So Much More, p. 75-93 – Part 5: A&E and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Mistake

“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.

At the end of the last post, I promised I would analyze the things A&E said about hardwired gender differences and the image of God. So let’s jump right in, shall we?

A real woman is a woman who recognizes that she has been exquisitely and perfectly created by a loving God for a unique purpose. Out of genuine gratitude, awe, and a desire to please her Maker, a real woman joyfully embraces her femininity and submits every aspect of her identity – the attitudes and affections of her heart and mind, her appearance, her manners, her speech, her ambitions, and her beliefs – to God’s original and unique design for her as a woman. A real woman understands that God designed femininity because masculinity was not enough in itself to represent God’s image and glory. The differences between men and women glorify God, and downplaying these differences downplays God’s glory. A real woman wants to bring glory to God by being a woman.

I know I’ve brought this up before, but I just can’t help myself. Why, if all gender differences are 100% hardwired, do we have to work so hard at this? Why does the woman in the quote above have to “submit every aspect of her identity…to God’s original and unique design for her as a woman”? Because I don’t have to work at other things that are hardwired into my brain. I don’t have to remember to breathe, or make myself get hungry after I haven’t eaten for a few hours. I would, however, have to work very hard at making myself like things like dolls and tea parties, instead of the things I naturally gravitate toward (like music and awesome stuff like this). And even after all that hard work, I would almost certainly still fail and end up returning to my Baroque organ and my extinct South American marsupials. So why, when it bears no resemblance to breathing and eating, should I believe that an inclination toward dolls and tea parties is part of my “feminine” hardwiring?

And while I’m repeating myself, let’s re-analyze this:

A real woman understands that God designed femininity because masculinity was not enough in itself to represent God’s image and glory. The differences between men and women glorify God, and downplaying these differences downplays God’s glory.

As I’ve said before, though A&E demand women conform to “femininity,” they can’t actually define “femininity” in anything but vague generalities. “Masculinity” is faring even worse. So, even though they can’t actually describe in any detail what these all-important differences between men and women are, A&E continue to insist that they are vitally important and must be adhered to exactly. Otherwise, we apparently risk taking glory away from God. (Personally, I didn’t know I had enough power to steal glory from the omnipotent, pre-existent Lord and Creator of the universe. Apparently I have a much broader skill set than I thought.)

I’ve also addressed A&E’s logic about gender differences and the image of God several times on this blog (see here and here). Reading the above, however, I noticed yet another angle from which to approach the problem. A&E posit, essentially, that there are some things men can never be because they are men (remember, for A&E’s purposes, “men” and “masculinity,” and “women” and “femininity,” are synonyms), and there are some things women can never be because they are women. (Per usual, what those things are is never stated.) We can tell this because, apparently, God needed to create femininity, because there were parts of His nature that masculinity was inherently unable to reflect or act out. Thus, I can only conclude that the divine image in humanity is not completely communicated or revealed unless both sexes are present. Which leads me to my new question for A&E:

Can the image of God be truly and completely present on a desert island populated by only one sex? Or someplace similarly sex-segregated, for instance, a convent or monastery? According to A&E’s own logic, something must be missing, because one sex is “not enough” to “represent God’s image and glory.” If A&E answer yes, I’d be interested to hear how they reached that conclusion (since it would contradict all their previous statements), and if they answer no, I’d like to know what exactly is missing.

What this thought experiment indicates to me, is that A&E seem to conceive of the image of God as a collection of attributes, each of which is gendered and distributed accordingly – though they never seem able to actually describe what these attributes are. I can say, however, that certain important ideas usually associated with the image of God are conspicuously absent. Perhaps that’s because A&E can’t gender things like moral capacity and human dignity.

God hates chromosomes

Later in the chapter, A&E say this:

In the beginning, God created them male and female, and He called the distinction between the two “good.” God specifically forbids the blurring of this distinction.

In context, A&E are yet again discussing femininity and how women must be diligent to properly act it out. However, they (and Jennie Chancey, whom they quote shortly), inadvertently step in it. Bad. And not even on the issue they think they are discussing. In fact, it’s their complete unawareness of the other more subtle issue here, that makes their stepping in it so egregiously bad.

Perhaps a citation from Chancey will make the point clearer.

The word “abomination” is pretty unequivocal. It means “disgusting” and “wicked.” In other words, God hates it, and we know from His Word that God “changeth not” (Malachi 3:6). Some approach the Deuteronomy passage by saying, “Yes, but in those days, both men and women wore robes, so you can’t really say that men and women today have to dress differently. I can wear baggy trousers and a man’s shirt and still look like a woman.” But to assume that men’s and women’s clothing was interchangeable in “Bible times” would utterly negate the clear meaning of this verse. If there were no differences, there would be no need to even discuss cross-dressing.

