by Libby Anne cross posted from her blog Love Joy Feminism
Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 105-106
Weirdly, this passage actually succeeded in making me more angry than have just about all of the passages so far, but in some sense a different sort of angry. Rather than just saying “What?! No!” after every sentence, I’m going to make four distinct points as I address what she said (along with plenty of “What?! No!”s, of course): The variation within each gender overlaps; Much of what we perceive as innate gender roles is actually socially constructed; Men aren’t foreign entities and shouldn’t be viewed as such; and Masculinity and femininity have been defined differently in different societies and at different times. Now, with that outline, let’s get started!
God created man with a nature that is aggressive, and then commanded him to exercise dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28). He created the male sex with an extra dose of testosterone, which provokes him to want to work hard, conquer everything in his path, and subdue all things. This is why the male sex is at the forefront of military conquests, exploration, architecture, science, inventions, etc.
You know, the fact that women have in many cultures been barred from the military might play a role in the male sex being at its forefront, for example. Heck, for that matter, the fact that women have in many societies been barred from things like exploration, architecture, science, and inventions might play a role as well! Debi also seems to be oblivious to the fact that there have been important female military leaders, explorers, architects, scientists, and inventors. Marie Curie, anyone?
Also, by bringing both testosterone and the Bible into the picture, Debi is using both God and ”science” to back up her assertions. But the problem is the same as the problem young earth creationists have—when they appeal to science, they are doing bad science. And that leads us to:
Point #1: It’s true that men do have more testosterone than women, but research shows that men and women overlap more psychologically than they differ. In other words, for every man who feels the need to conquer and subdue, there is a woman who feel the same—and a man who doesn’t feel this need at all. It’s a spectrum and continuum, not a dichotomy—human experience varies from individual to individual, and isn’t something you can simply shove into neat and tidy boxes.
No woman would ever go out and tame a wild horse and make a rope out of its mane and tail, and then go out and find a bear and lasso it just to prove that she could—laughing the whole time.
Believe it or not, I don’t know a single man who would do that either. And that, I think, is the problem with what Debi is doing in this section. Like I said above, men and women exist on a continuum, not in a completely separated dichotomy. There may be a few men out there who would do what Debi describes—but if there are, there are almost certainly a few women who would do it as well.
If women were inventors, they would make minivans. Men make four-wheel drive vehicles and then modify them so that they will stand higher and drive faster. They will even put a winch on the front so they can traverse places meant only for alligators or mountain goats.
But women are inventors (here’s a short list). In fact, it might surprise Debi to know that the windshield wiper was invented by a woman, for instance—and that’s without even getting into it.
Debi says female inventors (if they existed) would invent useful things while male inventors invent fast and big and dangerous things—but if this were true, wouldn’t having woman inventors be a good thing? I’ve often thought that if what people like Debi say about men and women was actually true—if women really were extra caring and nurturing and practical while men were extra aggressive and militaristic and impractical—the natural conclusion ought to be that women should rule the world and protect men from themselves. But that’s never the conclusion women like Debi come to. Instead, they often almost seem to say “men are assholes, but they are the assholes God put in charge.”
Men fly to the moon, climb treacherous mountains, fight wild animals, challenge each other at any sport, and laugh with loud hilarious delight the whole time. They like to play or watch games where they knock each other down, just to prove who is the strongest and toughest. Everything they do must end with a testosterone-driven climax. And they think we ladies are hard to understand!
Does Debi seriously think that no woman has ever been to the moon because no woman has ever wanted to go to the moon? Really? Also, believe it or not, there are female mountain climbers. And yes, there are female boxers. And actually, not every man likes to play or watch games where they knock each other down! Some men aren’t interested in proving who is the strongest and toughest! Arg, Debi!
Point #2: To the extent that men are more interested in proving who is the strongest and toughest than are women (and given the variability within each gender that I already mentioned, I’m not sure to what extent this is actually true), how are we supposed to know what of that is actually testosterone (or other biological differences) and what is social conditioning? After all, our society encourages boys to be daring and competitive and encourages girls to be compassionate and caring. And as that changes—and it has been changing—we’ve seen an increasing number of women interested in these supposedly masculine areas. In other words, Debi is completely ignoring the role of social conditioning in forcing men and women into the gender roles society lays out for them.
Point #3: Also, and this has been bothering me for a while, what is the good in perpetuating this idea that men are these foreign beings that are impossible to understand? In a world of increasingly fluid gender roles and greater equality, this is simply not true, if it ever really was. When people say the other sex is hard to understand, what they really mean is they don’t want to try, and would rather write them off as “the other.” This isn’t healthy and it certainly does not foster understanding between men and women—or mature relationships.
