Category Archives: Critique of feminism

“Biology Is Not Destiny”: The Feminist Case Against Male Superiority

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

Moderator: We are now entering the last phase of our dialogue on the subject of gender relationships in society, church and family. Only two presentations to go. In this our eleventh session, our representative of secular feminism Gloria will respond to Abraham’s presentation of neo-patriarchy. Please welcome Gloria to the podium.

Gloria: Thank you. There are so many things I’d like to address in Abraham’s talk, it’s mood of condescension, it’s male-normative perspective, and it’s exaggeration of female vulnerability. My suspicion is that Abraham’s rational and theological arguments are mere rationalizations of the prejudices I just mentioned. I will let the audience decide. Despite my suspicions, I will limit my assessment of Abraham’s talk to its philosophical aspects.

As I see it Abraham’s case rests on his rational analysis of the natural characteristics of women and men. Men are physically stronger and temperamentally more aggressive than women. Women become pregnant, carry babies and provide them with milk from their bodies. These factors make women vulnerable to male exploitation and dependent on male protection. According to Abraham, these facts of nature will necessarily manifest themselves at the social level and, consequently, they justify the social, ecclesial and familial inequalities present in traditional societies. To be fair, I should point out that Abraham admits that particular arrangements will differ from society to society and from age to age. Nevertheless, it is clear that Abraham denies that these natural inequalities will ever be neutralized completely at the social level. Nor should they be, in his view.

Far be it from me to deny the basic facts of biology. Nor do I deny that biological differences will manifest themselves in society. In a one-on-one, unarmed encounter, men have the advantage over women in a fight to the death. And in primitive, warrior societies where the survival of the tribe depends on its effectiveness in battle, I admit there are good reasons for the traditional division of labor between men and women. And I understand that the warrior class (males only) will also demand to be the tribal leaders. Nor do I dispute the overall reasonableness of this demand, since leadership in that setting is about conducting war or perpetually preparing for it.

Like his hero Aristotle, Abraham recognizes that women and men are equal in native intelligence. I think he would also admit that if human minds did not live in bodies or if they could be transferred to unisex humanoid robots, the differences would be overcome. So far so good, but our agreement ends here. From this point on Abraham’s argument goes terribly wrong. The facts do not warrant the conclusions he draws from them. Though he admits that modern technology has made the physical differences between men and women less significant in the sphere of work and war than in the past, he still seems to think that the superiority of the naked male body for war and work (hard physical labor) creates a moral imperative for society to mirror this relationship of superiority and inferiority in all dimensions. Perhaps his belief that God created nature lies behind his assertion that the order of nature possesses the force of law. Some such metaphysical belief must be at work here.

I begin at a different place and argue for a different result. I argue that equality of intelligence between men and women, which Abraham also accepts, creates a moral imperative for us to strive for equality in all other areas. Biology should not determine ethics. Or, as one of my feminist sisters said, “Biology is not destiny!” Unlike Abraham, I do not believe in divine creation. Evolution creates facts but imposes no moral obligations. Hence I do not believe that the factual biological order possesses any moral force. In sum, Abraham allows biological inequality to blunt the moral force of intellectual equality. I argue that it should be the other way around.

I envision a society where technology eventually makes all—or nearly all—work depend on knowledge rather than muscle, thought instead of testosterone, and where law roots out all irrational bias against female knowledge workers. As to areas of work where muscle still determines productivity, I believe society should not allow profit to be the sole determining factor for allocating social goods. The moral imperative of intellectual and moral equality should rule out of court any bias against women in hiring for such labor intensive jobs.

Concerning Abraham’s contention that women continue to need male protection, it should be pointed out that everyone, men as well as women, need police protection against violent criminals, male or female. Men murder other men more often than men murder women. Society as a collective is neither male nor female, and it is stronger than any one man or gang of men. Society has replaced big brothers and fathers as the protector of women. Modern family law has replaced the will of father as the law of the household and has outlawed domestic violence, marital rape and other abuses of women.

