Subordinate to men or to God?

Bringing a spiritual perspective to daily life

It's not a pretty picture. On average, women in the United States earn only three-fourths of what men earn; are more likely to be assaulted; are more likely to be sexually harassed at work; are less likely to be promoted to executive positions; and are more likely to attend church regularly, but less likely to be allowed leadership roles there.

In other parts of the world, the picture is much bleaker. Women's inferiority is taken for granted, much as it was 2,000 years ago in Jesus' time. A prayer from that time included thanks to God "who hath not made me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman." Some Pharisees (members of the then-dominant Jewish sect) were nicknamed "Bleeding Pharisees" because they shut their eyes while walking along public streets to ensure they wouldn't even see a woman. The inevitable bumps and bruises became badges of piety.

Some religious leaders considered it a crime to teach women the Law set down by Moses, but Jesus didn't. The Gospels tell us that Jesus had women followers and students who traveled with him. The Gospels also provide accounts of Jesus teaching women - for example, the sisters Martha and Mary, whom he visited frequently, and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well, to whom he revealed himself as the Christ.

Mary Baker Eddy, who founded this newspaper, was a devout woman who lived in 19th-century New England. Like most women of her time, she suffered both inside and outside the home in a society that treated women as inferiors and granted them fewer rights than men. But she assured us in her bestselling book, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," that having "one infinite God, good ... equalizes the sexes" (page 340). And she insisted that we are all subordinate only to this infinite God, good - our Maker.

This conviction helped raise her out of poverty and legalized discrimination to become a Christian healer, a teacher of Christian healing, author of several books, and founder of a church and this Pulitzer-prize winning newspaper.

While still in college, I began to ask myself: What am I subordinate to? Sexist traditions, discriminatory laws, menstrual cycles, hormones, bosses, the media's portrayal of women as sex objects or prey? Am I submitting to the notion that I, as a woman, am inferior and vulnerable; that my options are limited; that my prospects are not as good as those of my brothers?

Early in my college career, I found the perfect part-time job with good pay and flexible hours. But one day the man I worked for - a married man with children almost my age - kissed me. I said that I was not interested in that sort of relationship, and he left the office. I left soon after, furious, frightened, disgusted, replaying the scene in my mind, trying to decide what to do and whom to turn to. Because I did not want to submit to fury, fear, or to this degraded sense of what men and women are about, I turned to God.

Prayerfully remembering the description of God's spiritual creation in the first chapter of Genesis, I felt reassured. "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 ... have dominion" (Gen. 1:27, 28). Mrs. Eddy explained that here, "man" means "the sons and daughters of God" (Science and Health, page 515). And she encouraged us to give up notions of limitation and victimization, and wrote, "Let the 'male and female' of God's creating appear" (page 249).

So this is what I did. Over the next day and a half, I prayed along these lines until I accepted, in some measure, the equal blessing that God gives His sons and daughters alike; till I glimpsed that really, spiritually, this man and I were both governed by God's impartial law of love. I returned to work fearlessly. I worked with this man for the rest of the semester, and he always acted appropriately and supportively.

Several years later I went to work very successfully in the predominantly male computer programming industry, and although I've encountered some sexism, it has only made me affirm more diligently - and experience more fully - the fact that, without exception, we are subordinate only to God, infinite good.

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