Tag Archives: gender economics

Contemporary Feminism Confronts Reality

A number of recent articles, spread out across several publications, have recently tried to stress the degree to which the message of contemporary feminism is having trouble breaking through to the level of popular consciousness. The theme continues to appear every few days as I sift through the news, but two articles in particular have stuck with me. The first was in Politco’s magazine, entitled “It’s Sexism Stupid. Why men are dominating the Democratic 2020 primary.” The article joins the chorus of those lamenting the failure of any woman to catch fire and dominate in the Democratic field the way Hillary Clinton dominated the much smaller 2016 field. The article suggests that, rather than overcrowding in the field or the flawed nature of the female candidates, the problem is “sexism and misogyny—albeit often unconscious, unwitting and the result of implicit bias.” As evidence, the article points to a 2008 study, which found that

gender is a powerful force in inducing voters to defect across party lines. Specifically, when men and women were pitted against each other in head-to-head match-ups for the presidency, a substantial proportion of Democratic voters (12.3 percent) defected to a male Republican, John McCain, rather than vote for a female candidate from their own party, Hillary Clinton.

Similarly, and arguably somewhat less surprisingly, a sizeable proportion of Republican voters (15.5 percent) defected to a male Democrat, John Edwards, rather than vote for a female candidate from their own party, Elizabeth Dole. (This tendency was true for both male and, notably, female voters, and was not balanced out by any comparable pattern of defection toward female presidential hopefuls.)

Another article, which appeared more recently in the Atlantic and struck a little closer to home (literally), was “Even Breadwinning Wives Don’t Get Equality at Home.” The principal complaint in this article is that, while gender equality gets lots of attention and makes most of its progress in the workplace or in politics, gender equality in the home is getting left behind.

Breadwinning wives also don’t get parity in how household chores are divvied up. As wives’ economic dependence on their husbands increases, women tend to take on more housework. But the more economically dependent men are on their wives, the less housework they do. Even women with unemployed husbands spend considerably more time on household chores than their spouses. In other words, women’s success in the workplace is penalized at home.

In the end, women take on more domestic responsibilities than men in a way that is mostly unrelated to their availability for those responsibilities. They take them on because they are women even when their husbands have no gainful employment to occupy their time.

The problem, as both articles see it, is that implicit biases about women’s nature and roles continues to override the public discourse about gender equality. The problem, as I see it, is that whatever people may believe or espouse in the public sphere, there is a fundamental disconnect between what contemporary feminism asserts and people’s actual experience. Contemporary feminism continues to base its argument for the equality of the sexes on the irrelevance (or perhaps obsolescence) of sex in a way that defies people’s everyday experience.

It is one thing to say that men and women should have equal access to employment and public positions, that compensation and advancement should be based entirely on competence without regard for sex. It is another thing entirely to say that we should not see sex, that sex is not a real or meaningful category through which we approach the world. It is more radical still to imagine that all the consequential beliefs that we attach to sex are in fact gender–sex’s ephemeral cousin, entirely culturally rooted, hopelessly fluid, and utterly untethered from biological sex. Even if all of that is true–and I’m pretty sure I had to sign an oath in blood on the back of my PhD saying it was–it flies in the face of how people operate in their day to day lives. With each step toward the root logic of contemporary feminism, we shift further into the realm of cognitive dissonance, where the (coherentist) theoretical soundness of feminist theory butts up against the realities of lived gender economies.

This, perhaps more than self-ghettoizing, explains women’s complicity in the structures of their oppression in both articles. The story on domestic balance noted that “one possible explanation for this is that by outearning their husbands, wives worry that they are breaking norms on gender expectations.” The argument goes further:

[I]t’s not just men who are keen on enforcing the notion that they should be the family’s earner in chief. Wives play a crucial role in framing husbands as breadwinners too. A lawyer who had been the breadwinner in her marriage told me that after she lost her job, she turned her focus to her husband’s business and how he could grow it, instead of worrying about how she could find another job to ensure that their family remains financially stable. Ironically, her educational credentials and prior work experience mean that she is actually positioned to bring in more money than her husband. Instead of focusing on how the unemployed woman could get her next job, the couples I talked with focused their attention on ensuring that the husband’s career was flourishing.

Just like women who cross party lines to vote in favor of a man, women will torch their own career prospects because they are invested in the idea of male vocation as central not only to male-identity but also to household-identity.

The solution, according to “Breadwinning Wives,” is better public policy that will pave the way for gender equity at home. The solution, according to “Sexism Stupid,” is tough talk with the unconverted public.

People who might be explicitly committed to egalitarianism still have gender biases in certain contexts, including presidential races. And they are unwitting experts at concocting post hoc rationalizations for foregone, irrational conclusions.

The idea that you aren’t voting for a woman not because you don’t want to, but because America just isn’t ready for a female candidate smacks to me of that kind of thinking. Perhaps America isn’t ready because you’re one of the many who prefers male to female candidates, and who unconsciously reaches for excuses to rationalize your preference. This country will never be ready for a woman president, to our detriment, if this continues.

My criticism of both of these solutions is that they assume that the problem is not with the feminist vision of equality-qua-irrelevance but with the mass of humans behaving in ways that seem natural to them and that resonate with their experience. Women face real and meaningful problems in our society, but the message doesn’t seem to be getting through in practice. That may because, unlike liberal Twitter, the bulk of Americans continue to see sex as a legitimate, meaningful, useful tool for ordering their personal, professional, and political relationships. As a consequence, they expect–whether with hope or fear–that a woman president would be different from a typical (i.e. male) president. They expect a woman’s loss of employment to affect her and her household differently than a man’s lack of employment. (And they don’t reduce those consequences to the raw economics of who makes more dollars and cents–because this isn’t a murky Marxist dystopia where all people have been unsexed, uncultured, and reduced to engines of revenue production.) In other words, people expect sex to matter.

