Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Grid Blog for International Women’s Day
Today is International Women's Day. Since I guess you could describe me as a rather feminist male - not to be confused with a feminine male ;) - I decided to post a few thoughts in honor of the day.

To be honest, I've become even more of a feminist since my daughter Emma was born. When I think about her future it makes me angry to think about anyone telling her what she can or can't do with her life just because she's female. As far as I'm concerned she can grow up to be whatever God calls her to be.

But I have to admit that sometimes gender issues can be confusing, especially as a man. I think the thing I have the hardest time working out in my head is whether women are valued for their equality or for their differences. Is it true to say that women view the world and approach it differently from men, and therefore they should be included in leadership more often in order that we may all benefit from this different perspective? Or is that patronizing? Does it stereotype women to say that there is a universal "female" perspective on life? Would it be better to simply say that women are equal to men in ability, and therefore justice and fairness would require them to be more evenly represented within the current power structures of society?

Let me give a practical example of the difference. At most ministry conferences that I've attended there will usually be a few "token" females on the list of speakers. Often it seems like they are included merely to bring a "female perspective" to the conference. The idea is that women bring a unique and valuable perspective to ministry because of their gender. They view the world differently as women - they're more nurturing or collaborative or peacemaking or respectful towards others or whatever. But, on the other hand, isn't that kind of patronizing to assume that a woman's contributions are always related to and tied up with her gender, while a man (supposedly) can speak on a wide range of issues without any particular reference to his gender? Wouldn't it be more equitable to have 50% of a conference's speakers be female, and encourage them to speak on any topic within their expertise without reference to their gender?

But it's confusing to me because it seems there's some truth to both points of view. Women, as a generalization, often do view the world differently from men, maybe not because of inherent biology (though that may play a role) but perhaps more just because of the different set of socio-cultural experiences they have had growing up in a still rather patriarchal society. I am a firm believer that who we are as individuals is largely shaped by our social and cultural interactions. One's race, and gender, and economic status, and culture, and geography all play a huge role in defining who we are and who we are becoming. Thus it would seem true to say that women, simply by virtue of their social identity as women, do bring a distinctly female perspective and approach to issues that we should do more to value and listen to.

However, I'm also a firm believer that who we are as individuals is more than our social and cultural identities. I am defined as a male, but I am more than just male. I am white, but I am not defined solely as a "white person". I am a middle-class suburban American, but that is not the totality of who I am. I am not determined by my social identities. As a unique individual I should be valued both because of and in spite of these socio-cultural identities.

So I guess my conclusion is that women should be valued as women, for the ways that their experiences as women have shaped their ideas and approaches differently from men. But at the same time, we should never limit or label any woman solely in terms of her gender identity. She is a woman, but she is more than just a woman. Value her for her unique perspectives as an individual human being, which includes but is not limited to her identity as female.

Of course I think this principle applies to any person, not just women. We are all more than the sum of our social parts, but they are still part of us.

BTW, for links of more people who are blogging in honor of International Women's Day go here.


P.S. - for those who doubt whether patriarchy is still a reality, check out the shocking stories about Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle (whom I won't dignify with a link) on Rachelle Mee-Chapman's blog. I've had my issues with Driscoll in the past, but his attitudes and behavior towards the women described in this post is unbelievably shocking and offensive. I'd even go so far as to call it downright evil. This is what injustice looks like. I'm glad that Rachelle has chosen to speak out on behalf of women in her city.


posted by Mike Clawson at 5:56 PM | Permalink |


At 3/11/2006 10:20:00 AM, Blogger Call Me Ishmael

“Women, as a generalization, often do view the world differently from men, maybe not because of inherent biology (though that may play a role) but perhaps more just because of the different set of socio-cultural experiences they have had growing up in a still rather patriarchal society.” And then there was the experiment in which they took a group of toddlers and gave dolls to the boys and toy vehicles to the girls, and the girls started referring to the bigger vehicles as "mommy" and "daddy," the smaller vehicles as "the babies," and the boys started having war games with the dolls.


