Are we all guilty?

What will be the legacy of the extraordinary expression of solidarity that has unfurled with the #metoo social media phenomenon? It was launched on the back of the allegations by actress Alyssa Milano of abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein—but has travelled a long way from these celebrity elites. It has been clear, even from a cursory glance at comments on Facebook, that for some women it has been a life-changing step from the darkness of isolation into the light of understanding, as they realise that they have not been the only ones to experience unwanted sexual advances from men. Every kind of abuse has this isolating effect—of making the victim think ‘Am I going mad? Am I the only one who thinks this is not acceptable? Am I the only one who sees the world this way?’

If there has been a change of solidarity for women, then there has been an accompanying challenge to men—and they have responded in different ways to this. I can only agree with Martin Saunders’ assessment: that men need to take a deep breath, consider the experience of half the human race, and be committed to doing something about it:

I personally received a lot of criticism when I suggested than all men should feel at least a little ashamed in the face of all the #metoo stories. Shaming an entire sex isn’t the answer, I was repeatedly told. I respectfully disagree. I think we should feel some reflected sense of shame, because that not only acknowledges that we’re part of the problem, but also that we could form part of the solution.

At the same time, many have felt quite serious reservations about the way that the hashtag has been used, including many women I have spoken to. (The power of social media is a two-edged sword, and it can do as much damage as good at times.) In part this was because it began to move into portraying all women as victims; in part because both the serious and trivial were being grouped together without distinction.

Is awareness-raising such as this useful in and of itself? I felt, yesterday, the same vague despair I feel at the proliferation of “Let’s Talk” campaigns and journalism around mental illness. What began, in that case, as a well-intentioned encouragement to do away with personal shame around your diagnosis, transformed eventually into a slick and meaningless catchphrase which puts the burden on the sufferer to heal themselves without any resources.

A clear example of this was the list a journalist compiled of offences committed by MPs in Parliament. Not only did it juxtapose serious offences with actions of no consequence, by attributing names which were then blacked out it perfected the art of trial by media, with no court of appeal. There is little that anyone can do who is named on such a list. We might be less concerned about the reputations of powerful men—until we read of the tragedy of Carl Sargeant, the 49-year-old father of two who took his own life as a result of allegations made against him.

Former Plaid Cymru AM Rhodri Glyn Thomas said Mr Sargeant “clearly felt he had been found guilty before he had a chance to defend himself. “So I think we need to develop a system which is fair to everybody, which defends everybody, but doesn’t place people in a position where they feel they have no opportunity whatsoever to fight their cause.”

As Mark Woods highlights, Christians have a better story to tell about wrongdoing, accountability and forgiveness. We should be unafraid to call for justice—but equally unafraid to offer hope to both sides:

Let’s be clear: no one can justify Weinstein-like behaviour, in Hollywood or in Westminster. But anyone can denounce evil. The Church is called to go further: to call sinners to repentance, and to offer the full and free forgiveness of Christ to all who want it. It’s hard to argue for mercy when the whole world is howling for vengeance, but that’s what we’re for.

But this whole episode has raised so many issues about debates in contemporary culture that I have struggled to get my head around them—and most commentators have passed over them. Perhaps the most obvious concerns our cultural narrative about the virtues and vices of men and women. It is well established the most violence against women is perpetrated by men—but so is most violence perpetrated against men. I was physically assaulted twice when I was a teenager, once seriously enough to need medical attention—but have never actually talked about this before. It was striking that the (rather weird) Newsnight debate on this was titled ‘The Problem with Men’ and suggests that men are, largely, viewed as problematic in many of our cultural narratives. In an earlier post on the differences between men and women, I cited the intriguing thought experiment suggested by Roger Olson:

Image a world without females. (There are at least a couple of novels that do this.) Only male humans exist in this imaginary world and cloning is the means of reproduction. What would be missing besides breasts, internal genitalia, etc.? No one I know thinks this would be a good world; it would be missing some very essential qualities. I think everyone agrees with that. What would those missing qualities be? I suspect we don’t even need to answer that; everyone has his or her list. This is why there is such a push in academic circles to get girls and women into STEM disciplines and careers—because those professions (it is said) will be “better” with more women in them. Women as women contribute much to the world and every profession in it. I have never met anyone who would argue with that other than patriarchal “complementarians” (neo-fundamentalists).

Now imagine a world without males. (Again, there are a couple novels that do this.) Only female humans exist in this imaginary world and some means has been discovered for reproduction without males. What would be missing besides external genitalia and Adam’s apples? I think many people think this could be a perfectly good world; it would not be missing any essential qualities. And those who think it would be missing some essential qualities are reluctant to say what they are. I am—because the push back can be very harsh (in my world). Could this be why nobody is saying that any discipline or profession would be “better” if more men were in them? At least I have never read that in The Chronicle of Higher Education or any other journal or article or book about gender in academia and the world of careers and professions.

What Olson is highlighting is that, as we have moved from a culture which has, for centuries or more, imagined that the male of the species is normative, and the female is a poor derivative, the corrective response to that has not been to re-establish equality between and an equal appreciation of the two sexes, but more often to reverse them. The female is often seen as normative or even virtuous, and the male is a poor imitation.

This feeds into the second reality that this issue highlights: men are different from women. (Please note that any statements of this kind need to be treated in the same way as the claim that ‘Men are taller than women’. It does not mean that every man is taller than every women. It means that men as a group are taller than women as a group, and therefore that the average man is taller than the average woman.) This was ‘front and centre’ of the Newsnight discussion, where Evan Davies introduced the programme by saying ‘It’s hard to put it any other way—but there is something animal when it comes to men and sex’. For Christians who believe in the ‘traditional’ view of marriage as between one man and one woman as the right place for sexual intimacy, this is non-trivial. It is not a reason for believing such a view, but it is an important consequence of it. Part of the negotiation of male-female marriage is (typically) the negotiation between differential interests in sex. As Glenn Stanton put it on the First Things blog:

Women settle men down. Other men do not.

If men are (fundamentally?) different from women in this regard, then same-sex sexual relationships are going to be (fundamentally?) different from other-sex sexual relationships.

The third reality is about differences in power. With his customary eloquence, Will Self lamented (on Sunday’s Point of View) the failure of the ‘first wave’ feminism of his mother to have actually ‘reclaimed the night’.

The only reason that I can walk down the streets of London without fear, and others cannot, is that I have a penis.

That is not quite true. The reason that he can walk without fear is that he is very tall and, as a man, has something like 40% greater upper body strength than the typical woman. Sexual harassment is an issue of power as much as anything else, and it is no coincidence that it is powerful men who are most often guilty of sexual assault. They are in positions of power, and so have the opportunity—and they are highly motivated by power (else they would not be in the positions that they are in) so have ample reason.

It seems if you give men huge amounts of power, whether the power of celebrity (in Trump’s self-confessed case), or the power to destroy careers (Weinstein), or power in the workplace (O’Reilly, Fish), or just plain male privilege, we will abuse it. Charles de Montesquieu once said, “Experience shows us that every man invested with power is apt to abuse it, and to carry his authority as far as it will go.”

Hear that? As far as it will go.

Seventy-six women have come forward to charge Harvey Weinstein with harassment or assault. The next worst offender is film director James Tobak with 31 women going on the record (although the Los Angeles Times claims he has been accused of sexually harassing over 300 women). That’s the unchecked power of men who feel they can act without consequences. We simply can’t be trusted with impunity. Give an actor, a director, a film producer, a reality TV star, a publisher, a politician, or a minister of religion, power with impunity and they’ll exploit it.

In the neoliberal economics of the West at the present time, we appear to be happy living with massive inequalities of power. As long as that is the case, then we will be faced with the offence of abuse. Will Self highlighted the concerned in feminism with the ‘male gaze’. But with the all-pervasive power of the internet, we have provided men with the opportunity to indulge that gaze more than ever. Where is any government in the West who is prepared to take on the distribution of pornography on the net? Once more, it appears to come down to power—the power of lobbying, the power of commerce and taxation, and the power of PR, in that no government wants to be seen to restrict freedoms.

But Mike Frost’s observations about power include a pointed challenge: if women were like men, would they be any different?

And in saying this, I’m not suggesting the abuse of power is only a male issue. Would women treat men this way if we lived in a matriarchal system where women had significantly greater power than men? We haven’t had a chance to find out. But since I’m pretty skeptical about most gender stereotyping, I’m inclined to think that, yes, they would.

When we speak about the inevitability of the abuse of power we always use male language or male examples because men have had all the power. But if Lord Acton’s old axiom that “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is true, then it ought to be applicable to both men and women.

This points us to another phenomenon in our cultural narrative: the universality of human corruption. Even the Queen, it seems, is not above minimising her tax bill with some borderline off-shore practices. Next time you listen to the news, and hear tales of dishonesty, greed, selfishness and corruption, it is perhaps worth having Romans 3 to hand:

There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” “Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know.” “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Paul is being polemical, but he is using this catena of OT verses to highlight a pervasive reality of the human condition: ‘All have sinned’…so the gracious offer of God’s forgiveness is of relevance to all. He is, of course, very clear that this polemic is not one that can be used by ‘the righteous’ to point to others—it includes us all. But it is striking how easily we talk of human sin in others, and much we all resist the reality of human sin in ourselves. Are we all guilty? #metoo

In one online discussion, a friend of a friend asserted ‘The Church has nothing to say on this until it gets its own house in order’. That is wrong on two counts. First, the Church (or any institutional expression of Christian faith) will never be perfect, so if we wait for this we will be waiting forever. Second, though we need a credible testimony of change, in the end we are not pointing to ourselves, but to another—one who never abused power or sex, and who laid down his life for us. Our own failings should never make us hesitate to point to him.

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235 thoughts on “Are we all guilty?”

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful response to a very important issue.

    It is interesting that power plays a significant role in the #metoo campaign. it actually began in 1996, but because it was initiated by a ‘normal’ woman rather than a celebrity it didn’t gain traction. It is the power of celebrity that has raised its profile. In this case is ‘power’ being used to good effect? I don’t know.

