Thursday, June 4, 2009

Chapter 2 - Men Aren't the Problem

I was out with two work colleagues recently when one of them made me blink and scratch my head by saying that she has always maintained that there is very little difference between the sexes, in fact she thinks the differences are negligible, but because we live in a culture that maintains the differences it is good for her son to spend some father-son time with his Dad (they are divorced). She then went on to mention that she felt sad watching other boys at soccer with their Dads. Even now I can’t quite make sense of what she said, of her observations of culture, or line up her thoughts and actions with what she says she believes about gender.

I felt the same when reading the stories of the champions of feminism in this book. I actually thought those stories, as they are presented here, of Elisabeth Stanton, Simone Beauvoir and even Betty Friedan were really quite sad — from their unhappy marriages or relationships, to their unhelpful encounters with any form of Christianity, to their misguided attempts to interpret and amend the problems they identified, to their ultimate personal dissatisfaction with the outworking of the ideologies they fought for. If one of the litmus tests of the strengths of a person’s convictions is whether or not they wish it for their own children, I found Betty Friedan’s hopes for the marriages of her grandchildren quite telling (as with my friend above who wanted her son to go to soccer with his Dad), and I thought Simone de Beauvoir’s relationship with Sartre a long way from enviable.

It comes as no surprise that, as Carolyn reminds us in this chapter, the real problem involved in feminism is sin, and that living as unredeemed people these women were not capable of correctly interpreting their situations. Carolyn gave a talk at the recent NEXT conference, worth listening to as a potted summary of this book, in which she states this simply as: feminists observed that men were sinning against women and concluded that men were the problem, but with a Christian worldview we can observe that men were sinning against women and sin was the problem (and, of course, women were sinning in response too). The problem has never been God’s good creation of gender, but the original sin in the Garden of Eden, and the way it has filtered through every generation since.

The problem with feminism

A fundamental problem with feminism, as evident in this chapter, is that there is no real understanding of true freedom (or “liberation”) and no real definition or understanding of womanhood (or manhood). Or, as Kirsten Birkett puts it in The Essense of Feminism, we need to know feminism’s answer to two basic philosophical questions: What is the ultimate goal of life? What is a woman? Simone de Beauvoir considered that the best thing a human can have is freedom (for Betty Friedan it was freedom to have a career, for Germaine Greer it was sexual freedom) and argued that men throughout history have had that freedom (whatever it was perceived to be) and denied it to women, thus making men the problem. She therefore argued that an ideal society to be one in which women would be “reared and trained exactly like men”, because that to her was the epitome of liberation for women (taken mostly from Kirsten Birkett, Chapter 3).

Rather than look further at feminisms failed attempts to answer those questions, I thought would here take a brief look at what a Christian understanding of freedom for women actually looks like and at a biblical understanding of womanhood and it's purpose - and hopefully they will build a picture to counteract those claims of feminism. Firstly, I recommend reading Chapter 1 of Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (you can read it free online). In it John Piper writes this of womanhood and freedom:

The disposition of mature femininity is experienced as freeing. This is because it accords with the truth of God’s purpose in creation. It is the truth that frees (John 8:32). There are sensations of unbounded independence that are not true freedom because they deny truth and are destined for calamity ...

That is the way many women (and men) today think of freedom. They judge it on the basis of immediate sensations of unrestrained license or independence. But true freedom takes God’s reality and God’s purpose for creation into account and seeks to fit smoothly into God’s good design. Freedom does include doing what we want to do. But the mature and wise woman does not seek this freedom by bending reality to fit her desires. She seeks it by being transformed in the renewal of her desires to fit in with God’s perfect will (Romans 12:2). The greatest freedom is found in being so changed by God’s spirit that you can do what you love to do and know that it conforms to the design of God and leads to life and glory.

God does not intend for women to be squelched or cramped or frustrated. But neither does he intend for women to do whatever seems to remove these feelings without regards to the appropriateness of the action. Sometimes freedom comes from outward changes in circumstances. Sometimes it comes from inward changes of the heart and mind.

I believe that the femininity to which God calls women is the path of freedom for every woman. It will not look the same in every woman. But it will lay responsibilities on all women in the same way that mature masculinity lays responsibilities on all men.
I am sure that we have all heard the statement, from the Westminster Shorter Catechism that "the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever". Someone once said to me that God’s creatures glorify God by being what they are. So a wombat glorifies God by being a wombat, not by trying to be a koala. So to, part of the way a woman glorifies God is by being the woman he has made her to be, in his image, not by trying to be essentially indistinguishable from men. As Elisabeth Elliot wrote, in her old little book written to her daughter, Let Me Be A Woman:

For the Christian who understands God’s purpose, there cannot possibly be any enmity, envy or desire for imitation. Both men and women accept fully their being as the being God created when he made man in His image, male and female ... and each must recognise and accept the fullness of his[/her] humanity under his[/her] assigned modality. We are not required to “overcome” our sexuality. We affirm it. We rejoice in it. We seek to be faithful to it as we seek to use it as a gift of God ... This [Equal Opportunity etc] is ... an attempt to judge women by the criteria of men ... to rob them of the very gifts that make them what they were meant to be. To subject femininity to the criteria of masculinity is as foolish as it would be to judge meat by the standards of potatoes ...

You are, by the grace of God, a woman. This means you have responsibilities. You are fully a woman, this means you have privileges. You are only a woman, which means you have limitations … Thank God for this, and live it to the hilt!

Finally, I thought I’d leave you with a few snippets from John Piper’s address at the True Womanhood conference:

Manhood and womanhood, belong at the center of God's ultimate purpose ... True womanhood is a distinctive calling of God to display the glory of His Son in ways that would not be displayed if there were no womanhood ... Your distinctive female personhood is indispensable in God's purpose to display the fullness of His glory ... Your true womanhood was made for the glory of Christ.

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