Sisters of the Book

The pernicious and toxic debate about gender is yet another disturbing feature of this postmodern age. We have abandoned civil discourse and as a consequence the atmosphere has worsened. Anger has supplanted openness and curiosity and those who advocate for change have instead turned more shrill, no-one seems to yield from their ideology or listen to a more moderate or considered argument.

Gender is the concept that human beings are not confined by their biological sex and that their role and value in society is culturally determined. Traditional cultures have strict rules about men and women, men are the sole providers and women are entirely responsible for the home and the family. However in more modern societies the gender roles are much looser, as women are no longer financially dependent upon men and domestic arrangements have become much more democratic.

The difficulty that we now face is complex, but chiefly the confusion between gender and sex dominates. Sex is the purely biological function of men and women and entirely separate from gender which is cultural. Both men and women have suffered in cultures where there are gender stereotypes, it has led to a sense of dehumanisation. Men who possess more caring, thoughtful and nurturing characteristics have suffered the same fate as women with supposedly more masculine traits. In 14th century Europe the most influential women were consecrated to God as nuns. They were respected owing to their superior levels of education and the power that they wielded in the wider culture.

The nuns based at the abbeys of Whitby and Hartlepool worked devotedly within the realms of language, science, history and theology. The writing that emerged from these centres of learning vastly enriched the intellectual sphere, as there was a distinctly female sensibility infusing the work.

In Pagan societies women were not as valued for their unique insights because the culture was much more primitive and solely motivated by survival. Men were brutish and lustful, women were only receptacles to relieve men from their urges, and then to bring new lives into the tribe.

However as civilisations have evolved the quest for meaning beyond our basic existence has become much more important. Women desired dignity and respect and men sought greater tranquillity and equanimity rather than succumb to mindless violence and hostility. Our common humanity should transcend our sexualities.

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