Woman: Man's Equal Part 3

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The more frequently the Hebrews relapsed into idolatry, the less inclined were they to allow women their legitimate privileges. The administrators of the laws constantly curtailed female liberty, tenaciously exacting from them the service and obedience of slaves. A woman, even among the Jews, must have had no small amount of both courage and wisdom, to have surmounted the difficulties which hedged up the path to fame and honor, and risen to the distinction which some of them reached. “The rabbins”–not Moses–“taught that a woman should know nothing but the use of her distaff.” Their idea of the education fitting for a woman was, that she should understand merely how to manage the work of a house; in other words, know nothing but how to minister to the appet.i.tes or whims of her husband, regarding him as her lord, her irresponsible master. Rabbi Eliezer said, “Let the words of the law be burned rather than that they should be delivered to a woman.” Why, we wonder? Because they might, if they read it, learn what privileges it accorded them, and perhaps claim them–a state of things to be prevented by any means, no matter how unscrupulous.

Notwithstanding the teachings of the rabbins, however, and dark as was the day just prior to the coming of the Messiah, we find a woman who was prophesying in the temple even then. The prediction of Anna the prophetess is mentioned in the New Testament without a word of censure on the unwomanliness of her conduct, or her profanation of the temple by it. Modern writers would perhaps have been wiser, and treated her with what they considered deserved contempt.


[Footnote F: Gen. i, 26, 27, 28.]

[Footnote G: Gen. ii, 18, 20, 21, 22.]

[Footnote H: For the original meaning of the word _woman_ see Dr. Clarke on Genesis ii, 23.]

[Footnote I: Gen. vi, 6.]

[Footnote J: Clarke on Exodus xxi, 7.]


New Testament Teachings.

In this enlightened age, the sentiment of the Rabbi Eliezer, that the law should be burned rather than delivered to women, would be execrated by the right-minded of every Christian country. But was such a sentiment any farther from right, either in theory or practice, than are those held and openly avowed by some of the advocates of the theory of the inferiority of women; who, while a.s.serting that these inferior creatures are, by the const.i.tution of their minds, incapable of comprehending the meaning of a law, yet hold them equally accountable with men–who are supposed to understand all about it–for any violation of that law? If, indeed, there is any difference made in the punishment of delinquents, the greater severity is most frequently meted out to the woman.

Those who insist on the absolute, unqualified subjection of women to the opposite s.e.x, and place them in a subordinate place in the Christian Church, persistently quote the writings of St. Paul as authority for the position which they take. We apprehend that the great apostle to the Gentiles is as wrongfully misapprehended and misrepresented by certain cla.s.ses of believers now, as he was by the Jews at the memorable time when he was brought before Felix. Paul, therefore, must “answer for himself in the things whereof he is accused.”

In I Cor. xi, 3-5, he says to the Church at Corinth: “But I would have you know that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is G.o.d. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman that prayeth or _prophesieth_ with her head uncovered, dishonoreth her head.” Here is a positive direction given to a _woman_, as to the manner of her procedure when she either prayed or prophesied in public, and not a prohibition of either act, as we might expect from the rendering given by many divines.

Christ is the head of the man, because he is the first-born from the dead–the Redeemer of mankind–and because “he was before all things, and by him all things consist.” Having made provision for the life of the world, he is therefore ent.i.tled to the love, devotion, and fidelity of man. Christ is also mentioned under the figure of the vine, of which his people are the branches.

Man is the head of the woman, because he was before her; and because, being physically stronger, he has been const.i.tuted her protector. A man, therefore, is to love his wife ever as himself, with an unselfish intensity, only to be compared with the love which Christ bears to his Church; and the wife is bound by the same sacred law to be, in heart and practice, undeviating in her love and fidelity to her husband.

“And the head of Christ is G.o.d.” Is Christ therefore not equal with G.o.d?

Is there superiority and inferiority between the Father and the Son? If because the apostle declares that the man is the head of the woman, the proposition is to be taken for granted that, in consequence, she is not his equal but an inferior, we may, with equal propriety and fairness, quote the same text to prove, and prove as conclusively, that the Son is not equal with, but is inferior to, the Father. G.o.d may be understood to be the head of Christ in regard to his manhood, and that only. The Scriptures amply testify that he is not only co-eternal with the Father, but coequal with him as well. There is neither inferiority nor superiority in the Divine nature between the Father and the Son; and so also, since man and woman are derived from one nature, being both human, there is neither superiority nor inferiority between them. They are coequal.

Is there, then, no distinction made between the s.e.xes in the text?