And that doesn’t automatically preclude gender equality, nor even many of the concrete goals of contemporary feminism. It just requires a different rhetorical platform from which to make your argument. Rather than chastising us for our neanderthal stupidity and ostracizing those who bother to root some aspects of gendered behavior in evolutionary biology rather than culture, maybe it is time to work toward meaningful solutions to significant problems within the context of prevailing beliefs about sex.

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Notes from Bluffton: Potato Peeling for Jesus

I suggested in the last installment of this series that the conscientious objectors at the Bluffton camp took pleasure in the things in life, offering up a little environmental rhapsody as evidence. But even more mundane tasks provoked both amusement and pride as well. Specifically cooking. As camp dietician Edna Ramseyer notes, the task of preparing daily meals was something of a novelty for the men at Bluffton.

“Man’s work is from sun to sun but woman’s work is never done.”
This proverb is now more clearly understood by the seventeen boys who cook, prepare vegetables, set tables, wash dishes, clean stoves, scrub floors etc. than it was at the beginning of camp.

But they made the most of the task, treating it not as a degredation (as society more broadly might have suggested it was) but as an opportunity for growth and fellowship. The men reported,

We as the kitchen group invite any-one to join us in the kitchen to receive instruction and experience in dish washing and drying, baking, cooking, paring of potatoes and even-why things scorch occasionally.

Thanks so much for being patient with us. And say–if you have a favorite recipe–why not hand it to the cooks. We will try to prepare it for you.

Salt your food with humor, pepper it with wit and sprinkle over it the
charm of fellowship. Never poison it with the cares of life.

The exhortation to humor and wit seem to have been taken quite literally and playfully, as the kitchen apparently became a place of significant levity. A later article reports:

The boys all seem to like the food we prepare quite well. A good many hungry looking fellows have a habit of coming to the kitchen between meals. They are usually rewarded with a glass of water emptied into their hip pockets or a pitcher full over their heads.

Ray Thomas and Bert Esch were surprised one day when Eli Miller put a billfold and a piece of coal in their new apron pockets and sewed them shut.

One day Lyle Strauss was preparing dried peppermint for tea and found a thistle leaf in it. He showed it to Miss Ramseyer and said it must be spearmint. She started chewing it and came to a rather sudden conclusion that is must be a Canada thistle.

They’ll do it everytime.

The kitchen became a regular fixture in the reports of life at the Bluffton camp, but a final except demonstrates that not everything was fun and games. The kitchen, like the experience as a whole, was deeply rooted in the religious convictions of the residents and became a site for them to workout the meaning of their experiences in the camp.

The kitchen of a Civilian Public Service camp faces confusion just as our present world does today….There is confusion, too, for the dietician when she faces the inevitable leftovers and thinks of the thousands who have need of this food. Then menus are changed, foods are used and life goes on as usual.

We are happy to tell everyone that the little confusion we might have had was nothing in contrast to the co-operation, the willingness to learn and the friendliness the boys have shown. We have had many a good laugh and many interesting and worthwhile discussions around the dish pan, or potato peeling table.

Potatoes (for Bluffton)

In the end, the kitchen like the camp was an opportunity for these Christians to practice fellowship and love in a world where the answer offered to confusion had so readily been violence. They lived an alternative without the expectation that it would change the world or change their fate but solely on the conviction that it was right.

The reports from Bluffton could easily offer an endless source of inspiration or reflection, but this will be the end of this particular series. Let it suffice as a conclusion to say that the temptation to turn to rancor, hatred, and violence is today no less tempting than it was during World War II–if the battle lines are somewhat less clearly drawn than they were then. The responsibility of Christians remains today the same as it was in the days of Bluffton, namely to live such good lives “that when [others] speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2.12).

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Beth Moore is a Complementarian, but…

Beth Moore is on a warpath, according to The Atlantic. A righteous, unexpected, contradictory warpath. Moore apparently drew evangelical ire when, in the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, she did not immediately excuse the then-candidate for his boasts about sexual assault. She had committed the cardinal sin of letting her actual morals override her commitment to the Moral Majority, and she was punished for it–with declining attendance at her speaking engagements and with individualized boycotts of her work. But she did not recant; she did not repent. Nevertheless she persisted.

It is, quite frankly, an inspiring story from a figure who (though I knew nothing about her before today) has apparently made a living inspiring people. Unfortunately, the author of the article, Emma Green, cannot seem to contain her bemusement at this backward Arkie Bible-thumper leading the charge against predatory parishioners, pastors, and presidents. Those are, admittedly, not the words Green uses, but the tone is accurate and unmistakable. Green appears particularly taken with the idea that a complementarian might also be an advocate for women, and she approaches Moore with a certain suspicion, as if the whole different genders-different roles thing might be a necessary or convenient façade:

Like other Southern Baptists, Moore considers herself a complementarian: She believes the Bible teaches that men and women have distinctive roles and that men should hold positions of authority and leadership over women in the home and in the church. Yet her husband, Keith, a retired plumber, sees his vocation as helping his wife succeed. “That’s what I do,” he told me. “I lay blocks so O.J. can run.”

