Feminism. Again.

Yesterday, my colleague posted this article about feminism here. Through the comments on that article, I read a very interesting exchange between Hannah Mudge (a Christian feminist) and Phil Whitall (a complementarian pastor) his summary of which is here  and all of which is well worth a read. As a complementarian myself I found it extremely educational and feel very challenged about addressing the hugely pressing issue of violence against women in my preaching and pastoral work.

I am left with two real questions.

1) Hannah was unable to say what the differences actually are between men and women (not just what they aren’t – they are not personality types or gender roles). If you are an egalitarian or feminist, can you please explain to me what you think these differences are? If you think they are merely biological (like most secular feminism, it seems to me) then can you explain to me why you don’t take the position (if you don’t) of affirming same sex relationships, as people like Steve Chalke and (as far as I can tell) Rachel Held Evans would do. (I chose these examples because they seem to explicitly link their view on that issue, as far as I can tell, to their view on gender equality) That seems to me to be much more consistent. The reason I ask is that I think for the complentarian, men take the role of servant-leader and women as helper supplying-what-is-lacking and that imaging of God’s diverse nature gives a reason for insisting that equal but different is necessary for marriage. But if there are no real distinctions in role – then for what reason can you say two men or two women can’t image God’s character in marriage?

2) A more serious non academic question. It seems to me that the real emphasis on equality but without difference actually encourages men to treat women like they treat other men. This, it seems to me, is not a very healthy model because men do not treat other men very well. I can’t help but wonder if this view actually increases the risk of someone who is violent being sexually violent, because the socially accepted deference to women’s general physical weakness is removed. (As I say I’m guessing, so I may be totally out of order here.) The beautiful thing about complementarianism as I understand it is that it says to men “Generally women are weaker than you physically. Moreover, the nature of having children means that they are often removed from positions of social influence for longer periods than you. Use the “power” that gives you to serve, love, care and honour women as beautiful and precious gifts from the Lord”. I guess most feminists would find that patronising. I can’t help feeling it’s healthier than encouraging men to treat women the way that they treat other men.

I might be wrong. I have no wish to throw brickbats or rule anyone out of conversation. I want to learn. But those seem to me to be two important implications of this debate that strengthen the complementarian view.

10 thoughts on “Feminism. Again.

  1. Hi mo. hope you and Anna and the little one are doing well!

    So – I’ taking the bait here, assuming that these are real questions. (By the way, your two links don’t work – the first one has an extra http in it. Dn’t know why the second one doesn’t work).

    What are the differences between men and women?
    I think this is a really tricky question to answer. For me, it starts with saying that men and women are different biologically and that both reflect the image of God together. Science tells me the first, genesis tells me the second. But beyond that? It’s hard to say without falling into rigid rules or unhelpful stereotypes.

    Men and women are different from one another.

    But I don’t want to fall into the kind of stereotype that says ‘all men are big and strong’ and ‘all women are emotional’ – and I don’t really think you want to, either.

    There are tendencies that men have, and tendencies that women have, but I don’t think a man is less of a man because he doesn’t go off to war (as we see men in the Abible doing). There are more men who would like to go to war than women who would like to go to war. There are more women who like to be teachers than men who like to be teachers. What does this tell me? It tells me that there are differences – and we know instinctively that there are differences. But I don’t think we should get an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ – which is to say, just because more men are stronger than women, doesn’t mean men have to be strong ion order to be ‘manly’. Indeed, I think it’s a bit of a waste of time to go searching around to say ‘how can I be the most manly man God has created me to be’ when we should all be asking ourselves ‘how can I be more like Jesus?’ That’s the same question for male and female, and I think it probably has the same answer too. Gentle and strong should be qualities that men and women both exhibit.

    So – how can a person possibly believe in egalitarianism but not same sex marriage? This was such a bizarre leap for me that I had to read it twice. I don’t think egalitarians would say that ‘gender is a construct’ or go as far as that. On the other hand, I think there’s something particularly dangerous about a culture that says pink fluffy dolls are for girls and black weapons are the only suitable toys for boys. I would want my boy to be nurturing and strong and protective. And if I had a girl, I would want that for her, too. Ad I would probably want to reject the pink fluff and black violence for both.

