What counts as “political”?

A few of months back I went into Cambridge Central Library in Lion’s Yard and asked to put an A4 poster for an abortion rights protest on their display board. I was told “no, because it’s political”, so I shrugged and said “fair enough” (and I put the poster up on the self-service noticeboards on the 3rd floor instead).

Today I was in the library again and this poster caught my eye, on the glassed-in display board curated by the library rather than the self-service one:

Image Description: A poster that reads: “Christian Heritage Presents Sharon James 13th Oct: Has Feminism Been Counterproductive?”

Why, I wondered, had this been allowed when the poster for the abortion protest was not? This got me thinking about what types of things are considered 'political', and it occured to me that some people might not consider the event advertised in the poster to be political because it is religious. I have to admit that when I first glanced at the poster I felt indignant, and then when I noticed the word 'evangelical' I found myself thinking, 'oh, it's just some religious thing'. But why should an idea be less disturbing just because it comes from a religious group? I remembered that the failed amendment to the Health and Social Care bill attacking abortion rights had been strongly promoted by Christian groups.

In smaller text at the bottom of the poster, we can see that Sharon James is the author of the book "God's design for women". With a title like that I couldn't resist Googling it. An online review tells us:

"Part II presents the biblical view, showing the beauty of God's original design and what the Bible teaches about being a woman. The main planks of this are the absolute equality of men and women and the differing, complementary roles that God has assigned to each." [1]

So men and women are equal, but they have "differing, complementary roles". Exactly which "differing, complementary roles" did God assign to women, according to Sharon James? The reviews I found were all a little cagey on that point, but luckily there is a 6-part DVD course (!) and the chapter titles give some hints about what "God's design for women" actually entails:

"This new teaching DVD has six sessions:

* Session 1 God's Design for Women
* Session 2 Marriage & the Woman of God
* Session 3 Motherhood & the Woman of God
* Session 4 Singleness & the Woman of God
* Session 5 Church & the Woman of God 1
* Session 6 Church & the Woman of God 2" [2]

So there is quite a lot in there about relationships and children, and also quite a lot about God and the church, and nothing at all about, say, having a job. Of course many women do focus their lives on children and family and that is absolutely great, but it's pretty clear that, according to James, marriage and motherhood are the only acceptable roles for women. This message is not only overtly political, but also quite sinister, in my view.

So there you have it: a poster advocating that women should control their own reproduction is seen as political and viewed with suspicion, while a poster suggesting that the only acceptable roles for women are those of wife, mother, and church-goer is perfectly fine. It's a funny old world.

[1] http://www.e-n.org.uk/p-1917-God%27s-Design-for-Women.htm

[2] http://clearcutmedia.tv/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1

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One Comment on “What counts as “political”?”

  1. E-R says:

    Thanks KM, this is a really good point about how religious groups are able to use or hide behind a ‘freedom of religion/free speech/multifaith tolerance’ argument [ie the aparatus of a secular democracy] to push an overtly political agenda, especially when it comes to womens roles and bad mouthing feminism. What’s interesting is the cooperation or silence of the liberal left when religious groups do this. Atheists might think ‘it’s just some nuts religious thing’, those who believe in free speech might say ‘religious groups have the right to say what they want’, multiculturalists might say that ‘we have to be tolerant of others opinions’… but i think they wouldnt be so tolerant if religious groups wanted to evangelise about say, race. Imagine if that poster said ‘Have black rights been counterproductive?’ or the book had been called ‘God’s design for the races: how the bible describes the different but complimentary roles for white and black people’ and Sharon James had been peddling a DVD about exactly how God wants black people to behave.


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