    Not being a man I cannot say what it feels like to have the whole of my gender indicted for an offence others like me perpetrate, but of which I am innocent. However, it seems to me that two reactions to the #metoo campaign predominate – the first is to say ‘violence happens to everyone’, which is true, but actually serves to minimise the impact of what is being said (see Jackson Katz TED talk to illustrate this point (; the second is to imagine that men in the church behave differently from others. Before people reach for a keyboard on which to hammer an irate response, might I say, as does Ian, that I am speaking about ‘on average’. Not every man in the church behaves exactly the same as every man outside of it. However, as someone who disclosed #metoo all I can say is that two of three incidents of sexual harassment I have experienced involved not just church members, but church leaders – and I was not mistaken, it involved grabbing my breasts!
    John Chalmers, erstwhile moderator of the Church of Scotland said in an address a couple of years ago that gender justice is the most important challenge facing the church and society for the next decade. For many reasons I think he is right. Gender justice is not simply about walking safely down a dark street, or stopping harassment or any of the other presenting issues. When we fail to give justice to women, we also fail families. Austerity has harmed more women than men, according to statistics. Relief organisations suggest that meeting the needs of women means the needs of families are also met. Here’s the thing – as long as we regard women as second rate in some way, we will not see the imperative of gender justice. Reducing it to something easily dismissed, therefore, is convenient. It is not only men who do this either – whenever I speak of gender justice in a classroom or forum of some kind, it is often women who come back to me in a negative way.
    Practically, what can the church do about it? Take seriously the task of rediscovering the voices of women in the Bible; ensure that we do not preach from a male-norm perspective; use a balance of names for God, including some of the feminine ones to be found in Scripture. Silencing women, which makes abuse possible, is not necessarily overt. Simply failing to recognise their viewpoint, listen to their stories, or hear their experiences of God does the same thing. Jo Brand explained it brilliantly on last Friday’s Have i Got News for You.
    So, yes, I agree we should point to Jesus. But I make a plea that the Jesus we point to might be the one who also had women disciples, of whom not only Peter but also Martha said ‘you are the Messiah’.

    • I think this is such an important point Liz. I started a women’s fellowship at my church and we have been working through the stories of women in the bible, starting with Eve and the last session was Rahab. I have found it really helpful in my spiritual life but also feel quite frustrated that despite being a lifelong churchgoer I reached the age of 30 without knowing many of these women’s stories well or only knowing them through the lens of who they were married to. i’m enjoying redressing the balance a tiny bit but would love to see what you’re talking about happen across the church – I’m certainly going to make sure my little boys are fully aware of ALL the significant biblical figures not just the male ones.

      • I started a conference for women preachers a couple of years ago called Women’s Voices, and every year I am amazed at how many women have not heard the stories, and thrive on what they hear. Well done on your group. Have you come across Jenny Williams’ book God Remembered Rachel? It is excellent.

  2. I appreciated this reflection on recent events and the response to it.

    The innate, biologically determined population level differences between men and women are well established in science. That our culture so often pretends otherwise says an awful lot about our culture and its weak relationship to fact, truth and objectivity.

    Too much of our discourse at the moment assumes that women are inherently virtuous and men and masculinity are problematic – particularly because men often like to push themselves forward and be in charge. You have to ask whether this is actually a problem (did God not want men this way?) or our society just makes it look like one.

    What much of the sexual politics commentary fails to acknowledge is the attraction many (not all) women have to powerful and older men, and that they like the attention and interest (and the sex) and even the risk and danger. The Spectator has carried a number of articles recently, including many by women, pointing out all of this.

    I’d say that our culture is suffering from a serious case of misandry right now, and it can only end badly for men and women (and children).

  3. Will writes: “The innate, biologically determined population level differences between men and women are well established in science.”

    When it comes to physical differences, this is true (though it is worth pointing out that these are only true at the whole population level, and don’t apply to individuals). So, on average, men are taller than women (but some women are taller than some men).

    When it comes to social or psychological differences, these are much less well established in science, as it is difficult to disentangle the culturally conditioned from the biological (see Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine for an account of the various ways that culture affects women’s and men’s performances in a variety of tests, and how that might play out in society more generally).

      • Will, from a very brief view, Jordan Peterson argues that women and men score differently on some aspects of personality scales. However, I don’t see any evidence that this is biological, and the serious research papers on this area I dipped into said as much (ie, differences exist but there is argument over why). It is interesting that the differences increasing in more ‘egalitarian’ societies are mainly men scoring less highly on the neurotic scale, whilst women’s scores remain the same. I can think of quite a few possibilities for that, many of which don’t involve biology. We also have social conditioning as a huge factor that is incredibly difficult to disentangle. Note also that these are self-reported scores – so reflect the self-image of the person. Why is this important? Men generally consider themselves less empathetic than women, and less able to read body language. Women generally consider themselves more empathetic. On tests which actually try to measure how good people are at reading others, differences fade away to nothing (see Eisenberg and Lennon (1983)).

        I agree that once puberty hits testosterone levels are a biological difference which may lead to differences amongst population groups.

        • There is plenty of evidence that the differences are biological. I briefly discuss the question of brain differences here and link to some relevant research here. Note, for instance, that girls exposed to higher levels of testosterone in the womb tend to develop more male-typical behavioural traits, even when raised with and socialized as girls. And some of the behavioural traits between men and women are huge. One particularly glaring one is that over 95% of men are gynephiles and over 95% of women are androphiles (something that the term ‘heterosexual’ blinds us to: sexuality is a gender difference).

          As for the distinction between population-level differences and individual-level differences, this distinction doesn’t do anything near as much as people would like for it to do. So, for instance, typical height difference between the sexes is only about 5 inches, yet the range of recorded height for men and women stands at 86 and 74 inches respectively, completely dwarfing that difference (also note that the shortest man is also the shortest human). However, who would argue that height doesn’t represent a difference between the sexes that makes a real difference, especially at the extremes? Height is also one among many variables that will help you to statistically identify men and women (e.g. a 6 foot tall human is, without exaggeration, over 99% likely to be a man), without the concept of a ‘male or female height’ being very meaningful.

          Individuals do not stand in glorious detachment from the groups to which they belong. If you know that a person is a woman of a particular age, but know nothing else about her, you already know a great deal. You know about a categorical difference that defines her, but you also have a lot of probabilistic knowledge about her relative to others. You can also work backwards from looking at either a brain or a basic behavioural profile and identify it as male or female with over 90% accuracy and a robust confidence interval. The differences in these areas may be relatively small on particular criteria, but aggregated together, they can be robustly differentiating.

          People want claims about the difference between population-level differences and individual-level differences and the far greater internal variation within male and female distributions than between them means that the differences don’t make much of a difference. All of this is true about height, but it still means that there are about 2000 men for every one woman over 6 foot and you could assume with considerable confidence that a person described as over 6 foot in height was a man. It still means that we have a lot of genuine probabilistic knowledge about every man and woman purely on account of the fact that they are a man or woman.

          For instance, people want to believe that this individual vs. population level difference means that there is no rational basis for discriminating in any way between a CV with a woman’s name on it and a CV with a man’s name on it, provided that everything else within the CV is identical. However, it doesn’t work that way. Although such discrimination may be morally problematic, and we are often legally required to ignore the base rate that enables us to make statistically valid discriminations, it is not irrational, something that a rudimentary understanding of Bayes’ theorem should teach us (see this). The individual vs. population distinction functions more as a moral than a rational distinction. It is our moral suspension of the particular group level knowledge that we have about women on account of
          their sex—which is real knowledge, and has both categorical and probabilistic dimensions—in order to restrict ourselves to what we can say about them as individuals, whose sex is legally defined as irrelevant.

        • The undeniable differences between the two genders both in (a) physiology and in (b) hormones and in (c) monthly cycles or lack of them (these are largely differences, period, as opposed to mere differences on average or differences of degree) can only be increased by realisation that each of these is going to have at least some interconnect with every other aspect of the individual’s being.

  4. Thank you Ian.

    The monthly cycle means that women in effect are a succession of different people at different times of the month (slight exaggeration, but…).
    (a) One of these ‘people’, so to speak, will regret the actions of another of them.
    (b) If they have resentments against particular men anyway, this is the perfect opportunity.
    (c) A culture where unbelievably there is no innocent-til-proven-guilty just exacerbates that.

    Men too have their own cycle, albeit biologically less pronounced. Both genders suffer from circumstance-dependent moods too.

    One message from some quarters is: This is entirely a man problem. Utterly untrue. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was more, even substantially more, a man problem than a woman problem – but without evidence I would not pre-emptively assert it to be so.

    Even to the large extent that it is indeed a man problem, accepting the sexual revolution means that parameters become far less clear than they would otherwise have been. Without the sexual revolution, to behave in a certain way with anyone not one’s wife is a *clear* no-no, and clarity aids us all. Many of those who pressed for the sexual revolution were female; but who has benefitted more from it, right from the start (as has often been said),than lotharios?

    In our present culture, we are not allowed to assert that women are inferior in any measure whatever – yet there are thousands of possible measures and even by the law of averages each sex would be inferior in half of these – no harm in that. It just shows the depth of our culture’s dishonesty.

    A saw an advert the other night that a husband had been left out in the shed ‘with the rest of the old clutter’. Don’t try to tell me that that could even remotely be said of a wife. So is there equality or isn’t there?

  5. On Roger Olson’s thought experiment, there are definitely a number of contexts where I am thankful where there are few women or where male norms dominate, although women’s presence in the world more generally is extremely important. Male-dominated contexts can be superb for robust and rougher interactions, for shared difficult labour, and for various other thing- and action-oriented activities. When women are included, often everyone has to ‘play nicely’ and it can be much harder to get things done.

    The alternative to ‘playing nicely’ isn’t being cruel or abusive, but playing to your strengths, knowing that the people around you can take whatever you might throw at them. I have found that if I want to have a really vigorous and sharpening argument, for instance, I am far more likely to find such an argument in male contexts, where the code of manliness, with its emphasis on strength, mastery, courage, and honour means that men pride themselves in sparring well and won’t be protected or retreat from direct challenge to their beliefs. While there are plenty of women who can function well in such interactions, women are not held to this standard nor generally oriented that way. Men aren’t permitted to play to their strengths around women, as we must accommodate ourselves to women as the weaker sex. This isn’t a truth that some men like to admit, but we all know that it is what happens. As the #MeToo campaign reveals, women are vulnerable to degrees and in ways that men are not. Pretty much every man has been at the receiving end of cruel and brutal treatment from other men at some points in their life, but most have also found male company exhilarating and liberating in other contexts, knowing that they don’t have to hold themselves back anymore, but can really explore their strengths. And out of shared struggle and discovery of strengths and weaknesses, a profound camaraderie and brotherhood can emerge. Accommodating ourselves to women in groups is an extremely good and important thing in its place, but it is also important that there are contexts where we are expected to play to our strengths and where no one is afforded special protection.