    So that’s how the world constructs things. As for the Bible – it doesn’t say an awful lot about what women should do or shouldn’t. Men go off to war in the OT, women stay at home – but I don’t think we would now argue that a good Christian man should go off to war. Men worked in the fields in the OT – but then, so did women! Really – we’re just back to the commands of Paul as regards husbands and wives relating to each other, and the women in ministry stuff. I don’t see the stuff in the Bible that you want to extrapolate from that ‘men are the protectors, women are helpers’. You can maybe make a case from 1 Peter from that, but not from genesis. In my opinion. Remember, the commands are to husbands and wives, not to men and women in general (as most Bible translations reflect). How can God’s purpose for women be to submit if they’re not married? It’s not something inherent in our nature, it’s just something within marriage.

    Why might egalitarians not agree with same sex marriage? Perhaps because of the Bible! Perhaps becuase of the explicit passages that talk about homosexual sex? I don’t really know how else to answer that! I think we take our morality from the Bible. I guess you do too!

    Adam and Eve were the prototype man and woman, but they were also the prototype husband and wife. Sometimes I hear cons Evos making blanket statements for ‘men and women’ when they shoudl be saying ‘husbands and wives’. (Or not making blanket statements.)

    Even supposing you accept the fact that there are different roles in marriage – the roles are to love versus submit. That’s it. I trust that people in their marriage are best left to work out what that will mean for them. For some people, the most loving thing a man can do is let his wife go and work. For some, the most submissive thing a woman can do is fully share the childcare with her husband. These qualities don’t have to run along gender stereotype lines, and most of the time, I see the best marriages make their decisions with love and sacrifice on both sides.

    As regards your final point – from what I can tell, in cases of domestic violence, the men involved have a very strong sense that women are different, not the the same, and they view them as inferior and as objects.

    Personally, I don’t really believe in ‘treating men as men’ and ‘women as women’. I believe in treating people as individuals. We are our gender, and I am very happy to be a woman. I know that I am different from a man. But you know what? I’m also different from other women. When I look at Jesus, I can’t say, ‘oh, right – this is how he treated men, so this is how we should treat men. And this is how he treated women.” He responded differently to each individual, at each situation. This is how I want to be. Don’t you??

  2. Fixed my links – thanks for the tip. Sorry about that. Really everyone you should read the stuff from Phil and Hannah, it’s brilliant.

    Tanya, thank you for your extensive answer. It wasn’t “bait” I promise – I generally want to work this out. As I understand your answer , it’s this: the Bible doesn’t give defined roles for women and men. Nevertheless, the Bible also doesn’t accept same sex relationships.
    For you, is that the end of the story? It’s just a matter of hermeneutics of Bible passages? Because both Chalke and Held Evans think there is intersectionality here – that the version of equality that says there is no gender differences means that gay relationships must be able to image God in the same way straight ones do. And I can see that logic, and I can see why that would change your hermeneutic. I don’t think the question is that bizarre.

    The “helper” language does come from Genesis 1 – not 1 Peter.

    My last question wasn’t about domestic violence, but sexual violence. Undoubtedly some of the ways men behave towards each other would be considered as sexual assault if they behaved that way towards women (ever noticed the men in your life “play fighting”?) It’s surely only if you acknowledge gender difference that you can justify this?

    Finally, I don’t really believe in treating people as individuals. Shocking I know. I’m not sure the excessive individuality of our culture and the ultimacy of individual choice are helpful to our Christian growth. In fact I think it’s one thing feminism has right – women are connected to other women and their choices impact them – in that sense de Beauvoir was correct! We are never just an individual, humans are intrinsically connected to each other. It’s why, if modern feminism is merely a movement about maximising choice, and that’s what equality means, it’s not one I can sign up to as a Christian. In that sense my rejection of it has nothing to do with what the Bible teaches (or doesn’t teach) about gender roles, but the philosophical struggle for a mythical freedom that doesn’t exist. (See my last post on the issue.)

    • Hi.

