The problem begins in childhood. Small English boys are allergic to small English girls (see Molesworth, Just William et al). Then many of them (perhaps most of our bishops) are sent to single-sex schools. The female of the species acquires a sort of mystique, which persists into adulthood. Take, for example, Phileas Fogg of ’Round the World in Eighty Days’. Having rescued an Indian princess from suttee, as you do, he brings her back to London, but is not quite sure what to do with her. It is left to Aouda to sort matters out:
“Mr. Fogg,” said Aouda, rising and seizing his hand, “do you wish at once a kinswoman and friend? Will you have me for your wife?”
Mr. Fogg, at this, rose in his turn. There was an unwonted light in his eyes, and a slight trembling of his lips. Aouda looked into his face. The sincerity, rectitude, firmness, and sweetness of this soft glance of a noble woman, who could dare all to save him to whom she owed all, at first astonished, then penetrated him. He shut his eyes for an instant, as if to avoid her look. When he opened them again, “I love you!” he said, simply. “Yes, by all that is holiest, I love you, and I am entirely yours!”
Apart from the obvious, what is the point of the female of the species? Many English men, even these days, are uncomfortable with women as work colleagues. They would rather be drinking that patronising toast, ‘The Ladies, God bless ‘em!’, after which the ‘ladies’ would withdraw into their ‘withdrawing room’.
In all the discussion surrounding the Measure on the admission of women to the episcopate, the realisation is slowly dawning on many of us that the problem is not any failing on the part of women at all. Nor is it fundamentally a problem of ’taint’, except at a visceral rather than a theological level. It is a problem of the collective unconscious of our bishops.
Lenin famously asked ‘What is to be done?’. It seems now too late to hope that slow evolutionary change will bring about the reform we need in the running of the Church of England. Let us be bold and take inspiration instead from the Little Red Book (and other works) of Mao Tse Tung! The aspect of his recommendations for revolution which I think might be particularly helpful are those concerning ‘criticism and self-criticism‘. I’m sure the poor bishops feel they have been offered plenty of criticism already, but I wonder how much self-criticism is going on. Here is an extract from ”On Coalition Government” (April 24, 1945), Selected Works, Vol. III, pp. 316-17:
Conscientious practice of self-criticism is still another hallmark distinguishing our Party from all other political parties. As we say, dust will accumulate if a room is not cleaned regularly, our faces will get dirty if they are not washed regularly. Our comrades’ minds and our Party’s work may also collect dust, and also need sweeping and washing. The proverb “Running water is never stale and a door-hinge is never worm-eaten” means that constant motion prevents the inroads of germs and other organisms. To check up regularly on our work and in the process develop a democratic style of work, to fear neither criticism nor self-criticism, and to apply such good popular Chinese maxims as “Say all you know and say it without reserve”, “Blame not the speaker but be warned by his words” and “Correct mistakes if you have committed them and guard against them if you have not” – this is the only effective way to prevent all kinds of political dust and germs from contaminating the minds of our comrades and the body of our Party.
May I suggest that bishops take themselves in batches to one of the conference centres generally used by the Church of England. There we must hope they will engage in serious sessions of criticism and self-criticism. A week should suffice, I think. If, however, we don’t think the bishops can be left to carry out their own re-education, we can perhaps import one of those self-appointed experts beloved of television reality programmes. The latter-day Miss Beale and Miss Busss in charge of converting ‘ladettes to ladies‘ are an appealing prospect (and I challenge any bishop to gainsay them). But I think they might find Sir Roy Strong more to their taste, and he very successfully ran a boot camp for people to lose weight.
Once our bishops have learnt to apply the lessons of Maoism, the Church will be free once more for mission and evangelism in its attempt to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.