    Having women moving into male areas isn’t always a boon. Men can no longer enjoy the same rougher interactions (which can be bonding) and play to their strengths. Everything must be toned down. Lots more regulations are introduced, along with agencies designed to protect women. This can be stifling. The socially awkward are far less welcome, as the male protectiveness that kicks in when women join and the typical dynamics of female sociality lead to everyone having to be extra cautious about what they say and do in case it offends someone. When women join such groups, everyone becomes so much more sensitive, which often isn’t a good thing. Where work was seamlessly integrated with the natural camaraderie of male sociality, that sociality is now replaced by an alienating code of ‘professionalism’, in which men can no longer be men together, but must behave according to gender neutralizing rules.

    The movement of women into areas changes its culture. If you want to understand the growth of an anti-free speech culture in universities today, for instance, a good place to start is to observe that this movement finds its roots in fields that are dominated by women and is considerably less powerful in male-dominated STEM fields. The traditional culture of free speech is based upon the norms of male intrasexual competition. As men compete they are expected to exhibit and pursue strength. Manliness is demonstrated through mastery and the courage to put your position on the line and place yourself in jeopardy of being proved wrong or bested, while showing the honour of not avoiding direct engagement, using underhand tactics, appealing to third parties to intervene to protect you, or handling winning without magnanimity or losing without facing up to the fairness of your defeat. Female intrasexual competition, however, works differently and its modes of conflict are much less direct. Shunning and ostracization, appeal to third parties to intervene, leveraging relational networks and forming cliques, stigmatization and demonization, etc. are far more common forms of female competition. And these are the dynamics that we are seeing in the rapid growth of no-platforming, the growth of speech codes, the focus on the inclusion and affirmation of persons to the eclipsing of truth, the rise of protective agencies and victimhood culture, hypersensitivity, the creation of human shields around controversial issues, the character assassination of people who present unwelcome positions, etc. Those who are too susceptible to the ‘women are wonderful’ effect need to consider the considerable situational downsides of features of female sociality that can be hugely beneficial in other contexts and to recognize the power and toxicity of such gendered phenomena as ‘mean girl’ dynamics, which can often be vicious and spiteful in ways that even male direct violence would struggle to match.

    Before answering the important question that Olson raises, it is worth considering that the reason why he cannot answer that question honestly without hostile pushback and career consequences probably has a lot to do with the protectiveness and sensitivity that surrounds women preventing us from speaking with the sort of directness with which we can speak about men and their problems. Even within the sensitivity exhibited in the taboo around positions that are deemed in any way threatening or unwelcome to women, however, there is an implicit recognition of women’s relatively lower agency and their weakness in certain respects relative to men.

    So, what do men give to the world? Among other things, power itself. I finished reading Mary Beard’s Women & Power, released last week, yesterday, which often speaks of power as if it were just associated with men by some cultural fiat. For some cultural reason, we just give more weight to deeper voices, or something like that. Although she resists a naturalistic explanation, we probably do instinctively associate power with a deep voice and a stronger physique, much as we instinctively react to beauty. But that isn’t even a small part of the much greater difference.

    If we look at practically any field of human civilization in pretty much any developed society, men have been the driving forces behind it, the pioneers, the innovators, the visionaries, the risk-takers, the creators, the inventors, the constructors, the brokers, the discoverers, the conquerors, the defenders, the founders, etc. The arts, the sciences, technology, philosophy, infrastructure, trade, business, politics, religion, taming of the natural environment, etc., in each of these areas men have led the way. People tend to speak of power as if it were primarily something we attribute to people, or as some pre-existing thing we give to people. To some extent it is. However, in many respects it is something that must be created and the people who create power are the powerful. The nations must be founded, the roads must be built, the trade routes must be created, the swamps must be drained, the formulae must be written, the technologies must be invented, the power networks must be forged, the wars must be fought, the lands must be discovered, the materials must be mined, the treacherous journeys must be braved, the symphonies must be composed, the fields must be ploughed, the factories must be formed, the plumbing systems must be established, the political ideologies must be conceived, etc., etc. If you look at virtually anything in your environment, its production is almost certain to have been an overwhelmingly male achievement. Males are the sex that is peculiarly gifted for dominion and the creation of power. As Camille Paglia provocatively remarks:

    We could make an epic catalog of male achievements, from paved roads, indoor plumbing, and washing machine to eyeglasses, antibiotics and disposable diapers. We enjoy safe, fresh milk and meat, and vegetables and tropical fruits heaped in snowbound cities. When I cross the George Washington Bridge or any of America’s great bridges, I think: men have done this. Construction is a sublime male poetry.

    I don’t think that Camille Paglia is quite right in her claim that ‘If civilization had been left in female hands, we would still be living in grass huts.’ However, it is not accidental that the societies that are most typically presented as matriarchies are fairly undeveloped. Although this may change as we now have communications technologies that allow for the intimatization and even domestication of our broadest networks and for a more characteristically female form of power to exert itself within realms that formerly required a lot more risk-taking, exposure to danger, travel, robustness, independence or the formation of tough male bands, resilience, and general manliness of participants. It should not be forgotten that it was largely the power-creating ability of men that brought us to this point and that men still overwhelmingly provide and create the power that makes possible the empowerment of the masses.

    Now, I think that a male libido dominandi has brought us to a very concerning point as a society. The absolutization of male will to power and its detachment from and marginalization of women is deeply concerning, as I’ve argued (not least in this recent post, which looks at the way in which our values are hostile to women). Power has become the only metric that matters for many, everything being measured in terms of it. However, women, while not as naturally oriented to the creation of autonomous power, hold a different sort of power, which is particularly seen relationally. Women exert a sort of centripetal force within society, the force that is the inner bond that holds us together.

    When we totalize men’s libido dominandi and push women to assert their equality on male terms, we are all poorer off. When this male libido dominandi is not tied down by and faithful to the centripetal force of women, we end up in a society where our accumulation of power has produced a situation where we are increasingly enslaved to and at risk of dehumanization by our own power, technologies, and power structures. Those who create power are often summoning demons that they can’t control, but which will control them. We are destroying our planet, on the verge of radical transhumanist developments, are undermining the foundations of enduring social capital for the accumulation of money, are sacrificing bonds of belonging and structures of meaning for the maximization of individual autonomy, and are replacing human dominion by abstract power structures. In the quest of the male libido dominandi for autonomy, our own power is increasingly becoming autonomous, as we are ruled by technique, as our technologies cease to function as tools and now function as determinative environments, and as our technological control over our environments and even our own natures replace the formation of character with mastery by technique.

    • Thank you, Alastair – I was hoping you’d come and give us your thoughts. There is an awful lot of ideologically driven muddled thinking around at the moment. While I don’t always agree with everything you say, you always bring a clarity and honesty to an area which is more often characterised by the opposite.

    • How refreshing to read a bit of objectivity in a world where feminism appears to have emasculated a large proportion of men, not least among Christians. Objectivity is undoubtedly a masculine trait – men go for the argument (or did), women go for their suspicion as to the ‘real reason’ that the argument has been put (they are more interested in people’s motives than drilling down to the facts).

      So in designing the technology where ‘social media’ reigns supreme, men (very largely, men) have inadvertently unleashed a new set of social parameters which are ever more disconnected from the realities of the world God created. It’s a huge unstoppable experiment, symptoms of which are hysteria, paranoia, groupthink, pessimism, insecurity, irrationality, intolerance, etc. And of course it’s tailor-made for feminists whose war on men is very much a satanic project, destroying those things which make for the love and respect of men and women for each other – God’s complementary paradigm. And what a hateful and destructive experiment for our children, none of whom now have known anything else.

      • Thanks for the response, Don.

        I think we should be much fairer to feminists than this. We should try to put the most charitable construction on what they are doing. One of the points that my comment should make clear is that even if feminists were engaged in a ‘war on men’, they are only responding to a male-driven society that has been waging a war on women for some time, marginalizing women and diminishing their status in society as women. To achieve equal dignity in such a society, women have to achieve equality on men’s terms. Where a sense of the other sex’s otherness should exist, and the wonder and gentleness that should accompany that, the sexes are increasingly pressed into undifferentiated competition with each other, their relations coming to be characterized by envy and hostility.

        Women, however, can’t compete with men on men’s terms. Feminists aren’t mistaken in believing that the game is rigged against women. While some (Luce Irigaray, for instance) call us to a recovery of a sense and celebration of sexual difference, a great many others seek to level what was always an essentially male playing field. This leads to the stifling and stigmatization of men in many cases, as male contexts have to be sanitized and made safe for women. It also leads many feminists to push women to evacuate the domestic realm of the home and child-rearing to lean in to careerism, which is where one is valued nowadays. This is bad advice, but it is bad advice in response to a very real set of problems and injustices.

        In addition to this, the more you read actual feminists, the more you will see that their writings are inspired by the ways that they have genuinely been hurt and mistreated by men. Some of this is simply a failure to appreciate that men operate differently from women and that, unless men play by women’s rules, women will struggle (e.g. the issues that inspired the ugly neologisms of ‘mansplaining’ and ‘manterrupting’ are phenomena arising from male-typical modes of discursive interaction, which women struggle with; Deborah Tannen, who explores differences between cultures and tendencies of discourse is helpful on this, for instance). However, a very great deal of it arises from far more serious forms of harm and mistreatment, from rape, domestic abuse, sexual harassment, etc., etc. And much is simply a result of women living with the feeling that they are treated like second-class citizens in a society that privileges and advantages men in a great many ways. Although the theories and policies that arise from such experiences and beliefs are often deeply misguided and unhealthy, it is imperative that we recognize the injustices and cruelties that give rise to them, not least because Christians have been complicit in a great many of them.

        • Thanks Alistair,

          ‘I think we should be much fairer to feminists than this. We should try to put the most charitable construction on what they are doing.’

          I think you’re in danger of losing your objectivity here: why not just listen to what they say and observe the results of their ideas as they take root in families, organisations, social intercourse, government policies, legal judgements? Where they are right and just, certainly those ideas should be respected and supported by men but where they are destructive, disrespectful and unjust to men, a ‘charitable construction’ is a dishonest way of atoning for past wrongs – it can only lead to a further set of wrongs likely to fall on the heads of the next generation of boys. That is unfair to boys. We all know that in human affairs pendulums swing so that as the most just situation is reached things move further on towards the opposite set of injustices. Objectivity is about accepting what is true and (in this case) what is just in the balance between two unique and wonderful halves of the human race; I would use the word ‘gracious’ in how this should be handled rather than ‘charitable’ which in today’s world often amounts to virtue signalling.

