Thursday, October 27, 2005

Gender, the Church and Blogging

Dan Edelen at Cerulean Sanctum made a post responding to Brian Colmery's post on gender roles and the church. I responded to Dan's response and we had a somewhat interesting exchange.

I post some of the excerpts here.

    Let me first say that the situation of modern religion - it's inability to draw in those from our culture and to produce robust disciples - is lamentable and regrettable and should certainly be the focus of thought, prayer and action.

    Having said that, Brian's post, while ostensibly against it, actually seems like a rough summary of John Eldridge's book, Wild At Heart.

    In it, Eldridge argues against the kind of "limp-wristed" male the church, according to Eldridge, is peopled with and urges a return to his understanding of "masculinity". He claims this is the root of why so few men enter the church - that the church has portrayed the Christian male as a "Mister Rogers" sort of fellow - mild, soft and unthreatening.

    This kind of "maleness" has, in its turn, had a deleterious effect on the women in churches. Specifically that they don't find these men very attractive and are left to the world of unbelievers to find a sufficiently "masculine" man to "meet their needs". Draw your own conclusions on that.

    Let me say that Eldridge's writings are uniquely uniformed from a biblical perspective. I'm no bibliophile, but Eldridge quotes more from Braveheart than from Jesus. He seems to take great pride in not basing his arguments in fact, science, anthropology, history or Scripture. Referring, instead, to that age-old source of persuasive argument and deception, anecdotes and metaphors.

    I don't agree with much of what Eldridge has written, but it is true that the church has presented an emaciated gospel, the church has refused entrance often to aggressive, threatening people, the church has been guilty of making discipleship non-threatening in the hopes of luring people to it.

    The question is, though, what if anything does this have to do with gender?

    Are there real issues to be dealt with? Of course - radical feminism, like chauvinism, is an error that requires thoughtful and deliberate opposition. But no thinking person can believe that the entire sweep of the feminist movement hasn't resulted in real advancement for women - in terms of health, opportunity, education, employment, marriage, justice, protection from violence, and on and on.

    It seems that so many Christians today want to judge ideas and movements in terms of where we were last week instead of where we were one or two generations ago.

    Eldridge's depiction of women is that of the damsel in distress. Eldridge goes to cringe-worthy lengths to portray this very image. That women require a "father-like" figure to rescue and protect them is not offensive, however, until you couple it with the apparent beliefs that (1) men don't require such a father-figure, and that (2) men are to be that father-figure for women. This isn't even chauvinism in disguise - it's just plain chauvinism!

    Surprisingly, Dan doesn't really correct what I see as errors in Brian's arguments. In fact, Dan writes:

    Domestic abuse in my area of Ohio is rampant. One reason is that we don't teach boys at an early age to never strike a woman--ever. Worse still, we never teach young women to avoid the losers out there who are most likely to hit them at some time in their relationship.


    So the apparent contentions are that domestic violence is (1) higher than it was in a more patriarchal age, and (2) is in part due to the lack of a specific teaching regarding violence toward women.

    Let's think about that.

    As feminism has continued its march forward, are domestic violence rates increasing or decreasing? They are decreasing - dramatically so. This study indicates that domestic violence has decreased by about one-third to one-half just in the last 10-15 years.

    If feminism is the culprit, why is this number not increasing as feminism advances?
    Have we instituted the "don't hit girls" program in public schools?

    No.

    It has decreased not through a return to gender bias and chauvinism, but through better legislation to protect women from violence, more effective enforcement of such laws, and a more open society where women are encouraged to report such violence and protected when they do.

    Also note that Ohio has a relatively low rate of domestic violence and has been on a sharply declining trend since the mid-1990s.

    Dan writes,

    Yet what option is given to Christian young people anymore? Unmarried Christian women aren't at home learning how to become "a homemaker" like they used to be. Instead, they're expected to be out on their own, making their own decisions, and earning a living.


    Again, the apparent contention being that women need to be at home, cooking and cleaning - rather than capable of making their own decisions, earning their own way.

    In a word, dependent. On men, of course. Just think about that statement.

    Were women better off when their only option in life was to marry a man in order to survive? Depending on your metrics, the answer might be "yes". For example, divorce rates would be lower if women had no choice but to remain with their husbands no matter what. Of course, we could just threaten our wives with murder to prevent them from divorcing us. That, too, would lower divorce rates. And, arguably, would be about the moral equivalent of keeping women ignorant and incapable of supporting themselves so they have to depend on (and therefore be loyal to) us men regardless.

    The fact that women are better educated, independent, and generally as in control of their own lives as men is not a bad thing. Nor is it an ungodly thing. The claim that we could make the church better by preventing women going to college or working outside the home is stunning unless you currently live in Sudan or Saudi Arabia.

    Dan writes,

    Empowering young women to be the masters of their own fate has had this two-edged sword effect: yes, they are more confident in their decision making, but the decisions reached are often ill-advised. And no amount of pressure will change their minds. Given the cultural edicts we've erected even within the Church, our hand is forced unless we are willing to question the entire basis of modern femininity within the whole Church structure. As far as I can see, no one is willing to start this kind of soul-searching.


    Is appears here that women are less intelligent and capable of making informed decisions than men of the same age (as I don't see similar claims about young men making poor choices and requiring "protection"). What is the basis in fact for the gender-based difference in intellectual capacity and decision-making?

    Dan writes, regarding women choosing abusive partners (over the objections of the pious, apparently):

    Folks, that's pathological, but more common than we care to admit.


    Certainly more common than we care to admit, though I would make two points about it:

    (1) it's less common now than in the past due to continued advances in open our society to gender equality, and

    (2) it's more commonly admitted today than in the past because society has developed enough that it doesn't relegate the position of women to second-class status - and, therefore, relegate their mistreatment or abuse to a second-tier category.

