Approval of Women Is Not a Male Prerogative

In Gaudy Night, a 1935 mystery set in an Oxford University women’s college, Dorothy L. Sayers depicts a conversation between Lord Peter Wimsy (Sayers’ aristocratic sleuth) and Dr. Baring, the College Warden (what we’d call the President or Chancellor). Dr. Baring begins to ask his opinion of women’s education in general and the college in particular, causing him to interpose:

‘I hope you are not going to ask me whether I approve of women’s doing this and that.’

‘Why not?’

‘You should not imply that I have any right either to approve or disapprove.’

While the novel shows the Warden to be a woman who would not modify her decisions based on the opinion of a man, many find it hard to do without the approval of others for their actions. They thrive under the approval of others and wither under disapproval.

Somerville College, Oxford University - Dorothy L. Sayers' alma mater and counterpart to the fictional Shrewsbury College of Gaudy Night. (Wikipedia)

Somerville College, Oxford University – Sayers’ alma mater and counterpart to Shrewsbury College of Gaudy Night.
(Wikipedia)

The problem is that such approval or disapproval is almost invariably given without enough information to know what those other people talking about. It’s just opinion, and it’s based on the little they do know – or think they know.

The Bible warns against such opinions.

Fools find no pleasure in understanding
    but delight in airing their own opinions. (Proverbs 18:2.)

Opinions are only as good as the facts on which they are based, and giving an opinion without understanding the facts is worthless.* Yet you might think that even if no one else understands you fully you at least understand yourself. Even so, self-approval based on your own opinion is not biblically endorsed.

For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (2 Corinthians 10:18.)

How does this tie in with Peter Wimsey’s dialog with the Warden, where he says men have no business approving or disapproving a woman’s choices for her own life? For that we must look at a circumstance much further back than the state of women’s higher education in pre World War II England.

When Royal Advisors Went to a Woman for Counsel

The royal advisors to King Josiah (641-609 BCE) needed spiritual insight, so they went to the source: a prophet of God named Huldah. Huldah is different from most prophets you read about in the Bible.

She’s a woman.

Hilkiah and those the king had sent with him went to speak to the prophet Huldah, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tokhath, the son of Hasrah, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the New Quarter. (2 Kings 22:14.)

She’s a woman, and yet there is no hint of hesitation or reluctance in these powerful men going to her for guidance. That’s because she was not like the people described in Proverbs 18:2, who give opinions of the tops of their heads and speak because they like to hear themselves speak. Huldah was well known and must have developed a reputation as a true prophet, meeting the standards Moses set centuries earlier:

If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. (Deuteronomy 18:22.)

Being a prophet in Israel meant never speaking of God except what is true of him. This is the track record Huldah must have developed in order for King Josiah and his advisors (men) to place their trust in her (a woman) on royal matters affecting the nation of Israel.

Huldah, on the other hand, was not concerned with what these men thought of her. At least that’s the impression given in her response to them regarding the future of Israel.

She doesn’t make any attempt to be subservient. She is not concerned with their positions as men nor hers as a woman. She does not take steps to couch her prophetic warnings in a way that somehow caters to male egos having to take instructions from a woman.

She just tells them like it is because that’s her job as a prophet of God.

And they listened to her carefully and took her message back to the king. None of them said they approved or disapproved of a woman being a prophet. They might even have scorned the idea – in the same way Lord Peter did – had anyone suggested it. They knew that God chose Huldah for his prophet, and that’s all the approval needed.

What about you? If you belong to Jesus, then God has work for you to do in his kingdom as well. Whether it’s teaching or organizing or baking or babysitting – and whether you are a woman or a man – all is well when you are doing it under God’s leading. Don’t let anyone tell you they have a right to approve or disapprove.

If God chose you for the work, that’s all the approval you need.