      • Don, the very idea that men and women are enemies is quite horrible. But sometimes now it has become more than a (crazy) idea – it has become a presupposition. Considering that it is from the pit of hell, I make no apologies for saying that it should be strangled at birth and never allowed to enter our minds.

        Men and women are friends, mutually affirming, and delightfully complementary. Within marriage this translates into the asymmetric relationship wherein (at its simplest) husbands thrive on respect and wives on love.

      • What a lot of prejudice in one post! Feminists do not all agree, and are certainly not at all satanic. Objectivity as a male trait is a Greek idea not a Christian one. The argument that allowing women justice – not indulgent understanding – will rebound against boys mirrors almost exactly the white supremacist arguments against race equality.

        • Liz – Alastair, even when wrong, can hardly be accused of prejudice! This is his area of academic specialism. You’d be better engaging his arguments than trying to discredit him personally with smears like prejudice and association with white supremacy.

          Your response also commits the fallacy of division by mixing up the properties of the whole with the properties of the parts. That not all individuals in a movement sign up to all the features of the movement doesn’t affect the properties of the movement, such as what drives it, just as differences at individual level in a population don’t contradict population level features.

          Population level features are essential for coming to rational understandings of natural and social phenomena in order to make sound policy which truly understands its objects and their nature and effects.

          • I think if you read what I said, it was about the shape of the argument, not the person making it. Hegemony is perpetrated by justice for the oppressed being subsumed into ‘justice for all’, so ‘black lives matter’ was subsumed into a blander message by ‘blue lives matter’. Claiming that justice for women will have negative impact for men is a similar style of argument. There are underlying norms in what is said – men can have robust discussion (women cannot?); women prevent things getting done by insisting on ‘playing nicely’. Women cannot compete with men on men’s terms because the standards are set by men – including the tests used to assess rationalism, ethical development and so on. If STEM subjects are so much better for the absence of women, why are they fighting so hard to get women into them?

            It is not true to say that men have been the innovators and drivers of culture etc – they have simply been the recognised ones. Mary Anning for example, did much work Jurassic fossils and made many new discoveries, however she was not credited with it and ‘as a woman’ was not eligible for membership of the Geological Society – which was dominated by Anglican gentlemen. I use this simply as an example.

            To imply that feminist thought is simply a reaction to mistreatment by men is to make it little more than an emotional response, and to disrespect the academic rigour with which it is pursued. Feminism is simply the idea that we all be treated with respect. Feminism is not against free speech it is pro respectful speech, and in favour of listening to marginalised voices. It does, however, treat lived experience as valid research material, rather than pretend there is such a thing as presupposition-less debate. As a result, those using feminist methodology should be less likely to make generalisations.

          • Hi Alastair. You’re probably right – though in her response to my comment she seems to take your arguments to task rather than Don’s so I suspect she felt similarly about yours.

            Feminism is a mixed bag, and some feminists make some good points about the mistreatment of women, but the mainstream movement and overall effects do seem pretty malign, being (as far as I can see) fanatically pro-abortion, pro-divorce, pro-promiscuity, anti-men, anti-domesticity, anti-merit (pro-quotas) and anti-fertility. It’s a shame that seeking a better arrangement for women has come with so much harmful baggage – for women as much as anyone else. Or do you think I’m being unfair?

          • Surveys may be surveys of lived experience. Just, if they ask about the experience of lots of people then they are more authoritative than those that ask about the experience of one, 3 or 10 people. The latter can often be be cheryr-picked.

        • Liz, I agree with what you said about prejudice! Alistair, you might consider in your first lengthy post that one factor in the rise of feminism is that male physical strength is no longer a significant requirement for success in society (except in the world of sport). Your socially constructed view of manliness is about as unbiblical as it gets when you consider the female heroines in the Bible. Do you really think that strength (mental not physical), mastery, courage and honour are solely masculine? Or are the ways those characteristic have been exhibited in the past simply a result of patriarchy?

          I would also suggest the negative way females interact relationally at times is a result of their lack of power under patriarchy. Men can get their way through more direct means in a society that celebrates the overt exercise of power but when throwing your authority around becomes socially unacceptable they can turn to manipulation just as easily (perhaps you’ve never experienced office politics or power struggles in the church).

          Instead of advocating a return to patriarchy and it’s socially constructed forms of manliness, we might consider a more redemptive approach as seen in the person of Jesus. Interesting, Ian latest post does just that…

          • Thanks for the response, Tom.

            Male physical strength was part of the picture, but never the most explanatory part. The most powerful men in society are very seldom the most physically powerful men, who are more likely to serve as the grunts and cannon fodder for those with power. The real power of men rests in the power of male groups, which are more externally thing- and task-oriented in their sociality, have a lot more muscle to work with, have broader and less intimate networks, are more apt for hierarchical ordering, have a code that encourages people to play to their strengths, and have a higher emphasis and capacity for robust agency.

            My claim was not that traits of strength, courage, mastery, and honour are exclusive to men, but that they are integral to manliness. Women can exhibit these traits too and they can be celebrated in women, albeit generally in rather different forms, but they aren’t regarded as the core traits of womanliness across human cultures as they are of manliness. In fact, the Bible can explicitly tell us to ‘act like men’ when we are being charged to be courageous (1 Corinthians 16:13) as these traits are so particularly associated with manliness. Women don’t have to ‘prove themselves to be a woman’ by demonstration of these virtues; womanliness is associated more with other traits and virtues. However, across human cultures, a man who lacks these virtues of agency will find his manliness called into question.

            For your position, it might be worth considering why God created one sex with so much more physical strength and resilience. The differences in that area aren’t small:

            Men have about 90% greater upper-body strength, a difference of approximately three standard deviations (Abe et al., 2003; Lassek & Gaulin, 2009). The average man is stronger than 99.9% of women (Lassek & Gaulin, 2009). Men also have about 65% greater lower body strength (Lassek & Gaulin, 2009; Mayhew & Salm, 1990), over 45% higher vertical leap, and over 22% faster sprint times (Mayhew & Salm, 1990)…

            These differences will have a huge effect in a wild world that hasn’t yet been subdued and with limited tools. It might also be worth considering why God created the other sex to bear such a disproportionate amount of the weight of child-bearing and rearing. These created differences alone will immediately result in a powerfully differentiating effect between the sexes, which is fairly unavoidable in most contexts. Why is it that various forms of ‘patriarchal’ structures seem to arise independently wherever human beings are to be found? Why is it that cultures around the world independently ground their notions of manliness in such traits of robust agency?

            When it comes to women’s forms of intrasexual competition, you need to pay attention to the word ‘intrasexual’. This isn’t about how women compete with men, but about how they compete with their immediate peers, overwhelmingly other women. ‘Patriarchy’ isn’t that explanatory of a factor for why women act as they do in their relationships with each other. It isn’t an explanation for why such differences can be seen in other primate species either, for instance.

            Sadly, ‘patriarchy’ is a big vague, floppy term to which all sorts of evils can be ascribed and declared to be socially constructed. Behind it there is often some non-biblical myth of a Fall from some matriarchal or egalitarian paradise. We are assured that all of the differences that we see between men and women in our society and all other societies we have research from and the stereotypes about the sexes that are widely overlap across millennia of human cultures and countless contexts are simply an illusion created by the demiurge of ‘The Patriarchy’. We should realize that extensive scientific research on male and female differences is just the evil demiurge holding us in our illusory reality. The fact that many gender differences become larger in feminist countries like Sweden is simply because we aren’t pushing hard enough against the evil illusion. If we just read enough Judith Butler, we would realize that there is nothing there at all, that gender is simply performative and The Patriarchy an evil force holding us in the illusion. While it is very easy to cocoon yourself from evidence and argument in such a theory, it really is important to ask the tough questions of it. Sadly, it doesn’t stand up to challenge.

            Now, clearly, forms of society differ from culture to culture, but men and women are recognizable as such in every society we have yet encountered and the same sorts of patterns exist. If the sexes switched place in any society, it would only take a few minutes to realize that something really odd was afoot. What we have is a social ‘construal’ and customary and conventional way of handling natural realities and differences between the sexes.

            Jesus is clearly an ideal man, but as an ideal man he clearly exhibits manliness. He displays mastery in argument, courage in his mission, strength of self-mastery and endurance of suffering, authority of word, honour in his faithfulness. Men wanted to follow, be led by him, and model themselves after him. He strongly challenges certain visions of manliness, but he also retains the fundamental form. He also surrounds himself with a core group of twelve men, who he establishes as the leaders in his Church. Jesus wasn’t just a male who was good to women—a good man—he was also good at being a man. His goodness to women was not the goodness of a rather abject feminist man, constantly denying or feeling awkward about his strength, but the goodness of a manly man who used his strength for service and honouring of those weaker than him, including women as the weaker sex.

          • Alistair, I couldn’t see a reply button on your comment so I’m replying to myself – hope it works.

            Thanks also for your response.

            My impression is that your arguments could benefit from a more robust biblical theology although I do acknowledge your expertise in sociology. I think it’s a leap to imagine we know the mind of God in making men physically stronger than women. The speculation that a wild world outside Eden needed physical strength (rather than ingenuity) to conquer it doesn’t really make sense as it imagines a time before the curse on physical work. Of course, we may not know with absolute certainty whether there was equality or hierarchy before the fall – although the subsequent curse of patriarchy points much more strongly to equality than the weaker argument that because Adam was created first, he was in charge. But we do know that in the kingdom of Jesus Christ men and woman are both to imitate Christ – so he can hardly be the ideal male. It’s interesting that Jesus is adamant that his kingdom does not use force – and therefore to advance the kingdom does not require the benefits conferred on men of a more powerful status in patriarchal society. The apostle Paul makes much of this in describing his weakness.

            I don’t think we can impose our own socially constructed thoughts onto biblical ideas of masculinity or femininity. The only benefit of understanding such social constructs in exegesis is to help us understand the context, for example, the phrase ‘act like men’ is obviously drawn from the context that women would flee in the face of physical battle in the ancient world due to their inferior strength and lack of battle skills – not that women could not be as strong as men mentally, spiritually or emotionally.

            All this is to say that I don’t deny that men and women are different or that physical attributes don’t affect us mentally, emotionally or even spiritually (in that case, physical weakness is more likely rather than less likely to make us depend on God and therefore to become stronger in him). But I am saying that reading social constructs formed by patriarchy into the Christian life is more likely to be eisegesis than exegesis. John Eldridge’s book ‘Wild at Heart’ is a classic example.

