Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Christian women: feminism is not your friend

Matt Walsh writes:

Christian women (and men): please, let feminism go.

Better yet, let yourself go from it.

Release yourself from its shackles.

Everyday I hear from people who tell me they are ‘pro-life feminist’ or ‘Christian feminist.’ Yet millions of modern feminists would respond that such a thing is not possible. Feminism, they say, exists largely to combat the patriarchal evils of pro-life Christianity. They claim that calling yourself a pro-life feminist is like calling yourself a carnivorous vegan, or an environmentalist Humvee enthusiast. The concepts are contradictory, they argue, and I agree — though I’d say the term ‘pro-life feminist’ could be more aptly compared to ‘abolitionist slave trader’ or ‘free market communist.’ Exactly which feminists are you talking to about this, and what evidence can you provide for your assertions? As it turns out, there is a large body of feminists of color who challenge the white, middle class feminist preoccupation with abortion. There are different kinds of feminism, and it is not for you to say which are legitimate.

So I urge you: unbind yourself from the bondage of this term that’s become inexorably tied to a demonic dogma that obliterates the unity of the family, drives a wedge between a wife and her husband, and digs a giant chasm between a mother and her child. Actually some of the worst marital relationships I have observed are male-dominant/female-subservient, and some of the best are marriages between feminists (male and female alike). Same goes for parent-child relationships.

Why put yourself on a spectrum that includes, to a large degree, somewhere – whether on one end or in the middle or in between or strewn throughout — a passionate belief in the inalienable right to murder the baby in your womb?

Why? What is accomplished? What truth did feminism reveal that will now be lost, or forgotten, should you stop ascribing to the label? Maybe the broad unity necessary to challenge material realities and attitudes that place women at a social, economic, and political disadvantage?

What truth did feminism reveal at all, actually?  See above.

That women are equal to men in human dignity and intrinsic value? No, feminism did not reveal this. Christianity revealed it. This is very debatable. Or really... not accurate at all. Christ revealed it. Christian thinkers throughout the ages have affirmed it and taught it and also fought it and denied it; notably Thomas Aquinas, who said that women are meant to rule alongside men. That was 800 years ago, or 600 years before the term ‘feminist’ existed.  And also, before most of the modern terminology for social phenomena that we use today existed. And also, before modern English existed, and before theologians wrote in any form of English.

Here’s the part where I’m accused of being ignorant of feminist history.  I think there is more than one part where you're ignorant of history and feminism.

I will admit that I haven’t taken any feminist studies courses  nooo! Shocking!, nor have I ever used the word ‘gendered,’ nor have I had any occasion to whip out femi-jargon like ‘phallogocentrism’ and ‘gynocriticism,’ but I have read a more comprehensive account of world history what book - I mean "comprehensive account" - was that? sources?, so I do know this:

‘Feminism’ is derived from the French word ‘feminisme,’ and it was, from what I understand, first used by a French philosopher in the early-mid 19th Century. Adopted by ‘first wave feminists’ during the suffrage movement, the ‘reclaim feminism’ conservative Christian crowd now insists that it was coopted by radical man-haters in the 60′s.  What relevance does this have to anything? Words are used by different people for different purposes throughout time and space. Fact of linguistics.

They’re correct that the ‘tone’ of feminism has grown more — shall we say – unpleasant, but that doesn’t mean it was necessarily hijacked by ideological pirates. The point here is that feminists initially fought for goals like voting rights and property rights (among other things, which we’ll get to later). How does this support your previous point at all? Now, no woman is barred from voting or owning property based on her gender. So the mission has evolved, and evolved into something far less noble. Well, actually, I don't think you truly understand the "mission." In fact, even within a particular historical moment the goals of feminists have been varied and contested. However, the concerns of feminists have generally been more broad than a simple checklist composed of a couple of items (voting, property rights). For example, you miss an important part of the mainstream (white, middle-class) first-wave feminist platform: the ability to have some control over their sex lives and reproduction. They did not like that they were expected to have sex whenever their husbands wanted to, even if they didn't feel like it. They didn't like that they could not abstain from sex if they wanted to be more deliberate about the timing of when they had children (this was before birth control). This concern with control over sex and reproduction would certainly be considered an ongoing issue. (Now, I know this is where you will come in and say  - Ah ha! Abortion! See! - but the point is, it was always broader than any particular issue, like abortion). There are other concerns that you omit as well.

Yes, feminism has evolved. But it is not simply because feminists met all the objectives on their checklists and had to find something else to worry about. The evolution had to do with the changes in the social particulars through which their broader, enduring goals were manifested, as well as the fact that the goals were, as I said before, heterogeneous from the beginning.

