Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Gender differences and feminist sexism

Back in November, Deacon Greg Kandra reprinted a list that was making the rounds of “10 reasons why men shouldn’t be ordained”. In essence, it’s a list of stereotypes flipped against men rather than women. “I have to admit,” Kandra chuckled, “this made me laugh.”

As well it should; it’s a light, airy tongue-in-cheek exercise conducted in the demolition of a straw man. Which didn’t stop SisterLisa at Soul Liberty Faith from using it, along with another satirical list written by Victoria Pynchon at Forbes, to create a patronizing “there, there, you poor widdle babies” post on male ecclesial leadership. The essence of her argument is this: Conservative men don’t want women priests and deacons because they’re insecure.

Men who are insecure in their pants tend to puff up their ego with brutish verbiage with their self proclaimed titles and they belittle those around them. Their childish behavior reveals the fear they suffer from and perhaps it’s time they openly admit their brokenness so they can find healing. In this era of women theologians and justice seekers these men will rise louder and more brutal in their effort to keep women oppressed. The more fervent women are in putting their collective foot down about abuse, oppression, and equality the greater path we pave for women and children world wide. …
So perhaps we should be in prayer for our insecure brothers who rail against women in leadership. It just might make a difference for them to know we understand their insecurities and will hold them up in prayer. ... So when you see men like these … just pat them on the back and let them know it’s all going to be okay. We still need men in the world and there’s no hidden agenda to minimize their gender or belittle their sexuality.


Along with the development of psychology and psychiatry has come a form of genetic fallacy. The attack presupposes that you’re wrong, and seeks to create a plausible psychological explanation for why you’d hold such an obviously irrational opinion. The hidden agenda is no longer conscious but subconscious; it’s nothing that a few billable hours of therapy won’t cure. It’s a favorite attack of people who’ve had three credit hours of Psych 201 (maybe) and read a couple of self-help books, though some accredited professionals aren’t above misusing their disciplines in such a manner — in fact, Sigmund Freud’s theory of God-as-wish-father is precisely such an attack.

The fallacy roots itself in SisterLisa’s assumption that denying ordination to women is all about “keeping women in their place”. This is false and uncharitable; that’s simply feminist sexism pretending to peer into the hearts of the hierarchy. The funny thing, though, is that in attributing the Catholic Church’s refusal to male insecurity, SisterLisa unconsciously and unintentionally concedes that there are differences between men and women that aren’t waved away by appealing to social construction theories, differences that hold across cultural lines.

Here we necessarily enter a minefield, because the actual degree to which biology and social forces each contribute to human behavioral development is not a precisely measured thing. In saying there are differences, we do not deny that there are overlaps. If men tend more than women to be aggressive, it still remains that there are aggressive women; men can be nurturing, stay-at-home parents, while women can be career-obsessed disciplinarians. Your mileage may vary.

However, in the quest for equality, many feminists have been driven to the extreme of claiming that there are no real biological differences save in the reproductive organs. Such differences as we see are “mostly the result of socialization in male-dominated societies, and that it is patriarchal oppression that has relegated women to feminine gender roles,” as one author put it. Pelle Billing explains:

Many progressives want to avoid addressing the whole issue of gender specific biological differences, since they feel that it limits constructive social reform by sowing doubts about whether change is truly possible. After all, if there are biological differences in the brains of men and women, isn’t that then an argument to preserve stereotypes?

A good example is the recent push to open up combat specialties long closed to women in the military. On the one hand, this is arguably necessary because a person who doesn’t serve in a combat capacity is not likely to reach the highest ranks; surgeons, for example, don’t have much chance of being selected for chiefs of staff.[1] On the other hand, some specialties would require women to meet the same physical performance standards as men so as not to slow the unit down, which would mean in practice that such units would always have fewer women in them.

The error lies in equating “different” with “superior/inferior”. If a woman isn’t an effective substitute for a father, it doesn’t follow that she is inferior to a man, because it’s also true that a man isn’t an effective substitute for a mother either. Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge, writes, “We don’t want to revert to the 1960s view that human behaviour is purely culturally determined, since we now know that view was profoundly mistaken [emphasis mine.—TL]. No one disputes that culture is important in explaining sex differences, but it can’t be the whole story.”

It isn’t the whole story … unless you’re entrenched in a socio-political mythos that values women only so far as they do the same things men do. Then it becomes the only story you accept — science be damned.

SisterLisa assures us, in her unconscious tone of arrogant condescension, that “there’s no hidden agenda to minimize [men’s] gender or belittle their sexuality.” And there’s equally no agenda, hidden or otherwise, to shove women back into the kitchen. Once we can dispose of feminist sexism, we might actually have a conversation on the matter rather than duelling monologues.

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Three links to three women who explain why women can’t be priests:
Marie Smith (Church Under Attack series in Faith of the Fathers)


[1] Lt. Gen. Leonard Wood (1860-1927) is the only exception to date, as he did lead troops in battle.