          • Thanks for the continued engagement, Tom. Unfortunately, this will have to be my final comment in this thread.

            I confess to grinning a little when you claimed that my position could benefit from a more robust biblical theology. If you wait a year, a book of mine will be coming out with over 200,000 words on the theology of the sexes, most of them about what Scripture says on the matter. I have already written hundreds of thousands of words in various fora, blogs, websites, books, and journals on the biblical theology of the sexes. I have read literally hundreds of books and thousands of articles on the subject. While I have engaged in extensive research on the sociological and biological issues, along with the philosophical questions, my focus has always been biblical.

            It is hardly a huge speculation to suggest that the world required strength to tame it and that the stronger sex would be considerably advantaged in this area. Ingenuity is important, but it is definitely not the only thing that would be needed. Ingenuity is great, but if you want to chop down trees, build shelters, mine the earth, construct bridges, plough fields, etc. you will need serious manpower too. Even if you can do these things with lower strength, you can do them a lot more effectively with more strength.

            Besides, there is also the fact that, unless we are going to argue for some fairly extreme and fundamental changes in human physiology at the Fall, women’s sexuality would limit them in a number of key respects, making them more dependent, vulnerable, and less mobile during pregnancy and tying them to their children during the time of nursing. Women’s work has historically been more focused in the domestic realm and has been more polychronic (doing a number of things at a single time) for these and other reasons. Societies have generally depended largely upon their men as providers of food and divisions of labour along sexual lines are hard to avoid.

            The judgment upon physical work upon the earth, it should be remembered, is a judgment upon the man in particular. The woman’s judgment focuses upon her womb. It is the man who was created to till the ground, charged with guarding and serving the garden, given the responsibility of teaching and upholding the law concerning the tree, and trained in and prepared in dominion by God’s exemplary creation of the garden and bringing the animals to him to name and rule. The woman does assist the man in his calling, but her calling is focused elsewhere. She brings life, union, and communion. She establishes the future and the communion of humanity through her labour.

            The whole framework of equality vs. hierarchy is ill-conceived. It tends to assume a framework of homogeneous power, according to which men and women are entirely commensurable, save for differences that are matters of indifference. The question then becomes whether, in terms of this homogeneous power, men have more ‘power’ than women or whether they are both to be equal.

            In answering this question, people try not to pay too much attention to the fact that God gave one sex forms of strength that have enabled it to dominate in most human societies, which is odd if it was all about equality. If ‘equality’ is the point, then it is also odd that so many differences exist between men and women in Genesis 1-3. Why not create both sexes at the same time? Why not create both of the sexes from the earth in order to till it, rather than creating the woman from the man’s side? Why asymmetrically create one sex as the helper of the other? Why not create both of the sexes so that they bear the same weight in the procreative task? Why not create both sexes so that they have the same physical strength? Why not give the commandment concerning the tree to both sexes? Why not give both of the sexes the same judgment? Why not form humanity so that Adam and Eve are symmetrical in their relation to the species, rather than humanity being summed up in Adam? Etc., etc.

            A serious problem here is that as good modern people, within the tradition of Western liberalism, we think in terms of the abstract and gender-neutral individual as the fundamental unit of analysis. ‘Man’ and ‘woman’ are fairly bare conceptual constructs, rather than concrete, social, and historical entities. Our questions about equality arise from such a framework: is the abstract female individual ‘equal’ to the abstract male individual?

            What exactly ‘equality’ means in such a statement is seldom entirely clear; the term is a very slippery one. Does it mean that there are no significant differences between men and women as individuals and groups (an empirically ridiculous notion)? Does it mean that the sexes should be interchangeable (again, hard to see how this could be possible)? Does it mean that we should have parity in various areas of society (difficult to achieve if men and women have differences in typical preferences, for instance)? Does it mean that men and women should have equal opportunities (again, even this has problems as some areas that play to male or female strengths will also naturally conform to male or female norms)? Does it just mean that men and women should have equal dignity (but which serious person is denying this)? Etc., etc.

            However, the biblical account is far more concrete than this and pushes us away from such abstractions to a far more concrete approach. Within such a concrete approach, men and women aren’t really commensurable to begin with. They are fundamentally different and given different callings, each of which has its own specific dignity, and neither of which is presented as ‘less’ than the other. This more concrete approach pushes us away from fruitless debates about whether men and women are ‘equal’ in some abstract sense prior to the Fall and presses us to ask more concrete questions about what it would mean for men and women to rise to their full stature as men and women, be excellent to each other, and be fulfilled in their differences in relation.

            So, for instance, what would it mean for Adam to relate to the earth as one formed out of it, or for Eve to relate to Adam as one formed out of his side? What is the significance of the fact that Eve is not given the commandment concerning the tree directly, but must depend upon Adam? What is the significance of the literary parallels between the judgment of the womb and the judgment of the earth? What is the significance of the names of Adam and Eve? What is going on in the threefold parallelism of Genesis 1:27? How do Genesis 2 and 5:1-3 shed light on this? Why is the woman created as the man’s helper, rather than the other way around? How does the woman help? How does Genesis 2 relate to Genesis 1 (what about the seeming recapitulation of the creation pattern of Genesis 1 in Genesis 2)? Why is the male and femaleness of humanity given such prominence? Why is Adam in particular treated as the representative of mankind? What is the significance of the things that Adam witnesses, is charged to do, and trained in prior to the creation of the woman? What is the significance of the realm of the garden? How do Adam and Eve relate to this realm differently? Do they relate differently to the wider earth? Why is Adam created outside of the garden and then placed within it?

            And alongside these are lots of practical questions to ask. Were the man and the woman expected to labour together in exactly the same way? How would pregnancy and nursing relate to this? Who would do the laundry or prepare the meals? What would gender equality look like when mining the gold in Havilah? Or building a bridge across the Euphrates? Would childcare be split 50-50? When Adam and Eve had lots of children, would they form gendered groups for different tasks? Would Adam and his sons have been physically stronger than Eve and her daughters and, if so, how do we square this with equality? Would Adam and Eve and their children exhibit the same gendered differences in behavioural tendencies that we see across human cultures in post-Fall history? Would Adam have been the political leader of an unfallen society, as he was the first and representative human being, the father of everyone else, and the one who had the most direct interaction with God? Or would political rule be split 50-50 between the sexes? Would ‘political’ rule relate symmetrically to male and female realms of activity, or would it principally relate to realms of male activity? What would that look like? Why wouldn’t we expect Adam and his sons to create most of the power in an unfallen society on account of their greater mobility, strength, risk-taking, broader and less intimate networks, lower burden of procreation and nursing, greater thing- and task-orientation, etc.? Would men still show a far greater orientation to tool-making, invention, and construction, or would women have been just as interested in primitive STEM subjects? Would unfallen boys play more with dolls and their sisters play more with building blocks? Would people’s instinctive reactions to physical beauty and strength be very different, so that a slight woman with a high and soft voice would instinctively be perceived as no less authoritative than a strong man with a deep and booming voice? Or did such gendered tendencies and physiological differences just arise after the Fall? And, if so, why? Why give Adam and his sons such advantages when the Fall was chiefly seen as his Fall? Also, although we can see that these differences lead to significant differences between men and women in society, are they necessarily bad things? Etc., etc.

            In all of these areas, it seems to me that egalitarians are so accustomed to working with abstract categories and concepts that they have generally given little if any thought to concrete reality and the actual difference that the differences between men and women make on the ground. A chimera of ‘equality’ between two abstract classes of persons distracts people from the concrete question of how men and women, in their significant differences, can both achieve their full stature, serving and being empowered by each other in their particular parts in our common calling.

            There is no reason why Christ can’t be an ideal man and someone that men and women should emulate. We are called to imitate Christ in very specific respects. We aren’t called to imitate Christ by adopting an itinerant ministry and having no home of our own, for instance. All Christians are called to imitate Christ in some particular ways. The apostles had to imitate Christ in some more particular ways, as they continued his mission to the towns of Israel, for instance. And men can imitate Christ in some very particular ways that women don’t. Paul makes this explicit when he presents Christ as the exemplary bridegroom/husband in Ephesians 5. We also see it in the way that Christ is an example of a man among men more generally, when we see that gender is often a foregrounded factor in Christ’s ministry. Christ is the Son, not just the ‘Child’. Christ is a male leader of men, who surrounds himself with other men.

            And male strength in patriarchal society isn’t simply built upon ‘force’, nor is it simply ‘conferred’ upon men. Men have created power as they have built, invented, tamed the natural wilderness, formed political systems and structures, made scientific discoveries, formed trade routes, harnessed the power of nature, extracted materials from the earth, etc. ‘Force’ in the sense of violence is one form of male power or authority, but only one form among a very great many. That Christ’s kingdom doesn’t spread itself by violence doesn’t mean that it doesn’t spread using the distinctness of masculine and feminine strengths. The fact that Christ established his Church using the ministry of twelve men is worth noting here. It wasn’t as if Christ was someone who demeaned women: his ministry provides plenty of evidence against this. However, he harnessed male strengths and callings for the service of his kingdom in particular ways, and female strengths and callings in others. The Church had a manly or fatherly authority at its heart in the Twelve, along with motherly figures such as the Marys who enjoyed a different sort of capacity for transformative social influence. The sexes weren’t treated as interchangeable, though. And the apostolic paradox of weakness, with its code-switching or transvaluation of values, is not an evacuation of meaning from the terms of power and weakness, just as ‘servant leadership’ doesn’t involve a simple negation of leadership. The paradox of strength in weakness is more subtle than that.

            We really don’t have go to books such as Eldridge’s rather ridiculous Wild at Heart. We should, however, have our eyes open to Scripture, nature, and society, observing the clear and congruent patterns in each one. We should be exceedingly sceptical of notions such as ‘The Patriarchy’ that suggest that all of the evidence from these sources is to be distrusted, as it is distorted by the refraction of reality through an oppressive social construct that just so happens to have been adopted almost everywhere, often quite independently. This is a way of explaining away evidence, rather than a way of honestly engaging with it. Relentlessly ask the concrete questions and the cracks will soon appear.

            Thanks for the interaction!

          • Thank you for your reply Alistair and I look forward to reading your book which might form a more definite response to many of my questions and I am sure will contain many useful insights some of which I may agree with (I’m with you on your opposition to same sex marriage and appreciated your comments on that) and some I may not. I realise you probably didn’t have space in your reply to reference the last book of the Bible as well as the first but hopefully your book will reference the eschatological implications for gender roles as well as drawing from the creation story (when I say story I have say I believe in a real Adam and I lean towards six literal days of creation although I’m not dogmatic about it – although I’m not sure how important that is when making inferences about gender roles but I guess not believing in a real Adam would make any inferences very speculative like the pseudo science of evolutionary psychology).

