I was young not all that long ago and now it would be fair to say I am old. As I reflect on all the many significant changes that have taken place in the culture in the interim, society’s attitude to gender and sexuality has to be high up on the list. This goes along with an ever increasing pre-occupation with encouraging tolerance, ensuring equal opportunities for all and eliminating discrimination of any sort. I reflected on this in my book “Outside the Camp” and in subsequent blog postings. I became particularly aware of some of the issues when I got a lot more involved in community work, around 2000, and when I had to produce and enact equal opportunity policies (although these days much of this is enshrined in law, in particular the 2010 Equality Act). While seeing the negative side of such changes, and a culture of political correctness and fear turning against those who act with every good intention, yet have been deemed as miscreants for falling short in this area, the move toward a fairer and more just society is mainly a good thing, and we still have some way to go, especially in some less obvious areas such as in the case of carers and the socially excluded.
Regarding gender, I recall a time when many believed that a woman’s place was in the home with the man being the head of the house, and it was often the case that Fred Blogg’s wife was known as Mrs Fred Blogs, there was such a thing as men’s jobs and women’s jobs with little cross-over and in any case women were paid less than men, few woman were in positions of power, and most would have accepted the woman’s place was that of a home maker and saw the man’s place as being the bread winner, and so we can go on. Regarding sexuality, homosexuality was a criminal offence, there were very few who had “come out” as gay, and although there were a tiny few one knew or suspected as being gay, it was very much the exception and hardly ever spoken about. How things have changed! To a significant extent, that change has been reflected in the church, and while there remains significant opposition, most including more conservative ones have significantly embraced these changes. Back then, woman vicars did not exist and homosexuality was seen as an abomination. Some will argue, both for church and society, these changes have not gone far enough, although others, especially of a more traditional and conservative inclination, think these have gone too far, leaving them out on a limb, yet over the fifty odd years changes have been phenomenal. It is not my purpose here to reflect on those changes (readers can refer to my blogs for this) but I do wish to explore the relationship between gender and sexuality.
The obvious connection concerning these changes, as far as many are concerned is, by accepting equality of the sexes, homo- should be considered equal to heterosexual relationships, regarding which society has become a lot more fair and enlightened. Yet there is a further significant connection, encapsulated in the concept of gender neutrality – the idea that policies, language, and other social institutions should avoid distinguishing roles according to people’s sex or gender. The popular embracing of this idea has enormous, unrealized ramifications, which I would like to explore, although with a degree of trepidation, not wanting to pontificate on matters when I am not qualified to do. Some years ago, I was in room with some ardent feminists, who were pouring scorn on the once popular notion that baby girls should be dressed in pink and baby boys in blue. At the time, I decided discretion was the better part of valour and to avoid risking a lynching by voicing my dissent. Nowadays, examples of those advocating for gender neutrality in various ways can be found everywhere and in some ways this is to be welcomed if it stops people being unnecessarily stereotyped and disempowered according to their gender. To a large (some say full) extent, and besides that pertaining to the obvious biological differences, what men can be and do applies just as equally to women, and vice versa.
I get the impression that the new “cool” is to be bisexual and that it is quite ok to enjoy a sexual relationship with a member of one’s own sex as it is with a member of the opposite sex, based on the notion that love or lust does not depend on gender, especially as the non-biological differences between the sexes are inconsequential. I have also noticed that increasingly reference is being made to transgender issues and affording such the same considerations as we do to gay people. I confess my understanding on such matters needs working on, especially as to why someone who is born into the body of one sex should want to change sex, but the narrowing of perceived gender differences may have something to do with it. Nowadays, a story such as “couple raise child as ‘gender neutral’ to avoid stereotyping” will not be generally met with the same horror as once it would have, and most people will not blink an eyelid at such stories as “Debenhams drops ‘sexist’ toy labels: Parent’s don’t want children to feel pressurised into picking gender-specific options”. One article that particularly interested me, and was what sparked this blog, concerns a story about the recently appointed first female bishop to the House of Lords titled: “God is not male or female, says female bishop”, and the bishop being taken to task by the conservative Christian group that posted this story. It got me thinking what God might have to say about all these matters.
I am not going to do a deep theological analysis on what exactly we should believe about gender and sexuality and the move to remove some of the traditionally held distinctions between the sexes. I am mindful though that we are living in a time when those who dare talk about male headship are castigated by the wider society as being chauvinistic misogynists and those who state the view that marriage should be only between one man and one woman are vilified as bigoted homophobes. Even in the church, confusion and differences abound. Yet for people like me, while I recognise that some of the changes we are now seeing are necessary, what God says about these things, particularly in the Bible, is all important. Without wanting to over-elaborate or insert my own ideas, I will focus my attention on the first three chapters of the first book (Genesis) of the Bible.
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (1:26-28)
“Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed”. (2:20-25)
“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee”. (3:16)
From these verses I conclude:
- God should be addressed as He (and later on we learn as Father).
- There are clear distinctions between man and woman, not just biological ones.
- Man and woman should be regarded as equal, yet different and complementary.
- There is a case for male headship within the family setting.
- Marriage is about companionship and procreation, between a man and a woman.
- Marriage should only be between one man and one woman, as well as being a lifelong covenant.
- Gender neutral was not something envisaged when God created everything – one is either “He” or “She”