The implication is clear. Moore must be a complementarian in name only because she is the breadwinner for her now stay-at-home husband. That is, of course, absurd. Leadership has nothing to do with economic dominance. The apostles were leaders, and they couldn’t even spare a few coins for the poor. In fairness to Green, modern egalitarians aren’t the only one’s confused about this; complementarians too often confuse Victorian gender roles (in which women are domestic and men are entrepreneurial) with biblical gender roles. Both are equally wrong, and many complementarian households (my own included) consist of a wife who makes more or even most of the money for the home. Leadership isn’t about money; it is about service and sacrifice. (Paul says as much.) The analogy Keith Moore uses here is pretty apt, even if his choice of athlete is a little fraught. Sacrificing his body for the glorification of his wife seems a pretty decent parallel for the way Jesus gave himself up for the glorification of the church.

Yet Green cannot see this. She continues to insist that there is some cognitive dissonance involved–if not outright duplicity–in Moore’s approach to her own role in the world. At one point she describes Moore’s complementarianism as an act, saying that “though [Moore] often performs domestic femininity for her audience, in her own life she has balanced motherhood with demanding professional ambitions.” It is feminism (that good old fashion second wave kind) that taught us all that there is no conflict between professional ambition and femininity, but Green conveniently treats Moore as the turn-of-the-century relic the author surely believes she is. Moore must hold to a view of femininity that precludes professional success; after all, that is the straw man that post-modern feminists have internalized in their quest to uncouple gender from any culturally neutral mooring. Never mind that Moore’s life suggests neither she nor her audience ever bought into that definition of femininity.

In the end, Green can never seem to approach complementarianism on its own terms, and certainly shows no effort to let Moore define the terms of her own beliefs for herself. Green is concerned only with juxtaposing Moore’s life (which Moore herself understands to be complementarian) with the regressive gender model that Green imagines evangelical Christian women hold. The contrast is never more clear than in this passage at the crux of the article:

Moore may be a complementarian, but she is adamant that Christian men should not treat women “any less than Jesus treated women in the Gospels: always with dignity, always with esteem, never as secondary citizens.”

Following Moore’s self-designation with a quote from Moore, joined as they are by an oppositional conjunction, lets Green paint Moore as a walking, talking, preaching, praying, politicking contradiction. Read the same sentence without the oppositional tone artificially introduced by Green: “Moore is a complementarian, and she is adamant that Christian men should not treat women…as secondary citizens.” The consonance of the two positions is evident if Moore is allowed to set the terms of her own identification and beliefs, something that would seem to accord well with contemporary feminism. But the complementarian advocate for the rights and dignity of women is the square-circle of feminist discourse. It simply cannot exist.

In the final passage, Green hedges, concluding her article by pointing out that Moore is not “a liberal, or even a feminist.” Yet if Green is to be believed she’s not really a complementarian either. I hope someone bothered to tell Beth Moore.

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Some Standard Wisdom for the Proactive Church Lady

Having highlighted the seedier side of Stone-Campbell views on the prospects and methods for evangelizing the newly freed slaves, let us turn now to a more egalitarian note. This comes from the Querists’ Drawer where Errett and his editorial staff answered questions on belief and practice sent in by readers. Here Errett comes to the defense of some women fed up with their unmotivated fellow congregants.

“We met today for social worship and the elder no being present, the deacon and the brethren would not lead in worship; the sisters went ahead and had singing, prayer and Bible reading. Did we do right? Would it have been right for a sister to have led in the breaking bread?”

In our judgment, you did just right. And if you had added the Lord ’s supper to observances, we should still say you did right. If a company of sisters in a neighborhood in which no brethren lived were to assemble for reading and prayer, what would there be to hinder their observance of the Lord’s supper? And if brethren are present and refuse to lead in the worship, no one can charge that the women usurp authority over them, if they go forward in the performance of duties from which the men shrink. Certainly, such men should never complain because the women outstrip them in zeal and faithfulness.

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A Southern Nation of Speechifiers: Heyrman and Eastman in Conversation

University of Chicago Press

Christine Leigh Heyrman’s Southern Cross makes a wonderful companion piece to Caroline Eastman’s A Nation of Speechifiers. More precisely, Heyrman preemptively corrects a historical oversight in Eastman’s much more recent work. Both authors are concerned with identifying the relationships of nonelites to structures of power in the early national period. Both argue that the changes which took place after the turn of the century were not the rosy picture of democratization which has been the academic orthodoxy for politics, society, and religion for some time. Both excellently demonstrate their cases. Yet, while Heyrman treats her subject comprehensively within her limits, Eastman claims a broader scope than she is ultimately able to encompass.

In Nation of Speechifiers, Eastman argues that far from a great triumph of democratization that once dominated thinking on Jacksonian politics or even the perpetual repression of nonelites that has dominated some feminist and minority histories, the period immediately after the Revolution was one of profound cultural negotiation in which nonelites were able to seize access to public participation in limited but meaningful ways. She looks at politics, education, voluntary associations, trade organizations, publishing, and professional oratory to see the ways that women, children, and racial minorities had a public voice prior to 1810. After that, however, culture shifted as the nation solidified. A war won, a peaceful party transition, and a new vision of suffrage for white men all functioned to close the previously permeable borders of public participation and exclude nonelites.

