Thursday, 27 May 2010

All Women are Liars

[Trigger warning]

This week Roaring sent me Penny Red’s blog post on rape, which articulates the prevailing cultural attitude that all women are liars. She points to the government’s planned changes to allow men accused of rape anonymity and rightly notes that those accused of child abuse do not get this anonymity, which does seem to suggest that women are more likely to lie and are less reliable witnesses than children.*

By chance also this week I received the latest dispatch from the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament (CBS) which argues that Catholics in the Church of England cannot receive the sacrament from women because of “sacramental assurance”:

“A woman might be a priest, or she might not; it might be a Eucharist or it might not; it might be the Blessed Sacrament or it might not!”

As its author, Fr Christopher Pearson, rightly points out (for the wrong reasons) "This is nonsense". Anglo-Catholics of this view have devolved the divine mandate on grace, on the very presence of God, to man. The worst part about this is that it’s not even to the church to which they belong, which with provision, has broadly accepted the ordination of women - but rather to a selective group of men. Never mind that the church has called women to be priests; it is a certain group of men that are granted divine powers.

And theologically this is an immense problem. It is the worst excess of clericalism in placing all sacramental authority in the hands of the few, not the domain of the church (let alone seeing sacramental presence throughout creation), and it relegates grace to superstition and magic in supposing that the hands of a selected few are able to conjure up the power of God. Didn’t the Church deal with this one and a half millennia ago?

What is more, for the now thousands of women priests in the Anglican church, it says ontologically - in your very being - you are liars.

* I don’t want to dwell on the recent case of the two ten year old boys and eight year old girl but it does appear to be a ghastly parody of adult rape cases insofar as a power dynamic of shame motivated the girl into claiming she had earlier lied about her experience of abuse: she said she lied because she had been naughty and was afraid of not getting sweets. Both the evident criminalization of the boys - in which society already others them (criminals/sex offenders) and the sexualization of a pre-pubescent girl as shameful suggests that the most harmful pressures of society are quickly imputed upon children. The media’s assumption that Of Course she lied (she’s a woman-to-be) and that this is all just innocent horseplay is equally horrifying, in its washing over of both bullying and sexual violence, and demonstrates the sheer folly of the Tory policy of killing off compulsory sex education.


  1. Didn't Aristotle establish quite a long time ago that since an action or statement can only be perceived to be a lie in a specific context, lying always has a systemic component? I would be intrigued to see some further reflection on this aspect in your argument.

    It certainly seems to me that women priests are not in any way lying ontologically other than within a framework which is itself a lie, and uncomfortably contradictory. Priests are those that the church ordains.

    Isn't the advertising industry, for example, basically based on knowing how to lie and, even more importantly, how to make others lie to themselves and others?

    I think Mad Men does a good job of analysing this - and, interestingly, they make it clear that for the majority of the products they want to sell, they specifically want to lie to women. In Mad Men, it's all about men lying to women in order to make those women lie to their men.

    Perhaps this is the historical context that we need to refer to? Perhaps we perceive women to lie more in late modernity because they are more constantly lied to? Perhaps the perception of women as liars persists because advertising fundamentally relies on making it so?

  2. But in Mad Men, they start to want Peggy's work because she knows how to sell (lie?) to women because she herself is a woman. And the men at some level seem to believe that the system itself (capitalism?) is worth serving, even at the expense of lying.

    what's intriguing is that Mad Men is showing this move where women are becoming more prominent in culture/society/work, sort of in themselves, but mainly by inhabiting a male sphere and a masculine mode of being. (Cf. Peggy at the burlesque club - though of course she still has to be super sexy)
    What I wonder about is whether, as you suggest, women can inhabit the 'uncomfortably contradictory' space of a priest (which is still assumed to be male even in the CofE - I was talking to a young female priest friend of mine who mentioned how difficult it was to be constantly subverting people's image of priesthood) without compromising their integrity as women? how are we not lying about ourselves by becoming male? it's probably the same in most jobs (except perhaps stereotypically 'feminine' ones like teacher/nurse).
    That's not to say that we should just go home and have babies, of course (unless WE really want to), but it' going to take a very long time for women to be able to be really authentic as priests. And we still have to be both things - manly enough, and sexy enough.


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