            On ingenuity, you might read chapter seven on technology in Vishal Mangalwadi’s, ‘The Book That Made Your World’. He is referring to a post fall society and he says that technology was advanced by monks so that they wouldn’t have to have slaves. But the fact that there was a Christian root for such ingenuity is interesting – and yes, they were men but as Vishal points out, women today in the West benefit in their daily tasks from technology like water pipes. The point is, ingenuity shouldn’t be underestimated and we can speculate that such ingenuity would have happened much earlier if it were not for the alternative way of doing labour in a sinful world which was slavery. Also, today we live in a world where women can do tasks that men can do because of technology. The other interesting thing about technology is that it ended up isolating the housewife because labour saving devices meant that collective labour and the associated socialisation disappeared (I think I got this from ‘Evangelical Identity and Gendered Family Life’ by Sally Gallagher or possibly from ‘After Eden: Facing the Challenge of Gender Reconciliation’ edited by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen but I don’t have the books to hand). The point is, it is rather difficult to disentangle what actually happened in the world in the fulfilling of the creation mandate and what might have happened if the fall had not occurred but we can still probably learn from it.

            The other thing we might learn from is the core issue which is leadership especially leadership in the kingdom of God which presumably is much more like the leadership that would have been exercised if the fall had not happened. This is a subject about which I have read countless books because a major aspect of my job is training church leaders. How is leadership exercised in a sinless society when no assertion of authority is necessary? And, to quote myself when I was a young engineer being told off by a manager on the shop floor for having my hands in my pockets, “I’m paid from the head up”. Leaders don’t have to exercise physical strength to use their gifts (not that it doesn’t hurt to get your hands dirty to show you are not aloof). Leadership, by definition, is the making of wise decisions and the ability to influence others, not the simple application of power over others. In the ancient world, to become a leader you had to make a show of strength – but Jesus turns this on its head. I do hope your book addresses some of this.

            I agree we shouldn’t see ‘The Patriarchy’ as some sort of giant conspiracy by men. But being married to someone from a non-Western culture has certainly opened my eyes to the pervasive nature of patriarchy and the reality of that curse. Presumably if God used the monks development of technology in a redemptive way to at least partly overcome the curse on labour, he may also want to use the Christian influence on Western society to at least partly overcome the curse of patriarchy. Of course a complementarian position might put it as overcoming the curse of the fallen aspects of patriarchy rather than patriarchy per se – but I’ve yet to see anything written about how Adam might have led Eve in a sinless state. Being an egalitarian, it’s rather easier to see how they might have led together as Genesis 1:28 implies.

          • Myself I’m keen on Eldredge’s Wild At Heart, and really enjoyed the ceremony of its CBA award in 2003. It would be good to know Alastair’s assessment of it; but, given that he has made his final comment on this topic, I may have to wait for that.

        • Hi Liz

          I think it’s one of my 2 comments which gives cause to the charge of ‘a lot of prejudice’.

          I’d like to make clear it is the ideology of feminism which causes me concern, and it is the ideology that I called satanic, not feminists. In fact I think women (who of course deserve just treatment) are being ill served by this ideology which views difference between the sexes as something to be eliminated rather than celebrated; as such women are being squeezed into a mould which leaves them discontented and stressed. In that sense I might suggest that I am speaking up in defence of women against the ideology that is threatening to make their lives miserable.

          I would stand by my observations of the difference between the way women and men think and engage socially in debate etc, and I’m sure you would realise that such observations are of course general to both groups, which are pretty varied. A world of purely objective Mr Spocks (or Doc Martins) would be appalling; how lucky for us, then, that God endows so many women with the social intelligence and compassion that escapes some men – it all works together pretty well if only we would recognise it and go with it rather than try to eliminate it through social engineering.

          I wonder if you discovered that boys really are suffering from some of the attitudes put about by feminists, would you consider that a serious problem, and would it cause you to say so despite being labelled ‘prejudiced’ by some of your sisters? I could point you to some very intelligent women who are publicly saying just that. And we must remember that, while a lot of men now identify as feminists, it is also true that a lot of women do not.

          • Hi

            I think you need to have an intelligent, theological discussion with some Christian feminists. Your characterisation of feminism is not one I recognise, and is certainly not true of the latest feminist thinking, which not only acknowledges differences between men and women but seeks to explore differences between women – hence the existence of both feminist and womanist theologies.

            One problem with what you appear to be getting toward is that it accepts a ‘complementarian’ argument, which essentially means men have to be in charge and women have to be subservient.

          • But the word complementarian just means that women and men are different (utterly undeniable) and equal (also utterly undeniable).

        • Feminists are, obviously, not satanic (certainly not intrinsically…)

          The idea that men and women are enemies, on the other hand…

          • It never feels like complementarianism respects women as equal when, as a woman, you end up speaking with, preaching to, or teaching men who hold that view. I have never felt so utterly invisible as the times when I have had complementarian students in my class.

          • Liz,

            I do wonder why the complemantary nature of the relationship between men and women is ever questioned, let alone seen as such a problem. If God had created men and women as identical in all but possession of reproductive organs, that would have absolutely been a choice which we would not dare to question. But how fortunate for us that he chose to share the two sides to his nature (the feminine and masculine) in the way that we all know to be true. If there are some aspects of it which are challenging for us to handle (and I readily accept that there are), is that a reason for trying to reduce it to the kind of equality that sucks the life out of the differences?

            I called the ideology which doesn’t accept God’s choice ‘satanic’; I raised some hackles. Yet that which purposely sets out to frustrate the will of God is satanic in origin (we’d all agree to that?). For example, when Peter told Jesus regarding his forthcoming trial and suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests ‘this shall never happen to you!’ Jesus’ rebuke was ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.’ Jesus recognised the satanic challenge to him behind what Peter was saying (Matthew 16.21-23).

            An ideology which sets out to modify or even eliminate the clear differences between men and women that God himself planted within them is opposing his purposes, discrediting his design. For example, belittling, mocking and attempting to dilute the masculine traits which God has given men amounts to doing that very same thing to God himself because he made man in his own image. By ‘man’ we obviously mean ‘mankind’, and so those equally wonderful feminine traits with which God has endowed women are again a reflection of God himself within them. Thus an ideology based on misogyny of any sort would be an equal challenge to God and could equally be described as satanic.

            I’m truly sorry that at times you have felt subservient and invisible, Liz; Christians should certainly not be intentionally crass so that you feel put down. But I wonder if you attribute your feelings that way because the narrative (feminist narrative) has been so successful that it has taken control of your perception. I’m a naturally shy person but have learnt that it is not anyone else’s fault; on the other hand I can accompany a congregation on the organ with no problem but readily go to pieces if a good musician stands behind me while I’m playing a voluntary! We’re very complex beings! I do wish we could sort out our mutual respect and justice for each other without resorting to socio-political jargon and rules which diminish the reflection of God in the way that he made us.

      • On the Day on which the Church remembers Margery Kemp’s I find it very disturbing that a fellow Christian could describe feminism as a satanic project.
        But perhaps I lack the objectivity of the male gaze and am mistaken when I infer that Don has suggested that women are to blame for the abuse they receive.
        Some of the hysteria, paranoia and intolerance which social media is accused of encouraging are, I might suggest, only too apparent in some of the male commentators on Ian’s blog. But what do I know. I am a mere female (and, as a feminist, I must be engaged in a war on men).

        • Hi Penelope,

          I think I should make it clear that nowhere anywhere, on this page or anywhere else, have I ever suggested that ‘women are to blame for the abuse they receive’. On the other hand feminism is an ideology which deliberately sets women against men and has, as a central tenet, ‘women’s right to choose’ to destroy perfectly viable human lives in their wombs – no questions asked and irrespective of the father’s wishes. I think such an ideology is satanic: counter to God’s intention for human relationships and destructive of human life, merely due to inconvenience. I also see no evidence that feminism has bathed women generally in contentment or even a bit more happiness, but that’s just my observation!

          On a more positive note, I am wholly in favour of justice for women without whom life would be beyond miserable (and of course biologically impossible!). For a while, being self employed, I took on the mum’s role when my wife had to return to work. I thoroughly enjoyed it, became the only dad on the primary school parent’s committee and experienced no ill will from the mums. I probably get on better with women than men and, even after all these years, am constantly amazed at how lovely they are; and that is one reason why I so hate to see them being made miserable by the ideology about which I have been so rude.

          • Don, I think the problem might be that you exhibiting prejudice by defining feminism by everything negative you see about it (and I would agree that being pro-abortion is to be on the side of the one who wishes to destroy life). Feminism more simply defined is simply seeking social justice for women against the oppression of patriarchy. Defined like that it is on the side of the redemptive purposes of Christ. In fact the only way that feminism can exist is because in the West we have deeply ingrained the Christian idea of the equal value of every human being (which makes being pro-abortion a contradictory stance for a true feminist).

          • Hello Don
            This thread is already getting so long that I had difficulty in finding your reply! I was concerned that you had raised feminism in a comment on a blog on abuse. As if, perhaps, there is some relation between the two. If you do not believe that I am sorry for my inference.
            However, feminism is not an ideology which sets women against men. Many men are feminists. It is a movement for equality between the sexes in a world in which men (still) have most of the power and in which the male sex is (still) seen as the default.
            Christian feminists are pro-life (most of them).
            I don’t think all women are lovely, but they all deserve parity as having the imago dei.

  6. Ian, one point on relationships. Any differences exist at a population level, not an individual level, and there are significant overlaps. Irrespective of arguments over causes of differences, I suspect you would agree that you can find women who have more stereotypically ‘masculine’ personality traits than some men, and some men who have more stereotypically ‘feminine’ personality traits than some women.

    This shows the folly of using this as an argument against same-sex relationships. It is not populations who are getting married, it is individuals. And any individual couple (whether same-sex or not) may have any range of traits. We do not insist on a particular balance for heterosexual couples; we should not use this argument therefore against same-sex couples.

    • The logic of what you say, Jonathan, is that all laws (and presumably all judgements of guilt or innocence) should be separately drafted to suit the particular circumstances of every unique individual alive. That is clearly impossible and God has never done that; instead his laws apply equally to all – but so does his forgiveness for all who repent.