God's approval.jpg

***

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16 Responses to Approval of Women Is Not a Male Prerogative

  1. Sarah Lindsay says:

    I fell in love with Sayers (let’s be honest: with Lord Peter) in high school, and I really think that those novels provided an important counterpoint to the complementarianism / patriarchy I was raised to accept, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. It took me a while to move away from the damaging idea that I should depend on men for approval and Sayers wasn’t the only influence, but I still read Gaudy Night regularly and cry at Peter’s final proposal. His respect for Harriet (not just his love, ha) still blows me away. Plus, I want a manservant!

    • Tim says:

      Harriet and Peter insist on coming together – if at all – as a pair of equals who do not delude themselves about the fact that there are some things one of them does better than the other, and vice versa.

  2. Pastor Bob says:

    This is the best line:
    “If God chose you for the work, that’s all the approval you need.”

  3. Meredith Childress says:

    This post was a lovely reminder of all the nuances in Sayers writing having to do do with the common sense thinking she was so good at expressing. I once taught her essay “Are Women Human” and have loved it for many years. How wonderful is it that women now have access to the same institutions and livelihoods that men do! Without arguing about that statement, I just wanted to say that she knew where we should be in relationships for the betterment of all society.

    • Tim says:

      She reached past cultural norms to get at what it really means for people to be people, whether women or men, and said it all with such wonderful prose.

      • Meredith Childress says:

        She was so intelligent that she was far ahead of most of the people around her, which makes her writing delightful for us now. And I sometimes think about how much nicer life would be if both men and women understood what her message really means toward the good of us all.

  4. This is great, Tim: for those who have their opinions all figured out and cut-and-dried, the Bible is like a stick of dynamite that blows all that apart, leaving them with the choice either to bow before a God who is infinitely bigger and more creative than they can imagine, or to manufacture excuses about how such & such a story in the Bible is the exception that proves God’s “rule” or God only used such & such a person because those He “really” wanted to use refused to do it.

    Sorry for the long sentence – I could go back and break it up, but I’ll let it stand! 🙂

    • Tim says:

      That sentence is the perfect length, Jeannie. Good analysis of the problem with trying to make God fit inside a box – especially one that is already stuffed full of preconceived notions.

  5. Jacob Fogg says:

    Hi, Tim! I just found this blog and I really like it. I’m here because the pastor at my church yesterday was talking about a Christian website he liked and I decided to check it out. However, that website (jesus-is-savior.com) seems to be completely packed to the brim with nonsensical ideas, hatred, conspiracy theories, and a general focus on “wickedness”. I eventually closed out in complete confusion and bewilderment.

    I still wanted a nice website to read though, but I wanted it to be made by someone I could actually agree with. Last night, I prayed hard to God to help me find a better blog that He believed was made by a true Christian. And today, while going on random websites, the Lord led me here.

    You’re so much better than whoever’s behind Jesus is Savior and now I feel complete inside. I love your views on loving your neighbor and being tolerant of others.

    • Tim says:

      I’m glad you found your way here, Jacob. I wonder what it is your pastor saw in that other blog that led him to recommend it. Perhaps he read a particular post that was helpful and didn’t read through the website as thoroughly as you did?

  6. EricW says:

    I’m confused. You wrote:

    In Gaudy Night, a 1935 mystery set in an Oxford University women’s college, Dorothy L. Sayers depicts a conversation between Lord Peter Wimsy (Sayers’ aristocratic sleuth) and Dr. Baring, the College Warden (what we’d call the President or Chancellor). Dr. Baring begins to ask his opinion of women’s education in general and the college in particular, causing him to interpose:

    [Lord Peter Wimsey] ‘I hope you are not going to ask me whether I approve of women’s doing this and that.’

    [Dr. Baring, the Warden] ‘Why not?’

    [Lord Peter Wimsey] ‘You should not imply that I have any right either to approve or disapprove.’

    The Warden was not a woman to modify her decisions based on the opinion of a man.

    I don’t see how one gets to “The Warden was not a woman to modify her decisions based on the opinion of a man.” from that conversation.

  7. Jean says:

    Lord Peter Wimsey for the Win! Gaudy Night is one of my favorite books – started reading it as a teenager and I’m still learning from it.

  8. Pingback: Experience and Innocence – the value of a good reputation | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

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