Anyway, what does any of this have to do with the point you are trying to make? I believe you started this tangent by way of saying you had some knowledge of the history of feminism (a claim that you just handily undermined). But what does this have to do with whether there are any merits to being a feminist today?

And we arrive at the real problem:

Feminism is no longer a matter of fighting for equal rights. Feminism has turned in on itself and become an effort to redefine what constitutes a ‘right’ and what constitutes ‘equality.’
We live in a society where unborn humans are the only group consistently and seriously deprived of basic legal protections. Incidentally, feminists — liberal feminists, modern feminists, feminist feminists, whatever you want to call them — are the ones primarily responsible for codifying this injustice into law. The only true ‘equal rights’ movement left in America seriously?? is the pro-life movement, and guess who the pro-lifers are fighting against? Okay, so after all those paragraphs blathering on about history and whatever else (I've already forgotten) we come back to your first (and so far only) point: feminism is not worthwhile today because of abortion.  Which still does nothing to address the counter-argument that feminism is a lot broader than abortion, and that certain prominent strands of feminism have never concerned themselves with abortion in that way.

Feminists. They might be ‘new wave feminist’ or ‘third wave feminists’ or ’12th ripple of the third wave redesigned neo-feminists 2.0,’ but they’re feminists, one way or another. What's the point of this paragraph?

This is a pretty convincing indication that feminism has, at the very least, outlived its good. There is nothing surprising about that, because feminism, unlike Christianity, is a human construct. Well that is another thing that is very debatable, for a number of reasons, even among Christians themselves. It’s an ideology. It’s a political theory. It’s a label. It is not eternal, it is not perfect (there’s the understatement of the decade), and it is not indispensable.

Feminism, like ‘liberalism,’ like ‘conservativism,’ like the Republican Party, like the Democrat Party, is a finite thing that exists and serves a certain purpose in a certain set of circumstances. When the times change, and the circumstances change, it will either die or its purpose will change.

Congratulations. You have just described the nature of almost all social reality and the essence of all language, for all of human existence. What's your point?

Think of political labels like seatbelts. A seatbelt is a good thing, assuming you’re in a car and the car is moving. But if you’re underwater, or the car is on fire, suddenly the seatbelt is less a safety mechanism and more a deathtrap. So it’s not enough to say that ‘seatbelts are good.’ What you mean is ‘safety is good, and seatbelts sometimes make us safer.’ Similarly, equal legal protections are good, and feminism, at one point many years ago, helped ensure those legal protections. Times have changes, and feminism no longer serves that purpose. Women don't even have equal legal protections today. But anyway, since you refuse to understand what feminists are trying to accomplish, and apparently feminism is whatever you say feminism is, then you can declare that feminism equates to abortion (something you are against) and proclaim that it is useless. No need to understand someone else's point of view.

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This car is our culture, and feminism is the seatbelt that melted and trapped you inside this blazing inferno.

It should also be noted that the problems with feminism stretch far beyond abortion. It seems, for instance, that even many conservative feminists subscribe to the notion that women were subjugated and oppressed for the entirety of human civilization, until the emergence of the feminist movement. Do you have evidence that this is not true?

They tie female liberation to the Industrial Age, equating the liberty of womanhood with her ability and opportunity to work a job and participate in the American democratic system.  I guess I have to say this a million times:  feminism is heterogeneous. There are many feminists who reject this attitude entirely. Female liberation is in no way tied to success in the industrial capitalist system. Try again, Matt.  Lost in this theory is the fact that Christian civilization — before the United States, before industrialization, even before Gloria Steinem — afforded many rights to women. How often do you hear anyone mention that females were members in equal standing to men in the vast majority of the English Guilds in the Middle Ages? I thought you just said it was problematic to judge the position of women by ability to work a job? Self contradict, much?

Yes, thanks to Christianity, there were women in many occupations and practicing many trades, long before we were all seduced by the siren song of the assembly line.

You are partly correct. In many ways, and primarily in its early days, Christianity was a religion of the oppressed and marginalized. The "good news" was that social distinctions - Jew and gentile, man and woman, slave and master, etc. - would have no place in the Kingdom of God (I am paraphrasing Galatians 3:28 here). So, according to that message (which is totally compatible with feminism), in many Christian communities women did enjoy an uncommon status of equality. (Although that was more common in fringe, communal religious groups in general.) However, at the same time, other Christian leaders insisted that women must be subjugated to men and that they had no right to speak or lead.

So yes, some early Christians were champions of women's rights. But others most assuredly were not. Over time, the attitudes of the latter prevailed and characterized most of the Church's history. (As a Catholic, Matt, you should be acutely aware of this.)