At 3/11/2006 02:49:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I would think that by the time children reach their toddler years they've probably absorbed a lot about traditional gender roles. If anything, that study supports the idea that gender-specific behaviors are the result of early socialization.


At 3/15/2006 09:23:00 AM, Blogger FDR

Hey Mike!

you know I am coming from a different viewpoint as you, but I have always respected you and Julie, and pray for God's blessing on your work for His Kingdom.

We Orthodox are of course unabashedly patriarchal. Of course the term ahas become perjorative, but I think it is because it has become confused with "tyrranical." As the Scriptures make clear, the father is the head of the home, BUT he is called to love.

Here is what St. john Chrysostom says to the matter:

"Husbands, he says, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church.

You have seen the amount of obedience necessary. Do you want your wife to be obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ? Then be responsible for the same providential care of her, as Christ is for the Church. And even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and even to endure and undergo suffering of any kind, do not refuse.

Even though you undergo all this, you will never have done anything equal to what Christ has done. You are sacrificing yourself for someone to whom you are already joined, but He offered Himself up for one who turned her back on Him and hated Him. In the same way, then, as He honored her by putting at His feet one who turned her back on Him, who hated, rejected, and disdained Him, as he accomplished this not with threats, or violence, or terror, or anything else like that, but through His untiring love; so also you should behave toward your wife. Even if you see her belittling you, or despising and mocking you, still you will be able to subject her to yourself, through affection, kindness, and your great regard for her. There is no influence more powerful than the bond of love, especially for husband and wife . . . . Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies (v. 28).

Also, as to the nurture/nature deabte....there is more and more studies being done, that are revealing that the traditional way of life has it roots in biology, particualry regarding gender roles.

1) Baby chimpanzees gravitate towards traditional human toys....males to trucks, and females to dolls.

2) Male and female brains are wired differently, and this occure early on in utero. Male brains are comnpartmentalized, while femals are more homogenous.

3) childrens language capacity is drastically influenced by how much time they spend with their mother, with other significant family members, being only slightly better then strangers.

4) survey after survey shows that women in tradtional patriarchal families, report themselves as being happier then women in "egalitarian" ones.

5) the error of the "androgyny experiment" Men and women are not "interchangeable."

There is more too....I could link you to them if you are interested....

I too am a father of girls, two of them. I too love them more then life, and want them to be all God wants them to be.

If I offend please forgive.....


At 3/15/2006 09:42:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Hey Deacon,

I don't disagree that men and women are different. And I don't disagree that biology (i.e. "nature") plays some role in those differences. What I do tend to question however, is whether there is one single universal feminine type/identity/perspective, whatever. To say that all women do (or should) view the world the same way because they are women, or that they should all fill the same roles in life because they are women, I think disrespects people for who they are as individuals. Of course we are shaped by both nature and nurture, but we are not determined by them.

Thanks for visiting here at my blog, and for sharing the Chrysostom quote. Good stuff. I'll check out the links you emailed me as well, but no promises on how soon I'll get to them. I've been pretty busy lately, and it doesn't look to be getting any better any time soon.




At 3/16/2006 06:57:00 AM, Blogger FDR


I can dig it. I too believe in the individual. My point is that gender differences go beyond "plumbing."

A great book I had out of the library is Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences -- by Leonard Sax

You might enjoy it. Its been helpful to me, that my daughters need to be treated a little differetnly then how I treat my son. My wife tells me all the time "its your tone" and I thought she was nuts. Sure enough, the studies show that little girls hearing is much more sensitive then boys. AND they are much more empathetic.

If I say to Hannah, "Your mom works hard to clean this house up, and you come along and just make a mess of it? How do you think that makes your mom feel?" It WORKS! That would never work with my son. (brute force is the only thing that works with him...."you will obey your mom, ot suffer the consequences.") It never would have occured to me, that they need a different response from me then I as a male am naturally disposed to give.

Sorry to ramble on your blog, but I get excited when I am given a little insight. Life is still such a mystery to me, but any littl bit helps!


At 3/16/2006 06:58:00 AM, Blogger FDR

Oh yeah....

Of course we are shaped by both nature and nurture, but we are not determined by them.

Great point....


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