A woman can do just about anything a man can do, but it is always the men who invent it and then eventually invite the ladies along just to make it more interesting. Testosterone again!
Uhhh . . . wow. Look, you can’t actually write off every bit of gender inequality that exists by attributing it to testosterone and thus making it unchangeable and natural. Also, this is incredibly respectful to all of the amazing women who have been powerful leaders, intelligent inventors, and determined athletes in their own rights. Does Debi really think that men invited politics and then invited Margaret Thatcher along just to make politics more interesting?!
A few ladies will always step out and play the men’s games, trying to prove a gender point. The men don’t need a point to prove; they just need to vent. Men are different. We must face it.
Believe it or not, not every woman who has ever stepped into a supposedly “male” arena has done so “to prove a gender point.” Believe it or not, lots of women actually honestly want to be in a supposedly “male” arena. Serena Williams, anyone? Pearl Buck? Hilary Clinton? And again, there are plenty of men who don’t want to be entrepreneurs, explorers, and inventors, and who find traditional male sports like boxing barbaric—what of them? This entire section is insulting to every gender . . .
Thankfully, men and women were not all created alike. Men were created with traits that I do not want as part of me! But, when I married, it was, of course, to one of those strange male creatures with those traits.
“One of those strange male creatures.” Again with the othering. This is something Debi does throughout the book, and it is increasingly grating on me. The goal should be to foster mutual understanding as fellow human beings, but the way Debi goes about it sounds like reading from a zoology textbook.
When we ladies discover traits in a man like sensitivity, spirituality, and understanding, we are thrilled, because they contrast so starkly with the many coarser and visible traits that so strongly drive his nature.
Or, maybe we’re thrilled because we like traits like sensitivity, spirituality, and understanding. Maybe we’re thrilled because we realize that the men are from Mars/women are from Venus dichotomy Debi is perpetuating here is a load of bull. Maybe we’re thrilled because relationships are formed based on things like understanding, not killing wild boars.
Also, is it just me or this actually an extremely insulting way to talk about men?
Point #4: This is making me think of the Progressive Era, when reformers became concerned that middle class American men had become “sissified” by their “more civilized,” desk job lives. The Boy Scouts, with its “manly” wilderness training, was one result of this concern. The goal was to create a specific type of masculinity in men who had become “feminized” by changing economic situations. Yet even this followed a period when the refined man, who spoke in poetry and emotion and avoided the “vulgar” activities of lower class men, was viewed by the middle and upper classes as very apex of masculinity The point I’m making here is that what is “manly” and what is “feminine” is actually socially contextualized, and changes and shifts over time. Debi is clearly unaware of that, and has chosen to freeze forever what is “masculine” and what is “feminine”—and if you ask me, she’s chosen a very dangerous place to freeze those categories.
After all, having a nature to subdue all things, he likes best a woman who will give him a token struggle and then surrender to his wit, charm, and strength. He must thoroughly conquer. It is a battle I always enjoy losing. I like to be conquered and consumed by my man. That is my created nature.
I . . . no . . . seriously?
This is what I meant about this being a dangerous point to freeze gender stereotypes.
To keep it brief, these sentences are shot through with what feminists refer to as “rape culture.” This idea that all men want to conquer and all women want to be conquered—it’s really not that hard to see how these conceptions might lead to men pushing past women’s physical boundaries, convinced that although they might be putting up a struggle, they really want to give in. It’s because of this sort of thing that the “no means no” and “yes means yes” campaigns, working to educate people about consent, are so important.
So, let’s review: Men and women are more psychologically alike than they are different, gender roles and stereotypes are affected through social conditioning (i.e., people are affected by how they’re told they’re “supposed to be”), it’s unhealthy to “other” the opposite gender and treat them as though they were completely foreign and different, and ideas about what constitutes “masculinity” and “femininity” are not constant but rather change over time and across society—but Debi does not know or chooses to ignore all of this.
I would give a lot to see Debi in a women’s studies class. Everything she said in this passage was either a flat out lie or else twisted until it might as well be. But perhaps the greatest danger of this passage is the way it pushes men and women into these stereotypes by telling them that this is how they are naturally supposed to be and erasing anything that might not fit into Debi’s neat little dichotomy. Men and women are here described as races foreign to each other, and also as monoliths. Neither is correct and neither is healthy.
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Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Libby Anne blogs at Love, Joy, Feminism
Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the religious right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving fundamentalist and evangelical religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the problems with the “purity culture,” the intricacies of conservative and religious right politics, and the importance of feminism. Her blog is Love, Joy, Feminism
NLQ Recommended Reading …
‘Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich
‘Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland
‘Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce