Plus ça change…

‘LET US PRAY that God will turn the hearts of all women of violence, and that the forces of light and peace may overcome the power of the Devil and all her works’.

It is not a petition, in the Prayer of the People at Sunday Mass, which I have ever tried out (even with my bunch of reactionary desperadoes); but time, in my view, is making such phraseology inevitable, if not exactly desirable.

Call me an incurable romantic, but one of the things I thought I had grasped about feminism was its assertion of the moral superiority of Woman. Men, I supposed the Sisters to be asserting, are the primary cause of war and violence. They are predatory, possessive and aggressive. Women, on the contrary, are the custodians of the communal virtues. To a society fractured by male aggression they offer care and conciliation. They offer, in secular as well as theological terms, a mother’s tenderness to redress a father’s wrath. On such a thread as this hung half the arguments for the ordination of women.

The feminist custodians of virtue told us plainly: the icons of male depravity are exhibited daily in the criminal courts. Rape and paedophilia establish, incontrovertibly, that men are beasts and women are virtuous victims. In particular the incidence of paedophilia among priests of the repressively male dominated Catholic Church indicates its need of feminine insights and female priests.

But equality (that inveterate enemy of virtue and excellence) has put an end to all that.

Not only has Linda La Plante set about demonstrating that even Miriam Margolis has more testosterone that the next black stud, but women, in significant numbers, are being convicted of seducing teenage boys.

Sarah Hubert (25) had it away with a fourteen year-old scout. Kay March (36), a mother of two, offered the connubial bed to a fifteen year old. An unnamed child care worker in Falkirk was jailed for nine months, earlier this year, for sexual relations with a fifteen year old boy in her supervision. In July last year Tracey Whalin (33) absconded to Florida with the fourteen year old friend of her son. In the same month Susan Nola (38) of Wallsend, Tyne and Wear, admitted indecent assault and common assault after a six month relationship with a boy of fourteen. Mother of three, Deborah Gapa (37) was jailed for two years in Cardiff this April for indecent assault on a youth at a friend’s house.

Now for all I know this sort of thing has been going on throughout history, and every woman is potentially a paedophile Potiphar’s wife; but I doubt it. Instinct tells one that something new is emerging. As with the increasing incidence of female alcoholism, we are observing a definable demographic change. Feminism is having its effect, though, as so often with these things, not quite the effect anticipated.

We should not be surprised. For Feminists equality has always meant interchangeability of role. The time honoured analogy of social roles with the interdependent functioning of bodily parts (a commonplace of Graeco-Roamn rhetoric, Pauline theology and Shakespearian drama) has been casually dismissed as the homely face of fascism. Freedom is envisaged as the escape from constricting stereotypes.

But here comes the paradox. The only escape from stereotypical sexual roles is celibacy (which the libertarians portray as the ultimate constriction). Every other escape is an illusion. Interchangeability, alas, is the summit of what can be achieved. Women can act like men and men can act like women; but what conceivable liberation is there in that? There is no freedom in merely exchanging stereotypes, any more than there is freedom in merely exchanging clothes – though the right-on sisters still affect their dungarees, and naughty advertisements in the Sunday Telegraph (no less) still peddle lace knickers for men in three piece suits.

The nineteenth century notion which the twentieth century (despite its extensive experience of human depravity) is finding it difficult to shake off is that of the perfectibility (or at least the alterability) of human nature. We think that we can change the basic patterns of human behaviour by a mere manipulation of words and images.

But where human sexuality is concerned we are dealing with a complex pattern of relationships and symbols, rooted in biology, which show a remarkable consistency across nations, cultures and epoques. These relationships and symbols are the prime subject of literature, drama and the arts. Helen and Dido, Lin Tai-Yu and Golden Lotus speak to us across the years and across the continents because there is in human nature a changelessness which transcends and defies change.

C.S. Lewis, in his ground-breaking piece ‘Priestesses in the Church’, put the matter with his characteristic eloquence and brevity:

‘ The factory and the political party are artificial creations — ‘a breath can make them as a breath has made.’ In them we are not dealing with human beings in their concrete entirety — only with ‘hands’ or voters. I am not of course using ‘artificial’ in any derogatory sense. Such artifices are necessary; but because they are our artifices we are free to shuffle, scrap and experiment as we please. But …with the Church, we are farther in: for there we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge. Or rather, we are not dealing with them but (as we shall soon learn if we meddle) they are dealing with us.’

Current attempts at social engineering, then, in Church or State, are doomed to something worse than failure. They will reap the consequences of their own inherent absurdity.

I remember with delight (at the ludicrous and frenzied height of the campaign to see women ordained), the magisterial way in which the grande dame of the revisionists, Monica Furlong, assured her readers that women priests would reduce the incidence of rape on the M4. No dramatic decline in those unfortunate statistics, has, so far as I know, been noted. But the high proportion of divorced and re-married women priests is a powerful testimony to the contribution which the innovation is making to the continuing decline of the family.

The attempt to eliminate stereotypes, it seems, produces only their mirror image. Women take to paedophilia; and New Man is but Old Woman writ large.

When, I wonder, will the soaps and the detective series, which strive so officiously these days to open our minds and broaden our values, catch up? We are all wearily familiar with the feminist detective story: intelligent aggressive single woman leads team of incompetent male Neaderthals in eventful pursuit of serial rapist. Has the time at last come for something really new: sensitive boyish transvestite Detective Inspector investigates international ring of female child pornographers?

Geoffrey Kirk is Vicar of St. Stephen’s, Lewisham in the diocese of Southwark.