THE BISHOP AND THE ACTRESS
Peter Green eavesdrops on the latest developments in a longstanding relationship
And what if a Bishop should wake and find himself in a "formative" environment, one of those places where opinions are shaped, ideals learned? Maybe he should find himself in a seminar, a theological college, a university common room, somewhere middle class, perhaps even a sitting room with his children who have arrived at early adulthood, and his wife thinking of her future.
And what if the talk became talk of gender?
Some new front has opened in the gender war - some issue that draws attention to the position of women in society. A woman present expresses a wistful view. The woman who speaks is self-possessed, with real intellectual gifts. It is a pure coincidence that she happens to be pursuing a career on the stage. She is, in fact, a card carrying member of Actors' Equity. She is, in fact, an actress.
"I'm fed up with all of this pressure to make women like men," she says. "Why does everybody - men and women alike - hold the 'feminine' in such low esteem? Men still secretly perceive the 'feminine' as trivial, emotional. And women still take their cue from the men."
"I thought that all this talk about 'the feminine' was thoroughly politically incorrect?" The Bishop articulates this so as to sound decently cynical. In fact, he experiences a little twinge of inner uncertainty.
"Why should I be forced to be masculine? I like the fact that women tend to settle arguments with their mouths rather than their fists - although that seems to be changing. I like the fact that women tend to be better at taking on emotional responsibilities than men."
"Either this is new sexism or old sexism I don't know which." The Bishop will not be merely passive in all this, you understand.
"I think that women and liberated men if men can be liberated - are united by a secret, unspoken hatred. I think that deep in our hearts we hate that which we so ardently pursue. I think that we hate the masculine."
There's a pause. For the first time in his adult life, the Bishop feels inclined to defend
his sex. He remembers the time when he could inconspicuously enjoy the company of men friends.
"I know I shouldn't say this, but I remember the time when I found it easier to have just plain fun in the company of other men." He starts to mention some secret views of his own - but he's going to stick to areas which have easy escapes. "There are all kinds of ways in which one can be less inhibited when you're with your own sex. If I was honest, I think that I would be inclined to say that men are better at having fun than women are."
"Rubbish!" says the actress.
"No, seriously. I think that it's precisely because adult men seem to be generally less emotionally responsible than adult women that they are able to have more fun. I remember the days when I used to take lots of funerals."
"A curious reminiscence when we're talking about the ability to have fun!"
"Be that as it may. I'd be sitting with the family trying to build up a picture of the person who had died , and I'd usually ask what the deceased did in their lifetime 'for fun'. If it was a woman we were burying, I would get a very strange look - especially if the person I was asking was a woman. 'What did she do for fun?' I'd ask. She would look rather bemused for a couple of seconds, and then she'd reply, 'Oh, she'd watch Coronation Street or do some knitting.' Relaxation, yes! But fun?"
"Aren't we rather oversimplifying things here?" says the actress.
"Are we?" says the Bishop. He's hit a new vein. Some things he hadn't thought about before are beginning to take shape. "Take all this stuff' about women going for girls' nights out with the Chippendales - it all sounds so derivative, girls trying to be like boys. I don't say that they don't have fun. It's just such a pity that they've discovered one of the more vacuous ways in which man have fun. Anyway, I suspect that men don't watch strippers for fun - I suspect that it's a rather more serious business underneath, like porn."
"But having fun is a serious business," says the actress. Perhaps she remembers those women who had to go by the degrading
path of stripping to get their Equity card.
"You're absolutely right of course," says the Bishop. "Curiously enough, that's a response that I would have expected from a man."
"That sounds like old sexism to me," says the actress.
"I suppose that I think that men take their fun more seriously than women. That's probably why they're better at it than women - except the porn. I've never really been able to imagine there being any fun in porn."
"Some would say that that's a pretty good qualification for being a bishop," says the actress.
"Yes. I suppose they would," says the Bishop.
"And it's such a masculine pursuit!" says the actress. "Though I note that they would even try to encourage us to develop a taste for porn, just to be equal to the men. Let's have real equality - as many women in prison as men, as many women buying porn as men, as many women leaving their children as men, as many women football hooligans as men. Let women compete equally in every field of male endeavour! They want us to approximate to the masculine whilst hating it. Why should the only occupation that a woman has to apologise for nowadays be the occupation of motherhood?"
"Do you want to be returned to the kitchen then? Do you wish to be a 'domestic incarceration survivor'?" asks the Bishop.
"No. I want to be able to pursue a career and look after children."
"Sounds fair enough to me."
"I also want to be allowed to be feminine."
"That's strange. Being 'masculine' is hardly a permissible ambition for a bishop to entertain!"
"That's strange - for an occupation that, in your organisation, consists solely of men," says the actress.
"Well, there you are. Perhaps you could aspire to being a bishop?"
"There you go again. You keep on trying to impose masculine ideals on us."
Peter Green is Vicar of St Barnabas, Russels Hall in the diocese of Worcester
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