Gender

Outside my campus door, I have on display the above quote noting the meaning of feminism, as it reads: “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” The term feminism in and of itself can be somewhat of a contentious term and ideology. Often times, individuals equate it to radicalism…which it can be, as can terms such as nationalism be used in a dangerous fashion to denote the concept of jingoism. But with feminism, its danger is found in its threat towards traditional institutions. Feminism challenges the basic construct of hegemony in that many institutions are and have been controlled by men. However, women via equal educational and political opportunities have torn down many of the walls constructed by the notion of male hegemony — at least in the western world. This is not the case in other parts of the world in which various religious faiths have been used to justify male supremacy.

I have always been taught that the great thing about liberalism is this: it believes it is wrong to reject individuals access to institutions that will inherently work against their natural rights; some might see proposition 8 this way; it might be the right of all individuals to universal health care; or, the right to an education regardless of socioeconomic status; how about the rights of women to afford child care? Feminism as ideology represents most of the women in my life; I like to think about the laborious hours my mother put herself through just to guarantee that my brother and I had the basics to cope with the challenges of day-to-day living. Furthermore, her plight is one of historical proportions in that she is not only a woman facing the challenges of male hegemony, but a black female from a lower socioeconomic base living in the deep South. She lived in Alabama during the 1960s… Not that all things have changed much since then. Thus, elements such as class, gender, race, and power have a very different meaning to her than say — me. Though my race brings about a particular challenge to other types of dominant institutions in society, my gender offers far more doors. This is an unfortunate reality that many of us are unwilling to discuss; it is simple to talk of progressive women as being feminazis or aggressive animals. But, the day-to-day challenges of women are far too extensive for men, including myself, to comprehend; I teach about feminism in my courses, but I cannot wholly understand its meaning. In Gloria Steinem’s If Men Could menstruate, she offers a unique analogy into the world of women. She ridicules sexism and the silly assumptions men make about the plight of women.

Above: I believe all true students of history and culture should read Simone de Beavoir’s The Second Sex, as noted by the quote on my door.

According to Rosemary Radford Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist Theology,

…traditional Christian theology shapes Christ as the model for a redeemed humanity…one that we have lost through sin and recover through redemption. But Christ as symbol is problematic for feminist theology. The Christological symbols have been used to enforce male dominance, and even if we go back behind masculinist Christology to the praxis of the historical Jesus of the synoptic Gospels, it is questionable whether there is a single model of redeemed humanity fully revealed in the past.

In reading this work for a seminar course I took in graduate school, I understood this point to say that Jesus had both masculine and feminine characteristics, but it has been man who took only the masculine to define the culture of humanity. Though the characteristics of Jesus as it relates to masculinity and femininity is another blog post, one cannot argue that Christians are asked to respect both gender traits defined by the basic notion of the rib of Adam; it is at this point that male hegemony tends to set a course of new rules. Hence, women are to be the care takers of masculinity. They are to cook, clean, please, and behave in a fashionable effort deemed okay by men. I find myself combating this thought among some of the young male students I teach; if their mother is a homemaker and their father treats her as second class…I have found that young men in my courses behave this way. Male students treat my female colleagues differently than they do male teachers; I suspect this is true in other arenas too. The challenge of course is deconstructing this attitude by reminding students that feminism is a Christian virtue; Christ shared both gender characteristics. This is not a bad thing; if teaching male students to be Christ like is the value of teaching at a Christian institution, it is important that Christian educators model this in how they approach the topic of gender history. I am not innocent of what I am writing; it was my mother that asked me to rethink the rap music I used to listen to. Like much of the popular culture music today, it is demeaning to females.

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8 thoughts on “Gender

  1. The feminist movement has always bothered me. It’s not that I don’t believe that women are every bit as capable as men; I do. It’s not that I don’t believe that they deserve better than what they get in many situations; I do. The movement itself bothers me though, because it so often criticizes my desire to get married, have children, and take care of my family. I was under the impression initially that it was about empowering women, not about limiting their choices, and every time a feminist tells me that my desires are silly or stupid, my choices get limited.