    The only observation I can agree with and substantiate in fact is that, yes, our society is more sexually promiscuous now than in the recent past. Whether or not that has anything to do with mixed swimming at youth group functions, I sorely doubt.

    More likely, it has to do with the popularization of the objectification of women through mass media. A work not of the feminists, but of the chauvinist remnant still in power and greedy for more. It also has to do with the failure of the church and society to address issues such as poverty, the disintegration of the family and the ability to teach and convey morality to children without familial support structures.

    Don't forget that, too, some of this is due to a general liberalization of contemporary culture - that is, for many people, the behavior you lament as "immoral" many have defined as "harmless fun" -This "definition" of morality is in part, wrong, and, in part, right. It would be tempting to throw the baby out with the bathwater and drag us bag to burkhas and veils as the "fix" for profligate behavior. But this would be, in my opinion, a more immoral act than tolerating the profligate behavior.

    There is a middle ground of moral uprightness, rooted in Christian teaching, and righteous antinominianism that should be sought - neither a retreat to the dark days of the past, nor a concession or surrender to immorality of a Sodom.

    This path is always the hardest - the extreme ends of the pendulum's arc being easier to define and cling to - but ultimately the right one.


Later, Dan replied to my comment.


    All I can say in response is that you must not have gone back into my archives and checked out some of the things I've written that agree with many of the points you made. It's not possible for me to spend six hours a day trying to unpack every idea I have, so what has come before has to inform what I write now. (Case in point: I fully argued for egalitarian work roles in my business series, though I put an enormous caveat on that support.)

    As for feminisim, I don't agree that the feminist movement bought all the advances you claim it has. Most people can point to a sociological downside to every upside you listed.

    I did not say that young women were less intelligent than young men when it came to making decisions. Many of today's young people, both male and female, are making questionable decisions because we simply did not raise them right.

    To the point about domestic violence, I must ask, How much is too much? I would contend that even 1% is too much. All I know is that in my area, the police get a lot of domestic violence calls. Not only that, but I can't ever recall seeing women with facial bruises in my life until I moved to where I live now. Men need to stop hitting women when they get angry. We need to drill that into boys from about the day they can say their alphabet.

    As for women and "homemaking," I think one of the problems we see in our culture is that people are delaying marriage too long. Did you read the link I had to the "Singleness" post?

    Concerning youth functions, what kids today do is far more outlandish than mixed swimming.

    Your position on chauvinist culture driving the objectification of women is based on older feminist thought and not the latest. The second and third waves of feminists believe that flaunting female sexuality is empowering. Call it "pornstar feminism," if you will. That's what is driving the pornification of culture now. Women have adopted a "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" mentality here and its helping to drive the Girls Gone Wild culture we see today.
    By Dan Edelen, at 10/27/2005 12:18 AM



And my reply was,


    Regardless of what you've said elsewhere, you have to stand by the statements you make in whatever context you make them.

    In your comment, your wrote,

    "Many of today's young people, both male and female, are making questionable decisions because we simply did not raise them right."


    Which is certainly a defensible statement that I wouldn't necessarily contest.

    This is not, however, what you wrote in your post.

    For example, in your comment, you claim,

    "I did not say that young women were less intelligent than young men when it came to making decisions."


    Yet, in your own post, you wrote,

    "...most young women I see in churches today are making terrible decisions..."


    And then you wrote,

    "...they are more confident in their decision making, but the decisions reached are often ill-advised..."


    And no where do you indicate these are general human observations - they are deliberately pointed at women.

    You comment,

    "As for women and "homemaking," I think one of the problems we see in our culture is that people are delaying marriage too long."


    But delayed marriage isn't at all what you wrote about in your post. There, you say,

    "Unmarried Christian women aren't at home learning how to become "a homemaker" like they used to be. Instead, they're expected to be out on their own, making their own decisions, and earning a living. "


    Based on this argument, delayed marriage would be good as long as the singles were at home learning how to be a "homemaker".

    The issue I have is with the clear assertion you make that women would be better off if they weren't out learning how to, and I quote, "be out on their own, making their own decisions, and earning a living".

    You also comment,

    "As for feminisim (sic), I don't agree that the feminist movement bought all the advances you claim it has. Most people can point to a sociological downside to every upside you listed."


    Whether or not you agree with me is irrelevant. The question is whether you can substantiate your positions.

    What, exactly, is the sociological downside to:
    (1) the right for women to vote?
    (2) the right for women to seek higher education?
    (3) the right for women to divorce their husbands?
    (4) the right for women to enter the workforce?
    (5) the right for women to receive fair and just treatment from employers?

    Are there abuses of women's rights? Of course - but no more and no different than the abuse men make of their rights.

    What I specifically said was,

    "The fact that women are better educated, independent, and generally as in control of their own lives as men is not a bad thing."


    So, again, I ask, what are the sociological downsides to allowing women, along with men, to be educated and independent?


-----------------------

I re-post this discussion here primarily to accomplish two things:

(1) to continue the discussion started with my previous post on busyness in which I contend that modern conservative evangelicals have a troubling tendency to view and judge movements and cultural trends in very short historical contexts - rather than the larger historical time periods in which they have been rooted and developed - and that this historical myopia creates a distorted view of these movements and leads to rash judgements about their effects and ramifications, and

(2) to surface some of my thoughts on the church and gender issues.

Let me make a single recommendation in reading on this topic. It is Slaves, Women and Homosexuals: Exploring Hermeneutics of Cultural Analysis by William Webb. This work not only specifically discusses gender issues and the church, but presents a powerful hermeneutic for cultural analysis that can be applied to a variety of modern issues with great effect.

1 comment:

Dan Edelen said...

CJR,

I responded again if you'd like to check it out.

Blessings!