Well, dur…that one is obvious. It’s because I am a man, and I already hold the power and so the only interest I could possibly have in not being a feminist is that I want to hold the power for myself and my kind, and oppress the ones who are different to me. Or so you’d think if you’d been reading blogs about feminism and Christianity this week.
Here’s my real reason, which I would quite understand you not being interested in if you are feminist, as I am a man who is to compound my issues, not a feminist, and therefore not worth paying attention to.
However, if you bear to read my views, hopelessly shaped by patriarchy as they are, it’s all got to do what you think a person (of any gender identity) is. I don’t buy the twentieth century view, heavily influenced by Sartre, that human beings are essentially free, and people are at their most human (he would say authentic probably) when they are most autonomous. It was his partner Simone de Beauvoir who borrowed this analysis of consciousness to develop into a feminist ethic. And so our communal life has become this zero sum game; for this type of freedom is mysteriously elusive and always (in the real world) means someone else’s radical freedom being limited. Feminism argues that the losers of this perpetual freedom game have, by and large, been women. Which is true. And so the discourse, even in Christian circles, is about “my right to use my gift” being “limited” or “crushed” or “ignored”. Or indeed about uppity women stepping up and “stopping men” from leading as they should.
Whereas the real view is that we actually are communal beings. I am not at my most human when I’m free from the bonds other people place on me. I am at my most human, most male or female when I serve and love people of all different genders, races, nationalities and sexualities around me, and that is my value. Not seeking respect for myself, but for Christ, and hence for others.
It’s not that I’m against women’s rights. I guess I’m against rights, at least as they are rooted in this Sartrean sense of freedom. I’m against a philosophy, like feminism, that says autonomy is the end of personhood. It’s not actually a possible goal, nor do I think that people are most authentically human when they are radically free to express some inner essence, magically formed and expressed apart from their relationships. Relationships are part of who we are, not just a means to express my freedom.
Of course, because this type of freedom is zero sum – one person’s freedom inevitably impinges on another’s – any philosophy based on these premises becomes oppressive to someone, whoever the the person is who is blocking the realisation of this type of freedom for me or my interest group.
I finish with this example: at the time of the women bishops in the C of E debacle I witnessed the following exchange on Facebook, with some details changed to protect the innocent.
A: Oh no, the religious oppression of women in the church continues. Why can’t men see that by insisting certain roles are for men they are oppressing women?
B: I’m genuinely sorry that you feel oppressed, but I’m in a church with male leaders and I don’t feel that oppressed.
A: You are oppressed, you just don’t know it.
B: I honestly don’t feel that I am. But I really am sorry that you do.
A: If you participate in a system where there are any fixed gender roles for men and women you are oppressed. And you are oppressing other women too.
B: I don’t think I am oppressed.
A: You are, you are just too stupid to realise.
Now tell me, who is oppressing who here?
P.S. Thanks to my colleagues who helped me get thinking about all of this.