Christian man-feminism: allies and misogynists

Christian man-feminism: allies and misogynists May 6, 2013

Recently I’ve found myself called into conversation with the new evangelical feminist movement that has blown up in the last few years. I consider myself an ally, a “man-feminist” if you will. I also consider myself a misogynist, or someone who sins uniquely against women because of things about my manhood. My own particular form of misogyny often manifests itself as my need to be recognized as the hero of Christian feminists everywhere, the anti-Driscoll (Give me my gold star for pointing out all the flaws of other men I already define myself against anyway!). So I wanted to consider what it means to be an ally who is still a misogynist and also to try to translate terms and build bridges for Christian men who burst blood vessels in their foreheads when they hear words like misogyny.

When I was in my early twenties, I found myself in the radical activist community in DC. There was a lot of talk about white male privilege for which my evangelical upbringing paradoxically prepared me quite well. I had no problem saying I’m a filthy sinner. This was just a way of translating that into a slightly different paradigm. White male privilege doesn’t refer to being “guilty” because of your race or gender; it refers to the subtle ways in which you patronize, marginalize, and otherwise sin against other people that have been socialized into you through a historical process in which your gender or race plays a role (as opposed to ways that you sin against other people which are less predictable based on your race or gender).

I don’t think any Christian regardless of what you think about identity politics should be opposed to the use of privilege as a paradigmatic tool for providing greater self-insight and sanctification since all Christians ought to desire being called out and liberated from our sin. Our growing cognizance of our privilege should make us watch ourselves closely for things we say and do that hurt others even if they don’t feel malicious on our part. What makes people angry at identity politics (with good cause in my opinion) is when someone’s race or gender is invoked to silence and delegitimize that person in the absence of any legitimately oppressive behavior on their part. I would narrate this as a variation of the famous Biblical inerrantist line: You’re a rich white guy; you’re wrong; that settles it. It’s identity fundamentalism.

Within a healthy discourse of identity politics, the goal is to become an ally to people who haven’t been taken seriously or treated with dignity because of something about their identity that they didn’t choose. If I were to translate the word ally into Christian terms, the word would be a combination of intercessor, advocate, and servant, with the greatest emphasis on servanthood in the sense that servanthood always connotes putting yourself beneath the other person. Philippians 2:3-4 captures what it means to be an ally: “Do nothing in selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as more important than yourselves. Look not to your own interests, but to others’ interests.”

Our call to servanthood is a call to be allies to people who aren’t being treated with dignity. Your right to talk the way you want to (e.g. “I’m tired of those black people changing their minds about what we’re supposed to call them”) is trumped by the Bible’s command to regard others as more important than yourself. A Christian who really follows Philippians 2:3 should be actively seeking to submit themselves to those who haven’t had a voice, especially if you’re some
kind of “leader” in the upside down kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Now there’s another way in which servanthood puts a check on our motives and approaches to being an ally. The easiest way to be an “ally” is to do so out of “selfish ambition and conceit” by attacking other “fellow oppressors” in order to earn applause for ourselves not out of solidarity but as an opportunistic power play. I’m very good at being an enemy to the enemies of feminism because they’re my enemies too. They all become in my mind the popular jocks who dated (and mistreated) the girls I was “best friends” with in high school.

The test of whether I’m really an ally happens when I’m not putting my man-feminist piety on public display. It’s when I’m sitting on the couch with my wife and she needs my engagement and presence in conversation about a “household issue” that doesn’t involve saving the world by writing the viral blog post that captures the ethos of my generation or whatever. I’m an ally when I take my wife no less seriously than the feminist bloggers with large readerships whose link-backs I covet. I often fail and discover that I’m still a misogynist in practice and an ally in theory.

But I don’t want to end this on a negative note, so I’ll say two things in summary about allies and misogynists. 1) Every ally is still a misogynist. 2) Every misogynist is a potential ally. The point of talking in this way is to recognize that there is nothing categorically different between a wannabe man-feminist like me and Rush Limbaugh or whomever; we aren’t different species of human. It’s a difference in what has been revealed to us in our journey so far. I also think that men in particular need to engage other men with compassion and grace and not as caricature foils off of which we can score our self-justification points (to name one of my favorite hobbies). Jesus did shout down Pharisees in solidarity with the women they judged; this isn’t a call to muzzle any truth-telling. But rather we should tell the truth as evangelists who know that it’s God’s truth and not ours to exploit for selfish ambition or conceit.

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