The reference to women being the “weaker sex” comes from the Bible, I know.
It’s a variation on the words of 1 Peter 3:7: “Husbands, likewise, dwell with them [your wives] with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel…”
Note the term, vessel, not sex or gender. Some scholars say that when Peter uses the term vessel (in Greek, skeuei) he meant just that, a vessel or a jar or container of some sort.
And if that’s case, what he’s saying isn’t that men should take care of their weaker wives, but that they should treat them as one would a piece of pottery that warrants special care, like a family heirloom.
It’s also worth noting that the whole passage that precedes it is about how Christians should treat their unbelieving spouses. So, it seems clear that Peter is saying that newly converted men should treat their still-pagan wives with special care. Rather than lording their new-found religion over them, they ought to woo their wives into the faith by affording them special dignity.
This makes sense because he has just told Christian wives to win over their unbelieving husbands in the same way. (3:1-6).
It might be true that men have a higher percentage of lean muscle mass than women, but that definitely doesn’t make women the weaker sex. Not when you consider the extraordinary fortitude exhibited by women around the world.
Recently, I posted this photo on social media. It’s a picture of Olga Misik, a 17-year-old Russian girl who defied Putin’s riot squad by reading the constitution aloud (the Russian constitution guarantees the right to peaceful political assembly). She was later dragged by her arms and legs through the street and detained by police. Pro-democracy protests have continued across Moscow.
People were impressed. It’s a gutsy story of female resistance. So, in response, people started posting similar photos of fierce women defying seemingly insurmountable odds.
One friend posted this famous shot of Ieshia Evans being detained in Baton Rouge in 2016 for participating in a Black Lives Matter protest. And one of a Bulgarian protester pleading with riot police in Sofia in 2013.
I was inspired, so I searched for that famous picture of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, supporting Cesar Chavez’s farmworkers protest in California, 1973. The holstered weapons of the Californian police frame her powerful presence so perfectly.
Then I remembered that shot of a protester giving flowers to a National Guardsman outside the Pentagon during the 1967 anti-Vietnam march. I did a search. It was 17-year-old Jan Rose Kasmir, and she’s still protesting. In 2017, at age 67, she participated in the Women’s March on Washington, carrying a photo of her 1967 protest.
I also posted Laurel Chor’s iconic image of a grey-haired lady screaming at police during pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong recently, but several of my Hong Kong friends told me that image is highly contested. So I searched for female protesters in Hong Kong and found Lam Ka Lo, the 26-yr-old protester known as ‘Shield Girl’ who has bravely resisted the riot squad.
And that Google search also brought up this anonymous Korean woman sitting in front of riot police, blocking the road to protect protesters during the anti-government protest in 2015 in Seoul.
I was on a roll now. Searching for brave female protesters was easy. They’re everywhere, on every continent, courageously, gently, immovably resisting the forces of oppression.
This woman sat in front of a riot squad cordon during a demonstration against Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade, 2019.
And this woman, Emine Ocak, said to be in her 80s, was arrested in 2018 by Turkish police for being one of the Saturday Mothers who have met in central Istanbul since 1995 to remember relatives who disappeared during violence in the 1990s.
This being on social media, one of my Facebook friends commented, “The Magnificat in picture form,” and that inspired yet another friend to turn the pictures into a series of Magnificat memes, based on Mary’s radical song in Luke’s Gospel (1:46-55).
And the nuns from the 1986 People Power Revolution in the Philippines.
And 16-year-old Czech girl scout, Lucie Myslíková, standing her ground at a neo-Nazi rally in Brno in 2017.
And an Elsipogtog First Nations woman, holding a feather in protest against fracking in New Brunswick, Canada, in 2013.
And the Liberian women, led by Leymah Gbowee, who came together to pray for peace. Armed only with white T-shirts and the courage of their convictions, they demanded a resolution to the country’s civil war, and succeeded!
And Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, who, in 1957, were the first black students ever to attend classes at Little Rock Central High School, Arkansas.
And finally the famous woman in the red dress being hit with pepper spray at close range in Istanbul’s Taksim Square in 2013.
From a Turkish grandmother to a Czech girl scout, from West Africa to Eastern Canada, these women have stood their ground to protect the earth, to end war, to resist oppression, to confront racism. That ain’t weak.
In fact, researchers have found that in times of famine, epidemic and hardship over the past 250 years, women have consistently outlived men. Anthropologist Adrienne Zihlman says that’s got a lot to do with women’s need to adapt to adverse circumstances.
“Women have to reproduce. That means being pregnant for nine months. They’ve got to lactate. They’ve got to carry these kids. There’s something about being a human female that was shaped by evolution. There is something about the female form, the female psyche, just the whole package, that was honed over thousands and thousands, even millions, of years to survive.”
I know it’s not a competition. Men protest oppression and injustice too. But there’s often something particular about female resistance. Where male protesters can be provoked into violence, women seem more able to harness their strength to remain genuinely resistant in the face of cruelty or hatred. Like Birmingham resident, Saffiyah Khan’s response to this extreme right-wing English Defence League protester.
When confronted by a hate-spewing, Islamophobic man, Khan, a Muslim herself, smiles calmly, somewhat nonchalantly, in her defiance.
And that takes real strength.