So Much More, p. 15-22 – Part 4: One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

As anyone familiar with gender debates can tell you, a prominent theme in many of these discussions is whether or not there are inherent differences between men and women, what these differences are, and where they come from. How many of the perceived differences between the sexes are hardwired, as opposed to ones that arise from cultural norms? Which of the alleged differences replicate themselves cross-culturally? Do men and women learn differently, and if so, how? We can attempt to find scientific answers to these questions; we can draw from our personal experiences conforming (or not conforming) to the perceived differences; and we can explore what various religious texts may have to say on the matter and how we should interpret them.

So how do A&E treat this vastly complicated subject? Blow right past it in boldfaced type, of course (emphasis A&E’s)!

Of course men and women are equal in God’s eyes. … Our souls are of equal worth to God. We are individually accountable before God for our actions.

But this doesn’t mean our earthly purpose and functions are the same. Equal doesn’t mean identical. God gives us different abilities and different jobs, according to His plan for order. And men and women are different. God created them to be different. He called them and their differences “good.”

Did you hear me? Men and women are DIFFERENT! ALL CAPS!

Well, that’s nice. But the more important question is, how are they different? A&E give us some hints (though they’re still pretty vague about it), sprinked throughout the chapter. Let’s examine these sprinkles one at a time.

A river in Egypt

Our fathers are supposed to be dear, trusted confidantes and friends, but God has given them a charge to be much more than this. They are to be our knights in shining armor, our protectors, our guardians, and they are even supposed to represent God to us. This means that our dads have the tremendous responsibility of being accurate reflections of God’s authority, as well as providers of the security and love that God created us, as women, to need. There is something no girl can honestly deny – that she has a need, built into her from the beginning, for male affection, love and protection.

I’ve already covered what A&E say in chapter 2 about the father’s role, so let’s focus only on the last half of the above. Here A&E claim women have a hardwired “need” for love and protection from men. First, as with all of A&E’s absolutist statements about gender differences, I’d feel a lot better about this claim if it had come with a footnote (and I know A&E are capable of footnoting, since they footnoted the definitions of several terms in the first chapter). Are there any studies that have demonstrated this supposedly universal “need” women have? If it’s so obvious that “no girl can honestly deny” it, shouldn’t we be able to prove its existence pretty easily without having to resort to these vague generalities? As it is, all we’re given here is another one of A&E’s hat tricks: pre-discrediting any woman who disagrees by saying they’re in denial or not being “honest with themselves.” They did the same thing with legalism in the first chapter, and then as now, it’s a rhetorical maneuver to force their opponents into proving their credibility (to A&E’s satisfaction) before A&E are obligated to listen to their point.

Second – though I suspect more detail will be forthcoming in later chapters – I wish A&E had told us more about what exactly they mean by “male affection, love and protection.” Clearly, under A&E’s system, fathers and husbands can provide this. But what if a woman is not married and her father is out of the picture? Can male friends provide this? Do A&E even allow women to have male friends, and if not, where is this unmarried woman supposed to turn for the “male affection, love and protection” she so desperately needs? (See just about any other post where I pointed out that patriocentricity is largely oblivious to the existence of singles.)

Third, I think it is relevant, for each of these points, to relate some of my own experience. Do I personally, as a female, feel a desire for “male affection, love and protection”? Perhaps affection and love (though even there, not the way A&E intend, which I’ll get to later) but protection? Not so much. I do not have, nor would I ever willingly enter into, a relationship with my father that is structured according to A&E’s philosophy. I would like to get married someday, but I would never require my significant other to “pass inspection” with my father and ask his permission to be able to date or marry me. I do not feel as though I’m “wasting my life,” or drifting aimlessly through it, because I am not serving as helpmeet to a man and his “vision.” I also have a few close male friends – does that count as “male affection,” or did A&E only mean romantic and/or sexual affection?

I want my baby back

We would not exist but for men; man was our source. We read in Genesis that God created man in His image, saw that it was not good for man to be alone, and so took a rib from him and fashioned it into a woman. Man was formed from dust, but woman had her origin and being from man and for man.

But man was incomplete without her. It is the two of them together that reflect the image and glory of God. It is only when woman is, in effect, restored to man’s side, that the two are fully complete. And it is because we were created from the rib of man that we have an innate desire to be restored to the side of man.

My initial reaction to this was to ask whether A&E think all women are required to marry. I tried to answer that question a few posts ago, and while I didn’t quite come to a perfectly solid answer, my gut feeling is that they do in fact believe this on some level (which, given that last I heard, they’re both still single, is more than a little ironic). So since men are not “just optional lifestyle accessories” (verbatim quote from A&E) for women, I think it’s safe to say that A&E have marriage at least partially in view when they talk about women desiring to “be restored to the side of man.”

Common eider - a non-brown duck

Common eider – a non-brown duck

This one is pretty easy to refute, for the same reason that most absolute statements are. If you say “all ducks are brown,” all I have to do is find one non-brown duck to refute your statement. Similarly, all I have to do is find one woman who has no desire to marry to refute A&E’s statement. I know at least two of these women in my own life, and could find thousands of others easily by briefly perusing Google. What do A&E do with this? It seems especially problematic for them, given that they also claimed women cannot achieve “complete liberation” from men because it goes against God’s created order. If God’s created order is for women to desire marriage, and nothing can happen that goes against God’s created order, why do we see so many women with no desire to marry? (And don’t anybody go telling A&E about lesbians. Really, just don’t.)

