Some questions for feminists from a sympathizer

Some questions for feminists from a sympathizer October 21, 2012

Please excuse the inevitable errors here; I’m using an ipad whose virtual keyboard is new to me.

I hope to stimulate some constructive dialogue with these questions. I apologize in advance for any inadvertant offenses I may cause.

I am reading bell hooks’ Feminist Theory (2nd ed.) and I hope to learn from it. (For those who might not know she does not capitalize her names.)

So, with some fear and trepidation, here are my questions:

1) If power corrupts, would women with power be as likely to be corrupted as men? Put another way, is there something about males that makes them more inherently corruptible by power than women?

2) Why use “patriarchy” to name power over, dominating hierarchy, instead of, say, “dominating hierarchy?” Put another way, since “patriarchy” is a term drawn from maleness (fatherhood), doesn’t using it constantly and uniquely to name dominating, oppressive, hierarchical power over tend to imply that such is uniquely tied to maleness? If that is intended, why would it be surprising if men feel excluded  by feminists (from being whole and healthy as male human beings even if they are not oppressing anyone)?

3) Lively debates occur among women about feminism and sex/gender. Can men contribute anything to those discussions?

4) Should women be concerned about areas in society where males are being discriminated against or neglected by social welfare agencies including schools and health organizations? Do feminists care that boys and young men are dropping out of schools at much higher rates than girls and young women, that suicide rates are much higher among males than females, that more males than females die in every age group every year (until the seventies), that male life expectancy is five years less than female, that males get harsher sentences for the same crimes than females, that society views women’s sexual abuse of boys as much less serious than men’s sexual abuse of girls or boys? That these and other issues affecting especially males are rarely thought of or treated as public health and welfare concerns?

These questions are not meant to bait feminists or put down feminism in any way. If that is how they are taken, then I am sorry for those who take them as such. I am a supporter of full equality of women and men in church, home and society. I am opposed to all forms of oppression including dominating hierarchy of any kind. I invite serious answers that avoid rejecting the questions as invalid or as themselves evidence of sexism.

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  • Claire

    1) Personally, I do not believe that there is anything about males that makes them more inherently corruptible than women. Are there feminists who believe that? Sure. But like most social movements, feminism is not a monolith or a hivemind in which all members hold the same views. I am somewhat troubled by this question because it seems to approach the issue of gender-based hierarchical dominance as a zero-sum game – meaning that it treats power absolutely-favoring-males and power absolutely-favoring-females as the only viable options for our society. As a feminist, I envision and hope for a mix of checks and balances based on which gender institutions have historically tend to favor, which is most often men, but can occasionally be women. I also support continued deconstruction of the male/female binary as hierarchy and exploration of alternate genders that are both, neither, or something else entirely.

    2) By saying “patriarchy,” we are naming the agent – the group of people with the greatest interest in holding on to power, keeping things status quo, those who benefit the most from the gendered aspects of our current system. While hierarchical power structures tied to other characteristics definitely exist – such as that tied to whiteness or straight-ness – there are also specific privileges accorded to men simply because they happened to be born male. For specific examples, I would suggest reading the Male Privilege Checklist: If we want things to be equal, men need to recognize that they have these privileges – starting with listening to women when we point them out. Not all instances of dominant, hierarchical power are tied specifically to maleness, but many are, and it is these privileges that form what we call patriarchy.

    It is not surprising that men feel “excluded” from feminist conversations, but I would encourage men to look at it from a bit of a different angle. Listen to the world around you – who is generally most talked about? Whose accomplishments are lauded, who holds the most wealth and the highest political offices, who runs the successful big businesses? Generally, mostly men. Men are at the center of many of our society’s most high-profile and critical discourses. Most of the time, there is very little noise made about women being excluded from those conversations – even in situations where women’s issues are directly affected. The U.S. government had no qualms about holding a panel on birth control populated entirely by men, who will never get pregnant or be directly affected by birth control legislation. Re-centering women in feminism and de-centering men is a radical act designed to counter this tendency of powerful men to make everything about me, me, me.

    3) Yes, men can contribute to these discussions, but they need to come from a place of consciousness of the power and privileges that they hold in a patriarchal system. Basically, they need to avoid constantly centering themselves – “what about men? what about me? what about boys?” – and genuinely engage with women’s concerns on women’s terms.

    • rogereolson

      I hear you,insofar as that’s possible. But I disagree that everything is always only about men. I watch and read the news and popular culture and I think the media have a bias toward females when it comes to talking about achievements, victimhood (eg, sexual abuse), education, health, etc. What I don’t get is why whenever I (or anyone) try to speak up on behalf of boys (for example) women feel threatened. About a year ago one of the major network news programs did a series on education in America and revealed (among other things) how boys are being left behind. Boys, for example, learn better from male teachers esapecially in junior high and high school and yet very few education organizations seem concerned to recruit male teachers. I have observed that billboards and other ads aimed at recruiting teachers always show women. A leading women’s education organization simply pooh-poohed the problem and refused to acknowledge it. A leading education professor said right on national news (in one segment of that series) that too many women see it as a zero sum game as if any effort to help boys automatically takes something away from girls which he said is not the case.

  • Claire

    4) Yes, feminists care about those issues, and yes, they should be included under the umbrella of public health concerns. However, they are not evidence of any kind of systemic conspiracy or counter-oppression against men and should not be treated as such. Feminists should also not be expected to privilege these causes over the equal and at times worse health and safety issues that primarily or exclusively affect women. Hierarchical dominance is always a double edged sword – it is bound to affect the dominant class as well as the subordinate one, usually in ways that neither will expect. Many of the challenge that boys face have to do with overly strict expectations of “manhood” or “masculinity” which is often defined as “not-woman” or “not-feminine” rather than as its own positive set of characteristics.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t find this response helpful which is one reason I hesitate to identify myself as feminist. It is the predictable response. I wish feminists could broaden their concerns to recognize that many males are powerless and do not benefit from male privilege and need the support of their feminist cousins, friends, mothers, aunts, etc. IMHO feminism focuses too exclusively on one issue to the neglect of other areas of neglect if not outright oppression.

