The second sex?

27-04-2012 10:39 AM

Angele Reda

There can be no two opinions on how far women have come in the 20th and 21st centuries. Neither can it be denied that the advancement of women never was an easy

There can be no two opinions on how far women have come in the 20th and 21st centuries. Neither can it be denied that the advancement of women never was an easy 
task, as millions of women would willingly testify; it has been an uphill trudge all the way. In Egypt, every gain by women was confronted with harsh resistance from many in the community who believed God created woman to be second to man. It was here that His Holiness the late Pope Shenouda III took a very definitive stance in championing the cause for gender equality.
Also in the image of God
In countless sermons and written articles, Pope Shenouda III condemned the diminishment of women’s status. He gave many commentaries which confirmed gender equality and the integration of the roles of men and women. 
Women were created in the image of God, the Pope explained; Eve just as Adam. In the first chapter of the Genesis, he reminded, it is said: “So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27). “In the image of God”, the Pope explained, does not imply the physical image but rather the spiritual and moral values such as piety, sanctity, and purity. Women, he said, were created in the image of God and are sensible living souls with immortal spirits.
Inferior? Never!  
Women are not inferior to men, the Pope insisted; in many instances they may even be superior. In one of his weekly sermons, Pope Shenouda was asked whether women were lesser than men. The audience was awed when he replied that the mentality of women is by no means inferior; this theory, he said, is supported by examples of great women in both ancient and modern times. Most importantly, Christianity does not differentiate between genders, he said.
Especially in Church, the Pope said, women frequently perform better than men. Most of those engaged in the Church’s charities are women. In the family, he reminded, many husbands cast the major responsibilities of child rearing and home-making on their wives’ shoulders.
In an article entitled “Quotes about women” and published in the Cairo weekly Akhbar al Youm, His Holiness compiled many proverbs about women. He took the side of women when he insisted that the proverbs, many of which were unflattering, were probably worded by men who were ruled by their own prejudices.
Women priesthood
When asked why women should not go into the chancel, the Pope said that entering the chancel was restricted to the chancel servants who are only priests and deacons. Nobody other than these two ranks is allowed inside, he said, regardless of gender.” 
As to the ordination of women priestesses, which is not allowed in the Coptic Church, the Pope said he believed the world was inadvertently rushing into amending the Scripture. Now that societies have modernised, advocates of feminism ask to modernise the Scripture and the teachings of the Church.
Yet, the Pope said, the non-ordination of women for the priesthood should not be taken to indicate they are any less than men; they have a different role to play, he said. Women, he explained, not only in modern times but since the oldest days of the Bible, were highly respected and venerated. There were prophetesses like Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron; Deborah, who was also a judge; and Huldah, in addition to queens like Esther and the Queen of Sheba, as well as Cleopatra and Hateshepsut. Yet none of these women were priestesses. 
The role women played during the time of Christ was significant, the Pope said. There was the Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalene who announced the Resurrection. Other women turned their houses into churches, like Mary, the mother of John (also called Mark); Lydia, the purple cloth dealer; Priscilla, Aquila’s wife; and Philip’s four daughters who prophesied. Despite the fact that Paul the Apostle mentioned many women in (Romans 16), he did not ordain any of them priestesses.
“Women can act as deacons and assist bishops in their service, like Phoebe the deaconess of the Church of Cenchreae; and Olympias, the deaconess of St John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople. In the modern Coptic Church, he reminded, women are in charge of social service, teaching women and children, painting icons, making clerical vestments, to mention but a portion of what they actually do.”The second sex-.jpg
Inheritance for men and women
In a now famous incident, the Pope had to answer a question by a man who said he was under pressure from his wife to divide his legacy between his son and daughter according to the rules of sharia (Islamic law). The laws of inheritance in Egypt follow sharia in case of both Muslims and Christians since there is no specific rule in Christianity on dividing legacies. According to the sharia, the share of a son is double that of a daughter. It has been the custom for Egyptian Christians to avoid this law, which they usually consider unfair, by making special financial arrangements so that their children would inherit evenly, regardless of their gender. 
Pope Shenouda advised the man not to follow his wife’s wish because it would give the son two thirds of the inheritance, leaving only one third to the daughter. He told him to follow his conscience rather than his wife’s advice which the man was obviously uncomfortable with.
Reading for all
In one of his articles about the importance of reading, Pope Shenouda asserted that reading could clear the mind from petty ideas. While the conversation of women who do not read revolve mainly around household chores, apparel and gossip; cultivated women can discuss interesting and profound subjects. This is equally true for men, he wrote; those who spend most of their time in coffee shops, clubs and places of entertainment are usually superficial, while men who read usually speak words of wisdom and benefit to others. “We strongly advocate the education of women,” the Pope wrote.
WATANI International
29 April 2012 
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