Certainly there is. Men were directed to remove their caps or turbans when they prayed or prophesied in public, while women, on the contrary, were to remain with their heads covered; that is, to keep veiled when they prayed or prophesied in public. The latter, it is evident, was simply a prudential or local arrangement. Throughout the East, and more especially in heathen countries, it was the custom for women to be veiled when they made their appearance in public; but immodest women not unfrequently violated the usage, appearing in public unveiled. In the state of society then in Corinth, for a Christian woman to have appeared in public, or to have taken any prominent part in an a.s.sembly with her head uncovered, would have placed her in a false position before unbelievers, both Jews and Gentiles. That their liberty under the Gospel, then, might not be made occasion of offense by gainsayers, against the cause of Christ, that their good should not be evil spoken of by the profane mult.i.tude, the apostle counseled them to submit to the usages and restraints which the customs of the times and place imposed on women, wherever the usages or restraints so imposed were not in themselves sinful. In the same spirit he returned Onesimus to his master; not that he thereby gave his sanction to slavery, but in this, as other directions regarding civil affairs, advising submission to the existing state of things, “that the Gospel be not blamed.” The effecting of civil or political reforms, however much they might be needed, was not the immediate object of Paul’s preaching or writing. His grand, all-absorbing business was to proclaim the Gospel in all its fullness, trusting to its benign influence to right every wrong. There is no doubt Paul clearly understood and did not intend to controvert the declaration of the prophet Joel (ii, 28), which was quoted by Peter as being one evidence of the ushering in of the Christian dispensation (Acts ii, 17, 18): “And it shall come to pa.s.s in the last days, saith G.o.d, I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my spirit, and they shall prophesy.” “The last days” evidently means the Gospel dispensation; and this text alone, twice given by inspiration, even if there were no other, would establish the right of women to all the immunities and ordinances of the Christian Church.

I Cor. xiv, 34, 35, is always presented by the opponents of women’s privileges as positive proof that women should not take a public part in religious worship: “Let your women keep silence in the churches, for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home, for it is a shame for a woman to speak in the Church.”

In the pa.s.sage first quoted in this chapter, Paul gives explicit directions for the manner in which women should be arrayed while speaking in the Church. Since, then, there can be no contradiction in the Word of G.o.d, and we have positive proof that women did speak in public a.s.semblies by permission of the apostles, nothing remains but to reconcile the two texts so apparently contradictory, by ascertaining to what kind of a public a.s.sembly the apostle had reference in the text last quoted. By reference to the verses preceding this text in the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians, it will be seen that the apostle is pointing out the impropriety and unprofitableness of speaking in unknown tongues; and of the contention and disorder that then existed at Corinth. False teachers had caused dissension and tumults in the Church; and, besides, the whole system of Christianity was violently a.s.sailed by both the Jews and the pagans. The disciples at Corinth were in the midst of a great controversy. According to Eastern ideas, it was an outrage upon propriety and decency, not only for a woman to take part by publicly asking questions, or teaching in any such disorderly a.s.sembly, but even for her to be present therein. To avoid the very appearance of evil, they were to absent themselves from these contentious meetings because it was a shame for a woman to speak or contend in such riotous a.s.semblies. It is more than probable that Christian women had done so prior to this; and therefore Paul warns them against such improprieties; not, however, forbidding them to pray or prophesy in the Church, providing they “covered their heads.” The Gospel proclaims an equal freedom to all; Paul earnestly a.s.serting (Gal.

in, 28), that “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” Nevertheless, lest the cause of G.o.d should be hindered by women a.s.serting their Christian liberty, by speech or action, he desired them to comply with the common usages of the society in which they lived, where those usages were not in themselves immoral or contrary to the Word of G.o.d. Kindred to I Cor. xiv, 34, 35, and referring to the same thing, is I Tim. ii, 11, 12: “Let the women learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” For a woman to attempt any thing either in public or private that man claimed as his peculiar function, was strictly prohibited by Roman law; and Christian women, as well as men, were to be submissive to the “powers that be.” Those who contend, from their rendering of these texts, that women are prohibited by them from taking part in the public worship of G.o.d, to be consistent, should also insist that they must not enter the house of G.o.d at all; because they are as strictly charged by Paul to remain at home and learn in silence from their husbands, as to refrain from speaking.

