The misogyny seen in Westminster has deep roots in our Judeo-Christian society

Photo by CarlottaSilvestrini on Pixabay, free for use

Those of us of a certain age who have fought misogyny for decades, like the campaign spear-headed by Claire Short to get page-three girls banned, or those early feminist protests at the cattle market of Miss World, were united in horror at the attempt to belittle and humiliate the deputy leader of the Labour Party this week.

Misogyny is alive and affects women through the ranks

Seeing Angela Raynor having to cover up her legs as she was interviewed on Lorraine this Morning – because she did not want the distraction of showing her legs and the possibility that viewers might focus on that, rather than what she had to say – was truly jaw-dropping.

The Mail on Sunday picked up this story and seemed to expect a prominent woman like her to be covered from head to toe – like a woman under an edict but not a Taliban edict, a Mail on Sunday one, something I never thought I would see in my life-time.

But of course, we are no longer living in a civilized country, we are in dog-whistle Britain where the erstwhile supporter of Nazi Germany newspaper (the Mail) thinks it is fitting to drag a popular intelligent and inspirational female politician, mother and grandmother through the mud, for cheap entertainment. That an anonymous coward of a conservative MP thought to bring it to their attention, should have made no difference to the editor, who should have written a different piece.

This is not new, however. From time immemorial, women have been denigrated and questioned – as to their motives, their abilities and their morality. Raynor thought that the triple whammy of mentioning her single-parent motherhood at a young age, was a cheap swipe at her perceived promiscuity. The class inference was just the icing on an already obnoxious tasting cake.

Misogyny has deep roots in our Judeo-Christian society

Such misogyny has deep roots in our Judeo-Christian society. Even though we know that modernity and secularisation has meant fewer and fewer people go to Church and receive any moral or pastoral teaching, most people have heard of Jesus and his disciples and in particular one of his most prominent women disciples, Mary Magdalene.

All the four gospels refer to Mary as being among those who first saw Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane following his resurrection. She was preemminent among the early disciples who he conveyed his message to. But this has been lost in the mists of time by the Church Fathers.

In the first century following the death of Jesus, many women went out and preached the gospel. The legend says that Mary Magdalene travelled to Roman Gaul, with a few other disciples and in later life she lived as a hermit in a cave. So she brought Christianity to southern France and was the mother of the Western contemplative tradition.

“The gospel of Mary Magdalena”, written on a fifth-century papyrus in Coptic, was found in Cairo in 1896 – the Nag Hammedi papyrus, discovered in 1945, are gospels from a gnostic cult. These early texts, excluded from the main church traditions (Orthodox and Roman Catholic), had been hidden –probably by monks as they were explosive in their teaching.

They paint a very different picture of Jesus, his teaching, and his relationship with the women who followed him. In one of them, Peter is shown as overtly jealous of Mary because he couldn’t quite believe that Jesus would talk to women and share his intimate thoughts with them. See Jee Thayil on women surrounding Jesus.

The leadership and wisdom of women

In the first century, women were able to preach and be part of this early evangelising, until the church fathers decided enough was enough. At the Counsel of Nicea in the 4th century, it was decided that only certain gospels were admissible to be read by orthodox Christians. Thus, over time the leadership and wisdom of women, in particular Mary Magdalene, was not only forgotten, but distorted and trounced.

An Easter sermon Pope Gregory gave in the sixth century mixed the identity of Mary Magdalene, Mary of Bethany and the penitent woman (see Luke 7:36). From then on, she was assumed to have been a loose woman and depicted as that in Western art. This ultimately led to the establishments housing single mothers in Ireland to be named Magdalene laundries.

There was never any scholarly evidence for confusing these gospel women, and in 1953 the Pope had to make a humble apology and admit that this was never true and the Church had misrepresented this most beloved of Jesus’ companions.

So, back to Angela Rayner. No surprise then that the attack is the same. She has no wisdom or knowledge, and she flaunts her sexuality, which the church has always taught us, is very dangerous.

In the first century AD, we could have been forgiven for thinking those men were of their time, and potentially forgive them, but in Britain in 2022?

See one of the author’s other articles in Sussex Bylines: :