11 April 2013

Straw feminists

Any question about who's boss here? Source.

As an evangelical Christian, I feel I have no choice but to be a feminist. Otherwise, everything I believe about the Gospel being GOOD NEWS for all men and women, boys and girls, and all that I believe about the SOVEREIGNTY of God, would go out the window. It would turn out that all my trust that  God was doing something new in Jesus, would be just pious decorations for the way power has always been arranged in this world. Christian faith and practice would be hostage to whatever the local culture felt about who should be on top, and who should meekly obey.

So here is what the current patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church says about feminism (from a speech to the Ukrainian Union of Orthodox Women just this past Tuesday; original here):
... It is completely obvious that the woman is the keeper of the domestic hearth, the well-defined center of family life. Nobody would dispute this. The man directs his attention out beyond the home, working and making money; but the woman's attention is turned inward, toward home life and the children. And if this extremely important function of the woman is destroyed, then so is everything else: from the family of our birth to the land of our birth. No wonder we say Motherland--it's no coincidence, because the woman is the keeper of the home.

We know how it functions, this false propaganda of false values. It imposes a belief that to name a woman's role as mother is humiliating--that there are higher and more noble tasks for women, that women who carry out their inherent service (yes, I would call it service) are put into some kind of subordinate relationship to men.


I consider that the phenomenon we know as feminism to be very dangerous. This is because feminist organizations proclaim a pseudo-freedom that ideally should be realized outside the bounds of marriage and family. In the center of feminist ideology we don't find family or bringing up children, but a completely different role that frequently contradicts family values. It's probably no coincidence that most feminist leaders are unmarried women. I noticed this as far back as when I was working in Geneva at the World Council of Churches. At the time the theme of feminism was only starting to arise. While still a relatively young person, I was surprised that the leaders of the so-called feminist movement had no connections with family obligations, with very few exceptions. All the subtleties of mutual relationships--love, faithfulness, concern, responsibility--were reduced by feminist ideologues to social, political, financial levels, to the distribution of power and influence. This is, I believe, exactly where feminism goes astray.


Given all of this, I'd also like to say that I don't see anything bad about women making careers in politics, business, and many other areas presently dominated by men. But I must say that in many of these professional fields women achieve great success. This is evidence that, with the right allocation of responsibilities, with the right ordering of priorities, a woman can do both: carry out her service as wife and mother and make a contribution to society.
For many people I know, these sentiments would serve as an easy target for savage criticism and mocking. The news stories I've seen about this speech have emphasized the stereotypical gender roles and the description of feminism as "dangerous." And at about the time the patriarch gave this speech, two FEMEN activists had just greeted Russian president Vladimir Putin in Germany with their bare breasts and backs painted with rudely-worded political slogans, as if to confirm the "danger."

What can I say about Kirill's words that doesn't play into facile categorizations? Here are a few things for starters; maybe you have more.

What did he get right? The roles of wife and mother are precious and important beyond any possibility of dispute. A community, town, country, where these roles are cherished will be a better place to live. Anyone who does not value these roles should not be put into a position of power over those who do, because such a turnaround would surely lead to the ruin of the community.

But here's my point: I do not personally know a single feminist who proclaims the superiority of a "pseudo-freedom" that depends on being "outside the bounds of marriage and family." Not a one! I don't know who was working at the World Council of Churches in Kirill's youth, but is he in conversation with today's Christian feminists, those who are not ignorant of the "subtleties of human relationships"? Or does it serve his argument to ignore their existence in favor of just one narrow stream of feminism, namely those easiest to caricaturize?

Kirill accuses those ideologues of reducing human relationships to political and financial categories. But the male leaders of the church industry (and not just in Russia!) are not above swinging their political and financial clout--their "power and influence"--against people they disagree with. Listen to Kirill lay down the law in an earlier speech: "God willed that the apostles were men, that men fulfilled the apostolic ministry of the church; fortunately, in Orthodoxy, women are not attempting to promote a reconsideration of this provision of apostolic tradition. Men perform the hierarchical functions within the Church."