Also... just curious... why would you start arguing about how Christianity supported women's equality when the point of this post is to demonstrate that there is some conflict between being Christian and feminist? How does this serve your purpose?

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Feminism, at its roots, has also struggled to differentiate between equality of rights and equality of being I thought the whole notion of "rights" was premised on the notion of an "essence" of a human being (i.e. "equality of being"). We all deserve equality under the law, but that doesn’t mean we are all equal. Well, we're not all equal, but that's because there is no force to ensure that equality under the law becomes equality in reality.

Equality: sameness.  Incorrect.

To be equal is to be the same.  Nope, equality relates to correspondence (e.g. status) while sameness relates to identity. Anyway, this is one case where language hinders more than it clarifies. What does it mean to say that any person is "the same" as any other person? We are all different. Women are not equal to men because they are not the same as men. Couldn't one say, "Black people are not equal to white people because they are not the same as white people."? You can clearly see the absurdity when you make race the subject of this proposition. It is just as absurd to make this claim about gender. Therefore, a woman’s freedom is really slavery if it forces her to abandon all of the unique feminine abilities and characteristics that make her a woman.  I've gone through this before, but in brief:  you have no evidence, no proof of the existence of any "unique feminine abilities and characteristics." You *wanting* something to be true doesn't make it true.  The same could be said for men, if his freedom requires him to shirk that which sets him apart from women and makes him a man.

From my reading of the history of feminist theory  hahaha... I still want to know what book you read, it would seem that feminism has always embraced a sort of Platonic idea that our bodies are mere shells for our souls, and so our gender differences are just mechanical.

Christianity, on the other hand, has from the beginning taught that our bodies are in union with our souls, and our physiological differences run much deeper than flesh and bone.

Alright, so you've finally gotten to a Point #2. Namely, that Christianity has always taught the existence of distinct, binary male and female essences. (Based on the early church writings I have read, I do not believe this is true, and to the contrary, it is my understanding that early Christian perspectives on the relationship between the body and soul were not completely uniform.) Now, in order to strengthen your argument, you will need to expand upon and make more explicit a necessary assumption:  that, according to the early Christians, the union of body and soul was necessarily a gendered union of body and soul (yup, I used the word "gendered"; deal with it) - that there were two distinct types of body/soul - and that, furthermore, this idea was somehow foundational to or embedded in core Christian principles (such that a rejection of that idea would be, ipso facto, a rejection of Christianity as a whole). I guess your next paragraph will contain some evidence to back up your assumptions, especially since this point is crucial to your overarching argument.

I’m venturing way off into the weeds here, and I don’t want the point to get lost in an academic discussion don't worry, you weren't getting anywhere close to academic discussion. Whatever feminism was, we have to deal with what it is.

And what is it?

First, it’s the single loudest voice in favor of slaughtering innocent children.

Okay, let's keep track of where we are right now. You start by stating Point # 1, a point easily shown to be invalid, then go off on a completely irrelevant tangent, only to return to Point #1, without lending it any evidence or logical support. Next, you introduce Point #2, a point on which your entire case rests.... then, before elaborating that point at all, you decide that supporting it with any evidence whatsoever would be getting "into the weeds" and go back to restating Point #1.

Do I need to proceed to a second point?  You do, and you already did, but then you decided you didn't need to defend your point. (See above comment.)

Go ahead and tell me that the pro-abortion feminists are but members of a ‘spectrum.’ The question is whether you want to include yourself on a spectrum that ends, on one side, in the blood of infants.

Good point. And if you decide to be a member of the spectrum of Christianity, then you are including yourself in spectrum that ends, on one side, with the funeral-picketing practices of the Westboro Baptist Church and the bombing of abortion clinics. So you shouldn't be a Christian at all if you don't want to associate yourself with those people, right? Ironclad argument, Matt.  

Here’s an interesting question: if, in order to erase abortion, we had to erase all of the other things that feminism accomplished, would you erase it? Would you flip that switch? In this outlandish hypothetical, would you obliterate feminism to end abortion, if it meant obliterating whatever else feminism has achieved? Absolutely! Because the lives of fetuses are much, much, much more valuable than the lives of all adult women.

I hope that you would. I would if I was you. If all the works of feminism had to be turned back just to undo what it’s done in the last 40 years, I’d do it.  If allowing women to be raped and abused with impunity, to be treated like property and children,  could get rid of abortion, well sign me up!! We'd only be sacrificing half of the human race!

This is all a long way of asking: does the good of feminism outweigh the evil of it?  As well all know, abortion would not exist if it were not for feminism. Abortion did not exist before feminism. Except for... alllll the abortion that existed before feminism.

I say no. An emphatic, unflinching no.

