Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet/ Eating her curds and whey/ Along came a spider, who sat down beside her/ And frightened Miss Muffet away. So it is that our little girls learn from this and in many other ways that they are afraid of spiders. A Little Mr. Muffet was not pictured in this way. Scholars of gender communication describe male talk as “report” and female talk as “rapport”. Deborah Tannen, well-known as a scholar of conversation, says for most women “conversation is a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships. Emphasis is on displaying similarities and matching experiences … For most men, talk is primarily a means to preserve independence and negotiate and maintain status in a hierarchical social order.”
We are proud that women of our day can serve as Secretary of State and that Oprah can become rich. As yet only a few women have cracked the glass corporate ceiling. The average woman’s wages is about 70% of that of a man’s. In my home town of Hudson, a few women hold the position of Protestant clergy and no woman is priest at our local Catholic Church. To be sure women no longer stay at home to rock the craddle, but even at church they are second class.
So I ask: Have our great religions, like a nursery rhyme, programmed women to be second class? Scripture says she was made from Adam’s rib. Eve is blamed for persuading Adam to defy God and eat of the tree of knowledge and for this first couple to cast out of Eden. Even today the Catholic religion relegates women to nun status; even those who would serve it to the fullest can never have the status of priest. It is male priest who performs the wedding of new nuns to Christ and it is a male priest who confirm their life commitment to poverty, chastity, and obedience. It is a male priest who marries them to Christ and that entails obedience to a mother superior and the male Pope. How can it be that one of the world’s great religions has a marriage ceremony in which nuns prostrate themselves before a male priest?
In Islam, the sister religon to Christianity, its sacred Sharia law, also makes women second class citizens. A woman counts as half a man in giving evidence in a Shria court of law. Under Islam in many countries, they must shrouded from head to foot with only their faces and for some only their eyes visible. Some surveys report that these Muslim women say they want it that way. They have been programmed to believe they are second class.
Religion, like the Little Miss Muffet nursery rhyme, has stamped in inferiority of women rather than has been in the forefront to their equality. Is it not past time that we write a different last line for this Little Miss Muffet? Is it not past time for those of faith to say to those, who program them to be second class, to have Little Miss Muffet assertively say, “Bug off. Get out of my way?”