Republican attitudes about women are a bit out of date – 2,000 years out of date. As I said, they don’t really care what women think but that’s because the attitude they’re running with considers women to be somewhat less than human – an inferior species not equipped with the intellectual capabilities of your typical heroic white Republican male.
Mark Jacobs is a Republican Senate candidate from Iowa. On Sunday he sat down for an interview with WHO-TV’s Dave Price, who asked about “biggest difference between men and women.” Jacobs’ answer was instructive:
“I think you have to connect with women on an emotional level. And with a wife of 25 years and an 18-year-old daughter, I’ve had a lot of coaching on that,” he answered with a smile and got the obligatory male comradely laugh from Price in response.
You’ve got to feel for those poor women. Sadly, they’ve had a lot of coaching on how to handle a condescending husband and father.
John Boehner has said “[We're] trying to get them to be a little more sensitive,” but as pointed out here yesterday, clearly not all Republicans even think they have a problem talking to women. In fact, they do not talk to women at all but down to women.
The Huffington Post reports that “Jennifer Lawless, the director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University” said “that talking to female voters like a husband or a father ‘plays into damaging stereotypes and reinforces the notion that women need to be treated in a way that is somehow less serious and cerebral.’”
And these are damaging – and very ancient – stereotypes we are talking about.
For example, the Greek historian Plutarch wrote c. 100 CE in his Advice on Marriage (Praecepta Conjugalia) that women “left to themselves, conceive many untoward ideas and low designs and emotions.” Plutarch was a Pagan, but as historian Peter Brown writes, it was “destined to enjoy a long future in Christian sermonizing.”
You can imagine why some Pagan books continued to be copied and others did not.
Second century Christian apologist Tertullian wrote in his De Cultu Feminarum (On Female Fashion) that,
Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil’s gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die.
This is new. Pagan intellectuals might have thought women were inferior, but they did not argue that they were evil. The obsession with evil in the West is a Christian innovation.
So disdained had women become that in the later second century Clement of Alexandria was able to venture in his Pedagogues that, with women “the very consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame.”
One thing Pagan Roman men expected of their women that today’s Republicans do not: “unflinching frankness” (Parrhésia). It was a privileged freedom of speech, Peter Brown tells us, wife to husband. Praetextatus, a fourth century Pagan intellectual, wrote of his wife,
To you I could entrust the fast-closed depths of my own mind…
And so as friends we have been joined in trust,
By long acquaintance, by shared initiations of the gods,
All in one bond of faith, one single heart, united in one mind.
On the other hand, St. Augustine of Hippo, a contemporary of Praetextatus, wrote in his De genesi ad litteram (The Literal Meaning of Genesis),
I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes the purpose of procreation. If woman was not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much more pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and a woman cohabitate?
These attitudes persisted: Thomas Aquinas, another much-revered saint, wrote in the thirteenth century in his Summa Theologica,
As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence.
We have to remember that these men were products of their time, when the scientific underpinnings of the universe were not understood. But many centuries later, they are understood. It is the year 2013 and these attitudes continue to prevail, in the face of all reason and evidence. The Republicans persist in talking to women with attitudes twenty centuries out of date, and that this presents no obstacle.
Barack Obama’s 55 percent of the female vote was apparently not a corrective to these attitudes and it is likely that were Hilary Clinton to run and obtain 65 percent of the female vote, Republicans would still insist they are right and have no problem.
But they do. And it is a problem that will only grow worse until they accept that women are their equals.
1. Galen, De Usu Partium Corporis Humani (On the Usefulness of the Parts of the Body) 14.6.
2. Peter Brown, The Boy & Society: Men, Women, & Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity, Twentieth Anniversary Edition (Columbia University Press, 2008 ), 14.
3. Brown (2008), 15.