It’s not even close, in fact.

And, beyond that, what does it say about feminism that it so quickly turned into this monstrosity? It might be time for pro-life feminists to confront the possibility that pro-abortion feminism is not some kind of extreme perversion of first wave feminism. It might be time to consider the chance that, though many of the pioneer feminists did not advocate abortion, and may have even stridently opposed it, they still developed the theories and ideas that would later be used (and used logically) to fuel the pro-choice movement. 

Feminism, from the very beginning, at its earliest stages, had a habit of presenting the family and religion as enemies to female equality. Elizabeth Stanton, friend of Susan B. Anthony, and one of the godmothers of feminism, said that “the bible and the church have been the greatest stumbling block in the way of women’s liberation.” This was a woman of the first wave — not the second, not the third. This is Scripture made out to be an obstacle, a ‘stumbling block,’ way down at the very foundation of feminist theory.

Meanwhile, Susan B. Anthony’s newsletter “The Revolution” had this motto: “The True Republic – Men, their rights and nothing more; Women, their rights and nothing less.”

Well, maybe, just maybe, it is possible to identify with the feminist movement because you are concerned about violence against women, and stereotypical portrayals of women as superficial airheads, and prescriptions about what kinds of careers women should have. Maybe those issues are really important to you, and labeling yourself a "feminist" seems to be the most effective means of aligning yourself with that cause, and maybe you don't think the fact that other feminists are pro-choice in any way delegitimizes or undermines the cause. And maybe you don't care what Matt Walsh thinks about it.

From the very beginning, at its earliest stages, feminism was a movement designed to find equality with men — and then dominance over them what evidence do you have that feminism was ever concerned with finding dominance over men?. Christianity has always taught harmony and love between the sexes so has feminism, while feminism preaches competition and exclusion evidence?. There is simply no way to reconcile feminism with Biblical notions of marriage, and even the early feminists knew it. Oh yes, those wonderful Biblical notions of marriage... where a widow is forced to marry her brother-in-law, and a rape victim is forced to marry her rapist. Well you got me. I wouldn't want to sacrifice that dignified version of marriage for some sort of respect for women.

I’m no Susan B. Anthony biographer no!, but even I recognize this famous quote from the first lady of feminism:

“There is not the woman born who desires to eat the bread of dependence, no matter whether it be from the hand of father, husband, or brother; for any one who does so eat her bread places herself in the power of the person from whom she takes it.”

Casting ‘dependence’ as the ultimate evil, characterizing the family and marriage as a power struggle — this goes to the very heart of feminist thought. To deny that is to deny reality. And, Matt, please tell me, what type of healthy relationship is based on dependence? If you think dependence is beneficial, then maybe you should stop complaining about social welfare programs, which you claim foster dependence.

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But why argue over this? If you believe that women should have equal protection under the law — good. I agree with you.   But you would get rid of that equality in a second if that could stop abortion.  Almost everybody agrees with you. That belief just makes you a constitutionalist.

If you believe that women possess an equal inherent worth and dignity — great. I agree with you. But you also say they are weaker and inherently different and should always be subservient to men. That belief either makes you Christian, or brings you closer to becoming one.

All of the ground is covered, there is no need for feminism. Everything you have said in this post proves that there is a huge need for feminism to combat the still-prevalent ignorance and disrespect for women.  Whatever good could be found, it’s now covered in piles of death and hatred, and no matter what anyone wants to believe, the roots of ‘bad feminism’ can be traced back to ‘good feminism.’ Saying that you need to cling to feminism just because you believe in equal protection under the law is like saying you have to be a Klan member just to be a states rights proponent (the KKK has had its own ‘waves,’ and its earliest members were essentially guerillas fighting against northern occupation of southern states). The Klan has always been racist (and opposition to the north, as well as states' rights arguments, were the most effective vehicles of racism at that time... even still to this day). There is no prominent strand of the Klan that is not racist. If you are a Klan member, you are racist. The whole point of the Klan is racism. There is no heterogeneity in the Klan. There is, however, heterogeneity in feminism. There are prominent, legitimate strands of feminism that include Christians, and that are prominent, legitimate strands of feminism that are not pro-choice or do not include abortion in their platform. There is a difference between these scenarios. Also, nice job throwing feminists on the same side of the equation as the KKK.

So there is no need for it, unless you wish to tinker with the definitions of ‘equal protection’ and ‘inherent worth and dignity,’ (definitions of "equal protection" and "inherent worth and dignity" = whatever Matt Walsh wants them to mean) so as to justify things like abortion-on-demand and taxpayer subsidized birth control.

For that, you need feminism, and for that, you don’t need Christianity.

I think it’s time to choose between the two.

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