Now, if women are to be silent in the Church; that is, if they are neither to pray, speak, nor sing in public–for singing is certainly one method of conveying instruction to those who hear, and is therefore teaching them how to ascribe praise to G.o.d–if they are, upon Scriptural authority, to know nothing but what they may learn from their husbands at home,–then our whole system of civilized education with regard to women is out of place; we had better borrow a leaf from the Turks or Chinese. Girls here are sent to school, and encouraged to exert their mental energies to the utmost in acquiring knowledge. Both mothers and daughters are taken to church, and if they have tuneful voices they are expected to sing; all of which is manifestly improper and unchristian, if women are to receive all religious instruction from their “husbands at home” only, and in silence. The taking of women to church, or indeed out of the house, therefore, is exposing them to the temptation of hearing and receiving instruction from unauthorized lips; for–fearfully depraved though it may be in the sight of some–women are quite as p.r.o.ne as men to listen to what is told them and to remember what they hear, and–worse still–to reason out difficult problems for themselves.

And what is to be done for widows, or poor women who have never been blessed with husbands? Are they to go down to death in heathenish darkness, because the genial light of a husband’s countenance has ceased to shine upon them, or, perhaps, has never done so? Must unmarried women forever continue in ignorance of the glorious Gospel of Christ, because they have no husbands to teach them? As girls, according to such a rendering, they ought not to have learned any thing; for a father’s teaching–if it were proper for him to give it–and a husband’s might differ widely. Besides, what is to be done for those women who are blessed with husbands incapable of teaching them; or, as is notoriously so frequently the case, who choose rather to spend their time in places of disreputable character than at their homes with their families!

Such a rendering of these texts as is frequently given, and the homilies derived therefrom, are an outrage upon common sense. They are at variance with the direct teachings of St. Paul, and contrary to what the Scriptures prove to have been his practice. Surely, none will dare to accuse the apostle of inconsistency; and yet we have his own testimony that Phoebe was a “servant of the Church at Cenchrea;” that is, she was a deaconess, having a charge at Cenchrea. Priscilla, quite as much as Aquila, was Paul’s helper in “Christ Jesus,” acknowledged by him as such. Priscilla was a.s.sociated with Aquila in “expounding the way of G.o.d more perfectly to Apollos.” (Acts xvii, 62.) Strange that the great Apollos should receive religious instruction from a woman; stranger still, if it were contrary to the will of G.o.d, that she was permitted to give it! Why was she not severely rebuked for her presumption, and put in her place, and taught to keep silence, as becometh a woman? On the contrary, creditable mention is made of the fact that she did instruct him, and that through that instruction he was made useful to the world; and all this upon the authority of inspiration, without one word of censure as to her unwomanliness. Over and over again, Paul names her in his salutations.

In Philippians iv, 3, he entreats help for certain women, counting them as fellow-laborers. “Help,” says he, “those women which labored with me in the Gospel.” Honorable mention, too, is made by name of Tryphena, Tryphosa, and of the beloved Persis, who “labored much in the Lord.”

Philip had four daughters which “did prophesy” (Acts xxi, 19); and we nowhere hear of their being forbidden to do so. If Paul, influenced as he was by the Holy Spirit, had designed to prevent women from attending religious meetings, or taking a public part therein, when there would he have allowed all this laboring and prophesying and instructing to go on?

Instead of stopping it, however, he at different times commends Phoebe and her sister-laborers to the kind regards of other Churches. Let the utterances of Paul be properly and fairly interpreted, and it will be manifest that men and women are one in Christ Jesus. Decidedly, it is wrong for a woman to usurp authority over the man; and just as decidedly wrong is it for a man to usurp authority over the woman. According to history, the office of deaconess continued until between the eleventh and twelfth centuries, when, the midnight of the Dark-Ages having come, it was abolished in both the Greek and Latin Churches. Which s.e.x usurped authority in that case?

The next point coming under consideration is Paul’s direction to the Ephesian Church: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church: and he is the Savior of the body. Therefore as the Church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” (Eph. v, 22-24.)

From the verses preceding this quotation, and those following, it is evident the apostle had reference to the marriage covenant, and not to the inferiority of woman or superiority of man. Fidelity of wives to their husbands was the thing being enjoined; hence the comparison between the marriage state and the Church of Christ. As the Church was to be pure from idolatry, acknowledging but one G.o.d, even the Father, and Jesus Christ his Son, so the wife was to be pure, submitting herself only to her husband. It is not surprising that, in planting the Christian Church, such directions should be given to its members, gathered in as they were from a dark, immoral pagan world, where the marriage tie was so lightly regarded. The husband should be to his wife the earthly “munition of rocks.” It is in this sense that the man is the head of the woman and the Savior of her body. The apostle continues: “So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies.” “Let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.” Not worship him; but treat him with marked and becoming respect, making his interest her own, loving him above every earthly object, and seeking his happiness in every possible manner. It is in this mutual sense that a wife is to be subject to her husband in every thing. Even the greatest sticklers for the absolute subjection of women explain the latter clause of the text by adding the word _lawful_. If a woman’s husband is to be her irresponsible lord, to whom she is to go for instruction, who is the qualified judge of what is lawful? But the reasoning of the entire question as given in the chapter, portions of which have been quoted, does not bear out the a.s.sertion that the wife is mentally inferior to her husband, or that he has any right to treat her as such. She is neither his servant nor his slave, so far as G.o.d’s law is concerned. The wife has the same right to expect fidelity from her husband that he has to expect it from her. The covenant of marriage is a mutual one, equally binding on both.

