Saturday, 19 April 2008

Management, women and biblical role models

I've spent some of today and yesterday proof reading some really good essays that a friend has written on female biblical role models as a way of reflecting on leadership and management challenges women managers face today. She's been taking the same course in Rome on management and spirituality that I'm taking at the moment and reading her reflections has been useful revision of some of the course.

Two of the biblical women she's chosen have really set me thinking. The first is Miriam, sister to Moses and Aaron. I've not really thought before about the passage where she challenges Moses' authority and is excluded from the camp for 7 days because of her leprosy - you can read the story in Numbers 12. Feminist scholars today often attribute the original Song of the Sea in Exodus 15 to Miriam and there are even attempts to piece together a Song of Miriam and to show how later versions of the Exodus story increasingly gave the main liberating role to Moses. You can find some interesintg rabbinic questions and answers about Miriam's leprosy here.
But what interested me is the idea that Miriam is excluded from the camp, although she has certainly not been any more uppity than Aaron - but the woman speaking out and encouraging her brother Moses to treat his wife properly, will always be more harshly treated than the man doing the same. Criticism from women will always be harder to bear for some male leaders and for patriarchal societies. So somehow the text has to punish her, the narrative has to make the woman be the one who has to carry the shame for the whole family. But the interesting thing is that the people wait for Miriam, they will not move camp until she is once more with them. She was the one whose song had led them out of slavery, she spoke up on their behalf. somehow there are traces left in the narrative of something other than her humiliation.
Neverthless I think that for women leaders, perhaps particularly in the church, the metaphors around exclusion, blame and speaking out are very powerful. A narrative that can still carry us forwards with some force and some big questions still to answer. It is of course individual women leaders who answer those questions in the way they lead. Somewhere along the line societies and organisations also need to be challenged about the blaming naratives they often write for women.
Theother female biblical figures my friend wrote about was Huldah. You can find her story in 2 Kings 22: 8-20, and 2 Chr 34: 15-28. My friend (whom I haven't named because I haven't asked her) chose Huldah in the first instance because she is a little spoken of but powerful role model.
As Arlene Swidler puts it: “The authority to pass judgment on this initial entry into the canon was given to a woman. At the beginning of the Bible we find Huldah; in her we discover the first scripture authority, the founder of biblical studies.”
And because according to Jewish Tradition, Huldah conducted an academy in Jerusalem and her example encouraged the early Church to ordain women to sacred office. It was Huldah who led Jean Calvin to argue in favour of the government of women. And Huldah also inspired women in the 19th centruy , such as the Calvinist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who The Woman’s Bible.
Huldah was the first woman to set out the canon, to decide on what was the word of God. Charting the way that happened in the multi-layered Hebrew scriptures - through socio historic and feminist methodologies, wondering about whether she was a pawn in a male game which sought to abolish the cult of Asherah (Y-hw-h's wife) also gave me much food for thought.
How do we as women and men in both church and society hold on to our integrity? Recognize the hidden agendas and mixed motives others may have, and yet not use that as an excuse not to take a stand and speak out? Huldah is a fascinating and satisfyingly complex rôle model for women in leadership roles today, many more layers to discover and much feminist and other scholarship to devour on the subject.
My friend wanted to take me out to a concert to thank me for reading her texts but I think I should take her out to say thank you for giving me so much food for thought. Intellectual stimulation is good for the soul.


J. K. Gayle said...

Thanks, Jane, for another helpful post! Did you see what Suzanne McCarthy wrote on the manageress? And you gave me cause to blog today.

Jane said...

Thanks JK
yes I saw and commented on Suzanne's earlier post on the exegetess. thanks also for blogging about Anne Claire and our group here.
Writing and reading about Huldah has been useful for me and I think that it will make the basis for a year of my feminist theology group in 12 months time.
REally think what you guys are doing on Bible translation etc is brilliant btw.
Have a good week!