Chancey thinks she is talking about something simple and clear-cut here: whether women can wear pants. I’m not going to talk today about whether women can in fact wear pants; my position on that was made clear a few posts ago when I talked about Bethany Vaughn and the imaginary endangered dress. Instead I’m going to talk about the thing Chancey and A&E don’t even know they said: that people with chromosomal and anatomical abnormalities are abominations, disgusting, and wicked, and God hates them.

Don’t believe me? Read those quotes again. In the first one, A&E say that God has “specifically forbidden” all blurring of sex differences. Immediately following this, they quote Deuteronomy 22:5, then go straight into the Chancey quote above. Thus, the ban on blurring they are referring to is, in fact, Deuteronomy 22:5, which is where Chancey is getting her “abomination” language.

Except here’s the problem: if A&E really want to categorically label all blurring of sex differences as sin, then they have cast their net so wide that they have included people with a variety of congenital medical conditions that are beyond their control. Such as androgen insensitivity syndrome:

Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, or AIS, is a genetic condition, inherited (except for occasional spontaneous mutations), occurring in approximately 1 in 20,000 individuals. In an individual with complete AIS, the body’s cells are unable to respond to androgen, or “male” hormones. (“Male” hormones is an unfortunate term, since these hormones are ordinarily present and active in both males and females.) Some individuals have partial androgen insensitivity.

In an individual with complete AIS and karyotype 46 XY, testes develop during gestation. The fetal testes produce mullerian inhibiting hormone (MIH) and testosterone. As in typical male fetuses, the MIH causes the fetal mullerian ducts to regress, so the fetus lacks uterus, fallopian tubes, and cervix plus upper part of vagina. However, because cells fail to respond to testosterone, the genitals differentiate in the female, rather than the male pattern, and Wolffian structures (epididymis, vas deferens, and seminal vesicles) are absent.

The newborn AIS infant has genitals of normal female appearance, undescended or partially descended testes, and usually a short vagina with no cervix. Occasionally the vagina is nearly absent. AIS individuals are clearly women. At puberty, the testes are stimulated by the pituitary gland, and produce testosterone. Because testosterone is chemically very similar to estrogen, some of the testosterone converts back to estrogen (“aromatizes”) on the bloodstream. This estrogen produces breast growth, though it may be late. Women with AIS do not menstruate, and are not fertile. Because the development of pubic and underarm hair, in women as well as in men, depends upon testosterone, most AIS have no pubic or underarm hair, but some have sparse hair.[1]

…Klinefelter syndrome:

Most men inherit a single X chromosome from their mother, and a single Y chromosome from their father. Men with Klinefelter syndrome inherit an extra X chromosome from either father or mother; their karyotype is 47 XXY. Klinefelter is quite common, occurring in 1/500 to 1/1000 male births.

The testes are small (about half typical size) and quite firm. After puberty, the ejaculate contains no sperm. Other effects in Klinefelter are quite variable. Boys with Klinefelter are usually born with male genitals that look like other boys. But at puberty, they may not virilize very strongly – they may not develop much body hair, or they may experience breast development.[2]

…or the presence of what are known as “ovotestes”:

Ovotestes are gonads (sex glands) containing both ovarian and testicular tissue. These are sometimes present in place of one or both ovaries or testes. In other words, a person might be born with two ovotestes, or a person might be born with one ovary and one ovotestis, or a person might be born with some other combination.

The fact that a person has ovotestes won’t tell you what his or her genitals looked like when he or she was born. Some people with ovotestes look fairly typically female, some fairly typically male, and some look fairly in-between in terms of genital development.[3]

These are just a few possible conditions within what it is broadly known as “intersexuality.” For those interested in more information about intersexuality, the FAQ pages at the Intersex Society of North America are a good place to start. For our purposes, however, the relevant points are 1) intersex conditions are congenital, not a conscious choice on the part of the person with the condition; and 2) for a variety of reasons, it’s not always possible to medically determine the sex of a person with an intersex condition.

Now, go reread what A&E and Chancey said again, and imagine you have an intersex condition of some sort. What are A&E and Chancey saying to you? That God categorically hates you and your body because you “blur distinctions,” and you are disgusting, wicked and an abomination. All because you had the bad luck to be born with a medical condition you cannot fix. In other words, how can you repent of a chromosomal abnormality?

But wait, maybe you’ll object. They weren’t talking about congenital medical conditions, they were talking about clothes. You can choose what to wear, you weren’t born with clothes on. Right?

Absolutely, you can choose what to wear. So, do again what I said before: go reread what A&E and Chancey wrote, and imagine you have an intersex condition – except now imagine also that your condition is such that your sex is indeterminate. How is Chancey going to determine your “real sex” to tell you what to wear? And remember, if you make the wrong choice, we’re right back where we started: God hates you, and you are disgusting, wicked and an abomination.

Now imagine that the child of A&E, Chancey or any other patriocentrist – or even complementarian, for that matter – whose entire theological system is based on stark, clear and inviolable distinctions between men and women and the strict rules that follow from those distinctions, was born with an intersex condition.

See now why I said that they stepped in it?