      • Jason Joyner

        I would personally identify as a(male) feminist. I spent quite a lot of time in Grad school studying gender inequality and can say unequivocally that your sentiment “I wish feminists could broaden their concerns to recognize that many males are powerless and do not benefit from male privilege” is very much a refrain in the discussion on patriarchy. I’ll frame my remarks here around the impact on men as that is the issue you raised, but I am in no way playing down the impact on women in doing so.

        One of the central concepts in this area comes from the writing of Robert Connel and is focused on the idea of “hegemonic masculinity” where in a particular place and time, one version of masculinity becomes culturally ascendant and drives the logic of how relationships among and between men and women are structured. By definition, this dominant version of masculinity rules out women having power over men, but it also penalizes men – those who choose not to or who cannot live according to it’s expectations. In much of the western world, that version of masculinity emphasizes things like aggression, physical toughness, heterosexuality, being “the” breadwinner, emotional distance, etc. As these are thought to be the defining characteristics of “real men,” they exclude women, and men who aren’t all that. Yes, some (many) men (and boys) suffer under this regime. But it doesn’t make it less male oriented, and it offers incentives (real and illusory) to men to buy into the mindset and pursue the path of “real manhood”.

        Movements like the Promise Keepers and the recent focus on “complementarianism” in some churches can be seen as efforts to buttress hegemonic masculinity against the perceived threat of encroaching egalitarianism, gay rights, etc. There were earlier movements along these lines as well, such as the mythopoetic men’s movement sparked by Robert Bly’s book IRON JOHN, which is described well in research done by Michael Schwalbe in the book “Unlocking the Iron Cage”. I think there is a very real sense among feminists that dismantling patriarchy would be beneficial to women AND men, girls AND boys, giving all the freedom to be who they are. Nevertheless, patriarchy is a system that privileges some men above women and other men and there is no getting around that uncomfortable fact.

        Part of the issue, I think, is that “feminism” is a big, diverse tent. The themes that get public attention are not often representative of the full spectrum of thought and issue advocacy that exist. There are lots of common threads, that tie all of it together, but there are differences too (much like among Christian denominations).

  • Sue

    1 a) my response is an unequivocal yes, and for 1 b) an unequivocal no. I also do not in any way regard women as superior to, worthy of greater rights, or moe normative than men.
    2) I have no disagreement with using the term oppressive hierarchy. This seems like a reasonable suggestion.
    3) of course they can and do. I deliberately chose to blog alongside two men who self identify as “feminists.” I would never dream of stifling their contributions to the debate, and they don’t put me down either.
    4) I work overtime every day to support males in education. I give of my time sacrificially every day, and I do not know of one woman teacher who is not concerned with the issues you bring up. Unfortunately, there are more female teachers now than ever before, because school teaching as a profession does not have the prestige to attract enough good men. It’s a tough situation. We want more male teachers, but the salary is not really high enough to attract men. It also takes several years to get on full time, and many fewer men than women are willing to delay full earning power.
    Probably some of the recent emphasis on literacy testing is also swaying practice. This testing is not brought in by feminists, but is rather a right wing and conservative tendency. These problems are many times more complex than the kind of nonsensical representation seen in the anti- feminist rhetoric. If you really want to discuss teaching practice let me know.

    I feel desolated by the simple fact that many Christian men give me the impression that a woman who has had to really fight for survival can only be a feminist, and therefore must necessarily be derided. I wish it weren’t so.

    • Joshua Wooden

      Sue, “unequivocal” means “leaving no doubt,” or “without ambiguity.” If the answer is yes and no, then it can’t be unequivocal; whenever one says “yes and no,” in entails clarification. How yes and how no?

      • Sue


        Please read the questions. Yes, women with power are as likely to be corrupted as men. And no, there is nothing about men that makes them more likely to be corrupted by power than women.

        I protest the fact that many churches accord the man more power in the marriage than the woman. This was a terrible burden on my life, and restricted me from having basic human rights. I have never advocated that woman should have more power than men. Never.

        My sense is that if a woman resists the indignities of abject subservience, which is all life offered me, then she is labeled a feminists and derided and rejected as such. There is no place of acceptance and safety in many churches for a woman who has had to resort to the police and the law for her survival.

        • Joshua Wooden

          I did read the questions, and thank you for clarifying what you meant. I’m sorry that you had to turn to the police and law. I grew up in a different church culture (the Evangelical Covenant Church).

  • Christy

    1. Of course women can be corrupted by power. I’m sure it happens all the time. I’ve worked for some of them. LOL.

    2. Semantics. Yawn.

    3. Yes, men can absolutely contribute to these conversations! Any thoughtful commentary should always be welcomed, regardless of who is offering it.

    4. Yes, Roger, of course we care about these issues!! Remember, many of us are mothers of boys. Do you think we don’t agonize over their upbringing? I would love to engage in more discussion about the topics you listed–they are all deeply important and deserving of more attention.

    Thanks for the post. 🙂

    • Christy

      Didn’t mean to sound dismissive on the second question. I’m sure others would be happy to chime in on this. 🙂

      • rogereolson

        It was dismissive.