In response to Abraham’s theological arguments, I have little to add to my case against Sarah’s theological use of the Bible. In response to Sarah, I argued that the Bible cannot be made to support feminism; such support would be redundant in any case. Feminism doesn’t need any help from religion. Indeed Abraham represents the Bible more accurately than Sarah does. Sarah is grasping at straws. Abraham is correct to argue that the Bible supports patriarchy rather than equalitarianism. But I am not moved by either argument, for the Bible holds no authority for me. The arguments between Sarah and Abraham about biblical interpretation seem to me much ado about nothing.

Moderator: Thank you Gloria. I appreciate your contribution to this dialogue. It was invaluable.

Note: The twelfth and last part of this series will be posted on Tuesday, January 24. Sarah will present her response to Abraham.

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Evangelical Egalitarians, Married Bachelors and Other Impossible Things

Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: It’s hard to believe that this is our tenth session in our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. Abraham will now reply to Sarah’s evangelical egalitarianism from the perspective of neo-patriarchy. Perhaps Abraham can keep it brief this time.

[Note: Sarah’s talk was posted on this blog on December 10, 2016.]

Abraham Replies to Sarah

Abraham: Thank you for the opportunity to reply to Sarah and for the encouragement to brevity. Let me begin by referring back to Gloria’s critique of evangelical egalitarianism. As a secular feminist, Gloria has no sympathy for the Bible or evangelical Christianity. Nor does she betray much understanding of either one. But she has stumbled on the central problem with Sarah’s position, that is, the tension between the evangelical view of the moral and doctrinal teaching of the Bible and egalitarianism. Gloria argues for their incompatibility, and so will I. But our agreement ends at this point. Gloria rejects the Bible in order to preserve egalitarianism. I reject egalitarianism in order to preserve evangelical Christianity (and reason!). And Sarah wants to preserve both.

The Function of the Feminist Principle in Evangelical Egalitarianism

Sarah affirms her full agreement with Gloria’s feminist principle and program of reform. For your convenience I will quote it again:

 “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 said of this principle, “I agree wholeheartedly with Gloria. What motivation other than irrational prejudice could anyone have for disagreeing with this principle?” In my reply to Gloria [Posted January 06, 2017], I criticized this rule from a rational point of view. I won’t repeat those criticisms here except to say that I demonstrated that this principle is neither self-evident nor universally applicable. It is not true that “irrational prejudice” is the only possible motivation for making different sets of rules for men and women. No one, man or woman, really believes this!

Sarah’s larger argument assumes the feminist principle without analysis or argument. It then expends most of its energy attempting to demonstrate that the Bible can be interpreted in a way consistent with or even supportive of it. Clearly, the feminist principle serves Sarah’s argument as a self-evident norm by which to measure the moral vision of the Bible. Gloria argued that Sarah’s use of the Bible is redundant except as an appeal to her evangelical audience. I think Glory makes a good point. But if the feminist principle itself is not self-evident or universal, Sarah’s entire argument collapses. She loses her infallible principle that enables her to separate the Bible’s higher moral vision (egalitarian) from its lower one (patriarchy).

Let’s take stock of where we stand. I have made it impossible for Sarah to continue using the feminist principle as the unquestioned norm for her biblical interpretation. Even now her entire argument lies in ruins. It cannot be resurrected without extensive revisions. And without the presumption of the self-evidence and universal nature of the feminist principle her case can never return to its former glory. But now let’s look at Sarah’s argument from another angle. Let’s examine her claim to have preserved evangelical Christianity in her argument for egalitarianism.

Treachery of Feminist Hermeneutics

Sarah claims to be an evangelical Christian and she claims that one can defend evangelical theology while affirming the feminist principle. She gives a brief definition of evangelicalism:

We believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, crucified for our sins and raised bodily from the dead. We accept the Old and New Testament Scriptures as the inspired Word of God, the authority for faith and practice for the Christian church.

