Monday, February 16, 2009

Men, control your womenfolk!

A couple of anecdotes arrived almost simultaneously in the inbox of my consciousness this weekend. I was teaching an adult Sunday school lesson on the book of Esther, and I had the radio on as I drove the 30 Km. to church.

First: Xerxes I as portrayed in the book of Esther is a drunken sot of a king who—although powerful—is swayed this way and that by his advisers. When his wife Vashti defies him one day, he asks his advisers what he should do to respond to this impertinence. Basically, their advice is that he divorce her, replace her with a new queen and make sure this action is noised abroad, so that “each man might be master in his own house and control all his own womenfolk (Esther 1: 22, NEB). Now we need to remember that Xerxes’ chief adviser at the time was Haman, portrayed as an egotistical, self-serving tyrant who would later connive to initiate a pogrom against all the Jews in Persia. We need to remember also that these events were reported by Jewish storytellers, not Persian.

As I was driving to church with these thoughts roiling around in my head, the dialogue on CBC 1 was about gender equality in corporate board rooms and government. By some measure—and I didn’t quite get by whom and how the measuring was being done—Canada was ranked 85th of 160 or so countries on the matter of working toward gender equality, i.e. ensuring that the halls of power had equitable female representation. Haman would probably have been appalled at the suggestion that men folk should even consider giving up any authority to their womenfolk.

(Typing this just now, WORD informs me that there’s no such word as menfolk, but that womenfolk is quite all right. Now what do you make of that?!)

For the sake of modern readers of the Christian Bible, I wish that a part of Mordecai’s objection to Haman’s and Xerxes’ behaviour had been directed toward their suppression of women. Unfortunately, no such objection is noted there.

We still have a lot of Hamans in positions of power, men who see it not only easier, but also scripturally sanctioned, that “each man might be master in his own house and control all his own womenfolk.”

copyright 2009, ge

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