Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Feminist Mistake - Pt 1

What is this book? It looks a bit scary…!

The Feminist Mistake could look a bit daunting at first glance. Something about the red marker slashing through one of the words on the cover or just the word ‘Feminist’ in the title makes one reach for the kettle. Clearly, this will be a book which requires caffeine and possibly even chocolate.

Yet, in many ways, it is an easy book to read for what it sets out to do. There are a couple of reasons for this. The first is that you don’t need to do an exam on the book. You won’t need to recall the detail that you will find in this book – unless you are part of a very unusual bookclub which has exams at the end of each book (and if that’s the case, who am I to judge?). The detail is important because it is the evidence Mary Kassian uses to back up her case. We need the evidence to be certain that she is on the right track. But we don’t need to remember every shred of the evidence. You can even let the detail waft over you if you’ve had a rough night with the kids, you are feeling wretched for one reason or another or you have run out of chocolate.

The book is also fairly easy to read because Mary Kassian is rather good at making her main point clear. This book is well written. The big idea does not lie obscurely in a footnote somewhere; it is out in the open for you to see and it is repeated. And this means that even if you get lost, she’ll remind you of which direction she is going and what the big idea is.

It does use formal English, which might slow you down if you are more used to books with slang and short words or just haven’t exercised your ‘reading muscles’ lately. If you do find yourself rereading whole paragraphs, it might be worth skipping to the end of the chapter and reading the short paragraph at the end which usually summarises the whole chapter for you. Then you can go back and read the rest of the chapter with that summary in mind. That way, you can find out where the chapter is heading and not get lost in the detail, but without missing out on the detail.

The book is challenging for three reasons:
· it has a lot of detail
· it has a lot of intellectual ideas by people not grounded in the real world
· it requires attentive reading; you can’t skim this book.

Why should you read this book?

This is such a valuable book if you want to understand the world you live in as a woman!

Mary states in her introductory chapter that feminism has become so influential in our society, there is a sense in which we are all feminists to one degree or another. I think Mary is right. I am not a feminist, and I suspect that many reading this blog would not describe themselves that way. But living in Western society as we do, how much have we adopted feminist ways of thinking and behaving just by growing up and living in our culture? Mary’s book helps us to understand feminism and so gives us some tools to unpick our own cultural blindness and ask ourselves the question:

How much have I really been influenced by this movement?

We need to be able to answer this to be able to then tackle the question that really matters:

How can I be counter-cultural, not for its own sake, but in order to live out a Christ-centred, Scripture based life?

And once we’ve thought this through for ourselves, we are that much more able to help our children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews and so forth think outside the categories they too are adopting just by growing up in Western society.

If you do embark on this book, chocolate in hand, let me jot down some things you can expect from this book, and some things this book will not do for you.

It will
· help you understand what feminism is all about at its heart and why it is at odds with Christianity.
· show the characteristics of feminism and how it has affected society and the church, right up to where we are now. This is particularly helpful because this book gives us a framework to understand feminism. Feminism is not an easy movement to understand. Mary helps us get an overarching view of the main ideas without over-simplifying the issues.
· give you a model of how to respond to feminism. Mary is not nasty and does not mock. She deals respectfully with other people’s ideas and in doing so, shows us what it looks like to listen carefully, and then to be gracious in response, and yet firm in one’s own beliefs. It is worth reading this book for this alone.

It won’t
· give you a blow by blow analysis of the conservative Evangelical position on manhood and womanhood, covering Biblical texts and explaining key passages. Mary obviously believes that the Bible is the sole authority for understanding manhood and womanhood, but that is not the focus of her book. It is an analysis and critique of feminism, not a response that spells out the alternative biblical position.
· write off feminism’s questions as stupid and ridiculous. Mary does question whether the answers that feminism provides are good for us. This is useful, because some of feminism’s questions are good ones to ask (and they are asked by more than just feminists): what should women do in domestic abuse situations? If a woman is unsupported by a man (single, widowed, divorced, etc), should she still require a man to organise her finances for her (and therefore need a male guarantor for a bank loan)? Issues to do with women should never be written off by us as ‘feminist’ just because they are issues women face. Christianity is profoundly interested in the welfare of women.
· provide you with arguments which roundly defeat any feminist.

Here in the blogsphere, I’ll be doing some thematic posts, rather than going through chapter by chapter. Hopefully this will help keep the main point firmly in our heads and also help us to keep thinking through the implications of what we are reading, rather than it becoming an academic exercise. In the next post will summarise the main idea of the book and take it from there.



Anonymous said...

I have enjoyed reading this book. It does a similar thing to Kirten Birkett's book "The Essence of Feminism" which I'd read several years ago. The main difference that I've appreciated is that the Kassian book goes into the development of christian feminist thought but the other didn't.

Your comments Jennie have made me wonder if I need to rethink my decision with regard to my own little offshoot book club here. (And perhaps if I should purchase a stash of chocolate...I wondered what was missing today as I sat in the sunroom reading....)

I had thought I'd swap the Kassian book for the Birkett book; mainly because of the size and accessibility. The ladies here are mostly weak readers (self confessed) Some told me that before beginning this book club it had been years since they read a decent book. I really want to encourage them to get into this topic but really did wonder if it would turn them off. But your post and summary makes the challenge seem attainable...

Maybe I could use both books and let them decide which one to read. ?? The discussion may benefit from contributions by readers of the two books. Of course it would be completely different to this one. Has anyone tried anything like that before?

Would you mind Jennie, if I used your post in an email when I introduce the book? (We are about three weeks behind equipbooks) Your comments seem quite inspirational to take up the challenge!

Ali said...

From Jennie:

Dear Janelle,

Thanks for your comment. I think Kirsten’s book is a great possibility as well as or instead of Mary’s book. You could always start with Mary’s book and move to Kirsten’s – though then you might have the practical problem of needing both books. But while they are both trying to do different things, I think they are both coming from the same place and are useful to read.

Personally, I’m not sure how well I could run a reading group where members are reading two different books and are not reading the one other members are. I think at that point it could be more a discussion group on feminism than a reading group on a book about feminism. But you may want that and that would be fine, and I’ve never tried it to see how it might work anyway.

I did have one thought though that you might find useful, if you decide to go ahead with Mary’s book. It would all depend on what you do when you get together and who the women are that you meet with. But it strikes me that Mary’s book could easily open up different discussions arising from the material she covers. I think there are some great conversation starters in the book. So, consciousness-raising using the idea that speaking bitterness engenders bitterness, might well lead to a good discussion about how our words affect one another, ‘motherhood is slavery’ might lead to a though provoking conversation about the nature of motherhood and love; the great quote about the atonement being ‘weird’ (p239) could produce a useful discussion about how those who don’t know Christ perceive Christianity and its message. These are just a couple of ideas; but if you wanted to discuss the book across several weeks and cast your net beyond just feminism by adding some practicality, this might be a useful approach for women daunted by the idea of just dealing with feminism for a long block of time.

And stashes of chocolate can only help, I agree!

By all means use the post. I hope it is helpful.

In Christ,