      • Rob

        As someone who occasionally works in semantics (an academically respectable branch of the science of linguistics) I grow tired of people calling something “semantics” in order to dismiss it as though it doesn’t matter. Considering that most feminists work from within a Continental framework that places a huge emphasis on meaning and hermeneutics, I can’t see why anyone would want to dismiss the issue Roger addresses.

    • rogereolson

      But feminists have often raised issues of language and how it can have sometimes unintended negative consequences. I’m disappointed that you just yawn in response to what I raise as a serious question. How is that helpful to dialogue?

      • Christy

        SOME feminists are interested in language and would love to talk to you in depth about the significance of it. Not me. That’s all I was saying.

        I’ll compare it to the media’s endless fascination with political gaffes. Some people love to parse the meaning of every single word that comes out a politician’s mouth. I’d rather discuss the policies he/she supports (and has supported in the past).

        I’m kind of sorry now that I responded because I thought I had a positive response to your post.

        • rogereolson

          Overall, it was. And I think you for it.

    • John I.

      How is the question Olson asks “semantics”? Your labelling of the question is a use of power in language to eliminate a viewpoint and to invalidate the question. Your use of a label provided no reasoning and did not ground your reply in a dialectic of any kind.

      So I ask, “what do you mean by ‘semantics'”, and why do believe that a discussion of meaning is irrelevant?

      John I.

  • Great questions Roger! Like Kyndall, I consider myself to be an ‘amateur feminist. Here are some initial thoughts:
    1. I think corruptibility is a human attribute rather than a male one. But since men have most often wielded power, and therefore have had more opportunity to be corrupted by it, it might be that we associate corruptibility with men because that’s how it’s occurred most obviously.
    2. I think that the term ‘patriarchy’ is used in different ways. So conservatives like John Piper use it positively (‘benevolent patriarchy’) but that it often seen as an oxymoron because, as you say, patriarchy is seen to be inherently dominating. I’m not sure though that we need to make the leap between patriarchy = something to do with fathers = male = no place for healthy men. This is related to 3 and 4 but there’s significant room in feminism for men to participate and count themselves against patriarchy.
    3. Sure. But you’ve gotta work out how to come at the issues. My husband talks about life as a straight white male as playing the game of life on ‘easy mode’: our society is set up to listen to men and to privilege their views. So men who enter into a discussion with feminists (or any discussion for that matter!) need to be aware of that power dynamic and work against it.
    4. Absolutely! Lots of feminism is moving in this direction. Early feminism, as you probably know, was largely a white, middle class affair. It claimed to be for women but in actual fact was only for certain types of women. An awakening to that has led feminists to ask which other voices they may have accidentally oppressed by putting forth their own, and that can include disadvantaged men. But at the same time, let’s not lose sight of the fact that women have been oppressed for most of history and the disadvantages you quote of men are by and large fairly recent. That’s not say they’re not also significant, just that there’s something of a difference in scale and legacy.

    • rogereolson

      This is a helpful response. Thank you. Would that women and men could work together against all forms of de-humanizing neglect (eg, of the elderly who are not rich).

      • Sue

        I spend my life advocating for those with autism and Down’s syndrome, more males than females, as it turns out. All I want is safety and freedom from violence. But that always seems like asking too much. Why is it wrong that I resisted the violence of my life?

        I don’t go around boasting that I advocate for “males” I advocate for human beings, male or female. This attitude against all feminists is truly tragic. I do the very thing you say a feminist should do, caring for all human beings, but you do not acknowledge it. As someone who advocates for the lowest people on the prestige scale, I work mostly with other women. There are very few men who work as special needs teachers, if any. They are not attracted to such a lowly task. Also elder care of both men and women is largely by women. This is the reality. This is what it means to work as a caregiver.

        I have also found that the US govt, UK, Ontario, Alberta, and BC have active recruiting programs for male teachers, with pictures of male teachers. I have never heard of even one feminist trying to shut this down. However, a feminist, as all other scholars, can only reflect the data. No research has shown that boys achieve higher grades with male teachers or derive benefits that can be demonstrated in the research. Nonetheless, all women that I know promote recruiting more male teachers.

        I don’t watch American talk shows so the world you describe of anti-male sentiment is unknown to me. I don’t know if you are representing it fairly or not.

        • rogereolson

          Excuse me, but you’re wrong about boys and male teachers. Thomas Dee, economics professor at Swarthmore College and then visiting professor at Stanford University (2006) conducted a study published in Education Next demonstrating that “having a female teacher instead of a male teacher raised the achievement of girls and lowered that of boys in science, social studies and English. Looked at the other way, when a man led the class, boys did better and girls did worse.” (Reported in The Minneapolis Star Tribune, August 28, 2006) I have seen numerous billboards and other ads by education association and teachers’ societies recruiting teachers for public schools. All have portrayed a woman or women as if that is who they want to recruit. None that I have seen have portrayed a man. In my opinion, this sends a subtle but clear message that men are not as welcome in public education as teachers. If they really want to recruit male teachers they need to include men in such recruiting ads.

          • Sue

            I don’t live in your country so I can’t comment on most of this. The research I have read indicates that boys have always had primarily female primary teachers, no change there. I won’t spend time googling the studies since there will always be a study on the other side. I accept that.

            In my view none of this compares with the violence I experienced in my life. Yet I care in every minute of my life for males, and I am a quiet small primary teacher who takes care of her children both male and female, and advocated before the govt of Canada for First Nations causes. I don’t have to defend my record. I need to stay away from men who dislike women who accidentally get called feminists because they had to escape violence. I find much more peace and acceptance among non Christians. I need safety, evangelical Christianity cannot offer me that.

          • rogereolson

            Now I’m not so sure how informed you are about “feminism.” As bell hooks points out (and I have read this and hear it many times), feminism is women-centered philosophy and ethics. It goes far beyond opposing violence against women. I don’t think fighting violence against women makes one a feminist in the philosophical, political sense of the word.