Yet Eastman glaringly omits religion as an arena in which women, children, and racial minorities had a public voice, a curious oversight particularly in view of Eastman’s stress on oratory as a means of public power. The omission might have made a good avenue for further research had not Heyrman perfectly tackled the question more than a decade earlier. Heyrman takes the same period Eastman considers, treats the same nonelites that Eastman does, but focuses narrowly on religion in the South. The conclusions she draws are largely the same. A newly formed (at least in the South) evangelicalism is initially open to the public voice and at least informal authority of women, children, and racial minorities. After the turn of the century, however, Heyrman exhaustively and convincingly traces the restriction of power into the hands of older white males. She concludes, much as Eastman does, by attacking facile notions of democratization by asking the question democratization for whom.

Eastman’s omission of religion—and of the South and transmontane America almost in their entirety—clearly could have been corrected by reading Heyrman, and the failure to do so borders on inexcusable. Yet readers of Heyrman can benefit from consulting Eastman as well. Heyrman explains the changes in evangelicalism largely as evangelistic necessities. “To put the matter bluntly, evangelicals could not rest content with a religion that was the faith of women, children, and slaves” (193). Growth required appeasing and then appealing to white men, in whose hands all temporal power rested. Eastman suggests there is something more at work in the culture at large here. Eastman’s exclusion of the South from her study may throw this observation into doubt for the arena of Heryman’s work, but nevertheless the question must be raised whether or not evangelistic necessity adequately explains the need for a more male-oriented, “traditional” religious structure. Even if it does, do the broader cultural changes charted by Eastman explain what is driving this evangelistic need? In Heyrman, essentially, evangelicals hit a glass ceiling above which a movement of women could no longer ascend. The time of the early nineteenth century as the period of change is incidental; it is just when the need for change outweighed the inertia of convention. Eastman’s work suggests there is something more happening in the period.

Both books are supremely readable, and Heyrman in particular has a literary flourish rarely seen among historians. Though my interests and preferences tend toward Heyrman’s work, I confidently recommend either for general reading. Eastman’s more theoretical framework may scare off non-academics, but anyone who has even a hobbyists interest in the period will be more than amply rewarded by putting in the effort to understand her argument. Together, these two works give a picture of early national American democracy that will challenge the narrative taught in most colleges not to long ago and still, consequently, taught in most grade schools.

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Dorothy Day, the Woman

Being myself both anti-abortion and anti-war, both a complementarian and an environmentalist, you might think that I would realize that others, like myself, do not fall neatly into the media constructed left-right continuum of social and political thought. Nevertheless, I still found myself going into The Long Loneliness with the assumption that Dorothy Day, hero of the radical left, must be a rabid feminist of the latest type. Of course, as a historian, I should have realized the anachronism of assuming that a woman who came of age just as so-called first wave feminists were making strides toward legal equality could not be expected to share the concerns of so-called second wave feminists who would begin to blur the distinctions between equality and uniformity in the 1960s. Especially since Day’s book was published in 1952. (For all I know, she went on to mirror the changing landscape of feminist thought, but that is a topic for another study.) Whatever my misconceptions and miscalculations, I was pleasantly surprised to read Day’s own reflections on her womanhood, not because they necessarily paralleled or reinforced my own thoughts on gender but simply because she represented a strong, thoughtful, articulate woman who was, nonetheless, still a woman and saw herself as distinct from–dare I say complementary to–man.

I was lonely, deadly lonely. And I was to find out then, as I found out so many times, over and over again, that women especially are social beings, who are not content with just husband and family, but must have a community, a group, an exchange with others. A child is not enough. A husband and children, no matter how busy one may be kept by them, are not enough. Young and old, even in the busiest years of our lives, we women especially are victims of the long loneliness. Men may go away and become desert Fathers, but there were no desert mothers. Even the anchoresses led rather sociable lives, with bookbinding and spiritual counseling, even if they did have to stay in one place.

That observation was inoffensive enough, but she would make others that might not sit quite so well as she pitted her own womanhood against the work she wanted to do:

I am quite ready to concede now that men are the single-minded, the pure of heart, in these movements. Women by their very nature are more materialistic, thinking of the home, the children, and of all things needful to them, especially love. And in their constant searching after it, they go against their own best interests. So, I say, I do not really know myself as I was then. I do not know how sincere I was in my love of the poor and my desire to serve them. I know that I was in favor of works of mercy as we know them, regarding the drives for food and clothing for strikers in the light of justice, and an aid in furthering the revolution. But I was bent on following journalist’s side of the work. I wanted the privileges of the woman and the work of the man, without following the work of the woman. I wanted to go on picket lines, to go to jail, to write, to influence others and so make my mark on the world. How much ambition and how much self-seeking there was in all this!

In that struggle, she did not always choose what the “woman” in her desired. Perhaps, as I think some feminists would argue, this was her overcoming the gender norms foisted upon her by a misogynistic society. Perhaps, as I would suggest, this is merely the sacrifice of self that makes Day’s life so profound. Reflecting on her conversion, which precipitated her divorce, she wrote:

I saw the film Grapes of Wrath at this time and the picture of that valiant woman, the vigorous mother, the heart of the home, the loved one, appealed to me strongly. Yet men are terrified of momism and women in turn want a shoulder to lean on. That conflict was in me. A woman does not feel whole without a man. And for a woman who had known the joys of marriage, yes, it was hard. It was years before I awakened without that longing for a face pressed against my breast, an arm about my shoulder. The sense of loss was there. It was a price I had paid.