      • Nope, I’m saying the opposite. We let heterosexual couples marry without concerning ourselves about the particular personality traits of an individual couple; I simply wish to extend the same courtesy to same-sex couples. An approach that applies equally to all.

        • There is not the slightest need for a category of same-sex couples to exist at all if by that is implied that two is any different a class of number from 3 or 4.

          There is only one thing that requires a pair, namely procreation. That, also, is never any old pair, but absolutely invariably and necessarily a man and a woman. To state the obvious, families can only possibly exist in this particular way.

          If you want to make formalised friendship covenants, that is a positive step. They would never need to be only one in number – make different ones with different friends. Nor would they have to be pairs only – they can be 3s, 4s or any number.

          The claustrophobic restriction to 2 alone looks like a parody – ‘we want what they’ve got whether or not we are suited to have it or can logically have it. Thereby the gold standard can be debased, for we hate the way that faithfulness is at the heart of marriage and the way that that shows us up.’

    • There are many problems with this argument. First of all, marriage was never historically about pure individuals getting married. Rather, the gender people belonged to mattered for marriage because the categorical differences between gendered classes matter and produce realities worthy of social cognizance, protection, celebration, and regulation. The sexual union of one man and one woman is the means by which new life is welcomed into the world. This form of sexual union is categorically different from any other sort of union. It possesses a dignity, a social importance, and has been blessed in a way that no other form of union has been. When two persons marry, they aren’t just marrying as Joe and Jill, but as ‘this man’ and ‘this woman’: the class that they belong to is important.

      And group behaviour matters too. Because marriage is about legally and socially adumbrating a reality that is crucially important to our existence as a society (the welcoming of new children into the world and the union of the two halves of humanity), it has never merely been about each individual couple choosing how they want to conduct themselves within marriage. No, marriage is a social institution, which has a binding form for people both within and without married couples. The telos of marriage exceeds the purposes of those entering into it. Marriage aims, not merely as serving individual desires, but the creation of a culture.

      So it really matters if a large minority or small majority of gay couples have open marriages. It really matters if gay persons treat marriage as a take it or leave it option. It really matters if gay couples treat marriage as a bespoke union whose terms they can define for themselves. It really matters if gay persons treat sex outside of marriage as appropriate and something to be celebrated and proud of. It really matters if gay persons take sexually exclusivity and lifelong fidelity and permanence in marriage seriously. In each of these ways gay marriage threatens an actual marriage culture and creates a culture that undermines the ends of marriage as an institution, treating marriage merely as an essentially contestable socially customary form for the celebration and validation of individuals’ romantic choices and companionate partnerships.

      • Alistair, in your long reply you haven’t actually addressed the point I was making.

        I agree that marriage should mean a faithful, chaste lifelong union.

        • How do you propose that this will happen when

          (a) such a key motivation to pair-bond for life (family formation) is lacking;

          (b) homosexuals enter the quasi-marriage state out of a culture where promiscuity and unfaithfulness are affirmed and practised to a particularly unusual degree;

          (c) very few of them are ever heard to speak against that;

          (d) 50% of SSMs in USA have already experienced unfaithfulness in this short time?

        • No, I challenged the basic premises of your case. Marriage was never about mere individuals. Let’s put to one side the serious problem that two men cannot even get ‘married’ in the first place as their union lacks the moral and natural significance that the relationship between a man and a woman possesses and legal fiat cannot overturn a natural institution.

          If marriage should mean a faithful and chaste lifelong union, then surely you will acknowledge that the population-level behaviour of the gay community, their extreme levels of promiscuity and the fact that a large minority or small majority of gay ‘married’ couples have ‘open marriages’ is an attack upon the institution of marriage and that society should be wary of celebrating such unions. It is important that we are very clear on this point: the campaign for same-sex marriage was never about the gay community wanting ‘faithful, chaste lifelong unions’. Nor was it about the gay community’s desire to expect their members to marry and to encourage a stigmatization of promiscuous sex. Anyone who thinks that it was about any of these things is fooling themselves.

          No, it was about affirming their sexuality and relationships on their own terms. It was about denying that there is anything worthy of special dignity, celebration, and social cognizance in the procreative union of a man and a woman that differentiates it from the risky and unnatural sexual relations between two men who love each other. It was always directly contrary to any idea that marriage is an institution that can place normative demands and restrictions upon the people within it, let alone upon larger communities. It was always about marriage as affirmation, never really about marriage as vocation. It was always focused upon fabulous weddings, much less upon the painful and difficult calling of exclusive and permanent union.

          For these reasons, the denial that marriage’s natural character as male and female should stand in the way of their equal affirmation was merely the first step in a concerted assault upon the institutional and vocational character of marriage. Of course, in this they were simply completing what many heterosexual couples had already started. However, we shouldn’t be deluded. The people who campaigned to get society out of their bedrooms were never campaigning to subject their sexuality to social norms. This was always about affirmation of LGBT sexuality on its own terms and the tearing down of any social norms that might restrict their sexuality, present it as second-class, abnormal, or prevent it from being celebrated as the equal of marital relations between men and women.

          And this is why it was never really primarily about the relatively few same-sex couples that actually wanted the privileges or responsibilities of marriage. No, the point was to attack the gold standard, the institution that publicly manifested and declared the fact that two men having sexual relations cannot be honoured in the same way as a man and a woman, whose union brings together the two halves of the human race, is naturally ordered towards the continuation of the human race, and is divinely blessed. The point was to debase the standard in a way that means that unnatural and necessarily sterile sexual acts that have produced little of social significance beyond the public health problems of STDs and AIDS could be viewed as equally worthy of honour and social celebration. Once the standard has been debased, however, there is little need to honour it. Marrying or not marrying doesn’t matter any more, because marriage doesn’t really stand for anything beyond the affirmation of individual choices any more (and perhaps the class status conveyed by extravagant weddings).

          • From which we see that Alastair as well as being so expert in his specialist subject is also (through no fault whatsoever of his own) expert in stating the bleedin’ obvious; but we lament that we live in a climate where the bleedin’ obvious should ever need to be asserted in the first place. 4 years ago I was with my wife and children in Trafalgar Square where some posters said man plus woman equals child. Everyone got very excited. Next time the demo might be two plus two equals four and everyone would get very excited about that instead.

  7. The basic premise was not mine but Ian’s.

    Alistair, to be blunt I find your response deeply offensive. You presume to tell others their motives and assume the worst of them. This polemic comes across as stereotyping of the worst kind.

    • I stand by my claims. My intent was not to believe the worst, but accurately to represent what have been the dominant driving forces behind the campaign for same-sex marriage. Honestly, if you believe that the campaign was really about some deep gay and lesbian commitment to and pursuit of ‘faithful, chaste lifelong unions’, I have a bridge to sell you.

      Of course, there was always a minority of people like Jonathan Rauch, who pursued same-sex marriage as a means, not just of validating same-sex relations, but of subjecting the gay community to the responsibilities of the institution of marriage, taming its destructive promiscuity by family values. However, this position was fairly rare and exotic. The real driving force of the movement came from claims about entitlement, equality, rights, and the validation of gay relations on their own terms. It was driven by an attack upon the supposed ‘heterosexism’ of marriage, by opposition to an institution that would celebrate the natural and fruitful unions between men and women that are the source and engine of society over the unnatural and fruitless relations that exist between two persons of the same sex. The concerns were about the affirmation of individuals, not the healthy ordering of society by an institution that places moral responsibilities upon us all.

      The typical response, where there has been one, to the revelation of the rate of the practice of ‘open marriage’ for gay couples among the supporters of same-sex marriage hasn’t been concern to get same-sex couples to honour the institution that they were supposedly fighting for, but to suggest that there is nothing wrong with a married couple running their marriage however they choose, or even that theirs is an example for true married couples to follow. It doesn’t take much to discern underlying motives in such cases. If the movement for same-sex marriage was really about the pursuit of ‘faithful, chaste lifelong unions’, the movement would be devastated, appalled, and chastened by such revelations, rather than triumphant. Nor have we heard many leaders of the movement for same-sex marriage loudly challenging the ridiculous levels of promiscuity in the gay community (which completely dwarf the levels of promiscuity among heterosexual men), as we would expect if the movement was really driven by the values of chastity, sexual exclusivity, and permanent union.

      Furthermore, if we pay attention to the people who have been supportive of same-sex marriage in our society, it isn’t hard to see that a very large number of them don’t care about marriage at all, merely the unconditional affirmation of all individuals irrespective of their identities or behaviour. This would be decidedly odd if the same-sex marriage movement were really about the subjection of the gay community to the virtue of chastity, rather than merely an attack upon the supposed ‘heterosexism’ of marriage and the culturally-demanded celebration of individual choice and identity over all else.

      • “I also experienced the 1960s and their aftermath, and saw the dreadful, often tragic things that happen when men and women abandon the old rules of fidelity and constancy, and wrongly imagine that total freedom leads to total happiness.

        Since then, I haven’t been able to see why the wonderful new equality between men and women, which is one of the great changes for the better in our age, had to be mixed up with the militant destruction of marriage and the traditional family. I still don’t.

        But many of those who claim to seek female equality have another, much fiercer objective. They actually see men as the enemy, the ‘patriarchy’, to be overthrown by all means necessary, and replaced by a feminised society. They also see marriage as a machine for oppressing women. Their objectives moved a lot closer last week.

        This is why many of those who said they wanted equality also sneered at restraint and manners. They claim now that they want the restraint and the manners back (though the suspicion lingers that much of the current fuss is aimed mainly at making all men look wicked and grubby).

        But where are such restrained manners to come from in our liberated society? They were part of an elaborate code of courtship and respect which was learned by example in the married family, and has now completely vanished. In our post-marriage free-for-all, why should we expect either sex to be restrained? All that’s left is the police or the public pillory of Twitter.

        It was that old code which allowed us, unlike the Islamic world, to permit the happy mixing of men and women without black shrouds, veils and ‘no-touching’ rules so strict that they even rule out a male-female handshake.

        Now it’s gone, what are we to do instead? I am angered by the public denunciations now taking place, not because I believe or disbelieve them (how can we know?) but because they make trust impossible.”

        -Peter Hitchens. Weekly Column of 4/11/17

        • Mat, it might be that in logic one cannot see why a quest for equality should be mixed up with the dreadful harvest of the sexual revolution. However, if this never fails to happen in practice, then to seek the former one has first to be aware that the latter will arrive together with it. And the latter is to be fled at all costs.

          I said ‘if’. The question is whether this is in fact the case. In the South Asian community there are many educated full-time working mums yet there is also stable family life. There is no necessary link between good feminism and bad feminism therefore.

