C. S. Lewis Was No Sexist
During his lifetime, C. S. Lewis was a widely read and respected Christian writer, even though he called himself a “dinosaur” who was out of step with the times. In the decades since his death, his reputation as one of the greatest 20th-century Christian thinkers—or perhaps the greatest—has increased, as more generations come to know and love his works.
But was Lewis truly a writer for all people—or was he inherently, irrevocably biased toward his own gender? This question, in some form or other, has dogged the author for decades.
Detractors use various passages—Susan turning away from Narnia in The Last Battle for the sake of typically feminine preoccupations; Jane Studdock’s power struggles with her husband, and the way they’re eventually resolved, in That Hideous Strength; and Lewis’s praises of male friendship—to paint him as an incurable sexist. Popular young adult fantasy author Philip Pullman has called him “monumentally disparaging of women,” while literary critic John Goldthwaite accused him of fearing and disliking them.
The many contributors to Women and C. S. Lewis: What His Life and Literature Reveal for Today’s Culture beg to differ. Edited by Carolyn Curtis and Mary Pomroy Key, the book delves deep into how Lewis regarded women. Not content just to rely on a few “proof texts,” the many authors in this book carefully studied his life, works, and relationships—including those with female family members, friends, students, and colleagues—and they engage with his thinking in honest, thoughtful, and constructive ways. Many discuss the effects of his work on their own faith and lives; we even hear from Kathy Keller, wife of Redeemer Presbyterian Pastor Tim Keller, who received letters from him as a child, personal notes that affirmed her “value, worth, and dignity.” (By way of disclosure: This collection features a few of my friends, including a former professor, Crystal Downing, and the head of the organization where I work, John Stonestreet.)
These authors come from a wide variety of theological backgrounds and belief systems, both conservative and liberal. In Women and C. S. Lewis, we read about Lewis’s views on issues like the ordination of women from essayists who agree with him as well as those who don’t. All these writers agree that Lewis respected the women in his life and treated them as equals, and they in turn respect him even when wrestling with some of his views.
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