Of course Sarah admits that many texts in this “inspired Word of God” fall far short of affirming egalitarianism. The Old Testament law makes different rules for men and women, some of which sound to modern ears highly disparaging to women. Jesus chose only men as apostles. Paul speaks of man as the “head” of woman, and he gives different rules for women and men when they speak in the assembly of the church (1 Corinthians 11:1-16). He tells women to be silent in church and to ask their husbands any questions they have when they return home (1 Corinthians 14:34-38). He speaks of the husband as “the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church,” and enjoins submission of wives to husbands (Ephesians 5:1-21). Peter speaks of women as “the weaker partner” (1 Peter 3:1-7). In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, women are forbidden to “teach or assume authority over men.” The rulers of the church, elders and bishops, must be men (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1).

Secular or religiously liberal feminists, neither of whom submit to the authority of the Bible for faith and practice, can easily dismiss these texts as products of ancient patriarchy. They don’t need the Bible to support their moral vision; they get their morals from progressive culture. But evangelical egalitarians cannot take this easy option. They must find a way to subordinate the “patriarchal” texts to the “egalitarian” ones without denying that Scripture is “the authority for faith and practice for the Christian church.” How can this be done?

There is only one way. Evangelical egalitarians must argue that the “patriarchal” rules and restrictions on women do not express the essential moral vision of the Bible rooted in the facts of the gospel of Christ. Instead, these regulations are conscious or unconscious accommodations to patriarchal culture or situationally determined applications of such other principles as good order or time-sensitive apostolic judgments that can be revised by the church. My concern with this approach to interpreting the scriptures is this: despite evangelical egalitarian claims to the contrary, many people will conclude that one can remain a good Christian while ignoring or discounting the clear moral teachings of the scriptures. If we can find a way around the apostolic teaching about the roles of men and women in the governance of the church and the family, can we not follow the same procedure when the subject is same-sex marriage or homosexuality or abortion? In other words, I think evangelical egalitarianism opens the door to so-called liberal Christianity.

Galatians 3:28 Again

Sarah and other evangelical egalitarians argue that Galatians 3:28 (“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female.”) articulates the essential egalitarian message of the gospel whereas the submission and restriction texts do not.

You may be surprised to hear that I agree with Sarah up to a point. In biblical interpretation and doctrinal application it is very important to distinguish the central gospel message and Jesus’ high ethical vision from the detailed applications the apostolic church had to make from day to day and situation to situation. Surely everyone believes that Paul would agree that it’s much more important to believe the gospel and love your neighbor than to keep women silent in the churches. Is it still important for women to wear a head covering and for men to keep their hair cut short? Matters such as these have to be debated and judgments have to be made in every generation. They cannot be settled in advance.

And I agree that Galatians 3:26-29 articulates a central gospel principle:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

This text states plainly that gender, social status and ethnic identity do not determine one’s relationship to God. Faith and baptism unite people to Christ. But evangelical egalitarians are mistaken to deduce from Paul’s clear affirmation that the means of justification apply to all without distinction the conclusion that all distinctions in society, church and family must be abolished. Justification deals with something all people share regardless of gender and social standing: all have sinned and everyone needs a savior. Here there is no difference. But people are not the same in all respects. And Paul and other New Testament authors take these distinctions into account in their moral teaching about social, ecclesiastical and familial life. And I believe they are right to do so.

Giftedness

Sarah admits that some distinctions must be made in roles, offices and activities in the church. But, she argues, these distinctions must be made according to “giftedness” and not according to gender. What about this principle? What is “giftedness”? It is a power, native or learned, natural or supernatural, that enables one to perform a task. It’s called a “gift” because whether in a natural way or a supernatural way this power derives from God and is given by grace. To be consistent with her egalitarian assertion, Sarah would have to insist that being created a woman or a man is not a gift, because if it were it could rightly become a basis for assigning roles and functions and offices in the church! But according to Sarah, to be given that set of characteristics and powers entailed in being a woman or a man implies nothing about church roles, offices and activities. And for the church to consider maleness or femaleness a gift and make distinctions accordingly would be wrong.

