We find often statements about Saint Paul, based on his letters to the Corinthians , namely that Paul was a misogynist.
Paul and Women: Man and woman are equal (cf.Gal 3:28, “there is no such thing as male and female”; Col 3:11;1 Cor 7:2-4). But also the woman seems to be subordinate to man (Col 3:18;Eph 5:22). In the Corinthian community, Paul reprimands women who pray with their heads uncovered(1 Cor 11:3) and insists that the women should keep silence in the churches–if there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home(1 Cor 14:33). Was Paul a misogynist or a male chauvinist?
Man and woman share equally in the salvation offered by Jesus (Gal 3:28;Col 3:11;cf.1 Cor 11:11f); but fellowship in Christ does not remove the distinction and functional position of leadership in the society of the day with regard to women. In antiquity in general and Judaism in particular, as well as in the rest of the ancient Middle East, the status of women was inferior to that of man. Even in our present day, the daily prayer of the Jew proclaims: “Blessed may you be, O God, for not having made me a Gentile or a woman nor an ignoramus“, while the woman is content to say, ‘Praised be you, Lord, who created me according to your will‘.
In Paul’s letters there is equality of man and woman in Christ–“brethren“, also mentions women;in the lists of greetings(Rm 16),gift of prophecy attributed to men and women(1 Cor 11:5),Priscilla together with her husband, Aquila, is called fellow-worker (cf.Ac 18:2); Mary (cf.Rm 16:6, she worked hard);also Tryphena, Tryphosa and Persis (Rm 16:12). He attributes to Phoebe charisms of assistance (Rm 16:1;cf.12:7 and 1 Cor 12:28). But Paul also imposes some restrictions on women, for instance in Christian prayer meetings in Corinth(1 Cor 11:3-16, women were praying or prophesying with heads uncovered); and expressly requires of women that they keep silence in the Church gatherings(1 Cor 14:34f–it is shameful to speak in the Church).
In 1 Cor 11-14, Paul deals with good order in Christian assemblies during public worship (cf.1 Cor 10:32-11:1,which is followed by our passage,11:3-16).Praying with heads uncovered was a novel practice, offensive not only to the Church but also to the Jews and pagans in the cultural,social and religious milieu of the time.As John L.McKenzie puts it (“The Much Misunderstood Paul”, in: The New Testament without Illusion,p.66):”Possibly in Corinth,which seems to have had more prostitutes per capita than any other Roman-Hellenistic city, a woman with her head bare may have been recognized as a working prostitute.All Paul asked was that they should not so identify themselves in the church”. The reasons adduced by him were the following:–“We have no custom nor do the churches of God“(v.16);”Judge for yourselves”: it is not proper according to nature(vv.13-15).But as the women in the Corinthian church were insisting, ‘Why cannot we pray with our heads bare just like men?’, Paul answers:–a woman with uncovered head dishonours her head,just as a man with head covered dishonours his head(vv.4-5);and then he argues as a Jewish rabbi, reared in the culture and customs of the society of his day:–Man should not,but woman should, cover the head,because:-he is the image and glory of God (v.7,cf.Gn 1:26-27);–man is not from woman but woman from man (v.8,cf.Gn 2:21-23);–man was not created for woman but woman for man (v.9,cf.Gn 2:18); and therefore a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels(v.10). As Paul expected that the women would still insist
and be contentious, his decisive argument is the appeal to the custom in all the churches: ‘Stop being contentious. We recognize no other practice than that of women covering their heads in the prayer assemblies. All the churches of God follow the same’. Yet, Paul is clearly aware of the equality between man and woman(vv.11-12).
Paul warns the Corinthians to avoid noise and confusion in the worship when exercising their gift of tongues(cf.1 Cor 14:23.33.40) and when wives would talk in the assembly for the purpose of ‘learning something'(v.35). Probably the wives were interrupting the meeting with questions about things said within it. In the time of Paul women did not receive any substantial education in religious matters, yet they could be present actively throughout the whole meeting (cf.’praying and prophesying’ in 11:5). Paul’s approach is practical/pastoral: “As in all the churches of the saints…(14:33;cf.11:16). He reminds them of the prevailing custom(v.35–in Greek cities only the courtesans engaged in public discussion with men).As a rabbi, he appeals to scripture to argue his point: “They are to be submissive as the law also says” (v.34; cf.Gn 3:16); and to the ‘command’ from the Lord concerning the things he writes to them as their apostle and pastor(cf.v.37). Paul’s final appeal concerning everything that pertains to Christian assemblies in Corinth(1 Cor 11-14) is that “all things should be done decently and in order“(14:40).