6 comments on “So Much More, p. 75-93 – Part 5: A&E and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Mistake

  1. fiddlrts says:

    Of course, if you dig deeper, all these patriarchists, like A & E, are ADAMANT that God is male, and not female. (Try saying “mother God” around them and watch the crap hit the fan.) So, as their other beliefs make clear, it really isn’t that God’s image cannot be complete without woman, but that God’s image cannot be complete with out man.

    This isn’t just something A&E say, though. I noted this in one of my own posts on Doug Wilson recently, when he actually made this statement:

    “How did God imprint His image on the human race?
    He did this by creating us male and female. Any attempts to reconfigure this arrangement are therefore explicit assaults on the image of God.”

    So apparently, a gender dichotomy is inherent in God’s nature? That’s sure not what I think of when I think of God. But, to a patriarchist, the fundamental truth of Christianity is gender essentialism…

    Regarding the idea that one’s individuality should be subsumed in Gender(TM), I think Dorothy Sayers said it so well:

    What we ask is to be human individuals, however peculiar and unexpected. It is no good saying: “You are a little girl and therefore you ought to like dolls”; if the answer is, “But I don’t,” there is no more to be said.

    I too have always gone against the gender grain in many ways. (Thank goodness for my parents, who didn’t impose masculine norms on me.) I love violin, poetry, flowers (particularly roses and irises), cooking, and can crochet with anyone. You can call that my “feminine” side, or you can just say that it is a part of my personality and preferences that has nothing really to do with my gender.

    Sayers also points out that men have never had a problem stealing women’s clothes. We call them “kilts” and not “skirts.”

    Regarding intersexuality, there is a lot I would love to say. You did a good job of an introduction.

    You are right (in your comment on another blog) that if you want to see a complete freakout, mention intersexuality in a Christian gathering.

    I think that the very idea terrifies them, because it messes up the neat little boxes. And, if there is a type of person that straddles the sex line, they might have to grant that LGBT individuals might exist as genetic possibilities, and not just as intentional perversions, which is equally terrifying. In fact, perhaps the idea that gender *roles* might be more fluid is scary as well for that reason…

    Something else that comes to mind is that A & E must be pretty naive when it comes to their study of scripture. What do they think “Eunuchs” are? Only castrated men? Then why were some “born” Eunuchs? Just asking…

    • Hester says:

      I just finished reading Alice Dreger’s Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex. It’s a medical history of intersexuality in 19th century Britain and France. I think you would really like it (I assume you always need material for more book reviews 😀 ). Short (and highly simplified) version: doctors attempted to determine the “true sex” of any given “hermaphrodite,” because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to give them the proper role directions and societal order would be threatened. There’s stuff in there about how it all related to homosexuality too. I’ve heard the last chapter on current medical practices is a bit out of date (it was published in 2005, I think), but other than that it gets excellent reviews.

      Big takeaway for A&E: intersexuality is NOT new, controversial and/or inconclusive science made up by “leftists” or “activists” or “social justice warriors” or what have you. Doctors have studied and documented it extensively since the early to mid-1800s. So as a Christian, there’s really no excuse to not be addressing it and including it in your system of thought. Pretending it doesn’t exist is just irresponsible, dishonest and delusional.

      What’s even more interesting is Dreger concludes that intersexuality averages out to about the same frequency as Down syndrome – i.e., not nearly as rare as everyone would like to believe (and some studies put the rate even higher). Down syndrome is the focus of massive pro-life campaigns. Intersexuality, which is equally common, is not even acknowledged to exist.

      Also, if you do read Dreger’s book, you’ll probably get a kick out of the enormous lists of “sex traits” the doctors used to make their sex determinations. They weren’t only physical traits either, but included psychological stuff and mannerisms as well. I guarantee you’ll probably have at least one “female” trait. I had a few “male” traits. 🙂

      • fiddlrts says:

        That does sound interesting. I’ve probably read bits and pieces here and there online, but not a comprehensive book.

      • Anna says:

        Ellen K. Feder’s book, “Making Sense of Intersex,” is also a good introduction to the topic. Her book contains essays on the science of intersex, the “traditional” (since 1950s-ish) medical view, current and evolving medical views (and the ethics discussions involved), and stories from intersex people and their families. Intersex encompasses such a broad range of possibilities, from chromosomal differences to what most people would think of as minor birth defects, that it’s not surprising that people who are intersex are far more common than the majority of the population believes they are.

  2. Susan aka VelvetVoice says:

    Wow, interesting stuff. The complementarians I know, all smart educated people, would probably say either that these intersec differences are a lie or that yes God is punishing them. I never fit into the boxes, so therefore I was a threat to their whole way of thinking. My daughter would be interested in the book you mentioned. She is studying reproductive anatomy this semester.

    • Hester says:

      It’s definitely worth the read. It also has medical illustrations and photographs from the doctor’s reports/accounts at the time. Might be worth checking the library if you don’t want to buy it. I’m not sure how widely distributed it is, but I think it was Harvard University Press so it’s a well-known academic publisher.

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