Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Wasted Treasure

Last night my wife and I watched the movie Mozart's Sister. I enjoyed the film as a work of art, although the storyline grieved me. A bit of internet research confirmed our questions about the factuality of the storyline. Despite the fictional nature of much of the plot, the underlying theme follows in line with what we know of Maria Anna Mozart, known affectionately to her family as Nannerl, and her early life. Apparently a young woman of significant talent herself, her father not only failed to fully appreciate her talent but actively thwarted and stifled it. He actively and fiercely promoted Wolfgang's development, but Nannerl's role remained purely a supporting one. As she grew older, even that role was removed from her because it was not seen as a proper one for a young woman of marriageable age.

This story, even in the broadest of outline, grieves me. The world lost the opportunity to enjoy and appreciate the talents of this remarkable young woman simply because her father and her society deemed it inappropriate for her to display and develop them. How many times has this happened throughout history? How much potential has the world lost because societies have viewed women as inferior mentally and physically or because they have deemed that the proper place for a woman was in the home as wife and mother? Surely the loss of all the talent and potential of women throughout the centuries must constitute one of the greatest failures of human history.

I'd like to say that we have thankfully progressed beyond such narrow beliefs. Unfortunately that is not the case. Certainly we have progressed in some cultures, but that progress has been relatively recent and still not fully realized. In many cultures around the world little if anything has changed in this regard. I have lived in a culture where women were still viewed as inferior. Although in that culture they were (thankfully) allowed to have an education, they were the first ones to be pulled from school if finances were short and in many cases women were discouraged from pursuing higher education because men would not want to marry a woman who was smarter than them. After all, how much education does one need to have babies and manage a home? When I hear such views expressed my anger begins to boil. How can people think this way? And how can they fail to see the enormous potential they deprive their culture of by proscribing the talents and abilities of their women?

In American culture we have made progress. Women now have access, at least theoretically, to almost all spheres of life and all roles. But we haven't reached the point where we fully release the potential of women in our society. We still undervalue women in business, sports, politics and other fields. In much of the church we continue to define a very narrow sphere in which women can express their gifts. We rob ourselves of so much by doing so! Unfortunately conservative evangelical Christians often lead the battle against full equality for women. I hear of and know families in which the daughters are raised primarily for the role of wife and mother. Yes, they are in most cases given the same or nearly the same education as any brothers they might have, but with a stated or unstated expectation that they will subordinate their skills, talents and gifts to those of their husbands or fathers. I do not disparage the roles of wife and mother. These are important—vital!--roles in society and deserve our full respect. But a woman should not be forced into those roles simply because no other options are available to her.

In the movie, Nannerl becomes close friends with the youngest daughter of the king of France, who has lived in a cloister with two of her other sisters since early in her childhood. In the film this daughter chooses to become a nun and submit her wishes and desires to the authority and leadership of the church. When she meets Nannerl for the last time, she encourages Nannerl to accept a similar sacrifice for herself in submitting her own dreams to the plans and decisions of her father. Nannerl chooses to do so, but the movie leaves us with a strong sense that she does so with great sorrow and regret. Some Christians would argue that Nannerl made the right decision, that submission to her father was the biblical choice. I would counter that as a woman come-of-age Nannerl should not have felt nor have been in a position where submission to her father was the only choice available to her. I do not agree that the Bible places an adult woman under the authority of her father or any other man. The times in which Nannerl lived offered her no realistic alternatives. I hope that our society—particularly within the church—will do otherwise and strive to liberate and encourage the talents, skills, gifts and interests of our daughters and women. I dream of a day when no Nannerl will be doomed to obscurity because she is a woman. The world cannot afford to so casually and carelessly squander such treasures.  

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