The injunction to the Ephesians concerning the relations in the married state is also given to the Colossians, very evidently relating to the same thing: love and unwavering fidelity between man and wife. Peter also enjoins the subjection of wives in his First Epistle, third chapter, first and second verses; but he also explains that this subjection is chast.i.ty, mild and gentle conversation, that their husbands, if not Christians, might be won over by them. In this very injunction there is a supposition by the apostle that the husband and wife might be of different faith, that she might have learned something not taught by him, and have been in a position to instruct him; and by her chast.i.ty, her love and gentleness, and her instructions–coupled with fear for his state out of Christ–might succeed in winning him to the truth.

Though Christianity greatly purified the moral atmosphere of the world, and caused those embracing it to renounce polygamy, yet even those who had become Christian clung to the false a.s.sumptions and arbitrary prerogatives claimed by men while yet in heathen darkness. To reconcile women to the injustice done them, or to overawe them into submission, it was sought to make them believe that the disabilities of their condition were by Divine appointment, though this doctrine the apostles took pains to correct.

A lamentable amount of infidelity has been engendered by the manner in which the Scriptures have been distorted to make them seem to sanction almost every social and civil wrong. They have been quoted as authority for the absolute subjection of woman; and, with equal fairness, for servile submission to despotic monarchs, for the use of intoxicating drinks, for the burning of heretics, and for the justification of slavery. Within a very few years past, these very Epistles have been brought forward to prove the “sum of all villainies” a G.o.d-given boon to man, the slave included–Colossians iii, 22, being deemed unanswerable.

Those who advocated the cause of human freedom, who desired the privilege of worshiping G.o.d according to the dictates of their own consciences, who strove to drive intemperance from the land, or who pleaded for the liberty of the slave, were alike denounced as advocating what was contrary to the revealed will of G.o.d; and in like manner, now, are those denounced who advocate the perfect equality of woman with man.

With regard to political and religious freedom, the cause of temperance, and the slavery question, time has proved that the Lord of Hosts, so far from being against, was on the side of, those who advocated these great reforms, and led them on to victory; and there is no reason to doubt that this last reform will, by the same hand, be led to similar triumph.

It is continually objected, that infidels, immoral men, and women of ill-repute, array themselves upon the side of equal rights to women: so do infidels, libertines, and women lost to shame, array themselves against it; therefore, the one counterbalances the other.

But suppose this were not so, to what would the objection amount? The cause of human freedom has more than once been advocated by rank infidels; but did G.o.d therefore curse a cause good in itself, because wicked men and women for once saw clearly, and said they thought that cause right and reasonable? History answers, No. The children of this generation were simply wiser than many of the children of light. The same may be said of each of the other reforms. The abolition of slavery had its infidel advocates; so had the temperance movement, etc.; and these advocates have to a certain extent damaged their respective causes by their advocacy of them; yet the tide of human progress has been onward. A claim which is based upon justice may be injured by an extravagant, irreverent, or profane advocacy; but it is still a just claim, and as such, without respect to its advocates, ent.i.tled to recognition.

Polygamy, slavery, drunkenness, and the doctrine of the inferiority of woman to man, are all alike the offspring of sin–all alike relics of barbarism–alike the enemies of G.o.d and human freedom.

Long-established prejudices and old usages, no matter how false and oppressive, are, like the everlasting hills, hard to be removed. But, as the mountains themselves have been overcome by skill and hard work, and the valleys are being filled by persevering toil; as the crooked is being made straight and the rough places plain, so that the people of this mighty continent may travel with ease in palace-cars from sea to sea; so must the strong barriers of prejudice, ignorance, misrepresentation, and indifference, be removed by the force of truth and sound reason, and women be admitted to their legitimate position in society, with equal prerogatives accorded to them, that they may thereby more perfectly exert their natural influence in improving the world.


Woman Before the Law.