          • Sue

            Actually, I think it does. Feminism is necessary because without the representation of a woman’s viewpoint, people would remain completely ignorant of a woman’s reality. For example, women caught in “oppression” I resist the “p” word since you have asked that we do that – but women caught in oppression, are not allowed to read books by feminists, are not allowed to choose what church to attend, are not allowed further education, are not allowed to converse with people privately, and do not benefit from the normal freedoms and dignities allowed the free adult human being in our society. This is why there need to be those who are woman-centred. Because without that a woman’s reality would be ignored completely.

            I think it is really hurtful to suggest that a woman could leave a male headship church and attend an egalitarian church. She is under authority, and cannot make that kind of decision. She has no rights.

            So I disagree. I think feminism was necessary to free women from the oppression of not having laws to protect women from rape and violence, and sex slavery. I always feel that those who attack feminism are saying that woman did not need the actions of feminists. This makes me feel unsafe, as if those around me would be just as happy if I was back living in oppression.

          • rogereolson

            Not all non-feminists believe in male headship or think violence against women is okay. True, the women’s movement for women’s equality and liberation, has contributed much to raising people’s consciousness about women’s oppression, but I don’t think one has to be a feminist in the philosophical sense (women-centered philosophy) to advocate for women’s equality and freedom.

          • Sue

            I am not talking about who hypothetically “might” advocate for women. When you are being beat up physically, you have no interest in hypothetical support. You need pro-active, radical changes to facilitate the exit from violence. The delicate nuances of egalitarianism are irrelevant to victims of violence. Drastic action is needed.

            I can only speak from experience, it was mainly liberal and non Christian women, and lawyers and the police who helped. The church did a bit of handwringing.

            Hypothetically egalitarian Christians might have advocated to change the laws, but the reality is that those people, Christains or not, who made a real difference for women, were those who ended up being called feminists. That is just how it was.

            I can only go with reality, with the way things are, not with how it might be. I find that evangelical Christianity has a very uneven grasp on the plight of women caught in an oppressive hierarchy involving males.

            Do you want me to talk about what it is like to live in psychological and physical bondage to the insanity of a so called Christian relationship of authority and submission relationship with violent overtones? It’s too ugly and painful.

            But I actually believe that women now do have adequate laws, in North America, to support them and apart from the fact that many women are encouraged to make a solemn vow to live a life of obedience and submission, most women are not so badly off. Which is why I work full time for the rights of disabled students, boys and girls, to enjoy full inclusion in school and in society.

            If I had remained a non- feminist, I would not be in any shape to help anyone do anything. As a non- feminist, I was not capable of doing anything for anyone. So, from my point of view, feminism is a necessity. I had no basic human rights without feminism.

            Now I tend to hang out with non- Christians. Although there are some non-Christians who are anti-feminist, there are not nearly so many as one finds in the Christian community.

          • rogereolson

            You’ve been hanging out with the wrong Christians. You criticized me (in an earlier post) for advocating that women in abusive church situations just walk away. What would a feminist say differently?

          • Sue

            Feminists were the ones that changed the laws. Feminists were the ones that got women into the police force. Feminists lobbied for laws against rape and violence in marriage. Feminists understand the viewpoint of women who cannot just “walk away” – that is not how it happens. Yes, feminists do understand that women cannot just walk away. The facts are that the woman is in the most vulnerable situation physically, in the process of leaving violence. That is when most women are attacked and killed. I just don’t see any awareness here of the danger women experience in “just walking away” as you put it.

          • rogereolson

            I’ve asked you to explain to me what a feminist would say to a woman in a church that demeans her giftedness (e.g., a complementarian church) or in an abusive relationship different from what I have said (viz., “walk away”). You’re still not explaining how my advice differs from feminists. You THINK you detect a lack of understanding on my part. Yet you continue to avoid my question: What would a feminist say that is different from what I have said (to a woman in those situations)?

          • Sue

            The difference is that feminists have been proactive in changing the laws. It is only in the last ten years that the laws have been relatively adequate to support a woman getting out of intimate partner violence.

            The laws in place that de-escalate or deflect violence are, that the police are required to press charges, the woman does not have to, the police give a warning of criminal harassment charges in the cases where it does not go to court for the violent incident, and their is a shelter to go to to get away and out of sight.

            Are you familiar with some of the literature, for example Evan Stark on coercive control, or Identification with the aggressor, the Stockholm syndrome, or perhaps Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Freire?

            It is a long process coming out of oppressive hierarchy, especially from a fundamentalist perspective because there is so much unlearning to go through.

            I know you will dismiss this response because I did answer your question. Let me repeat, saying that someone should just “go” is not adequate, it must be backed up by laws and protection.

          • rogereolson

            Right. You didn’t answer my question.

          • Sue

            The answer is that words are not enough, not then and not now. You don’t save someone who is drowning by uttering the right words – you would just be watching them die.

          • rogereolson

            I never said that words are all one should give. And didn’t ask what a feminist would say (to a woman in an abusive relationship or sexist church context) MORE than “run.” I asked what feminists would say other than, different from that. You insist on putting the worst spin possible on everything that I say even when it is in full agreement with what feminists would say. Do I detect an anti-male bias at work there? Unfortunately, all too often, that has been my experience in conversations with self-identified feminists. Even when I am agreeing with them, saying exactly what they say, I get criticized. I can only conclude that some feminists are anti-male. Yes, that the feminist movement itself has been largely infected with anti-male sentiment (as bell hooks herself says).

          • Sue

            So once again, my point about feminism is what they have actually done for women, not what they have said. I have only read a few feminists books, not a wide range and none at all before I left.

