Women do everything . . . but go to church

WomenBoss Mattingly asked me to take a look at the latest Newsweek and write up my thoughts. After I read it all -- and I do mean all -- I couldn't figure out why he thought it was GetReligion-worthy. In the annual "Women and Power" issue, I read "Do Women Lead Differently Than Men?" (a look back at Elizabeth I, mostly), "11 Women Leaders Share Their Success Stories" (including, let's see, Arianna Huffington!, Kyra Sedgwick, and Lorena Ochoa), "Now This Is Woman's Work" (about Alaska's Gov. Sarah Palin and Arizona's Gov. Janet Napolitano), "An Authentic Life" (about Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger's view of her various vocations), "'You Do What You Have to Do'" (about two Hollywood women who raise money for charity), "What I Learned" (various female leaders share their stories about overcoming obstacles), and a transcript of Napolitano on "Leadership."

Confused (and angry because the piece was so completely cliched and uninspiring), I tried to figure out what to write. There was a small mention of religion in the Elizabeth I story, but not enough for thoughtful commentary.

So again I pored through the many profiles of various female leaders. Actress Kyra Sedgwick shared her view that female leaders -- all evidence to the contrary -- don't believe in war:

I wish that we could come together more as a political force. If women ran the world, I don't believe that there would be war. I really don't.

At least she's just an actress. Swanee Hunt, founding director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, had similar views to Sedgwick's, adding:

Women tend to be less corrupt, and when you're talking about developing countries, that is enormous. What they tell me is, "We know that any money that we put into our own pockets is not going to go to hospitals and to schools that will help the children in this country." They think of the whole country as their family.

Hunt went on to say that women need to get over the idea that other people shouldn't help raise their children. Shriver had a bit of a different take:

So many women my age thought that success meant being like a man: wanting the same job a man would have and getting paid the same money -- basically copying the male resume. But I think a lot of us who went that route now feel ambivalent about the sacrifices we made. What were we really accomplishing? What was the cost, not just to others but to ourselves? Was there another way to do it? Did we have to follow the male role model?

There are ghosts here, to be sure. The notion that women sin less than men. The idea that women's vocation as mother should be valued highly. But they are ghosts, not actual mentions of religion. In fact, the only mention of religion in the entire package came from Gnostic (and Gnostic scholar) Elaine Pagels:

In my last book, I asked two questions. What is it about Christianity that I love in spite of many things I don't? And what is it I can't love about it? I don't love the claim that it's the only true religion, and I don't love the way that many sides of Christianity have been used to nurture hatred and dissension. But I do love the enormous range of stories, poems, chants and testimonies to the ways that people discover the human spirit and express that in relation to each other, in relation to communities. Finding spiritual meaning is essential. This is part of the way we imagine, we hope, we fear, the way we explore. We can't live without it.

Reading Pagels' account made me realize what was so interesting about the Newsweek package: the almost complete lack of any substantive discussion of religion. Save Pagels and her distaste for Christianity's truth claims, none of the women were quoted discussing their faith. None cited religion as an important aspect of their lives. None of the female leaders held religious posts -- even though various church bodies or their agencies are led by females.

Turns out this is a pattern. This is at least the third year Newsweek has run a Women and Power issue. Two years ago it put Oprah on the cover and left the religion out, with a tiny exception. Last year it completely ignored the role of religion in women's lives.

The newsweeklies struggle with irrelevance. Continuing to ignore the role of religion in women's lives can't be helping.

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