Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
SBJT 15:3 (Fall 2011) p. 78
A Sword between the Sexes? C. S. Lewis and the Gender Debates. By Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2010, 264 pp., $22.00 paper.
The September 8, 1947, issue of TIME magazine ran a cover story on C. S. Lewis—one he judged to be “ghastly,” mainly because it said he disliked women. He retorted that he never disliked any group of people per se, commenting, “I wouldn’t hang a dog on a journalist’s evidence myself.”
Journalists aside, feminist Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen is prepared to hang the early Lewis as a misogynist on the evidence of his writings—particularly That Hideous Strength, where the Christ figure urges a woman to choose motherhood over an academic career, and Mere Christianity, where the husband is declared the better party to execute the family’s “foreign policy”:
[H]e always ought to be, and usually is, much more just to outsiders. A woman is primarily fighting for her own children against the rest of the world.... She is the special trustee of their interests. The function of the husband is to see that this natural preference is not given its head. He has the last word in order to protect other people from the intense family patriotism of the wife (29).
These and other passages drive Van Leeuwen to join Dorothy Sayers in the judgment that Lewis has written “‘shocking nonsense’ about women” (127). His sin, by Van Leeuwen’s account, is that he was an essentialist and a hierarchicalist; he said that men and women had significantly different natures and that the difference better suited the men to lead.
But Van Leeuwen is pleased to contend that Lewis “repudiated” this stance in later years, and that, throughout his professional life, in his dealing with female students, colleagues, and visitors to his home, he was “a better man than his theories.” Even when he opposed the ordination of Anglican women on grounds of dissonance with God’s masculinity (“Priestesses in the Church?”), he granted that women were “no less capable than men of piety, zeal, learning, and whatever seem[ed] necessary for the pastoral office,” for a woman was not “necessarily or even probably less holy or less charitable or stupider than a man” (48).
But the smoking gun that showed he’d done in his old “misogynist” self appeared in A Grief Observed, after the loss of his spouse to cancer:
A good wife contains so many persons in herself.... What was [Joy] not to me? She was my daughter and my mother, my pupil and my teacher, my subject and my sovereign, and always,
SBJT 15:3 (Fall 2011) p. 79
holding all these in solution, my trus...
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