Monday, August 26, 2019

Veiling women

I'm going to comment on this post:

The danger of my commenting on Bnonn's post is that it's the first installment of a series with however many parts, which may work itself into a book, so Bnonn might steal my blindingly brilliant observations, claiming that he already addressed those concerns in a later installment. I won't get any credit! Humor aside:

1. 1 Cor 11 is tricky to untangle in part because Paul oscillates between the literal and figurative sense of "head"–as well as timeless (natural) and timebound (sociological) justifications. There may also be cultural connotations that are lost on modern readers. 

Another issue is the background for 1 Cor 11. Gen 1-2 is crucial. But how men and women figure in the OT generally, provides a larger background. 

2. One ambiguity in Bnonn's analysis is who the symbolism of the head-covering is directed towards. Candidates include:

• God

• Angels

• Husbands

• Other male worshipers

• Female worshippers

• Outsiders

Who is being signaled by this sign? 

3. I don't know if Bnonn is using "veil" with that specific article of clothing in mind, or if that's just a rough synonym or verbal placeholder for articles of clothing that perform that general function. He has to call it something, so, for ease of reference, maybe he settles on "veil".

This is significant because different kinds of head-coverings have different cultural connotations that send different messages. In Islam, the veil is the niqāb or hijab–but that would send the wrong message for Christian women.

In traditional Catholic piety, women wear prayer shawls in church. So that has Catholic associations, although the associations may be fading due to disuse. Except in RadTrad circles, I doubt most Catholic women don prayer shawls anymore. 

4. I'd just note in passing the odd phenomenon of women who completely neglect their appearance except for a fashionable hairdo–as if that magically compensates for the overall neglect. 

5. Another ambiguity: To say women are the glory of men could mean at least two different things:

i) Men value women

ii) Women bring something valuable to the relationship

The difference between (i) and (ii) is that (i) refers to what men value in women whereas (ii) refers to intrinsic value, independent of how that's perceived. For instance, many people value diamonds, but if you're lost in the desert, diamonds are worthless whereas water is invaluable. 

Leaving aside biblical theology for simple embodied experience, we all know that women are the glory of men. They are the thing that, when considering humanity as a whole, men themselves are most inclined to celebrate. If presented with the choice of saving either a man or a woman, we save the woman; we consider them of greater value. One woman’s face launched a thousand ships. Another’s is compared to a summer’s day. Just as the beauty of the lily is the glory of the pasture, so is the beauty of the woman the glory of the man.

i) There's a lot of truth to that, and it's a widespread witness to God's design. However, different cultures may suppress that fact. A dramatic example is the pervasive, virulent misogyny in Islam. 

A more complicated example is classical Greek art. That includes female nudes, but there's also the cult of homosexuality in ancient Greece. 

Another complicated example is traditional Catholicism. Take the ban on women in church choirs. That gave rise to adult male choirs (monks), boy choirs, countertenors, and castrati. (Nuns might have choirs, but out of sight in sexually-segregated convents.)

Or take the traditional ban on women in the theater, so that (for instance) Shakespeare's women were originally performed by men. 

But there were tensions in Catholicism. The cult of the Virgin Mary was a wedge issue which gave Catholic painters and sculptors a pious excuse to depict beautiful women in the context of worship. 

The female nude in Western art is a cliché example of men who glory in the female form. That's the fantasy woman. 

But in addition to the love goddess ideal, you have painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer who depict women in domestic settings, as wives and mothers. And they paint them with obvious affection. 

Likewise, although he's well-known for his female nudes-some of which are less successful than others, Renoir is also notable for his affectionate depictions of sisters, little girls, mothers and daughters, as well as men and women socializing at open-air cafes. And even though Monet is best-remembered as a landscape painter, he also did a number of lovely paintings which celebrate womanhood–and not the cliché nude figure. 

By the same token, opera, by showcasing sopranos, glories in the female voice (as well as tenors). In the same vein, the plays of Racine, with a female character as the central protagonist. 

So the progression of Western art, music, and drama, as it emancipates itself from Catholic strictures, increasingly celebrates womanhood. Ironically, secularism initially performed a service in that regard. But it doesn't stop there. In secularism, values are arbitrary. So it ends up degrading women. A Sophie's Choice between nihilism and bad religion. But thankfully, those are not the only options. 

1 comment:

  1. --But in addition to the love goddess ideal, you have painters like Rembrandt and Vermeer who depict women in domestic settings, as wives and mothers. And they paint them with obvious affection.--

    Okay, when I read the above I can't resist citing this scene:

    “Families are very important and even though Mr. Whistler was perfectly aware that his mother was a hideous old bat who looked like she'd had a cactus lodged up her backside, he stuck with her, and even took the time to paint this amazing picture of her. It's not just a painting. It's a picture of a mad old cow whom he thought the world of.”

    Channeling his former incarnation as The Black Adder there.