Thursday, August 31, 2006

Our Insults Are Showing (and telling)

I've been visiting on a remarkable young woman's blog this past week or so, ever since she quoted me there. She is sorting out some things pertaining to how much of the conservative stereotype of the ideal woman, which she grew up with and assumed was scriptural, really has a solid basis in Scripture.

I've tried to tread very lightly there, because that rarest of rarities--civility--seems to be the rule of the day. I've decided not to link to that blog nor to call further attention to them. Not sure why, exactly, but that seems right for now.

Why it's getting any mention here at all is because one of my all-time, least-favorite insults showed up in the comments there yesterday: "Feminized men." When it did, I asked the commenter to clarify what she meant by that term. (Like so many other phrases and terms popular among pro-patriarchy Christians, there doesn't seem to be any real consensus when it comes to defining them.) She seems to basically hold with the "Wild at Heart" stereotype of the manly sort of man, one who seeks adventures, works with his hands, isn't tame, and who brings up his sons to play with guns and be boisterous because that's what boys do. (She said that boys who are expected in the schools to sit down, be quiet, not play with guns aren't being allowed to be boys.)

I am disappointed to see this stereotype being bought into, but I know that's simply where many young Christians, men and women, are required by their teaching and traditions to be. And to the extent that individual women find a rugged "Marlboro Man" (hopefully sans the cigarette!) to be more their "type" than a quieter, artistic sort of man, there's nothing wrong with that! I doubt she's actively lobbying against male dancers, introverted male desk workers, male clergy (a less than overtly rugged calling, to be sure!), and so forth. I'm hoping that she, like so many Christians, simply hasn't thought through the reasons why she would choose to declare so many men "feminized."

I find human beings to each be created unique, masculine or feminine simply by virtue of being created male or female respectively, and not all are easily boxed into culturally defined patterns. I've seen the hurt those patterns cause some men, such as men who are gifted artists, dancers, musicians, etc. I think it can also hurt women who don't fit easily into the "captivating" mold, who are more adventurous than some women find comfortable. I never cease to be amazed at the unique combination of traits and passions God places in each one of us. I think sometimes people go way overboard in declaring some of those traits/passions "feminine" and others "masculine." I read on one particular website that advocates "gender roles," and was shocked to find that nearly every one of the aspects of the Fruit of the Spirit was called "feminine"! Then, it goes on to say that only men are to be spiritual warriors. I don't think we can divide up the Bible that way into "feminine" and "masculine."

I've been disturbed over the past number of years at how quick people are--including women--to use anything to do with "feminine" as an insult. It shows in many of the vulgar ways people of the world insult others. To insult a woman, you refer to her sexually and to her personally as less than human. But to insult a man, you attribute female sexuality to him, or else you call into question his mother's virtue. It says a lot, albeit subtly, about how our English-speaking society (de)values women. If you declare a man "effeminate," "feminized," or some less couth reference to the female, you lessen his worth as a man and as a human being. Yet the opposite is not generally true. Instead, you lessen a *woman's* value by assuming she is not attracted to men, is promiscuous, has an unattractive body, or some such. Calling her "mannish" is not a compliment, but it is a much milder insult than saying a man is "effeminate." I think this has roots in our society for so long considering it just "the way it is" to think that women are not as intelligent, not as fully human, as men.

In short, we have a value hierarchy (traditionally) in our society, and it looks something like this:
  1. Alpha male
  2. Unattractive-looking male who conforms to other "masculine" stereotypes
  3. Male, but non-conforming to "masculine" stereotypes
  4. Attractive, stereotypically "feminine" female
  5. Unattractive female who conforms to other "feminine" stereotypes
  6. Female, but non-confroming to "feminine" stereotypes
It reminds me of the sad old prayer, in which the Jewish man prayed his thanks that the Holy One did not create him a slave, a Gentile, or a woman.

Now I am mindful that, in their own system and to those who buy into their system, pro-patriarchy Christians at least do lip service to "respecting" women. Fit their mold and don't rock the boat, and there will be a modicum of respect if you are a woman. The problem is, not all women, and not all men, fit their molds. God doesn't respect those molds. Both men and women are expected to grow into the people God created them to be, not necessarily the people the pro-patriarchalists insist we have to be. When by the Spirit of Almighty God you outgrow that mold, you have a dilemma: Obey God, or obey the patriarchal pattern they say is required of you and every other member of your gender.

