Valuing women

Yesterday, the Church of England appointed Libby Lane as its first female bishop. Excellent news! I wish her the very best of luck and joy in what she does. I can only hope that this late introduction of gender equality in the Church of England will help reduce its patriarchal role and increase the respect shown to women generally. I can hope. I need to hope, because we have a long way to go on that score.

Then I got on to twitter, and one of the first things I saw on the subject was @susanhillwriter. “Pleased abt 1st woman Bishop but WHY can’t women priests use some make-up and a nice lipstick and get decent haircuts ?” I got into a conversation about this, of course. She went on to say that presenting well – ie wearing makeup and conforming to certain, narrow assumptions about what beauty means, is an act of respect to all the people looking at you.

We do it to ourselves. It’s a fine case in point of why patriarchal oppression is not simply something men do to women. It is a whole system of logic around how we value and treat women, and a big part of what keeps it going is that there are plenty of women like Susan Hill (writer) who are happy to act in this way in response to women like Libby Lane who are out there doing truly important things. We’ve just seen a historic moment, and the first female bishop and the first thing you have to say on the subject is that you want her to wear lipstick and get a haircut that you’d like?

Having had a look at Libby Lane, she looks like a person to me. She has her own face, and a practical haircut. Of course what lipstick and makeup does is mimic the signs of sexual arousal a woman might get in her face at key moments – blood to lips, wide eyes, flushed cheeks… forgive me if looking aroused is not a quality I seek in religious leadership of any gender or faith. It’s a very modern fashion to equate the wearing of makeup with looking smart. Go back just a few generations and makeup meant you were probably a women of saleable virtue. Add to that the way Christianity deems vanity to be sinful, and isn’t in favour of people offering themselves as sexual objects, and you might possibly have a whole array of reasons why a woman bishop might not want to face the cameras looking like a magazine cover model.

Let’s not talk about her values, her experiences, her interests. Let’s not talk about who she reads or what charities she supports. Let’s get on social media and discuss her makeup choices, and carefully reduce her down to the status of object for looking at. Because we wouldn’t want women thinking they could be valued for their minds, skills, knowledge, ability, compassion or experience. That way lies anarchy!

Why are women so willing to value and devalue other women based on appearance? Why does conformity to the current fashion for attractiveness play such a role in how we see people whose jobs really have nothing to do with how pretty they are? The point of religious leaders is not to look at them, but to listen. We don’t give a hoot what male priests look like, in fact we may tolerate a fair amount of eccentricity and lack of attention to fashion and desirability, so why does a woman who takes on this most unworldly of work get expected to conform to the most worldly of visual standards?

You can’t see much of @susanhillwriter on her twitter profile, and there’s only one picture of her face on her homepage. She doesn’t appear to be wearing makeup, and has a short hairstyle not so very far, to my eye, to that worn by Libby Lane. Now, there’s a puzzle! But why shouldn’t she look that way if she likes?


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

13 responses to “Valuing women

  • alienorajt

    Oh, well said. I absolutely agree.

  • pennyblake

    Grr that makes my blood boil but you’ve said it all – spot on as usual! Susan Hill has slipped a little in my estimations though – that’s a shame she made that thoughtless remark 😦

    • Nimue Brown

      There’s another today about a girl who is helping the homeless and is beautiful… I resisted the temptation to comment, but really, she’d be lesser if random chance hadn’t gifted her with a certain kind of face and body shape? Apparently so. I’d not read Susan Hill as an author, I certainly won’t after this.

      • pennyblake

        OM! I know the girl she means, the homeless guy she helped gave her £3 to get a taxi home right? Oh Susan Hill is very naughty, that makes me so cross! You do know of her – she’s the magic apple tree lady!! Yikes, but I can see it actually… remember I said ‘Wi***y Wives’ to you that time? … case in point perhaps!

      • Nimue Brown

        ah, I hadn’t put that together at all. Sometimes I am a bear of little brain. 🙂

  • Ryan

    Nicely put. As if her haircut and make-up has any bearing on her spirituality and/or her professional ability to do her job well. Does Justin Welby need to dye his hair to “be presentable” too? Oh, no, of course not. It’s only women who get judged on their appearance.

    • earthisthering

      You have the right of it. There was an incident a while back where a male news anchor got fed up with people saying exactly this kind of thing about his female co-anchor, after she wore a similar outfit on two separate broadcasts (apparently they were expecting her to throw away her clothes after wearing them exactly once). So he proceeded to wear the same suit in every broadcast for an entire year. Apparently no one commented on his sartorial choices or lack thereof…which was exactly what he was trying to point out. There is absolutely a double standard at work.

  • linda gaylord

    Precisely!!! Well put! Nicely done!

  • Aurora J Stone

    I think it is a shame the individual you refer to made that comment. But as you say it raises a truly important point. In Libby Lane’s new position, as the one she has obviously done admirably enough to be brought to the attention of her peers and others to be selected it is assumed how she looks made not difference, it should make no difference now.

    It is far more important she blesses the institution with insights and wisdom that so far her brother bishops have not been in a position, because their experience, gifts and graces, to know and access.

    • Nimue Brown

      I imagine she must be brave and determined to have got this far, it will be interesting to see what she does, but just her being there opens the way for other women in all kinds of ways.

      • Aurora J Stone

        I remember the trauma of getting women priests in the states and was taught church history in seminary by one of the Philadelphia 11, the first ‘illegally’ ordained women in there. We have come a long way since then. Still have far to go. But there are pathmakers who proceed us. And we give thanks for them.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Well we men are beginning to catch up we when comes to make up. First it was eye liner the came lipstick and now full face makeup. This has hit big in Japan and some bosses are encouraging it. Of course this is ale a country where men see less interested in sex and relationships wetter that is related or not and parers are having problems getting their sons to oven out of the daily house. They have the term meta sexual to describe some of it. They already had the problem of men primping, ad checking their hairstyle ever few minutes. So now add checking ad touching up their makeup.

    That sounds like a lot of effort and time and will they ever notice if a woman notices them or not? That sees almost as funny as razor ads telling men how to shave all over. The strange thing is this seems to be a fad of straight me. The gay men seem to be back into the natural look including beards and body hair.

    But as I have little time to keep up with male fashion, I may be out of date already. I haven’t got any tattoos, or piercings not even an earing and I have to yet bought my first eyeliner even. I am afraid I am not just old, but perhaps archaic.

    • Nimue Brown

      I like the kinds of spaces where the guys might be wearing eyeliner, and I like makeup a good deal more when it seems like something people do as creativity, expression, adornment, rather than just a ‘girl thing’ but then I’m awkward like that 🙂

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