Monday, May 9, 2011

Men On Religiously-Based Sexism

Over at the Washington Post's "On Faith" forum, 14 men and 6 women recently weighed in on the following question:

“'The discrimination against women on a global basis is very often attributable to the declaration by religious leaders in Christianity, Islam and other religions that women are inferior in the eyes of God,' former President Jimmy Carter said last week. Many traditions teach that while both men and women are equal in value, God has ordained specific roles for men and women. Those distinct duties often keep women out of leadership positions in their religious communities. What is religion’s role in gender discrimination?"

6 of the men, and none of the women, spoke favorably of religiously-based notions of the "equal hierarchical" and complementary relationship between men and women that, in non-oxymoronic-speak, is otherwise known as inequality. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that the class of persons who get to be more equal than others in such an arrangement were most often found supporting complementarism.

Anyway, in general, I wasn't much impressed with the arguments of the complementarists. Their pieces were short and simple compared to many of the other pieces, and they largely glossed-over, white-washed, and simplified their respective religions' male-centrism and misogyny. Some, like Charles Colson's (a drafter of the anti-gay, anti-abortion Manhattan Declaration), were laughably absurd and childish:

"In the church and in marriage however, they are complementary roles, just as nature assigns complementary roles. Only women, for example, can bear children. Only males can provide the necessary sperm for procreation.

So in the church, the male assumes a teaching responsibility, but that does not make the woman’s role less significant or less meaningful. It is simply different."

Erm, wow. Men have the sperm, ergo they should of course do the church teaching. Because of the magical teachy sperm stuff. That's one of the most fantastical exaggerations of biological sex difference ever!

I mean, as a feminist it's not so much that I deny that male and female humans have certain biological differences, it's more that I deny that those differences imply differences in, say, leadership capacity. Indeed, how a male human's superior leadership ability "naturally" follows from the fact he creates sperm is, I'm sure, a self-evident truth to some such as Colson, but I need more elaboration on that if I'm to take that proposition seriously.

Moving on, John Mark Reynolds was ridiculous (again), first beginning his piece with an ad hominem against Jimmy Carter and then letting his silly, overly-ornamental writing style get in the way of his message:

"Christianity celebrates the common humanity of men and women, but also rejoices and allows for difference.
Romance withers in the face of modernity, but justice dies if romance rules. This side of paradise men and women must live justly, but also allow for the romance that creates healthy human beings. Man as man and woman as woman each have an irreplaceable role in the order of things."

Pew. Reynolds' eau de essentialism is sort of like that bathroom spray that succeeds only in convincing everyone that you've just crapped into a can of pot-pourri. The gist of his essay, which by the way reads just like the above excerpt, is that our legal system shouldn't discriminate, but religious institutions should be able to. Because men and women are different.

Bonus Hint: Whenever complementarists tell us that men's and women's "natural" roles in The Order Of Things are "simply different" but "no less significant," what they really mean is that men get to be more significant-er than women as evidenced by the gendering of god as male, the male-centric "historical" accounts of their religion, the gendering of the default human as male, and the adherents' insecure need to confine women to the pedestal of motherhood.

The ladies were a bit less charitable toward religiously-based sexism. Especially Paula Kirby:

"In the eyes of the Abrahamic religions, the archetypal woman is Eve: disobedient, unreliable, easily led astray, and a seductive temptress of man – man being more noble, yet easy prey to the wiles and seductions of his weaker mate. Woman is the source of danger, the one who corrupts him, the conduit for all that is evil in the world. She is dangerous … yet irresistible; and this very irresistibility makes her more dangerous still. But you will notice that the dangers of sexual temptation are not to be faced equally by men and women: no, religion demands that it is the woman who bears the burden. Solomon, we are told, had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and David had a more modest yet still energy-sapping five wives and 10 concubines, yet neither of these has become a by-word for male insatiability.

Hey Reynolds, I'll see your "romance," and raise you a "patriarchal projection" and "hetero male fantasy."

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