I find Sarah’s exclusion of maleness and femaleness from the category of “giftedness” implausible and arbitrary. As I argued in my response to Gloria, being a woman or a man is not a superficial characteristic like eye color or height. The differences between men and women are profound and are bound to have consequences for the order in society, church and home. Hence the apostolic rules differentiating the roles and functions of men and women in the church and home cannot be presumed without examination to be in violation of the Pauline principle of justification by faith or the evangelical egalitarian principle of giftedness. In fact, they are rooted in the created order, which can be discerned to some extent by reason, and they are intended for the good of women and men.

Moderator: Thank you, Abraham. Next time we will hear Sarah’s and Gloria’s replies to Abraham.

The Myths of “Male Privilege” and “Women’s Experience”

 Speakers:

Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

 

Moderator: Welcome to the eighth session of our dialogue on the relationship between men and women in society, church and family. This evening Abraham will conclude his critique of secular feminism.  Abraham, could you make your next two points a bit briefer? We are running short of time.

Abraham: Okay. But you are the one who asked me to address issues I had not planned to speak about.

 Moderator: Touché!

 

 “Women’s Experience”

 Abraham: (2) Gloria asserts that “women’s experience” is an authoritative source of truth. According to her, when women feel oppressed and think they are being treated unfairly, men should accept their perspective as a revelation of truth and acquiesce to their demands. Sarah agrees. I disagree.

If the subjective feeling of being unjustly treated is a moral norm, why limit it to women’s experience? Men have experience too! And if women’s experience can be used to instruct men about their moral blindness, why can’t men’s experience instruct women in areas where women are morally blind? If women’s experience can refute men’s views of women, why can’t men’s experience refute women’s views of men? If women can insist that men accept women’s experience as a revelation of truth and acquiesce to their demands, why can’t men insist that women accept men’s experience as a revelation of truth and acquiesce to their demands?

Unless there is an objective standard of moral truth, justice and goodness, appeals to experience lead to a stalemate. One person’s desires are set against another’s with no objective standard by which to judge between them. But if there is an objective moral standard, neither women’s experience nor men’s experience can be used as a moral norm. At best, they are beginning places for a discussion about how to achieve a mutually acceptable approximation to justice and goodness in this relationship.

 “Male Privilege”

 (3) Gloria asserts that:

 Secular feminists demand that every tradition, ideology, theology, or philosophy that justifies male privilege be rejected as false, anti-human, and evil.

Gloria here begs the question. She assumes that “male privilege,” that is, giving a right to men that is not given to women, is always wrong. But this is the question to be decided! It cannot be assumed! I can be brief in my response to this assertion, because I have already demonstrated in point (1) above [Posted on January 06] that in some situations giving men a privilege not given to women is the rational and right thing to do. Hence male privilege is not always wrong! We need to deliberate in society, church and family about when it is appropriate. There are no easy answers!

One last point. The whole discussion focuses on male privilege. What about female privilege? Aren’t women given some rights withheld from (or irrelevant to) men? Don’t women want to be treated differently from men in some cases? But if male privilege is always wrong, female privilege is always wrong as well. Does anyone think women would be better off in a society where they must compete with men under the exact same set of rules?

Moderator: Thank you Abraham for your thoughts. Next time Gloria and Abraham will present analyses and criticisms of Sarah’s presentation of evangelical egalitarianism.

Programming note: Gloria’s response to Sarah’s presentation of evangelical feminism will be posted on Friday, January 13. The title of that post is “Is the Bible irretrievably Misogynous?”

Is the Feminist Principle Irrefutable?

Speakers:

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!