            However, I believe that there needs to be more literature for Christians on the problem of the psychological enslavement of women. For me, I was told I would go to hell if I rejected the vow to obey, and did not live by that vow. It took me years to realize that the way I was living was hell. Then I had to go through the process of dealing with my teenage children who had been told I was going to hell. And there was literature by egalitarians which helped me greatly. I have only good things to say about egalitarians.

            However, ultimately, it was the laws that mattered, that enabled me to leave and actually survive. I know very well it was feminists who changed laws and policies.

            I have never said anything negative about egalitarians, and it is very painful for me when egalitarians attack feminists. This devalues my life, and the lives of all women who need the protection of the law. That is the feeling I get, that my life, and the lives of other women is not worth caring about. I know you are not anti-woman, and you care, but for some reason, you don’t seem aware of the reality that some women endure.

            Conversely, I spend my working life advocating for males.

          • rogereolson

            I can’t imagine what I have actually said that gives you that impression (viz., that I am not aware…). I have consistently stated that I am fully supportive of movements for women’s liberation–from oppression, from misogyny, from violence, etc. But you keep interpreting my hesitation to call myself a “feminist” (because of the multiple meanings of the term and how many, perhaps most, feminist spokespersons talk about men) as being uncaring about violence toward women. You still haven’t answered my question. I won’t post any more of your messages to my blog that don’t answer my question. What would a feminist say to a woman caught in an abusive relationship or church that demeans women that is contrary to what I said: “Walk away.” I never said it would be easy. You read that into what I said. So, please answer or drop this thread entirely. (Feel free to engage in other discussion threads as you please.)

  • K Gray

    My overall concern is not divisiveness or competing between genders so much as it is the tendency toward erasure of the concept of gender, period. Egalitarian-feminist thought and reasoning has set the stage for it.

    As one example: the California Supreme Court has concluded that there is “no rational basis” to distinguish between genders on parenting. The Court built a long historical argument to reach this conclusion, all based on egalitarianism: genders used to have ‘roles’ in society, some with limited rights; rights have been (or are being) equalized; women can do whatever men can do; women and men can each parent just as well; accordingly, there is no rational basis for states to sanction/prefer male-female parenting units, and equality guarantees compel states to fully sanction same-sex marriage. More significantly, the court said that concepts of ‘gender roles’ are antiquated relics that can ONLY be attributed to religious bigotry (!)

    And (if one ignores sciences such as biology and biochemistry, and social science studies about the contributions of each parent in marriage and parenting) — this is the logical endpoint of egalitarianism: that ‘gender’ is an outdated, unconstitutional and bigoted concept.

    • rogereolson

      Like anything else, egalitarianism can be taken to extremes. When I talk about egalitarianism I mean that men and women should have equal power, I do not mean there are no differences. I think to claim there are no differences that matter (e.g., to children with regard to parenting) is absurd.

  • John I.

    The approach for evangelicals on this issue, both oppressed women as well as men who benefit from patriarchy, is the approach of Jesus who changed the second command of the Shema to, “love each other as I have loved you.” It is no longer sufficient for us to love each other as ourselves; we must be sacrificing of self in our love–even if the other acts like an enemy. This is, or should be, the key difference in how evangelical men and women approach the issue of oppression of women by men–whether the oppression is personal, structural, or inequality of benefits and opportunities.

  • A thought about #4. As a survivor from a type of cancer that disproportionally affects men, I get a little irritated this time of year seeing pink everywhere. Nearly as many men die from prostate cancer as do women from breast cancer, and MORE men overall die from various types of cancer. There should be equal amounts of emphasis on both women’s and men’s health issues. [source:

    • rogereolson

      I totally agree. I detest breast cancer, but I also am irritated by the emphasis it gets and by the fact that men’s health issues (more men than women die of cancer) get almost no attention.

    • Sue

      I will agree with you here. I am very embarrassed by this campaign. We do have another campaign here called below the waist, and I assumed that it was a euphemism for prostate cancer. I wonder if it is the difference in social acceptability of breast versus prostrate. I don’t know but I recoil from the unwanted publicity I suffer during this campaign, as the name people pin on their chest.

  • Marshall

    1. The psychological differences between men and women are not clear-cut. So there are women who will be corrupted by power, but yes I believe there is something about XY psychology that in general makes men more ready to participate in heirarchical power games. Perhaps how they behave as subordinates …

    2. Because the currently existing dominating hierarchy “has a masculine feel”, to coin a phrase. Modern western spower structures are a projection of the role of “pater familiaris”. I think whole and healthy human beings, male or female, are very hard to find these days. People who say “I’m not oppressing anyone” is passing BS; none of us has done all we should do to free the captives, etc.

    3. No. Men have no place in debates among women due to 1 & 2 above. The thing men can contribute to debates among women is to shut up and listen, asking themselves eg How are female-dominated power structures different? What do they understand/experience that we don’t? (Of course there can be other debates, as this particular forum.) Men should spend more time talking about these issues among other men.

    4. Everyone should be concerned about oppressed people wherever they are found, which is everywhere. AND it helps to concentrate on one topic at a time.

    • rogereolson

      IMHO it would not be unreasonable for someone to consider this response sexist.

      • Marshall

        Well of course the topic of “feminism” is going to be highly gender-conscious, and gender really is a determinant – one among others – of experience in the world we live in. I would like to hear why you think my remarks are sexist in a pejorative sense. How is it different than Evangelicals wishing to have space to talk about Evangelicalism among Evangelicals, and Atheists wishing to talk about Atheism among Atheists? Does it have to be all melting pot all the time?
        If I am misinterpreting your comment, please correct me. I am an egalitarian man who enjoys fellowship with women; I don’t regard myself as a feminist.