Even worse for A&E, there are some women (and men) who not only don’t want to get married, they also don’t want to have sex. They’re called asexuals. Personally, I suspect A&E have never heard of asexuality, or at least had never heard of it when they wrote So Much More.

Per my personal experience, as I said above, I would like to get married at some point, and I have experienced attraction to men. So yes, intimacy and union with a man is something I would like to have in my life. But – I’m heterosexual (read: garden variety and average), and more importantly, I’m not every woman on earth. Just because something is common or average, does not mean everyone is bound to conform to it – especially when the Bible explicitly upholds singleness as not only an acceptable state, but perhaps even a preferable one. (There are also people who may want to get married, but for whatever reason cannot find a suitable spouse, or feel a greater or prior call to devote their lives to something else. Unfortunately I don’t think we’ll hear diddly about the idea of vocation in So Much More.)

Also, if I ever do get married, I absolutely would not want the kind of marriage that A&E seem to be portraying as positive. I do not want a husband who treats me like a shrinking violet needing shelter and protection from the big bad scary world; nor do I feel incomplete without a romantic relationship, or that I have no meaning and purpose in life without being attached to a man. In fact A&E could be encouraging a very unhealthy mindset in women, in which they feel so incomplete and alone that they seek a relationship out of desperation. This rarely ends well (though I’m sure A&E would respond that such a thing could never happen, due to the father’s oversight of and involvement in the courtship process).

Nature vs. nurture

Let’s return to the original offender for a moment.

But this doesn’t mean our earthly purpose and functions are the same. Equal doesn’t mean identical. God gives us different abilities and different jobs, according to His plan for order. And men and women are different. God created them to be different. He called them and their differences “good.”

I agree that, if God created men and women with differences, that he called those differences “good” with the rest of His creation. But, as I stated above, the problem here is that A&E cannot apparently elaborate on what those differences are, except for vague generalities that clearly don’t apply to all women (or all men). But that’s not all that’s wrong here.

Let’s deal first with the idea that when an egalitarian says men and women are equal, they are saying men and women are the same. This, for some reason, remains a favorite claim of non-egalitarians, but I’ve never understood why, because nothing in egalitarianism requires men and women to have no differences. Take, for instance, women’s ordination. It’s perfectly possible to advocate for women’s ordination, and yet recognize that many female pastors may have a very different leadership style from male pastors. It’s even possible to believe that these differences in leadership style spring from some kind of innate gender difference (as opposed to cultural norms and socialization). None of that would affect the egalitarian’s reasoning that those gifted for and called to a pastoral role should be ordained, no matter what their sex.

Unless, of course, we believe that certain giftings and calls are distributed to only one sex. Which, as we can see above, is exactly what A&E believe. Here, though they don’t seem to realize it, they’ve walked directly into the “all ducks are brown” problem again. They claim that God gave men and women “different abilities and different jobs, according to His plan for order.” This implies that men are gifted only for leadership roles, and women only for following and helping roles. But once again, all I have to do to refute this claim is find one woman with leadership skills – and history is riddled with capable female leaders (Elizabeth I, anybody? – or maybe Deborah?). I guess some low-ranking angel in Gift Distribution Services must be screwing up the paperwork.

Which leads directly to my final point. Notice that in the quote above, A&E claim that while men and women are equal before God, their “earthly purpose and functions” are different. This is basically the standard complementarian argument that men and women are ontologically equal, yet have different functions or roles.

I’ll leave aside for the moment that to many (including me), this sounds a bit too much like the “equal but different” arguments used in the past to justify racism; exploring whether that comparison is valid would require a whole post all to itself. Right now I want to focus only on contradictions in A&E’s arguments, most notably this one (emphasis A&E’s):

God saw that it was not good for Adam to be alone and said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” Being companions and helpers is more than just a job God gave us. It’s what we were actually created for. It’s what we were designed and specially equipped to be. In fact, it’s an intrinsic and inextricable part of our natures to be helpers to men. It’s not something we can get away from, even by choice.

Despite all the talk about roles being purely “functional,” that is decidedly not what A&E are preaching in the above. Here we learn that women are helpers (i.e., subordinates) to men by design, and that “it’s an intrinsic and inextricable part of [their] natures.” Sorry, A&E, but that’s not function – that’s ontology. Whether you realize it or not, you are saying that women are, by nature and for eternity, inferior in rank and position relative to men. And you can’t make that fit anyone’s definition of equality, except by doublespeak.

And with that in mind, it might be time for a refresher on the communion practices of some FIC churches, and common patriocentrist beliefs about men being family priests. (I also highly recommend this series on father priesthood by Jeff Crippen at A Cry for Justice.) This picture’s getting pretty scary, isn’t it?

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2 comments on “So Much More, p. 15-22 – Part 4: One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

  1. fiddlrts says:

    “I guess some low-ranking angel in Gift Distribution Services must be screwing up the paperwork.” Outstanding line. I laughed out loud.

    Just for the record, I, a man no less, would be unwilling to enter into a marriage on A&E’s terms. I have no desire to “represent God” to my wife or children.

    • Hester says:

      For as much as they claim to be glorifying / protecting / whatever-ing masculinity and men, they really are setting men up for failure because nobody can “represent God” to another person properly all the time. Which was kinda the point of that whole Incarnation thing.

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