It was not all so dreadfully serious, and one anecdote caught my attention precisely for how typically human it was. It reminded of the kind of casual, unreflective assumptions about gender that you hear every day walking through the mall or rattled off in casual conversation around the office. Here she explains to a friend precisely how she sees a mutual acquaintance from her feminine perspective:

“I tell you, I do like him. I like him very much. But why do I have to go into raptures about him? Do you want me to fall in love with him? But that is just it—the only thing I do not like about him is that he always is raving about women—kissing his hand to them, going down on his knees to them and saying ‘Ah, how I love them, and how they have wrecked my life!’ Women don’t like such a man. He is too easy to get. They prefer a more aloof type so that if he does make love them they can flatter themselves that there is some rare quality in them which made him succumb.”

And yet, sixty years later, guys like that still exist. Go figure.

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The War on Men: A Digest

On Monday, Suzanne Venker published a brief article in which she argues:

I’ve accidentally stumbled upon a subculture of men who’ve told me, in no uncertain terms, that they’re never getting married. When I ask them why, the answer is always the same.

Women aren’t women anymore.

…Fortunately, there is good news: women have the power to turn everything around. All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.

If they do, marriageable men will come out of the woodwork.

Unsurprisingly, the very women who Venker labels as “angry” and “defensive” were outraged by the suggestion and did not hesitate to express that outrage.

Meghan Casserly for Forbes, in one of the tamer articles, writes:

Women, do you hear Suzanne Venker? It’s all your fault. The women’s sexual revolution has left you too aggressive and too needy at the same time—two things “good men” absolutely abhor. But it’s not so much the changing that’s pissing mankind off, ladies. No, we’re pissing them off by expecting them to change along with us. To help us.

Venker writes that women have changed in recent decades and that men have stayed the same–as there hasn’t been a revolution that demanded it. But it seems that very revolution might be upon us. Modern men have two options: to change—or continue going the way of the buffalo.

Erin Gloria Ryan for Jezebel was predictably more outraged:

Venker’s piece for Fox News, which extrapolated from changing attitudes about marriage that there’s an entire subculture of men who don’t want to get married, and that’s because women are scaring them away by competing with them, was roundly mocked for being stupid, mindless garbage that paints women as testicle eating castrators and men as delicate babies upset that their feelings aren’t being appropriately catered to. Women aren’t letting men “win” in this ongoing battle of the sexes, and in response, men are taking their ball(s) and going home. Marital Lysistrata, if you will.

As was her counterpart, Jessica Wakeman, at Frisky:

2. I’ve … stumbled upon a subculture of men who’ve told me, in no uncertain terms, that they’re never getting married. When I ask them why, the answer is always the same. Women aren’t women anymore.

Also, Mommy makes his favorite Hamburger Helper whenever he asks and does not charge any rent for sleeping on that old couch in her basement. And she has no idea all that porn he’s downloaded is the reason why her computer is running so slow.

6. Now the men have nowhere to go.

Waaahhhhh. Fap fap fap fap fap.

Or the similarly lofty response of Kaili Joy Gray for Daily Kos:

Being a lady writer who writes about how ladies totally suck is such hard work.

It’s especially hard work if you make your living telling other ladies they shouldn’t make a living because of The ChildrenTM and also because it will make men feel bad about themselves. Keeping all the hatred and blame straight can really hurt your ladybrain and make you write things you totally didn’t mean to write.

And Kristin Iversen of The L Magazine:

The opening shot [in the War on Men] was sounded today by Suzanne Venker when she posted an article on Foxnews.com entitled “The war on men.” [sic] What about the war on capitalization, Suzanne? What about that?

Apparently, capitalization of titles is just one of the casualties in this epic struggle. But no matter, we have more important things to focus on. Namely, why don’t men like women anymore? What did women do to fuck up the sweet deal that they’ve had for centuries? You know. The one where women didn’t have the right to vote until less than a hundred years ago. The one where women still don’t make anything like equal pay for doing an equal amount of work. The one where women are expected to take on all of the household chores and childcare responsibilities and look the other way while men have as much freedom as they want. THAT SWEET DEAL.

Emma Gray for the Huffington Post quips:

Meanwhile, we women will quit our jobs, purchase aprons with our last paychecks and bake like it’s 1955. A workforce reduced by nearly half? That’s bound to get this society headed in the right direction.

Meagan Morris for Cosmopolitan chimes in:

We’ve come a long way as a gender since the birth of feminism and—gender pay gap, be damned—have the same rights and opportunities as our dude counterparts.

Oopsies, though: We silly women now have too much equality, according to Suzanne Venker. The Fox News columnist hypothesizes that the reason why so-called “marriageable men” don’t want to get married is because today’s women don’t make them feel like the super manly men women of say, the 1800s, would have…

So, all of us single ladies are destined to be single forever—and its our own fault—because we want to have careers and fulfilling lives.

Then there was Hanna Rosin at Slate:

I knew that women had become more educated. I knew they were steadily earning more money. I knew they had gained a lot of power of late, and sometimes even more money and power than the men around them. But I did not realize they had become so powerful that they could mess with the men’s DNA. How did I miss that? How has J.J. Abrams not made a movie about it?

Unfortunately, Venker is somewhat enigmatic about how to reverse this problem, beyond a few vague clues. Women, she says, “have the power to turn everything around” (Duh, of course, we have ALL the power). “All they have to do is surrender to their nature – their femininity – and let men surrender to theirs.” Surrender to my femininity. Surrender to my femininity. I get the general idea but what does it mean, like, in practice? Not wear pants so much? Let my hair grow. Ask my boss to pay me a little less? Open to ideas.

Are you noticing a trend here? No, it isn’t the generally liberal or openly feminist bent of these publications. It isn’t the condescending attitude that suggests that any challenge to prevailing notions about gender in public discourse is beneath serious reply. It isn’t even the logically fallacious, but nevertheless ubiquitous, guilt-by-association with Phyllis Schlafly (which I did my best to edit out). It’s the fact that all of these commentators are women.