        • rogereolson

          It seemed to me you were suggesting that men must suspend their critical faculties when listening to any woman talk about gender and oppression, as if simply being male excluded one from participating in, say, conversations following a presentation by a feminist at a school or in a professional society. I have experienced that (viz., being told that simply by virtue of being a man I have no right to question what a feminist says).

          • Marshall

            That wasn’t my intent … I was saying that there are times when the women express a desire to get together and talk and men have no automatic right to be in the room. Given that oppression is about a lack of choice … that is, a “privileged” class of people making decisions for an “oppressed” class … then the basic thing that must be done is to get the choice back into their hands: “set the captives free” so to speak. That is, shut up, get out of the way, and let them decide for themselves what they want, even especially if it doesn’t happen to be what the privileged person thinks they should want. How can a man prove that he trusts women to make appropriate choices otherwise? There are some good threads laying around about “mansplaining”, that is if the men would use their “critical facilities” to listen….

            Talking about Title IX and men’s health issues appears to be making the claim that men are also significantly oppressed and therefore any discussion can take place within the usual societal context, that is, that of Patriarchy. Forcing the conversation into a closed context guarantees that it isn’t going to get anywhere: the point is to allow the women to do their own thing and see if they can arrive at a different answer. While watching with interest, attention, and respectful silence. (Of course, later on we are all going to have get together and decide what we all are going to do. Later!)

            But in passing, is the claim true? Can you give an example of a school where money was lavished on the women’s program at the expense of the men’s? Can you give an example of a neglected health issue that impacts specifically men in the way that breast cancer or pregnancy impacts women? Prostate cancer, I don’t think so. Trauma surgery isn’t neglected.

            Men should quit worrying about what the gals are up to in the other room and get to work on our own problems. Maybe we would have a thread on what to do about boys doing poorly in school.

          • rogereolson

            Look, I said I’ve been in higher education (three different universities as a professor and one before that as a student) and have seen the pattern; it is obvious to anyone who is paying attention (viz., little to no attention given to boys and young men in health and mental health issues except as they come individually to seek out counseling and care). I have shut up and listened (to women talking about women’s issues) for years. It’s time for men to be brought into the conversation, invited to tell women in responsible positions of power and influence what they might be overlooking. How does that in any way hinder them or anyone else? The number one overlooked, hardly ever mentioned, male health problem is early death. Men die, on average, give years younger than women. If that isn’t a neglected health issue affecting especially men, I don’t know what would be. Then the answer is always “It’s their own fault” (or “They don’t care, why should we?”) But I’m talking about organizations dedicated to health information, research and promotion. One rarely sees a poster or informational spot about men and how they can live healthier, longer lives. The belief is that information and education eventually makes a difference, but all of that has been aimed at women, not at men. I’m simply asking for more attention to men’s health, not less to women’s.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Our society is so broken in so many ways on all of these issues. All people who have no voice or, more often, too weak a voice, are held back by some group or groups. Despite the mighty efforts of feminists, for example, many people’s views are changing only slowly, others are still hardening. So, the inadequacies, overstatements, rough edges of any group’s efforts, on behalf of whatever disadvantaged group, are easy to see – even for those who are leading the effort.

    We can, at least, expect that those fighting the good fight on behalf of a particular group, make it clear that they are not doing all they would hope to be able to do, nor always doing it in the best way. Nor are they denying that there are others who need help they have no time to give.

    Whatever disadvantaged group we choose to support should never be seen as in conflict with, or as more deserving than any other disadvantaged group. Sadly, most people don’t do all that much for groups that are systematically disadvantaged by the way our society and culture work. So, those who do should at least cheer each other on. The last thing we need is the battle of the champions of the variously disadvantaged. The status quo is a hard nut to crack because, by definition, in a more-or-less stable society, the majority are well served by the way things currently are.

    Perhaps those fighting for the systematically disadvantaged should operate under the same umbrella. Not necessarily joining forces, but making it clear to all that the fundamental sin they are standing against plays itself out in many ways. Any victory over that fundamental source is a victory for all, and should be heralded as such.

    Of course, this is much like like suggesting that churches should work together much better than they do – so we can see the scale of the problem. But, just because the basic goal is nearly impossible does not mean that it is not absolutely essential.

    Bev (a guy)

  • John Evans

    I would like to bring up that our current society’s biases can be harmful to men. The idea that a man who wants to stay home and take care of the kids while his partner works is somehow a slacker. The macho idea we surround male sexuality with that drives many to conceal when they have been sexually abused. The point to feminism, as I understand it, is to address the unbalances in our society that harm everyone.

    • rogereolson

      That is what I would like feminism to do. The movement has gained great influence through media attention and it could be channeled toward aiding men’s liberation from all that hinders them from living fully human lives to their greatest potential. Not all males are oppressors. Not all males are “potential rapists” (as one feminist told me they are some years ago). Many males are truly powerless and their choices are extremely limited (the very definition of oppression according to bell hooks). It’s time now for men and women to work together to abolish oppressive hierarchy and de-humanizing neglect of all people (in education, health care, job opportunities, etc.).

      • John Evans

        Many males are in rough straits, yes. Taking individual cases does not support the idea that men in general are worse off than women when this clearly is not the case.

        I think, regarding your response to K Gray, you would help the conversation by elaborating on what the fundamental differences in gender are, and what backs up your position and rules out the differences being merely social constructs.

        This idea of men as ‘potential rapists’ comes from the well-founded perception that our society – deliberately or not – tells men that being sexually aggressive is good, that they should expect a certain amount of sex, that having more sex makes them more valuable or admired, and that no means yes sometimes. Yes, this is harmful to men. But that does not let us trivialize or discount how it first and immediately harms women. Until we fix the problem, the fear that a man may use sexual force is a legitimate fear.

