Over my years of biblical reflection few subjects have vexed me more than that of gender related issues. Few subjects in the scriptures scream controversy and kindle the kind of emotions that flair up than the one related to gender issues. Few subjects in the scriptures are as complex as gender issues and few have the kind of immediate cultural relevance and practical impact as gender issues.
This subject is complex. More complex then any subject I have attempted to look at. The problem is worsened by the Bible’s apparent over-simplicity of it and worsened still by Christians on all fronts who compound the apparent over-simplicity of it.
We live in a new world today and it will be a long time, I think, for us to find balance and to actually make positive strides in the right direction. Since the feminist movements society has been reeling in a dizzy stupor as men and women attempt to find an identity as men and women. In the book My Brother’s Keeper, Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen sums up the effect of the feminist movement on men and women up to the end of the 1990’s. First women:
“In the late 1990’s, women’s median salaries in the United States were 74 percent of men’s, with a wage gap of varying size persisting in all ethnic groups. Worldwide, almost twice as many women as men are illiterate, and around most of the globe women put in longer hours than men in both domestic and waged work. International health experts estimate that around 100 million women and girls have experienced genital mutilation, and rape as a tool of war has been tragically common in places such as the former Yugoslavia. In both Canada and the United States, approximately 25 percent of married or formerly married women have suffered severe physical abuse at the hands of a male partner, in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the figure is more than 50 percent.” (p.17)
She goes on to make a connect between religious groups and women:
“In a 1994 survey of fifteen Protestant denominations, research found that female M.Div. degree holders took twice as long as their male peers to get their first post in a church. Moreover, women working in full-time clergy jobs earned significantly less than men, even when others factors such as education, work experience, congregational size and type of position were controlled. It is not clear how much this difference reflects continued discrimination against women clergy and how much reflects choices to slow their careers to devote time to their families. Other studies showing a higher dropout rate of women clergy because of self-reported demoralization and discouragement suggest that continued discrimination plays at least a partial role.” (18)
There seems to be a tendency at this point to flair up in anger at our white male dominated neighbors (gulp, that’s me!). But Van Leeuwen continues in the next section titled, “Men Overboard!”
“so there’s plenty of data to support the argument that, on the whole, it is women rather than men who still have the greater hurdles to surmount. But while acknowledging the importance of such data, many observers, including myself, see the man on the inner tube (with the caption “SAVE THE MALES”) as a symbol that men too are struggling.”
The author of a the book, Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, Susan Faludi writes: “Blaming a cabal of men has taken feminism about as far as it can go… If my travels taught me anything about the two sexes, it is that each of our struggles depends on the success of the other’s.” She goes on to say that since the 1960’s and 1970’s skilled fighter-jet pilots have been turned into passive glamour boys orbiting the earth.
“What’s left for many men, Faldui concluded, is only ‘ornamental masculinity.’ As men’s opportunity to be useful providers and protectors has eroded, some have begun to pursue the precarious routes to self-esteem and financial security long required of women: dressing glamorously, cultivating sexual attractiveness, and looking for ways to get media attention, whether as goofily dressed football fans, inner-city gang leaders or iron-pumping gym rats, all of whom were among Faludi’s subjects. Along with this have come some intriguing gender reversals. For example, between 1989 and 1996, men’s clothing sales in American rose 21 percent to record highs; meanwhile women, perhaps taught by thirty years of feminism to look for less superficial routes to a secure identity, spent 10 percent less on clothing in the same period.” (19-20)
Van Leeuwen goes on to say that there is evidence that such case studies reflect negative trends in the lives of men since the feminist movements:
“Since the 1950’s, suicide rates for young white males in America have nearly tripled, and just between 1986 and 1998, the rate for African American boys almost doubled. In 1997, 15 percent of American boys seriously considered suicide, and 5 perfect actually attempted it. (Although females actually make more suicide attempts, two to four times as many males – depending on age category – succeed, since they are apt to use guns rather than pills as their method.) In the United States more women than men now complete high school and obtain bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Between 1970 and 1993 in the United States, the homicide rate among fifteen to nineteen year old males more than doubled before beginning to level off. In 1995 a third of all American males in that same age bracket reported carrying a weapon (gun, knife or razor) in the previous month, compared to only 8 perfect of their female peers.
When we look beyond boys and young men to the lives of adult males in general, other warning signs appear. In all age groups in the United States, men’s death rates from both internal and external causes exceed women’s peaking at almost three times women’s rate among fifteen to twenty four year olds. In addition, men commit suicide at about three times the rate women do between the ages of twenty-five and sixty-five, and at rates four to six times higher thereafter. Men are three times more likely than women to abuse alcohol and three times more likely to be diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder, which is characterized by an absence of moral sensitivity and guilt about harming others.
In America men seem to be less vocationally flexible than women. In 1995 an average of 58 percent more women were in traditional men’s jobs (e.g., doctor, police officer, clergy, accountant, mail carrier) than in 1983. Only 20 percent more men were in traditional women’s jobs (e.g., nurse, elementary teacher, physiotherapist, social worker), even though men are courted for such jobs – at generally better pay than women used to earn in them – and even though traditional male factory jobs are now scarce. Finally, men, along with women, seem less concerned to establish stable families than before. In the mid-1990’s America’s divorce and nonmarital pregnancy rates were the highest in the industrialized world.” (20-21)
So has feminism been kind to our society? Beneficial? Can we conclude with the feminist who once remarked that women need men like fish need bicycles? Or are these facts cause for alarm? Should we be concerned with the trajectory which feminism has brought us and where we are going? Should we be concerned that it has done little for women, and much to harm for men?
Is a radical pendulum always the answer to a history of abuse?
I submit that as Christians we should throw out the pendulum altogether and find a better way. Any approach to feminism that harms men is no more an answer than any approach to biblicism that harms women.