Granted, I didn’t lift up there skirts and check (as if any of them wear skirts…ha), though that surely would have been my prerogative in 1955 or the 1800s or whenever we’re locating that fictionalized era when women were actively, systematically, and universally oppressed by men. Nevertheless, it seems clear that what we have here is a bunch of women sitting around in a closed off group trying to decide whether or not and how men are trying to oppress women and failing as men. Go figure.

Speaking on behalf of the testicled among us, or at least as one male among many, you women are welcome to continue to ascend in the workforce. Most of my colleagues are already women, as are most of my immediate supervisors. Continue to dominate academics. Be ever more consciously aggressive, more coldly rational, more unreservedly sexual, more delightfully vulgar because, after all, men have gotten away with it for years and anything we can do, you can do better. Earn equal pay for equal work, and, for the sake of reparations, reverse the pay gap for a while just to teach us a lesson. You have my permission, which you neither need nor want and which is undoubtedly a mere vestige of a paternalistic cultural heritage passed unconsciously to me by my forefathers (<–term deliberately not gender inclusive).

Meanwhile, all I ask for is the simple right to find those qualities unattractive. If the idea of my home becoming a staging ground for working out gender equality doesn't comport with the notions of domestic bliss that I developed when I was a little boy playing house and you were a little girl playing sister suffragette, I trust you won't think me too primitive. While you are off pursuing your dreams, I ask only that you don't count among your goals the wholesale destruction of my dream of enjoying a wife who makes me feel like a man, the sort of man Nick Charles was in the 1930s with his young, rich, opinionated, strong-willed wife who adored him. I have never, nor would I ever, force a woman to do anything, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t buy into the newest, shiniest model of woman just because you’re telling me she’s the wave of the future. The old model works just fine, the kind who recognizes that the quests for love and equity are sometimes adversarial.

So you can scoff if you want and hurl petty insults at Suzanne Venker, but–personally, anecdotally–there seems to be more than a little truth in the argument that men aren’t interested in competing all day at work and coming home to find domestic competition hovering just beneath the surface. What do you care? You don’t want men like me anyway, and the men you do want don’t want women like Suzanne Venker or Phyllis Schafly anyway–you know, the publicly outspoken, well-educated, career women that feminists are trying to get rid of.

If we’re lucky, men will go on blaming the demise of marital tranquility on women; women will persistently nag men to change with the times and lament the failures of the brutish sex when empowered women can’t find husbands; and before it’s all over, maybe the world won’t collapse under the wait of its own mushrooming population.

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Anarchism and the Just Society

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
There is a great deal to commend Vernard Eller’s arguments about human attempts to construct a classless society, but an arguments merits are normally apparent on its face. To that extent, I intend to let Eller’s point speak for itself. No argument, however, is entirely invulnerable to criticism. Two such criticisms came to my mind while I was reviewing Eller’s case that bear engagement. Though I do not think either is ultimately justified, the fact that Eller does not address them specifically compels me to address them.

The first and most obvious criticism that might arise from those who advocate revolutionary attempts to establish equity is that Eller’s Christian alternative does not actually achieve the ends for society that they pursue. No matter how hard we try, simply ignoring social inequality does not resolve the reality of it. As long as the “oppressing classes” continue to have recourse to their means of oppression, the “oppressed classes” will continue to be oppressed.

This is undoubtedly true. It must be remembered, however, that Christian anarchism makes no pretense of trying to reform human society through human effort. In fact, it is predicated precisely on rejecting such a pretension. Eller makes the point quite clearly that all human means for establishing social equity necessarily involve the use of force (in some fashion) which is itself a form of social oppression, even if it is the “oppressed” who are oppressing the “oppressors.” Christian anarchism doesn’t provide an alternative human means for achieving human ends, but a rejection of human means and human ends in favor of divine ones.

The church, in this understanding, becomes the only truly classless, and therefore just, society because it adopts, insofar as it is possible, the divine perspective of unity in Christ. When Paul says that there is no Greek or Jew, male or female, he does not believe that humanity becomes uniform by entrance into the church. Instead, the church becomes the proleptic experience of the kingdom on earth in which the incidentals which assume the status of identity in human society are relegated to their proper sphere.

This provides a perfect segue into the second objection: if classification as a means of domination is eliminated in the Christian community, what is to be made of the various economic recognitions of features such as gender in the church. If anarchism and its attempts to construct an equitable society by divine means is in fact the true means for achieving justice, does it not necessarily follow that people in the church cease to recognize as significant distinctions in gender?

I suspect that for Eller this is not so much an objection as a recognition of his logical conclusion. He appears to be the egalitarian type of anarchist more in the tradition of Garrison than Lipscomb. Being myself nearer to the latter, however, it is important to stress that egalitarian gender economics are only one possible implication to be drawn from Eller’s argument.

Even Eller recognizes that matters of sex, race, or socio-economic status are significant insofar as they are necessary categories by which humanity interacts with the world. For Eller this is an unfortunate byproduct of human finitude. He does not seem to recognize that there are realities which correspond to the categories which are generally labeled “oppressive.” The essence of anarchism does not need to be the elimination of all distinction because distinction is not only relevant and representative of reality but it is arguably the preeminent reality, enshrined before time in the trinitarian God and established as the predicate reality for a creation which is genuinely ex nihilo. (Eller presses this issue to its breaking point, wanting to blur even the distinctions between species as he makes a point to refer to sparrows as “individuals” in the same way that people are “individuals.”)