        Please note this does not mean women believe all men have the capacity to be rapists.

  • Jon


    I never thought I would say this, but spot on remarks! Good points.

  • Molly

    1. Power corrupts both genders equally. Both men and women are susceptible to the effects of sin and the Fall. Historically, men usually have more power than women, so it may appear as though they can be more corrupted, but there is nothing in the nature of a woman that makes her less susceptible to it.

    2.“Patriarchy” should be used in situations of dominating hierarchy when the issue is that of male leadership (power, oppression, whatever the case may be). It shouldn’t be used in other situation of dominating hierarchy when that is not the case. It’s simply a word to give more context to the situation. However, if it is used in all situations of a dominating hierarchy without any thought it the context, male domination or not, I can understand why some men feel excluded by feminist. When questions of equality are asked, we have to be careful about our language to make sure we are not minimizing anyone, including men.

    3. Absolutely! In fact, I’d go so far as to say that a debate about feminism isn’t complete without male voices. Feminism is about men just as much as it is about women.

    4. Again, absolutely! An ideology that is only concerned with it’s own group of people to the exclusion of the problems of others isn’t an equal ideology. Do feminists care about these things? Not all. Should they? Yes! By not caring about these issues, some feminists are encouraging inequality in the other direction; supporting the idea that women are more important than men. And that makes them just as guilty as those who they accuse of oppressing them. These issues that are exclusive to men should be just as important as those that are exclusive to women.

  • I do like the term that has developed, womanist theology…It describes a world view from a woman’s perspective that all need to listen to. I love sports…think of the millions of people who view men’s sports, especially professionally, which generate billions of dollars. Not many women’s sports outside of Tennis and some of the olympics, carry this kind of attention. Not many men will ever reach that level, let alone women, and yet its either/or orientation dominates our media and culture. The either/or decisions, win/lose beliefs, instead of win win problem solving, and the deplorable glorification of youth. These are maintained by very rich patriarchal folk, or beliefs, not just the hierarchal, for thousands of years of humanity (think of the original olympics). We need a strong womanist revision, of both history and the present.

    • rogereolson

      What is distinctive about a woman’s perspective (on the social world) that is wholly missing from any man’s perspective? That was my question. How is it not sexist to say that no man can have come to the same conclusions about, for example, sports, that a woman holds? I am a man who has always been deeply troubled by our society’s emphasis on sports and sports heroes and the violence inherent in some sports. I didn’t get that from any woman; I got it from being a sensitive male who has always questioned society’s obsessions with heroism based solely on personality or physical prowess.

      • Jason Joyner

        There is a strain of thought in Feminism that focuses on how one’s social status affects one’s ability to “see” the nature of the structure in which you are embedded. It’s called “Standpoint Theory” or sometimes “Standpoint Epistemology” and it is rooted in the idea that the oppressed (women, men who don’t conform to the hegemonic version of masculinity) can see the mechanics of the system that oppresses them better than can those who are privileged by that system and for whom it is therefore mostly invisible. Not that they see it perfectly, or that their vision isn’t in many cases distorted, but because they struggle against it, the struggle offers some additional insight. It’s kind of like how in often Black people know a lot more about what it means to be white than white people do, because white people often have the luxury of not having to think about being white. They simply are,and it’s natural, it and the privilege it confers are taken for granted.

        • rogereolson

          I have no problem with that; I accept that view. What I reject is the implication, often made in my presence, that because I’m not female or black (etc.) I have no valid thoughts about these issues of oppression and liberation (unless they are to agree uncritically with whatever the female or African-American person is saying).

      • Dennis, I think technically a womanist perspective actually describes black women’s experiences. Though I like your point! 🙂

        Roger, I think there are a few things to say here. As sensitive as you may be and as troubled as you feel by the disadvantage of women, it is still not your gender that has experienced that. That doesn’t invalidate your experience or your feelings, but I think it does mean that there’s another perspective that you also can benefit from, even though you may be able to come to the same conclusion by other means.

        My concern with the idea that you came up with these ideas on your own is that it sounds like you’re cutting women out of the conversation. (I’m sure that’s not what you’re trying to do btw!) One of the challenges as feminism becomes a discussion in which men participate is that it doesn’t become a discussion in which only men participate, which would just be a new patriarchy. Again, I don’t think that’s what you’re trying to do, but it’s a caution worth mentioning because it’s quite a tricky balance!

  • Claire

    Roger, you seem to be approaching this conversation from a place of antagonism and merely calling yourself a sympathizer, which is disappointing. Are you only going to see responses as “helpful” if they fall in line with your view that our society is biased in favor of women? Is there anything I can point out to you that will adequately demonstrate how anti-woman our society is — forced pregnancy “pro life” legislation, rape and domestic violence at epidemic levels, the proliferation of violent porn that is all about “sluts” and “whores” and “watch the bitch suffer” scenarios, daily harassment in the streets, the fact that we continue to be paid 23% less for the same full time work — or will any disadvantage that boys face automatically take precedence over all of those things? Because if that’s how you see it, you’re giving any feminist an impossible task here.

    Feminists have spent decades, if not centuries, building our movement. Pro-woman or woman-centered activism is automatically sexist against men just because it is not focused on their needs. And correcting sexism doesn’t mean “taking away” from men, either. Giving women the vote didn’t take it away from men. Giving women birth control didn’t take anything away from men. Giving funding to women’s sports teams didn’t take it away from men’s teams. Focusing on women does not mean that I am “against” men or want men to have less. Since men have historically had *more* privilege and power than women, it might look like men are falling as women rise – but how else are we supposed to change things, if we are not allowed to level the playing field?

