Women as Scapegoats

Henry Karlson

“After the fall, man hides, confesses, recognizes and buries his origin and crime in the womb of woman: after the generations are accomplished, God emerges from the womb of Mary Immaculate.” — Paul Claudel

The history of humanity contains many things.  It is a history of glorious accomplishments, of wondrous achievements.  It is also a history of evil and the consequences we have had to face for the evil men and women have done.  It is the history of human desire to rise above the clouds and the history of shame, of humanity trying to displace its evil through scapegoats.

As Paul Claudel intuited, the way women have been treated by many men has been as such scapegoats.  The myth of the fall gives us an example of this.  Adam blamed both Eve and God for his sin, “You gave her to me; it’s your fault.”  Women often have taken the blame for the sins men do.  Even rapists have blamed their victims: if only they had hid themselves, if only they had covered themselves up, the rapist wouldn’t have felt it necessary to do what they did.

From the Laws of Manu to early Christian apologists like Tertullian to the Buddhist thinker Santideva, men thought the way to control their own desires was to place blame on women – even calling women evil – and hide them from society.  Women were confined to home, to protect themselves and society as a whole.

Control by blame and repression works better in theory than practice. Unconscious desires find a way of creating more problems and generating more repressive attitudes.  Some Christian leaders abandoned all private contact with women, even members of their own family – to avoid temptation. While critics point out the ways Muslim cultures hide women and treat them as second class citizens (all for their own good, of course), it is often forgotten many Christian societies did so as well and that these sentiments – to cover women and protect men from temptation – are still expressed within some Christian circles today.

Just as many Christians have considered the influence of cultural mores on theology and moved beyond restrictive practices, so many Muslims (despite what people think) have rejected such treatment of women, distinguishing Islam from such cultural norms.  A prime example of this movement within Islam is the work of Badshah Khan, a Muslim, a friend and co-worker of Gandhi, and a peace activist, who promoted the liberation of women from unjust discrimination in his own society.  Not only did he criticize the stereotypical veil, he promoted the education and voice of women, seeing their liberation as running parallel to the liberation of his people from British rule.

The problem of unjust “placing of blame” upon all women – on using women as scapegoats – is one which finds not correction, but reversal, in radical feminism.  Men, instead of women, became the “placing of blame” scapegoat.  Men are coaxed, bullied and intimidated into hiding their masculinity from themselves and from the world.  Radical feminism blames men for both history’s and the world’s wrongs and injustices and demands apologies, reparations and withdrawal of male needs and viewpoints from the public forum.   If all men and all the ways of men are suspect, then what we have done is create a new hierarchy, not a new way of dealing with the world.

The evil of such scapegoating, though, remains an evil.

When women or men (or any gender group) are blamed and labeled as scapegoats for social problems and woes, the evil ferments and grows and multiplies repression.  The solution is to reject scapegoating and to refuse to blame the “other” for our own faults and ills within society.  This path becomes possible only by mutual recognition of the strengths and weaknesses of each other and forging forward-moving relations so that men and women can work together, complementing each other in unity instead of competing with each other in a vocal and harmful power contest of blaming.

Complementariness not competition is the proper paradigm to escape the evils and restrictions of blaming and blame shifting.   Paul Claudel uses the problems of the past to illustrate how Christian theology attempts to resolve and move beyond:   God became man through a woman.  God reveals himself through the revelation of the dignity of women, not apart from it.  This is the essence of complementarity – it does not abide scapegoating.

One thought on “Women as Scapegoats

  1. Thanks so much for putting this in perspective. My husband and I are currently in marriage counseling for this very issue. He seems to want to blame me for choices he makes and wants to always look like he “Knight in shining Armour”.
    We are slowly making progress with a great therapist who is very in tune with this issue. Thanks again for verifying the reality of this problem within marriage and relationships in general.