Instead, what Jesus does and what the anarchist vision of the church does is to divorce classification from value. This is the core of the complementarian argument of ontological equality and economic difference. It is critical to realize that difference in race, socio-economic status, and gender are non-essential, which is to say that they are not of the essence of things not that they are not meaningful. With this understanding in view, Eller’s stress on the church as the congregation of individuals standing equally before God and equally in one another’s estimation can be fully embraced.

Whatever you are, you are first and foremost a child of God, a sibling in Christ, and an expectant participant in the Kingdom of Heaven. That is what identifies us as Christians. That we may function differently in the church on the basis of the incidentals of our existence does not undermine that truth or in any way diminish its supreme importance. (And that stands not just for the issue of gender economics but also for the way people of different socio-economic status function differently but equally in the mission of the church not to mention countless other less controversial economic distinctions).

Undoubtedly, the fact that I agree with so many of Eller’s premises means that I am omitting or overlooking other potential errors in his thinking (any of which I would be happy to have pointed out to me). Nevertheless, it seems hard to contradict Eller’s acute sense of the flaw in historical and ongoing attempts by humanity to imagine and pursue and truly equitable society. The just society will always be out of the reach of optimistic human hands because humanity lacks truly just mechanisms of actualizing its vision, even if that vision were truly just.

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Anarchy in May: Eller on the Just Society (Pt. 2)

The following is part of the Anarchy in May series which examines Christian anarchism and quotes prominent Christian anarchist thinkers. For a more detailed introduction and a table of contents, please see Anarchy in May: Brief Introduction and Contents.
Marxism is the easiest and most obvious choice for demonstrating the folly of human attempts to construct a classless society, but Eller is quick to recognize that the projects of social equity are not limited to efforts by workers to control the means of production or even by groups attempting to overthrow nation-states to achieve liberation. There are oppressed classes (real or imagined) constantly struggling to level the social playing field that have nothing to do, overtly, with political communism. According to Eller, these movements in favor of “classlessness” suffer from the same methodological flaws that Marxism does.

As an example, Eller offers an analysis of feminism:

The clear and laudable goal of the feminist movement is to create a society in which the social distinctions between male and female are reduced to adiaphora, matters of no consequence. Not only any hint of inequality but even the distinguishing marks of the two are to be minimized. A true classlessness is to transpire. Yet that classlessness cannot happen by the direct approach of playing down the distinctions; the power of the oppressing class must first be broken. No, the immediate steps must point directly away from the ultimate goal they would serve.

Thus: “Yes, the two genders should be treated without distinction.” So, from time immemorial we have had us an English language that enables us to speak by the house without dropping so much as a hint that two different genders of human beings are involved, that there even exists a distinction known as “gender.” Yet, that way hardly serves the raising of feminine class consciousness. Therefore, the rule now is to speak (with doubled pronouns and the like) so that the gender distinction is always prominent, to use gendered terminology in preference to the ungendered, to take care in specifying women at least as often as men. The feminist grammar is designed to serve gender awareness, not the classlessness of gender ignorance.

Thus: “Yes, the goal is that gender distinctions disappear.” However, on the way to that goal, feminine class distinction is necessary—to the point that one theology cannot be taken as serving human beings indiscriminately. There must now be a feminist theology in which women can have their special concept of God, their definition of salvation, their preferred reading of the gospel. Yes, just that far must the commonality of women and men be denied—for the sake of ultimate classlessness!

Thus: “Yes, we look for the day when the distinction between women and men will be seen as insignificant if not nonexistent.” Nevertheless, for the sake of the ideological solidarity necessary to get us there, we find it right to posit an absolute moral distinction between the sexes—namely, that it is men who cause wars and that, if given the chance, women would create peace.

…In undoubted sincerity, the feminists claim that their interest is not simply in liberating themselves but in liberating men as well. Yet what must be recognized is that this has been the standard revolutionary line of every class war ever mounted. However, the question is whether true classlessness ever can be achieved through one class’s gaining the power to dictate the terms of that classlessness. Even more, can it be called “liberation” for other people to take it upon themselves to liberate you according to their idea of what your liberation should be? It strikes me that “liberation” is one term the person will have to define for himself.

But if “class distinction” and “class struggle” be our chosen means, is it possible that the contradiction ever can be overcome?—that “classlessness” can ever mean anything other than “we are now all of one class, because ours is it”’ or “liberation” mean anything other than “you are no liberated, because we are in a position to tell you that you are”?

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Complementarianism: Olson’s Gordian Knot

The following is part of an ongoing response to Roger E. Olson’s critique of extreme complementarianism. For the ori06gin and nature of these posts, see Complementarianism: A Defense from a Nobody.

Let us shift now from complementarianism in theory and Olson’s critique of it to a subsequent post where Olson attempts to upend complementarianism. He proposes to offer “a true conundrum that exposes the impossibility of consistent complementarianism” and solicits in response possible solutions from “leading evangelical complementarian theorists.” Unfortunately, I am not a leading theorist in any respect, and thus my opinion has only marginal weight for Olson–as I am forced to conclude does the opinions of the millions of regular complementarians who go around every day not treating their wives like children or living in abject, debilitating subjugation to their husbands. Nevertheless, I will present Olson’s Gordian Knot and, with my meager skills, attempt to untie it from the complementarian position I have outlined previously.

