As I was typing a comment on Jared Callaway’s Antiquitopia blog about the ordination of women in the Catholic church, I looked out my office window and saw a Saudi couple passing. They are both studying English at the university and they go everywhere together, always holding hands. She wears black from head to toe, including a veil in front of her eyes. In very hot weather, she exchanges the eye veil for mirror sunglasses. If I were her, I wouldn’t be letting go my husband’s hand, either. I would be scared that I would trip or get run over by a passing car.
I reflected that the ways in which women are restricted in some branches of Christianity are very different to the ways in which women are restricted in some branches of other religions. And yet, within our local Muslim community we have Pakistani women who are here to do PhDs, with their husbands tagging along to keep an eye on the children. These women cover their heads with their saris, as do Christian and Hindu women from the Indian subcontinent, so it’s as much a cultural thing as a religious one, and we can certainly still see their hair. They are women who don’t appear to be any more restricted than I am.
Catholicism restricts women more significantly than does my denomination, but there are other branches of Christianity that make the Catholics look liberal. Which isn’t to say that I agree with the policy of the Catholic church on ordination – it’s one of the reasons that I am not a Catholic. I am, however, somewhat surprised that people seem surprised that the Vatican has condemned the priests who ordained women and the women who were ordained. Unless they are very naive or very stupid, they would have been aware when they did it that they were going against the rules and taking on the authority of the church and that the church was unlikely to say “oh, cool, now that you’ve done it, let’s everyone follow suit.” But it still sucks that women are in general given less freedom and opportunity than men in most societies and most religious systems.