What is most disheartening about these speeches is their anti-evangelistic quality. This kind of talk must be very comforting to those who are already totally dedicated to the viewpoint that there is only one way to organize society, and that only men are qualified to define the boundaries around men's and women's roles. But for those who have an unquenchable, even God-given hunger for something more miraculous, something more trust-based rather than boundary-based, how can this rhetoric bring them to Jesus?

When will the time come for Quakers to raise a loving but unequivocal dissent?

By the way, by acknowledging the justice of Kirill's defense of marriage and motherhood, I don't grant women any monopoly on keeping "the domestic hearth." When Judy and I were young parents, each working part-time and staying home part-time, I cherished my daytime hours with my children. I resented being praised, by those who didn't know me, for "babysitting" my own children! (This was a quarter century ago.)

Two other articles I read this week have contributed to these reflections. Please read this one ("Linguistic Look at Russia's Human Rights Record") as soon as possible; I don't know when it will disappear behind a pay wall. I've often seen this phenomenon of Russians and Westerners talking right past each other because they have fundamentally different ways of analyzing and defining normal behavior. Russians themselves are divided along the linguistic lines described by Olesya Zakharova. For evidence, read descriptions of the debate going on right now in Russian legislative circles over the draft laws to protect believers' feelings.

Look at this item on homosexuals' rights in Russia, and again you can apply Zakharova's analysis.

The other article is by our friend and colleague Becky Ankeny, superintendent of Northwest Yearly Meeting, "God's Will for Women...." The powerful heart of her argument is this: "...the witness to equality makes space for women to be equally obedient to God as men can be." The issue now facing men: Are we going to be obedient to God in this matter, or are we going to prioritize our own "power and influence," dishonestly flattering the sacredness of motherhood while marginalizing the real mothers and wives who are among our most powerful feminists?

E.J. Dionne, Jr., "What we can learn from Margaret Thatcher and David Kuo."

"What's the point of teaching foreign languages?"

"Irrepressible Moscow." (Thanks to aldaily.com.)

In honor of tomorrow's Cosmonauts Day. (1981 television program, in Russian.)

A fascinating documentary about the blues in Russia. As Olga Ponomaryova says, "I did not choose the blues, the blues chose me. That's the way it is.... I compare it to when I go to church for confession. The situation is exactly the same: you can't lie."

Saint Petersburg Blues from Jazzgazz on Vimeo.


Robin M. said...

Here's what I think he got right: when people who have chosen not to have families are put in charge of making family policy, it's no wonder that so called "family values" are skewed. I think this explains much of the theology coming out of the Roman Catholic hierarchy of the last 1,500 years.

But other than that, he is contradicting himself even in this short excerpt.

Quakers have been raising a dissent for 350 years. Not always unequivocal, our Society has been plagued by sexism all along, just as we have been conformed to the world in many ways, but I take comfort in the fact that a more equal position has over time been held up as the ideal.

I appreciate very much your commentary, your life's example, and your lifting up of other women's voices for a wider audience.

Side note: I think it's interesting that in the photo, it's the men who have to keep their heads covered.

Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Robin. Yes, I suppose we've been raising a dissent for a long time, but for articulate Atlantic-culture Friends, it's now a safe dissent. Probably a huge majority of the surrounding culture either agrees with us or couldn't care less. There are other places in the world where this testimony is still counter-cultural. Even dangerous. It's there we've either accommodated ourselves or are just too polite.

Sometimes I wonder what the Pussy Riot intervention at the Church of the Savior would have been like had those young women been Quakers.

As something of an in-between step, Friends House Moscow is working on a Russian-language edition of Hidden in Plain Sight. I hope we market it with something more than the usual "aren't we wonderful" approach.

Anonymous said...

"Side note: I think it's interesting that in the photo, it's the men who have to keep their heads covered."

Actually, the only two people in the picture who *have to* keep their heads covered are the Patriarch and the Abbess (female) seen to his left. So there's equality as far as that goes ;) The priest to the right of the patriarch is only wearing his hat thingy because he wants to for some reason.