women in this century are more liberated compared a century ago but the in truth women are still struggling to be considered liberated. As much as the church continues to its “domesticating women” and denying them to be an able partners in the life and ministry of the church, then women in the church have a lot lot more to do!

    Reply

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