There comes a time when we have to think about what our rules and regulations say about us. The portions of Scripture that define its consistent themes (Exodus 20:1-17 [the Decalogue] , Deuteronomy 6:4-5 [The Shema], Micah 6:8 ["What does the Lord require...], Matthew 22:34-40 [The Great Commandments], Matthew 28:19-20 [The Great Commission], and John 13:34-35 [The New Commandment], among many others) take what could seem complex and reveal to us that the laws of God are simple (though never easy to obey in their fullness). The rules of "gender roles" are one of the many ways that present-day Christians burden believers with requirements that God does not place upon them.

All this to say, I think we need to "mind our witness" when speaking of others, whether in the world or of one another in the church. Like it or not, the non-Christians of the world pay attention to the respect we do and do not show one another. I believe that declaring certain men--and churches--"feminized" is a thoughtless, malicious, and false means of merely insulting those we have decided we need not love. It is a way we keep waging war against those we (not God) have decided to declare "outside" our comfortable, easy definition of "Christian." Us vs. Them, with God on the "us" side, of course.

Now if the woman who brought up the "feminized men" insult happens to visit here and read this post, she is certainly free to upbraid me for using her preferred terminology as an example of this much larger practice within the conservative church. I freely postulate that most Christians who do this have not given the practice careful thought; perhaps they are merely repeating what they have been taught by those whose opinions and positions they respect. I firmly believe, however, that the time has come for us to recognize that human beings created male, are masculine by virtue of their being male. Human beings created female are feminine by virtue of their being female. Outward conformity to roles defined by 1950's upper-middle class American values does not make one masculine or feminine. Declaring such roles "Christian" does not make them so. And insulting fellow human beings by calling them "feminized" because they don't conform to such "roles" is, frankly, sinful and needs to cease. The same goes for bemoaning the "feminized" church. The truth is, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever, doesn't need the cultural conformity police to decide the church is too pink or too blue. So long as we're blood red (as in, covered by the precious blood of our Redeemer), whether we're feminine or masculine enough to suit anyone else really doesn't matter. We're the bride of Christ, being transformed into his likeness, serving Christ as he reconciles all creation to God. "Feminized"? Please...get real! Stop bowing down to the idol of "gender roles" and remember Who, alone, deserves our worship!


P.S. (an after-thought) said...

Very good analysis and comments!

I can certainly understand non-believers buying into this heirarchy and looking down on certain people, but I can't understand why someone who says that they believe that God created man/woman in His own image and who might say that God made "me" who I am, and the various gifts come from God, why that person could look down on the way a person IS.

Did God make that person or not? Did God distribute the various gifts and traits or not?

Someone who demeans how another person IS, well, isn't that person demeaning God's creation?

As you mention, many people simply have not thought about their stereotypes. It does us all good to get a slap upside the head and rethink some things we take for granted.

But I am disturbed, as I've mentioned several times in my blog, about the lack of critical thinking shown in the media and other places, and especially, apparently, in the more conservative circles of both politics and religion. I think it reflects a big black hole in our education system. But perhaps, even more so, it reflects the thinking of Follow the Father-figure Leader (meaning a human who tells one what to believe, ie a politician or a person in a priestly role, NOT meaning God.)

I posted on my blog a request for sources and blogs representing conservative thinking in Christianity and church practices that expounds on some issues in a calm, rational, clear thinking way, and I haven't yet gotten a suggestion.

Carolanne said...

Well said!
The other line I hate being used is "You laugh (or cry/or talk) like a girl" as though it's a put down. What's wrong with laughing/crying/playing/ whatever like a girl?
Sometimes I don't feel so "feminine" but as you've said, God's made us all unique and has given each person gifts, talents and abilities to bring glory to Him. Who made up the gender stereotypes anyway?

April said...

Thanks, Psalmist, for this very thoughtful analysis of language. Whether we like it or not, our language is representative of our beliefs. And though some may decry this as PC bullhonky, I think those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition would be sufficiently warned about the danger of taking our language lightly!
I've been agitated about this "role" thing since reading the post and have been thinking that there is some attempt to emulate not Christ, who as far as we are told, never really played with guns and certainly was introspective, gentle and compassionate, and equally attentive to male and female, but instead the culture of his time. This disturbs me. If folks are trying to emulate the families addressed by Paul, they are emulating families raised in pagan social structures struggling to live in Christian models.
ALL of this posturing about the great lack of faithful gender role-players has me thinking again that this is tantamount to one big checklist... Dad goes hunting (check) -- saved. Mom wears an apron and raises junior until he's 13 at which time he's handed a rifle (check) -- saved.
Ok. I know it's not really like that, but for goodness sake, could salvation be any LESS mysterious?
I'm ranting now. I best go stop.