Suppose a married couple comes to you (the complementarian pastor or counselor or whatever) for advice. They are both committed evangelical Christians who sincerely want to “do the right thing.” They are trying to live according to the guidelines of evangelical complementarianism. However, a problem has arisen in their marriage. The wife acquired sound knowledge and understanding of finances including investments before the couple became Christians. The husband is a car mechanic who knows little to nothing about finances or investments. A good, trusted friend has come to the husband and offered him an opportunity to make a lot of money by investing the couple’s savings (money for their childrens’ college educations and for retirement) in a capital venture. The husband wants to do it. The wife, whose knowledge of finances and investments is well known and acknowledged by everyone, is adamantly opposed to it and says she knows, without doubt, that the money will be lost in that particular investment. She sees something in it the husband doesn’t see and she can’t convince him that it is a bad investment. The husband wants to take all their savings and put it into this investment, but he can’t do it without his wife’s signature. The wife won’t sign. However, after long debate, the couple has agreed to leave the matter in your hands. The husband insists this is a test of the wife’s God-ordained subordination to him. The wife insists this is an exception to their otherwise complementarian marriage. You, the complementarian adviser of the couple, realize the wife is right about the investment. The money will be lost if the investment is made. You try to talk the husband out of it but he won’t listen. All he’s there for is to have you decide biblically and theologically what she, the wife, should do. What do you advise?

The scenario Olson describes is difficult, admittedly, but perhaps not in the way he thinks. It isn’t difficult to resolve logically; its difficulty lies in the existential turmoil it evokes. The force of his argument rests primarily in its appeal to the universal human inclination to be covetous of what we own. Anyone who has been married for any period of time has weathered some kind of financial difficulty and, in all likelihood, has butted heads with his or her spouse over the proper course to take. When you pair that shared experience with the ubiquitous presence in sinful humanity of a desire to possess and preserve “treasures on earth,” it is understandable why Olson’s straw complementarians have shied away from answering.

The resolution, such as it is, comes first through reorienting the ethical priorities. For Olson, the clear focus is on the ethics of financial stewardship (to use a gross euphemism). When presented with the potential objection that the limit of submission is sin, he counters that “[the complementarian] has to define “sin” in such a way as to exclude from it the wife’s knowing participation in financial ruin for their whole family.” What looms large in the ethical picture then is the suggestion that the possibility of financial ruin is more critical than the possibility that some tertiary Christian principle (something totally incidental like submission) might be violated.

Instead of focusing on the dire prospect that “money for their childrens’ college educations and for retirement” might not be there–concerns which smack of an affluent Christianity foreign to the apostolic age, or to most Christian ages for that matter–the primary ethical question ought to be whether or not the foundational Christian principle of self-sacrificial love is at play. With this being the new focus, there are a number of actions which would be morally virtuous regardless of the consequences (and thus undermining Olson’s utilitarian vision of ethics). For example, it would be morally virtuous for the wife to opt to submit to the husband and allow the money to be invested. If the money should be lost, credit God with using the wife’s sacrifice as a tool for teaching the husband humility. If the investment should prove profitable, credit God with using the husband’s prudence as a tool for teaching the wife humility. In either case, whatever happens to the money is incidental. The wife’s choice to submit is morally virtuous.

Before any objections to this are raised, let me continue by adding that it would also be morally virtuous if the husband opted to forgo the investment out of sacrificial love for his wife. It is a fool (or a polemicist) who believes that true leadership consists of always getting your way. Plato understood leadership to be whatever actions best ensured that all those led were maximizing their potential. Paul had a less calculating but nonetheless compatible vision when he told husbands that they should give themselves up for their wives as Christ gave himself up for the church. If the investment turns out to have been unsound for others, credit God with using the wife’s prudence as a tool for teaching the husband humility. If the investment turns out to have been sound for others, credit God with using the husband’s sacrifice as a tool for teaching the wife humility. In either case, the husband can only ever act virtuous when he sacrifices his will out of love for his wife.

The ultimate issue at stake here is not how to make sound investments but how to have a sound marriage before God. The key to this does not lie in equal rights or even in a calculated, non-traditional division of labor. It lies in the willingness of the spouses to emulate Jesus Christ, who submits himself eternally to God the Father and who gave himself up ultimately for his bride the church. As the hypothetical couples counselor, I don’t care at all what happens to their money. I’m not their stockbroker. My concern is helping them to grow into conformity with the image of Christ, for which submission is essential. Olson frames the question as a conflict between doing what is good and doing what is legal, but in reality it is a clash between doing what is right and doing what is desirable. The focus on the money betrays who our true master is. If it is God rather than Mammon, then the issue comes into sharper focus.

Not, I imagine, for Olson, mind you. It is clear from his proposed dilemma that he sees unsound investment as a sin (a damning judgment on so many in America and the world right now). There is a more unsettling undercurrent to Olson’s argument, however, a response to which may sum up my point here. In his opening salvo, Olson poses this question with apparent indignation: “What is permanent, docile, subordination and submission if not a curse?” I would suggest that it is the appropriate human disposition before God. If submission is a curse, than the Son is accursed of the Father. If submission is a curse, then Adam and all of creation were cursed before Even ever arrived on the scene. If submission is a curse, then Paul enjoins all Christians to be cursed by one another and by God. In fact, the permanent, docile, and voluntary (an adjective that Olson always seems to omit) submission before God is the wonderful disposition in which God exalts and beatifies all creation. That wives may be asked to practice this before their husbands (“as to the Lord”), Christians before one another, congregants before elders, children before parents, slaves before masters, and on and on is not the shame of anyone but to their glorious and eternal benefit.

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