      I haven’t said that there are no gender differences. I have said that there are. I just don’t that all women should be submissive and all men should be leading. Neither does the Bible say this. At most, you can make it say all husbands should be sacrificially loving and all wives submitting to that love, as they both love each other and both summit to Christ. All this stuff about ‘women are naturally more nurturing’, ‘men are naturally better at leading’ – I see this in conservative evangelical theology and I see it in the sexism of the world – but I don’t see it in the Bible. Do you?

      the point of gen 1 is that there is sameness but difference. eve was created as a ‘helper suitable’ for Adam/ helpmeet. Re: the helper thing- I realise that there is the word helper in Gen 2; I wasn’t very clear. I was arguing against the idea that women are just there to ‘help’ men, as though that were their only purpose.

      as regards Gen 2, I don’t think you can infer leadership and submission as distinctive roles for male and female from Genesis 1-3. When Adam is whooping in Gen 2 about how great it is to have eve around, it was because she was like him, not like the animals. ‘Helper suitable’ sounds to me like ‘co-worker’, not underling. There doesn’t always have to be a dynamic of leader/follower in all our relationships. It is the similarity that is emphasised, not the difference. I see that harmony too in Gen 1 – in image of God he made humanity; male and female. Martin Hallett from True Freedom Trust is a gay man who chooses to remain celibate because he believes that’s what the Bible teaches. Gen 1 and 2 are very important in his theology – that sex and marriage are somehow not only a ‘unting’ but a ‘reuniting’ – because woman was taken out of man, and the sameness and distinctiveness are important in a marriage relationship. Gen 2 says this, and is very strong in forming my ethics of sex and marriage. I don’t see why I should have to believe in a submission/leadership role in marriage to think that the pattern set down in Genesis 2 means anything other than monogamous Covenanted relationship between one man and one woman, for life. It just isn’t in Genesis 1-3.

      I am intrigued that you see Steve Chalke and Rachel Held Evans’ position as logical but mine not!

      Yeah – what I said about domestic violence? Goes for sexual violence as well. To suggest that men who wrestle with one another would rape a woman because they’re treating her like a man is – bizarre. Men who rape women, who touch women inapprorpiately, are not doing so because they are treating her like a man. do men really grope one anothers genitals when the playfight? do they use their penis to penentrate? I am holding back on my language here, but i would strongly say that typically the mindset of the man who rapes or beats women does so out of a mentality that they are ‘other’, ‘lesser’, owned by him, despised by him, weaker than him. I don’t think it’s because they get mixed up with play fighting.

      Restored have a great info pack for church leaders I will send you the link because it is so important to be aware of these things.

      I scanned your previous post. I guess I’d want to say that while there’s always an element in which the corporate stuff is important, it’s bizarre to say we don’t treat
      people as individuals. And hey – Jesus did. And Paul addressed individuals as well as the corporate churches, so it’s not like you can appeal to him either! What do you think, man?

  3. Ok, you have misunderstood me – probably my fault.

    1) I am not suggesting “women are naturally more nurturing etc.” It’s not about personality, it’s about role. My suggestion about that is merely both Chalke and Held Evans suggest that if you abolish all sense of gender role, then there is no reason to think two people of the same sex can’t form a covenanted relationship. You haven’t really answered that except to say you think that view is bizarre, and that you think Genesis 1-3 only shows a man and a woman covenanting. That’s true, and Chalke must see that too – but because he doesn’t see the distinctness as central, because there are no gender roles, he doesn’t think it matters. Which leads me on to:

    2) You have done the same thing as Hannah Mudge here, and told me lots about what the distinction is not (it’s not about having a nurturing personality, it’s not about playing with dolls, it’s not about helping to men’s leading.) That’s totally fine – what is the distinction then? I get that equality matters to you from Gen 1-3 but what about difference? Can you express it?

    3) I wasn’t suggesting that men who play fight are more likely to rape. What I was saying is that, whilst researching this, and reading around, and some academic stuff too as a part of a philosophy course I am doing, I have read all sorts of stuff where women are saying “we just want gender and sex to be irrelevant, treat us the way you would treat a man.” In fact if most men treated women the way they treated other men, they’d be considered as assaulting them. I think that’s right, because I believe there are fundamental differences between men and women, and men are given specific ways of treating women above and beyond ways of just treating “people”. But wouldn’t it be inappropriate for me to playfight with my female friends? Because there really is some difference here in how I’m supposed to treat men and women?

    4) Finally, I guess we’ll have to disagree on the individualism thing. I’m not sure there is a “me” apart from the “me” who is created by my relationships, most essentially my relationship with God. I think it’s a twentieth century construction of personhood. But that’s probably a discussion for another day.

    I can’t begin to psychologise either the victim or perpetrator of domestic abuse, and wasn’t trying to do so – that would be totally inappropriate, and I shouldn’t have even headed down that road. I apologise. I have downloaded the Restored stuff, and have noted that we need to consider the issue as a church leadership – Hannah and Phil’s interaction was excellent on this.

