Thought for the Day - Anne Aktins - 20/09/2012

Before we moved to our present home, we lived briefly in an utterly idyllic little village called Horspath. Directing friends from nearby Oxford, I told them that when they saw the sign to the village they should continue straight on, over a wiggly sort of crossroads. “Continue straight on?” my husband and son chorused. “That would take you to Cuddeston.” “But Cuddeston’s a sharp turn to the right,” I replied, astonished. “It’s the continuation of the main road,” they both insisted.

In a flash I understood decades of following my husband’s careful instructions and ending up behind the back of beyond. The road did indeed bend sharp right for Cuddeston. But they saw mysterious clues, painted on the tarmac by other men, telling them to consider it straight on. Whereas I saw, right in front of my nose and clearly straight on to me, a little lane leading up to the church. From then on I issued gender-specific instructions: men, turn left off the main road and immediately right; women continue the way you’re going, up the byway ahead.

The item on this programme earlier in the week explaining that men and women read signs, and therefore find their way about, differently confirmed everything I’ve maintained for years. I’m not necessarily stupid at reading a map: it’s just the wrong way up.

In my twenties, pregnant and embarking on my first book while I couldn’t do theatre work, I decided to study respective roles of men and women. I’d been dismayed to find some of the church far more sexist than the secular world, and I wanted to know if this was an essential part of Christianity. Did Jesus Himself teach such behaviour?

I found more than I was looking for. Not so much that He treated women either differently or equally, but that He mixed with them in a way no other first century rabbi would have done. In a time of strict segregation He worked alongside women, travelled with them, taught them theology, accepted financial support from them, challenged them intellectually and perhaps most striking of all, simply included them in all He did. Surely unique - and presumably shocking - in His day. His own disciples were astonished to find Him talking alone with a woman.

The message is clear. Of course we are different, who knows in how many ways. Of course too, we are equal. What we often miss is our interdependence. How much we need each other. Men in the home. Women in government. Primary school classrooms and boardrooms alike needing the contribution of both.

The most important job most of us ever do is raising the next generation. A privilege which vitally embraces the commitment of two people, essentially different, equally involved, each incapable of creating a child alone.

What interested me most about the navigational findings is that those who perform best are, what a surprise, not men alone or women alone but a mixed team of both.

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