Tuesday, February 26, 2013

we are not sofas

Unlike the biblical literalists, who protected the separate spheres by citing the damage that Eve had caused by crossing the line in the Garden of Eden, the Unitarians [of the mid-19th century] argued that God's plan was written into the world he created.  "Woman was formed to obey"...and it was her duty to minister to the needs of her family at home.  The publication of Horace Bushnell's Christian Nurture in 1847 elevated this line of defense by canonizing domestic religion.  It established the home as the "seat of religion," where mothers, anointed as priestesses, tended worshipful families at table and hearth and filled the young souls with the spirit of Christ.  As a charming vignette of the moral growth that began at home in a mother's arms, this iconography helped the liberals compete with the evangelical brothers, whose instant act of conversion has a proven appeal with the masses.  But beyond this, by setting the home apart as the "church of childhood" and woman's preserve, it reinforced the division of precincts known as the doctrine of separate spheres, strengthening men's authority in the larger church outside.

--from No Silent Witness:  The Eliot Parsonage Women and Their Unitarian World by Cynthia Grant Tucker

I'm uncertain it's possible to find anything good to say about the attitude the above describes.  That this was the predominant attitude of men, even religiously liberal men, is something we all grew up knowing, and for many of us our rejection of it may have been our first rebellion.

But that the attitude persists and, in some quarters, is actually seen itself as rebellion against the liberality of contemporary society, should be a cause for alarm and concern.  The world has always been too complex to divide it into spheres, as if each kept neatly to itself--rather than spheres the world is better described as being composed of huge, misshapen, permeable layers of responsibility, influence, and authority.  No one person can have such a field all to him or herself; everything bubbles up or drips down or slides from side to side as days pass, and to pretend that nothing within it changes--like authority, like influence, like responsibility--is to pretend our existence has been Scotch-guarded, if not since Creation, then at least since the 1950s.  

Not only is life too complex for that.  We are too complex for that.

No comments:

Post a Comment