The fact that men and women are held amenable to the same Divine law, and held equally accountable for any infraction of it, and that human law, with regard to criminal actions, is based upon the same principle, clearly proves that G.o.d has created men and women, as a race, with equal mental and moral capacity, and that, so far as it suited them to do so, men have acknowledged the equality in framing the laws, especially those relating to the punishment for crimes committed. It was only where masculine arrogance and selfishness were concerned, that the privileges of equality were denied to women; and they are still denied for the same reason. Such is man’s consistency. If women, because of their s.e.x–indeed, in consequence of it–are inferior to men in mental and moral capacity, then it is unjust to judge them by the same law; for where little is given little should be required. Imbecile men are not judged by the same code as men of sound mind. If men and women are mentally and morally equal–and we hold they are–then they are justly held to be equally accountable by the laws, provided they have been equally represented in the making of those laws; and if held equally accountable with men to the laws, they ought, in common justice, to be ent.i.tled to the enjoyment of equal immunities with men, and an equal voice in the making of the laws that are to govern them.

To urge that, because the house is the legitimate place for a woman, she is therefore inferior to man, and in consequence ought not to enjoy the same rights, is no more logical than to contend that, because the farm is the legitimate place for the farmer, he is therefore inferior to the lawyer, who is somewhat better skilled in legal lore, and that consequently the farmer is not ent.i.tled to equal political and religious rights and privileges with the lawyer; or that, because neither of these cla.s.ses understands the minutiae of housekeeping, therefore they are inferior to women, and in consequence not ent.i.tled to equal rights and privileges with them. Good housekeeping is quite as essential to the world’s good, and to the healthful development of humanity, as good farming or the proper construing of well-made laws, neither of which is to be undervalued. Where, then, is the inferiority?

It requires as much good judgment and tact to manage a house properly as it does to conduct a farm, make out a legal form, carry on an extensive commercial business, or attend to a banking establishment as it ought to be attended to; and quite as much wisdom and prudence are needed to rear up successfully and govern a family with discretion, as is needed in the government of a province or state. Indeed more practical good sense is shown in the government of the majority of those homes where the wife and mother is allowed to govern without interference, than is usually exhibited in the exclusively masculine government of states and empires.

It “is the mind that makes the man,” sings one of Britain’s most honored poets; the mind, not the social position he occupies. And so with woman; it is the mind, and not her local habitation or employment, that ent.i.tles her to consideration–that ent.i.tles her to equality, to justice. With equal advantages, women are no whit behind men in any thing except physical strength. Are men deprived of civil rights because some of them are puny?

It is an established fact that, where girls have had the same advantages, and often when they have had not nearly such good ones, they have maintained equally honorable positions in their cla.s.ses, frequently outstripping their masculine compet.i.tors in the literary contest.

Should any doubt that this can be done, all that is necessary, to prove the truth or falsity of the a.s.sertion, is to select any given number of boys and girls of average intellect, of the same or nearly the same ages, and afford precisely the same advantages to them all, for a given length of time, and then subject boys and girls to a like critical examination. Even with the disadvantages under which they labor in our ordinary and even higher schools, girls have surmounted the difficulties of their position, and without favor–indeed, in spite of ridicule, partiality, and opposition–have come out first in their examinations.

Send such a cla.s.s of young women as this to a university that will honestly admit them to all its advantages, and allow them to compete with the most studious young men admitted to the same university; let both enjoy precisely similar facilities throughout the entire course; and see if there will not be as many brilliant scholars who will graduate with honors among the women as among the men. It is said there are more talented men, more men eminent in science or in history, than there are women. Certainly. The advantage has all been on the side of the man, the disadvantage on the side of the woman; besides which, the doctrine that it is unwomanly to emerge from the retirement befitting her s.e.x into public notice has been preached so persistently, that many women truly great have shrunk from the ribald criticism–to use no stronger term–with which insolent men a.s.sailed them. Consequently, learned women have frequently given their works to the world anonymously, or allowed them to be attributed to their male relatives.

An instance in point is Miss Herschel. It is well known, not only that she gave her brother valuable a.s.sistance in his astronomical pursuits, but that some of the discoveries attributed to him were actually made by her; not because he wished to defraud her of the honor of her achievement, but because she shrank from public notice.

But history has given us the record of learned women enough to show that, with any thing like fair play, there would have been more. As it is, the list of them is longer–very much longer–than those given to decry their ability are willing to admit, or are perhaps aware of. The names of women are found who have been famous for the founding of empires, the carrying on successfully of civil governments, and the leading on to glorious victory of armies which, under the generalship of men, had suffered defeat after defeat, till they were not only disheartened, but almost disorganized; and yet a woman reorganized these shattered bands and roused them once more to determined action.

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