    I hear you that boys falling behind in school, having limited access to male role models and not being taken seriously as victims are real problems. I just don’t think that women and feminists are to blame. I think that our patriarchal society is. It’s *patriarchy* that says that men must be tough at all times and never vulnerable, that men are incapable of being victims, that being an active, present father is “too feminine,” that a “real” man never makes commitments and runs around being a playboy all his life, that it is always men’s job to be the provider even if they want to stay at home with the kids, that men are defined by how much stuff they own.

    • rogereolson

      I disagree with some statements in your second paragraph especially. Title IX, for example, has been enforced only on behalf of females, rarely if ever (I know of no case) on behalf of males. And yet, it clearly bans all discrimination based on gender in organizations funded by the government (however indirectly). Many school districts across the US are supporting charter schools for girls only. I know of none that support charter schools for boys only. And yet boys are the ones dropping out of school at record rates. Overall I would say your response is typical of what I have heard over the years from feminists when I have tried to raise issues of concern about men and boys: dismissiveness.

      • There are charter schools for boys-only. One of the Urban Academies in Chicago being the most established.

        I’m really interested in your belief that somehow the rise of women/girls (to paraphrase Hanna Rosen’s subtitle) means the systematic discrimination against men/boys. Could you expound on this some more. For example, in the realm of education, while I agree that something is going on with boys/young men; is it discrimination when the majority of school superintendents and school boards (the people who make and implement policy) are male? And why leave out the racial and class implications in the education statistics; young black males, no matter what their socio-economic class, are getting screwed and the same can be said of young Latino males. How much of the concern about what is going on with boys/young men is because it is now starting to affect young white boys? People of color (my family, which includes many teachers, included) have been talking about these issues for all of my lifetime, but now it is a concern; why is that?

        Thank you for the questions. I don’t consider myself a feminist (womanist fits better), but I will think about them and maybe write a response.

    • Matti

      “I hear you that boys falling behind in school, having limited access to male role models and not being taken seriously as victims are real problems. I just don’t think that women and feminists are to blame. I think that our patriarchal society is. It’s *patriarchy* that says that…”

      Question: is there anything that patriarchy *doesn’t* say? In other words, is there any observation imaginable, any piece of evidence conceivable that would not fit the patriarchy explanation/narrative?

  • John C. Gardner

    The issue of men and women in the professions have changed greatly in accounting. I began work on my MBA in tax accounting in 1978. There were only 2 women in the program. I have worked until retirement as an accounting professor and approximately one half of the class is female. However, I also note that men tend to denigrate themselves at times in the presence of women( uttering the phraseI just don’t get it). I did not like jokes or ridicule about women in the 1960s. All children(both male and female) need to be raised in loving homes and all children should have the opportunity to shadow a parent or another at work. There is often too much denigration of men on university campuses. Graduation rates for men(outside fields such as accounting) have shown a decline in male graduate. Let us as educators help all to succeed in a competitive world of high standards. May God bless Dr. Olson for this post and for inviting the prior posting on feminism

    • Kim Hampton

      I’m trying to see where the denigration of men on college campuses is happening.
      The majority of professors are male and the majority of people in higher education administration are male.
      Can you give me examples of male denigration on college campuses?

      • rogereolson

        I wouldn’t call it denigration (except in some discussions of gender where especially some women voice very negative opinions of males); I’d call it not-so-benign-neglect. Problems young men face do not get the same amount of attention in counseling services. When I go on college and university campuses I see many posters about health (physical and mental) aimed at women students and none aimed at men students. There are usually many workshops, seminars and special events for women students about eating disorders, etc. I have never heard of one for men students and yet, when I work out in the fitness center, I see young men and some older ones working out obsessively to the detriment of other aspects of life and possibly to their health. Posters about diabetes, for example, are always aimed solely at women (the pictures make it clear). I once talked the counseling staff at a university where I taught to put on a workshop about pornography addiction mainly for guys (it is mostly a guy problem). They made what I considered a feeble attempt. I saw one poster advertising it, but the poster showed a young woman staring into a computer screen. Suicide mainly affects men and college, university male students are among the main victims of suicide (outside the military and veterans). And yet I never see posters advertising concern for and help for male students contemplating suicide (or who know someone who may be contemplating suicide). The overwhelming majority of efforts aimed at health and welfare for students is for women. Rarely does one see or hear of anything especially for men students. And yet, as a college and university professor of thirty years, I have known numerous male students who struggle with the aftermath of sexual abuse when they were teens. Usually they never reported it and rarely talk about it. But when I talk with them about their struggles with depression, it comes out. And they immediately ask me not to tell anyone. Sexual abuse of boys, often by females, is rampant and, to a certain extent, winked at by our society. (Look at how movies glorify it in movies like The Reader.) And yet I have never seen any program for male victims of sexual abuse; I’ve seen many for female victims. In general, our society (and I think this is still largely true in schools) tends to view females as victims and males as the victimizers and not want to think of males as victims in any regard. The attitude is, if a male is a victim of something, he should just “suck it up.” That’s never the attitude about women or girls who are struggling with abuse or body image dysfunction or whatever. Then it’s always society’s fault and we offer them lots of support and help. Rarely for boys or men even on university campuses.

  • hi roger. don’t have time to comment, and am still learning myself, so here is a great site i found awhile back on feminism: finally, a feminism 101 blog. i’ve linked you to their faqs page which is excellent. as for christian feminism feel free to visit our group blog at christian feminism which is made up of women and men from the emerging/missional stream.

  • You might enjoy/get something out of this post. I liked it a lot, anyway: