Is the Feminist Principle Irrefutable?


Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)


Moderator: Welcome to the seventh session of our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. This evening Abraham will continue his critique of secular feminism. He will now address those points of criticism on which Sarah and Gloria agree but with which he disagrees.

Abraham: I have been eager to get to those points! I think you’ll find my comments surprising and illuminating…and maybe a little annoying. And since I am a fictional character, I shall speak with unusual candidness and without fear of retribution. I will organize my comments around Sarah’s three points of agreement, just to show you what happens when you agree too readily with secular feminism!

(1) Gloria articulates her basic principle in these words:

It is wrong everywhere, always, and for everyone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman.

Sarah can’t see anything wrong with this principle, and I would hazard a guess that most of our audience when they heard it simply nodded in approval without a critical thought. Clearly, the qualifying phrase “simply because she is a woman” is the determining factor that elicits the chorus of “Amen! Amen!” to this principle. Why does this assertion seem so beyond dispute? Why does no one even think of questioning it? The reason is simple. And Sarah put her finger on it when she asked, “What motivation other than irrational prejudice could anyone have for disagreeing with this principle?” Irrational prejudice! Nobody wants to be accused of that!

When we hear the phrase “simply because she is a woman” we analogize it to such phrases as “simply because of the color of his skin” or “simply because she is blond” or “simply because of the size of her nose” or “simply because of his height” or “simply because of her blindness.” In these examples we contemplate a totally irrelevant factor being made the basis for discrimination among people. Its irrelevant nature is the reason we view it as irrational. It is irrational to make a decision based on something unrelated to the matter in question. We would not think highly of the intelligence or character of a person who made such life-changing decisions as whom to marry or whether or not to undergo cancer treatment by flipping a coin! However, in some situations, even such factors as skin color, blondness, nose size or height or blindness may be rationally related to a decision that must be made. Use your imagination!

Likewise, being a woman may not always be a factor unrelated to the matter at hand. To say that a particular person is a woman asserts something of her much more significant than skin color or height. Designating a person as a woman says that she possesses a set of specific physical and psychological qualities that differentiate her from men in rather dramatic ways. Clearly, the word “simply” in the phrase “simply because she is a woman” is misleading, perhaps intentionally so. There is nothing simple about being a woman! Or a man! And because women as a class possess these differentiating qualities, it may be rational, and therefore moral, in some cases “to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman.”

 It may be rational, for example, for society to prohibit women from using the same public bathrooms as men or to play on the same football team as men or to wrestle or box on the men’s Olympic team or to join a college fraternity. My point is not that it is never irrational prejudice that motivates someone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman. Sadly such prejudice exists. My point is that it is not always irrational and prejudiced to do so. Hence societies, churches, and families must deliberate and make decisions about the conditions that make it appropriate to distinguish between the rules for the behavior of men and those for women. These matters cannot be settled in advance by such sweeping rules as the one asserted by Gloria and accepted so unthinking by Sarah.

Moderator: Thank you Abraham. Good evening.

Blog Programming Note: Don’t miss the conclusion of Abraham’s talk. Look for it on Tuesday, January 10. It bears the provocative title, “The Myths of “Male Privilege” and “Women’s Experience.” You don’t want to miss it!


2 thoughts on “Is the Feminist Principle Irrefutable?

  1. nokareon

    Discrimination in any area—say, hiring practices—is notoriously difficult to prove, even when widespread data and intuition supports the conclusion. The gender discussion is no exception—it does not help that so much of the differentiation happens on a subconscious level, which is naturally difficult to expose and identify. As one salient example, studies have shown that in selection for the recipients of research grants and fellowships at the University level, the same resumes and research proposals will receive less of a grant if a clearly female name is used as the candidate’s name rather than an androgynous or clearly male name. Skewed distribution of professor positions at the macro-level support the intuition that there must be some level of discrimination (subconscious or otherwise) occurring on the micro-level; such is also the case in business for CEOs. In business too, work has been done to show that in discussions and meetings, men’s contributions are often given more regard and attention than the same contributions put forward by a woman—once again, completely subconsciously. Paradoxically, then, even when gender discrimination is most clearly present, it can be most difficult to prove—as Abraham suggests in his response.


  2. ifaqtheology Post author

    Interestingly, when people hear the word discrimination they nearly always think of something negative. This habit leads to a certain blindness in discriminating between instances of irrational discrimination and instances of rational discrimination. As a professor I must discriminate between students on the basis of their performance on exams and papers. Some get A and some receive B or C. I do not discriminate on the basis of gender. Discrimination should be the use of reason to distinguish relevant factors from irrelevant ones in deliberating about a course of action. Abraham’s point is not that discrimination on the basis of gender is always right but that it is not always wrong. And sometimes it is clearly the only reasonable thing to do.



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