THE FIRST two chapters of Doris Jean Dyke's Crucified Woman (United Church Publishing House, 96 pages, $12.95 paper) tell the story of a piece of sculpture that caused considerable controversy when it first appeared in Toronto's Bloor Street United Church the Easter weekend of 1979. The sculpture, later placed permanently in the grounds of the University of Toronto's Emmanuel College, depicts a woman hanging naked with her arms outstretched in cruciform style. Included in the book is a cross-section of the responses to the sculpture: some people called it blasphemous because it seemed to suggest that Jesus Christ was a woman; some found it erotic and therefore unsuitable for a Christian milieu. There were some men who said they were sexually aroused by the sculpture.
Many women, however, were stirred by the image of suffering in the rigid, defenceless body and distorted face. The sculpture reminded them of the abuse and exploitation suffered by themselves, their mothers, and all of womankind. It also reminded them that this exploitation has been due in no small measure to the dominant attitude within the Christian churches, which insinuated that women were inferior to men and that suffering was right and proper, that it was God's will.
The remaining chapters of this slim book form a theological reflection on the sculpture itself and the responses to it. This reflection highlights the misogyny at the core of traditional Christianity. Dyke gives cogent examples of this: she notes, for instance, that women do most of the work in the church, but they often feel they are not trusted by the men in charge.
This book will be close to the bone for women brought up according to the tenets of religious institutions. It is a timely volume, and a welcome addition to the growing ranks of books by women that are trying to break the male stranglehold on Christianity.