yrieithydd: (Visitation)
[personal profile] yrieithydd
Last week the Christian Feminist Network tweeted an article from a complementarian on why he supports some aspects of feminism . It's a good article if you make it past the second paragraph where he lists the sorts of feminisms he doesn't support. This is a mixture of strawmen and assertion which made me hit the roof and nearly stop reading.

He asserts "essentialist feminism, which denies any essential differences between men and women other than the reproductive organs they have, does enormous though subtle damage to men, women and children. Marital feminism, which opposes any distinction in the parts played a husband and a wife in marriage, is counterintuitive, ethnocentric and (more importantly) unbiblical and often emasculates men and exasperates women."

He gives no evidence for this enormous but subtle damage to men, women and children and my intuition is obviously different to his because I have no problem with the idea that there are not any consistent differences in the rôle of husband and wife, beyond pregnancy and breastfeeding. There might be some general patterns and tendencies but what couple A might divide the necessary tasks of life between the two partners very differently from couple B and even the general tendencies may well change over time.

What are these essential differences between men and women other than the reproductive organs? There may be some general tendencies, but that doesn't mean you can predict whether an individual man will be better at a particular task than an individual woman. For example, men tend to be stronger than women, and a male Olympic weightlifter would lift more than a female Olympic weightlifter, but I suspect she would beat the majority of men.1

This difference between tendencies and absolutes is where a lot of problems arise. A couple of weeks ago I also listened to a podcast by the Naked Scientists about gender and toys which seemed to me to miss this point. Gender is part of our identity but it shouldn't be used to limit our choices. Girls are more likely than boys to choose to play with dolls, but that doesn't mean that an individual girl has to play with dolls or an individual boy can't play with dolls. To me, the damage of not allowing people to develop their talents and interests even if they go against what society expects of someone of their gender does enormous unsubtle damage to people!

Similarly, what are these different rôles in marriage? Again there may be general patterns in society and the biological reality of pregnancy and breastfeeding probably mean that, even with fully equal rights (and social support) for mothers and fathers to parental leave, mothers are more likely to take advantage of that leave. But that doesn't mean that there is any problem if a particular couple find that it works better for them for the father to stay at home and the mother to go out to work. I know people for whom this works well. Although my parents' marriage took the traditional path in that my mother stopped worked when my brother was born and didn't return until he was 11 and I was 9, it didn't entirely conform to expected division of labour. During the week, mum did the cooking because she was there, but Sunday lunch, & Christmas dinner, was always dad's responsibility and when mum started working full time after I was at university and dad was working from home, cooking became his responsibility in general because he enjoys it whereas she does not particularly.

I want people to be free to be themselves and use their talents as best suits them. Our common humanity is greater than our difference. That said, humans do tend to come in one of two common forms, although that isn't the whole story as intersex and transgender people are people too. What does this mean for our anthropology and culture?

My honest answer is I don't know. Gender is part of peoples' identity although a more important part for some than for others. I am one of those for whom it is not hugely important. One thing I struggle to deeply understand (on an emotional/imaginative level rather than intellectual one) about being transgender is having a sense of gender other than what my body is. I don't feel female; I am not girly; I often find myself identifying with male stereotypes not female ones. However, my body is pretty unequivocally female, with a large bust and evil periods,2 although the tendency to facial hair does introduce a more equivocal element.3 Maybe this just makes me cisgendered, but I'm not entirely sure; I suspect other people might have a stronger female sense than I do, but not being in their heads I can't be sure. One thing I've noticed is that some people tend to socialise predominantly with their own gender while others mix equally with both; my friendship groups tend to be mixed gender. I remember a trip to the pub with friends from two Christian Societies while I was at uni and it was only when someone described the occasion as the 'know $myrealname in the pub meet, but not in the biblical sense' (as I was the person involved in both societies) that I noticed that the other 7 or 8 people who were there were all male. For me, gender is definitely only one part of my identity and I may well get on more easily with a fellow Cambridge grad who happens to be male than someone who left school at 16 who happens to be female. Being asexual probably plays a part here too.

This may well explain why I can't understand arguments that priests have to be male. The important thing about the incarnation is that Jesus became human, not that he became male; Homo factus est, not vir factus est.4 Unfortunately, English lost wer which is cognate with vir and uses man for both generic human and male human.

This confusion between male and human isn't restricted to the English language. Despite Genesis 1: 27 & 28 and Galatians 3: 28, male human has been identified as the default and female as the deviation (although with our knowledge of biology now, one could probably argue it is in fact the other way around) and this has affected the roles open to women in society and in the church. The Biblical idea of man and wife becoming one flesh in marriage was taken so far that legally they became one person in English law, a situation which only began to change with the Married Women's Property Act of 1870.5 Women were less well educated than men of the same class though I was surprised to learn the other day that the girls part of a local mixed school was founded in 1709. Over the last 150 years or so, this has begun to change, with new roles being opened up to men. When PCCs were first created in the late 19th Century, women were disbarred, I doubt even the most hard line male headship CofE parish has an all male PCC these days.6

Fundamentally, I am a feminist because of not despite my faith. To me, it's part of the freedom in Christ which Paul talks about in Galatians . I'm glad that there are complementarians who recognise that there are injustices in the way women are treated even within their worldview, but I would rather that they would come to accept the freedom of the gospel...

1Although is that a function of men tending to be taller than women and an expectation that men will carry more...
2By which I mean that my particular experience is bad. As a teenager I was in pain and felt sick approximately every other period, often having to come home from school...
3These last two elements are probably not actually unconnected as they're probably both related to PCOS.
4The Greek is a verb from anthropos not aner
5 I am tempted to argue that the 1870 act had a greater effect on the nature of marriage in society than the current Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill.
6Although I think in the list of those rôles an American evangelical (John Piper?) allows women to do, PCC member equivalent may have been above the line.
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