April said...

As I thought more about my above comment, I thought I should mention... I know that many people who are struggling with the role of gender in Christian families are simply trying to be faithful. My smarminess doesn't reflect my genuine appreciation of that struggle.
I do, however, hold the concern that law is MUCH easier to put into action, especially in others, than grace. And the fact that it gives the appearance of being more difficult is all the more insidious...
Thanks, Psalmist, for getting my brain going today!

Psalmist said...

Thank you for your comments, April, Carolanne, and P.S. April, your mention of "P.C." is very appropriate. That's one of those loaded terms that deflects discussion of this issue! When you really get after what "P.C." is, though, it's an attempt (often somewhat failed) to place others' feelings ahead of our own. I think *that* is something that makes some conservative Christians madder than all get-out! How DARE anyone challenge their thoughtless word preferences?! That's why I left it at the question and a "thank you" for the answer concerning the "feminized men" comment elsewhere. I think the conversation is quite uncomfortable, more for that participant than for anyone else, and there have been several thoughtless, demeaning comments from her about people who don't conform to her preferences. Overall, that blog is such a safe place for people to express themselves, that I don't want to push things there any more than I already have. I love the growth I see that is being expressed there. I need to trust that God will continue that process on the exactly perfect timetable each person needs.

So when someone wants to read something a lot more "in your face" about Christian equality, they can come to The Psaltery! (wicked grin)

Psalmist said...

Good point, April. Yes, I do think that people who promote the "gender roles" theory are trying to be faithful. I do wish they would tend their own gardens without trying to sow in their neighbors', though. ;)

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

There is a popular blog that I check on now and then to see what part of the American Christian church she is currently demeaning. Why? because I'm always hoping to find some constructive or rational criticism; I'm usually disappointed. The commentary is usually nasty.

But this time I really paid attention, after reading your blog. The woman was commenting on several of the prominent (Christian?) preachers of our time who are, in the opinion of many, into entertainment and/or building up the self-esteem of their listeners, rather then preaching the actual Gospel. This woman blogger called these preachers effeminent because they refuse to make strong statements about sin.

This is a rather unusual argument, isn't it? If the men are too feminine to make a strong statement, does that make this blogger masculine because she does make very strong, harsh statements?

It is unlikely that the blogger you are talking about is the same one I'm mentioning because the one I read has her computer set to reject comments from people who don't agree with her.

Psalmist said...

I think I know the blog whereof you speak, PS, and if I'm correct, that's a doozie! She accused Christians for Biblical Equality some time back of being goddess worshipers, new age, and a few other false charges I forget right now. All without any foundation in fact. Very sensational style. Am I thinking of the same one? (I forget her name; it's not one I consult regularly!)

Corrie said...

Hi Psalms,

This is one of my pet peeves, too. I wonder if they understand that teachers throughout history have expected boys to behave in a civilized fashion while in school? Also, should we really expect our boys and men to sit still during church? Isn't this feminizing them? The reason why people are trying to come up with excuses why boys are doing poorly in school compared to girls is that girls are NEVER to do anything better than boys save give birth and take care of the home and cook and do hair. Girls were denied an education for much of history. Now the playing fields are leveled and the colleges have more girls in them and the boys that are in college are doing worse than the girls and somehow it is the fault of females? Huh? It is all so illogical.

How is expecting boys to act in a respectful, decent, orderly, quiet fashion during school making them feminized? They still get recess, right? They still have gym class, right? They still go home and play outside, right? I don't know one male teacher that allows for horse-play and "boys will be boys" behavior in the classroom.

Have we all gone mad? Where is this all coming from? And why in the world are godly Christians referring to everything bad as "feminine" when God pronounced, after creating Eve, that everything He made was VERY GOOD!

Kindness, compassion, love, are not the stuff of "manful" religion. Yes, that was a word that a pastor used on a forum in response to a woman who took another man to task for being rude, harsh and overly judgmental.

And, really, how many females just overlook sin? I don't know of too many. When they do point out sin, they are accused of "trying to wear the pants".

All this stuff just keeps the wordly, ungodly stereotypes going.