“Feminism is a tool of the oppressor. I’m a womanist,” replies the white, male, evangelical pastor. He’s a John Howard Yoder acolyte, too. So, you know–a peaceloving dude. “I speak forcefully for the sake of justice; you are not calling for civility, you are tone policing.”
I rolled my eyes. “Sure. You’re a womanist. Fine. But that doesn’t make it okay for you to also be an ass-hat.”
A white, male scholar of Anabaptist history chimed in. “Charity, don’t be offended by [aforementioned Yoder acolyte]; as Christians, we need to be able to challenge each other with harsh truths. And this group is a safe place in which to do so! The truth you are finding difficult to understand is that the fight for ‘equality’ in Church leadership takes focus off the real work of Christ, which is transformation of the heart. We are not called to equality, but rather, liberation.”
“So you’re saying you’re allowed be an ass-hat here, for the sake of my liberation? How does that read ‘safe’ to you?”
Chorus of male voices: “This is a safe place! We just said it’s safe, goddammit, it’s safe, now SIT DOWN.”
I exit Facebook, muttering. “Ass-hats.”
One of my very first blog posts was a lament about my difficulty finding female voices online that were concerned with the same things I was. After two years I’ve finally connected with a fair number of ladies who are likewise interested in media criticism, nonviolence theology, and cheese; but if the demographics of my Twitter followers are a trustworthy indication, the population of folks engaging my critiques of Anabaptism, or in a different vein, the overweening idiocy of True Detective, skews largely male.
Therefore I have found myself invited into online spaces congregated mostly by men. And until recently, this excited me. I had this theory about female success in the online writing world–that in order for a woman’s writing to be taken seriously by men, she would need male patrons to sign-off on and be ambassadors for her work. And I bless my stars that I first got hooked up with On Pop Theology–a smart, witty site that takes women’s voices seriously. But almost every other experience I’ve had being invited into conversation with “serious” critics and theologians, lady-friendly pastors, and pacifist “third-way” ministries has ended with me (politely, of course) refusing to toe the party line, trying to deflect male rage, and finally but most importantly, losing the writing opportunities that had previously been offered to me when these men thought they could use me to inflate their stock as champions of the womenfolk.
The most petty, vindictive behavior I have ever seen was from socially progressive Christian males who felt their bright shiny genius had gone unacknowledged; as if they were owed constant laudation for their superior intellect; as if genius were a virtue. When provoked they lash out, and in a sick game of one-upmanship, they appropriate and abuse the terms created for use by the oppressed: “You do disservice to the cause of women by tone policing me,” “Liberation, not equality,” the privileged ones say, just to prove they can. But what they really mean is “Pipe down; your rights are not the point. Can’t you see we’re bloviating here?
3. Just Be Okay, Already
Here’s my experience when it comes to male feminists (Not ALL male feminists. Of course.): it’s a situation of “here’s the new boss, same as the old boss,” except in this case the new boss tells you you’re dishonoring Christ when you insist he’s being bossy. As I referred to in part one, which is a paraphrase of a Facebook conversation that came to be known in a certain community as “Yodergate,” asking these men to treat you with respect rather than antagonism is met with even further antagonism; such requests are selfish, denoting feeble comprehension, and derailing the real, hard work of justice that apparently only happens in conversations among PhD students.
A woman’s background–what she has experienced and more so endured–is inconsequential to these conversations; the way we cling to our “victim mentality” is only holding the conversation back. Again, this is just what I’m hearing from these men: it is the “third way,” the “Kingdom way,” to lay down your “rights” and take a punch in the gut in service of Christ. It will make the Body stronger, so nut up already, ladies. Male feminists don’t want to meet women on women’s terms; they want us to be all healed up and strong and ready to make a push for justice. Like, come on, you know, get the fuck going. Because they already have their next blog post lined up for the feminisms linkup, exploring how feminism is a weak substitute for the better justice movement some old guy figured out for us; why do they have to wait for the womens to figure themselves out after millenia of oppression?
Can’t they just be ok, already?
When it comes to evangelicalism, the often rough waters in which I constantly find myself swimming, I have found that the charismatic fundamentalist communities who do not officially accept the leadership of women actually do a better job honoring the prophetic voices of women than the evangelicals who do, officially, acknowledge women in leadership roles. Not that charismatic communities are commendable for their treatment of women across-the-board, actually, quite the opposite; but in a world where women of working class socioeconomic status and women of color are so often completely silenced, I find it interesting that I have witnessed them being taken seriously as speakers-of-truth in charismatic communities far more often than I have in a woman-ordaining evangelical or neo-Anabaptist church.
It’s not good enough for men to espouse justice for women merely as a philosophical or even theological exercise. I went to a ministry event once, a mini-conference hosted by a well-known “missional” network, and was told by the pastors leading the event that they hoped for more women to take on leadership roles in their organization, that they were so happy I was there. They were practically gushing with enthusiasm. But then I discovered they were both head pastors in a denomination that doesn’t even ordain women. How are they to be believed? You can’t denounce the system and continue to benefit from it if you want to be taken seriously by women as a male feminist.
And I suppose this leads us to our final point: do male feminists want to be taken seriously by women, or just other men, as players of some intellectual game, as paragons of enlightenment? Do men with enough liberal arts education to call themselves “feminists” really think they have anything to learn from women? What about men with an MDiv, too? As Austin–who posted yesterday–remarked today, maybe what male feminists really want is “our love without our leadership.”
So, guys, by all means, be our friends, brothers, lovers and neighbors–not all at the same time, please, because the whole **point** is that you are not everything to us. You can’t be an “ally” if the only position you really want is master and teacher. We probably won’t all get along, but can’t we all live and move and have our being, here, together?