  2. I thought you would support this? You are, as I recall, a graduate student looking to be a professional of some sort. Correct, Kristi? The idea is that you have the right to make choices, which is the basic idea of feminism. I do not think it ask you or other women to avoid being married and having a family. It is saying that you can have both without powers telling you how and in what way you balance this life. I am shocked that you protest this.

  3. A wonderful book that analyzes sexist language and how it affects our ideas of God (and therefore ourselves) is Elizabeth Johnson’s She Who Is. Johnson is a theologian, and something I really appreciate is that the book’s tone is calm and informative, not angry and strident. The idea of feminism as radical and angry bothers many women who hold to the definition that you first gave–the idea that women are people, too. Many now would rather be called a humanist simply because they do not like the negative connotation feminism now has.

  4. I cannot speak to this from the Christian perspective, but I can say that there’s been a lot of interesting work done in terms of research into how the Church (as a system, as opposed to individual Christians – let’s be clear about that) particularly in the formative years of the institution, appropriated a lot of the female-centered traditions of the Pagan peoples it sought to bring into its fold. If I’m not mistaken, the historical Christ was born sometime in April; why is it, then that we celebrate that occasion in December? My understanding is that the Church decided to celebrate that particular occasion on (or, at least, near enough to be satisfactory) a Pagan feast day. I’ve also seen work that has much to do with the elevation of the figure of Mary in the Church as a way to equate with the Pagan Goddess concept, thereby making Christianity more accessible to those of the Old Ways. I’m not a scholar in this area, mind, but I have seen a fair bit of very interesting theories as to how the Church evolved in terms of making itself more palatable to those it meant to encompass.

    Of course, that doesn’t really relate much to what you’re talking about here in a practical sense, does it? Again, I can’t speak to a Christian perspective, but it seems to me that society has a fair bit of inertia; we do what we do because we’ve always done it that way (haven’t we?), and it is important for thinkers to stop and question why – and to point out the systems in place that serve to perpetuate the status quo. Feminism is an enormous subject to try to tackle (and thanks for helping me last term – expect more Skyping in the near future!); I think that looking at a particular angle of it – as you’ve done here – is really the only way to begin a conversation. Further, I think it has to be examined in terms of the individual as well as the culture; what do WE do – the people sitting in our seats and thinking with our brains – to either challenge or perpetuate the kinds of conditions that keep others at a disadvantage, and what are our motivations for either helping or hindering? What’s that saying? “Let there be peace, Lord, and let it begin with me”? If we don’t start where we are – with US – then we can’t reasonably expect answers, can we?

  5. Chili: I do think a conversation is best; if people cannot shift their thinking from how the see feminism or the concept of gender, ignorance will continue to dominate. You are correct about conflation of Christianity and Paganism.

    Stephanie: The interesting thing about your point and what Johnson is saying is that throughout history, it has been women more so than men to hold other populations of women back. Sad, but females cannot decide what feminism means.

  6. I think the ultimate contradiction that women must face is that women cannot have it all. No one can. If a woman has children and a career- something must be sacrificed. However, few men are forced to make the same kind of sacrifices. Unfortunately women themselves judge each other’s decisions. If a women gives up having a family for a career, then she is plagued her whole life with questions as to why she has chosen this path. Yet, others may chastize a highly educated women who chooses to leave the workplace to raise her children. The problem with feminism is that it forces women to have to come to terms with their own prejudices against their fellow woman. Many working mothers feel guilty they are not home with their children, stay at home moms often feel their contributions aren’t taken seriously. Yet, these issues are not seen with men. Few working men are asked after their children are born if they are going to stay home with the child. The general double standard that exists between and amongst the sexes is precisely the reason that we need feminists to say what many of us are experiencing.

  7. I’m just now returning to make a clarification. You’ll have to forgive me; I was hospitalized and had surgery and got a bit distracted.

    My clarification is this, Jaylon: it’s not the movement in general that I dislike. It’s the way it regularly manifests itself in my life. I’m regularly told by people who are theoretically feminists that my desire to get married and have kids and stay home with them is anti-feminist. It’s not. I have the right to choose whatever I want; that’s the purpose of feminism. The movement has some great planks in its platform. However, its proponents are often not good and not kind at portraying this. That’s all I meant.

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