Wednesday, 19 August 2015

‘Women are more excellent than men’: Feminism in the Reformation

I’ve just started reading Margaret Walter’s Feminism: A Very Short Introduction and came across what I think is a very interesting quotation from Jane Anger:

In 1589 . . . , Jane Anger took up a challenging position by insisting that Eve was superior to Adam: a second, and hence improved, model. Whereas Adam was fashioned from ‘dross and filthy clay’, God made Eve from Adam’s flesh, ‘that she might be purer than he’, which ‘doth evidently show how far we women are more excellent than men . . . From woman sprang man’s salvation. A woman was the first that believed, and a woman likewise the first that repented of sin.’ Anger then descends crossly, and comically, to everyday domestic life. It is women, she reminds us, who make sure that men are fed, clothed, and cleaned: ‘without our care they lie in their beds as dogs in litter, and go like lousy mackerel swimming in the heat of summer’.

Margaret Walters, Feminism: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), p. 9

As I said, I find this quotation very interesting. While I’d come across a number of early female theologians (e.g. Julian of Norwich) who spoke of God using feminine imagery, I had no idea that what could be labelled feminism started so early – indeed, during the reign of Elizabeth I and the English Reformation. I find it interesting, too, that a publication such as Anger’s (snappily entitled Jane Anger her protection for women, to defend them against the scandalous reportes of a late surfeiting lover, and all other like venerians that complaine so to bee overcloyed with women's kindnesse) arose – and possibly could only have arisen – during a time of intense cultural change. It’s almost as though the changes in the religious and intellectual climates at this time created the conditions in which many people, including women, felt free enough and empowered enough to make their voices heard. Strange, then, that today – and I admit this next comment is probably little more than a cheap (but valid) shot – today, many sections in the same Church that once, however unwittingly, enabled women to speak are now demanding women be silenced. Why do we praise men but curse women? To evoke James: ‘My brothers, this should not be!’

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