  4. Tanya, I’m glad of your statement “I don’t think egalitarians would say that ‘gender is a construct’ or go as far as that”. However one can’t really avoid the fact that secular feminism certainly does, extensively and centrally.

    Hence when you are defining your terms carefully as Mo is asking, I would add that it would be useful for the conversion not only to distinguish what the differences between gender are as well as what the are not, but also to distinguish at what points evangelical egalitarians affirm secular feminist tenets and what point they distance themselves from them

    • I think the Christian feminists that I have read don’t particularly define themselves by what they are not, but what they are. There are lots of different feminisms – in secular and in Christianity, so we need to listen carefully. What I have noticed in secular feminism is a trend towards campaigning for equality in work and pay etc, and a campaign against violence against women and rape culture. I was struck by this check list here: http://weekwoman.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/feminist-check-list-what-do-you-believe/

      I would hope that if you read the above list, you would be a feminist too.

      What I have noticed in Christian feminism is that it looks like egalitarianism, pretty much, but with an acknowledgement that women are not treated as equals either in the world or the church, and that we want to change that. I don’t know if Gareth Davies would call himself a feminist, but that’s how I see much of his work, and I am very glad for it.

      In the end, I don’t care about labels. I care about women. I care about the high statistics of women being beaten and raped even in our middle-class westernised bubbles. I care about the lack of choice that women have. I care that women are not paid equally. I care that male ‘experts’ quoted on TV outnumber females by 4:1. I care that society assumes that women are better teachers and men are better headteachers. I care about the fact that women are repeatedly sidelined in the church/in churches and told that their voice is not as important as men. I care that women get turned down for church leadership jobs because they are ‘too pretty’ and they might lead the men astray. i care that women are told that if they want to lead Bible studies they are sinful because they want to usurp male authority. I care that post UCCF, there are plenty of church jobs for men, but hardly any for women. I care that we need both men and women together, listening to one another, working together for the kingdom of God.

      I don’t really care what we call it – by all means make up another label for it if you
      want to – but I care about these things and want to join with those who care about them, too.

  5. Tanya, I agree with almost all the above. I am very interested in your statement that there are lots of feminisms. Which still leaves me thinking that you need to be very careful indeed to distinguish and distance yourself from the anti-Christian ones. And academically and intellectually that is the majority of them. Surely when the majority of opinion that goes under that label isn’t what you believe and only the minority is, you need to question whether it is helpful label. People WILL hear you saying you stand for things that don’t stand for.

    I agree with you – and I think we have pretty much the same position on this – that you don’t like labels. I appeal to you that this is a very problematic one for an evangelical to apply to themselves. Much better to find another without the huge weight of anti-christian intellectual baggage that goes with it

    • I have read my fair share of Luce Irigaray et al so I am aware of some of the baggage. But I think my ‘evangelical’ label should act as sufficient of a qualifier to my feminism label. It is useful as a label because it means I can join with and find those Christians who are actually doing the stuff to help and value women and keeping it on people’s radar. If others want to make judgements about my soundness or helpfulness or lack thereof, then that’s a risk I’ll just have to take.

  6. I don’t want to interrupt. However, I’m going to. The interesting thing about that link Tanya is that while I can just about agree with the author’s list, nearly all the comments express that they are an incomplete list for self describing as feminist. Nearly all the commenters want to include other things which I would guess from our discussion re gay marriage you would not want to include. I think, therefore, Marcus is right to advise against adopting the term and thinking you can redefine it.
    Incidentally, I don’t think it’s about anyone making judgements about your lack of helpfulness or soundness. The danger with labels is that people will use you, a very capable and well respected Bible teacher, as an example of a Christian feminist, and then let that add weight to their argument for acceptance of a whole lot of things that, broadly, feminists support but you yourself do not. Following this conversation on my blog I have already had one interaction where someone has said “but your friend Tanya would agree with me” when I’m really very sure you would not have done! I think this is something of what James talks about when he says teachers will be judged to a higher standard. Your words have weight – it’s just the way it is.
    I’d feel the same way if you were self describing as a Christian Marxist, a Christian Capitalist or a Christian xenophobe. Some movements start so far away from Christianity, they just can’t be co-opted.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s