      • Alastair, your response was toxic. You make wild, unsubstantiated claims and present them as an accurate reflection. You make sneering comments about fabulous weddings, and lump most gay and lesbian people into one large conspiracy theory. Ironically, in a post about male privilege, you don’t even notice that you have excluded lesbian couples entirely. You characterise most who support equal marriage as not caring about marriage at all, thus damning the majority of adults in this country. You continue with prejudice after prejudice thrown out as fact.

        • Again, I stand by my remarks. I find it interesting that you are retreating to taking offense, rather than addressing any of my points. Do you really believe that the drive for same-sex marriage was a drive for same-sex sexually exclusive, faithful lifelong unions, for the gay community to come under the norms of marriage, to get social norms into the bedroom again, and to reject a culture of promiscuity? Because, if you do, I think that you are being ridiculously naive.

          I excluded lesbians purposefully. Female gynephiles behave differently from male androphiles and my criticisms were particularly directed against the latter. Gay men have the open marriage problem, while lesbians have more of a divorce problem (divorcing at five times the rate of gay couples). Both reveal different aspects of the dysfunctional and unnatural character of same-sex ‘marriage’.

          When it comes to the support of same-sex marriage in this country, I think that there are a number of things to be said.

          1. Most supporters are deluded into thinking that gay and lesbian couples behave exactly like male and female couples. They think that they might have a couple of sexual relations prior to marriage, enter into a committed cohabiting relationship and then settle into a sexually exclusive marriage, in which there might possibly be an affair at some point, from which the marriage will either bounce back or end in divorce. They don’t realize that the levels of promiscuity among gay men are simply off the charts relative to their gynephile male counterparts. Nor do they realize that such a large percentage of gay ‘marriages’ are open marriages. They really think that gay people behave just like straight people in their sexual relationships. They watched gay people on their TV screens and thought that they approached sexual relationships just like them, just with their own sex. They are, however, fairly ignorant of the fact that, when it comes to sex, the gay community seems to produce little beyond a hothouse of sexually transmitted diseases. In 2014 in London, for instance, 90% of syphilis cases and 69% of gonorrhoea cases were diagnosed in men who have sex with men. 28% of all cases of STIs diagnosed in sexual health clinics were of the 2% of the adult population who are men who have sex with men. They don’t know much about Grindr culture or the rise of chemsex. The mean number of lifetime partners for gay men in a recent Australian survey was 96, totally dwarfing the (still very high) number for heterosexual men (which was 18). Even then, we should bear in mind that LGBT persons may even often have more promiscuous sex with the other sex in addition to their own. LGBT persons are considerably more likely to be involved in teen pregnancies, for instance. More generally, LGBT persons have an unhealthy culture surrounding sexual relations.

          2. The leaders of the movement, however, know better. They know that the majority of gay marriages are open marriages. They once campaigned to get society out of their bedrooms and they are not about to campaign to get society back in. The same-sex marriage movement is really about storming the cultural bastion of heterosexual privilege, the institution that declares that there is something special and different about the union between a man and a woman. It is about ‘equality’, about declaring that love is love is love and sex is sex is sex, whoever it is with, and whether it is marital or not. Marriage is about socially celebrating gay love—and the focus on weddings is important to note here. However, the point is not same-sex love taking on the yoke of marital norms, but same-sex love being sanctioned and celebrated equally to heterosexual love. Marriage is treated as a means to this end, not as some to be valued in its own right. Leading LGBT campaigners like Peter Tatchell made explicit that they had little respect for marriage as an institution, but wanted to pursue same-sex marriage in the name of tackling inequality, which was the real issue. He argued that relatively few gay couples really wanted marriage, but that it was important for attacking the idea that same-sex love was in any way second-class and attacking heterosexist privilege.

          3. A number of these figures are increasingly vocal about the fact that they believe that open marriage should be celebrated and adopted more broadly, that the patterns of gay pairings are to be the model for everyone else. Some are coming out forcefully and saying that the point should be redefining marriage. The Dan Savages of the world, for instance, aren’t celebrating same-sex marriage because they value monogamy.

          4. Same-sex marriage is treated as a matter of equality and rights, rather than a matter of vocation and duty. It is about the supposed sameness of the love of gay couples and male and female couples. It is treated as a matter of celebrating gay individuals in their relationships and enabling them to enjoy companionship with someone that they love. Most people in society hold a companionate view of marriage, for which marriage is about a socially celebrated bond with someone you love as long as your love remains. Same-sex marriage could never have succeeded if the population more generally hadn’t adopted a weak understanding of marriage. It couldn’t have succeeded if we hadn’t adopted a silly dogma of ‘equality’ that fails to appreciate that such things as slogan calling for ‘equal marriage’ are begging the question: the unnatural unions of gay and lesbian couples can never be equal to the blessed and fruitful unions of men and women.

          5. The same-sex marriage case also gains power from the cultural loss of belief in institutions. Marriage is treated more as an individual choice by heterosexual persons (though still nowhere near the same degree as it is treated in this matter by same-sex couples), rather than as a cultural institution by which we are bound. We were told again and again that same-sex couples marrying wouldn’t change anyone else’s marriages and that, if it did, the problem wasn’t with the same-sex couples. People simply don’t appreciate that same-sex marriage changes the norms of the union. It changes the culture that surrounds it. The normalization of the dysfunctional sexual behaviour of the LGBT community and the spread of such behaviour into marriage itself normalizes things such as open marriage and the notion that marriage is really about validating and celebrating individuals’ love, rather than a social institution and vocation.

          Now, I’m sure you find a lot of this deeply objectionable and unpleasant. Such claims about the LGBT community shouldn’t be expressed in polite company! But, once again, all you need to do is to present some convincing evidence that the leadership of the movement for and support for same-sex marriage was driven by a commitment to matrimony itself, by the belief that same-sex couples should be expected to enter into chaste, faithful, sexually exclusive, and lifelong bonds, by the stigmatization of sexual promiscuity and non-marital relations, and by the upholding of social institution and vocation over individual choice. Until you present compelling evidence along that lines, I feel completely justified in my position that the movement for same-sex marriage represents a debasing of the coin of matrimony, in according to dishonourable and shameful sexual relations the honour that belongs to the marriage bed alone.

          • Again, it was toxic. I am not ‘retreating’ into offence; it was necessary to call out your piece as offensive because statements like yours need challenging.

            I find it ironic in a post that accuses me of not addressing arguments that you ignore the points I made that show why your comment was bilious. You lump all gay people together, as though there was one vast homogeneous community (I’d guess that there are about a million people in the UK who identify as LGBTIQ+ – they all think the same way?). This enables you to damn them all together, whether or not they are committed to chaste, faithful, lifelong bonds. This enables you to damn them all as belonging to one vast global conspiracy to bring down the institution of marriage.

            And then you sneeringly continue by damning their motives when they do marry as only being concerned for a ‘fabulous’ wedding.

            Not content with damning all who are LGBTIQ+ through guilt by association, you continue by painting all those who support same-sex marriage as naive or stupid.

            Others will confirm that I have readily engaged in argument over substance repeatedly on this website, with many with whom I strongly disagree.

            But I have no time for innuendos, smears or stereotyping, and I will call them out when I see them.

          • He’s not lumping all gay people together at all.

            If you ask him, Do you think all gay people are the same, then you know as well as I do that he would obviously say no.

            In every comment we cannot help generalising to an extent. It is almost impossible for any assessment at all not to be a generalisation.

            Averages are very important indeed, because they are in direct correlation to aggregates.

            And when the chasm between heterosexual and homosexual stats is so great (and the fact that heterosexual stats are currently the worst they have ever been just emphasises all the more how awful the homosexual stats are to allow there still to be a chasm) then averages are very much to the point.

          • Jonathan, it seems to me that you don’t really have any arguments to show for yourself. My point has been that same-sex marriage debases the coin of marriage. Your concern seems to be the individual same-sex marriages that might be chaste, faithful, lifelong bonds. I haven’t denied that there are people who support such things at all. I mentioned Jonathan Rauch earlier, for instance. However, there’s still a huge problem. The effects of same-sex marriage effect marriage as a whole in a number of ways. And the existence of a minority of same-sex marriages that seek to be faithful still presents a problem. Marriage isn’t just an aggregation of detached individual marriages, but something more ecological and cultural in character.

            The following are some of the points that you need to address:

            1. The practice of open marriage by the majority of same-sex married couples will have the overall effect of debasing the coin of marriage for society as a whole, even if a minority are pursuing ‘chaste, faithful, lifelong bonds.’ Supporters of same-sex marriage who really care about marriage have huge battles to fight within LGBT communities. I’d be interested to see you point to evidence suggesting that these battles are being fought on any real scale or whether same-sex couples wanting to pursue be chaste, faithful, lifelong bonds are content with the prize of marriage even if at the cost of admitting large numbers of people who seemingly care little for the norms of marriage along with them.

            2. The main body of the support for the cause of the same-sex marriage has not, I have argued, been driven by a support for the norms of marriage but by the cause of equality, rights, and concerns for de-stigmatization. A number of the most prominent supporters have even made clear that they don’t take marriage itself very seriously as an institution. The fact that ulterior motives have driven the pursuit of marriage for so many itself cheapens marriage. When these ulterior motives involve the de-stigmatization, validation, and celebration of a community that is notorious unchaste, the problems are even more serious. Again, I don’t doubt that some supporters of same-sex marriage really desired the vocation of marriage, but they were a minority in a group that was pursuing very different ends, ends that will undermine marriage.

            3. Marriage isn’t merely about the people who get married, but also about the sexual norms that the unmarried abide by. Marriage is an institution and requires a culture. It isn’t just about individual marriages, but about the duties that are laid upon us all, married or unmarried. Have the LGBT communities that have been vocal in their support of same-sex marriage manifested a commitment to the creation of a marriage culture more generally, discouraging and stigmatizing promiscuity, expecting sexually active people to marry or move towards marriage? Or has marriage merely been regarded as the validation and celebration of individual unions on their own terms? Even Jonathan Rauch, who is fighting a rather lonely and misguided battle on this front, admits his misgivings about the nature of the positive reception to same-sex marriage: ‘Perhaps straights were becoming receptive to gay marriage partly because they had devalued marriage itself.’

            4. Same-sex marriage is increasingly treated as if the vanguard of the sort of thing marriage is supposed to become for everyone: gender-neutralized, childfree unless by choice, romantic and companionate, radically egalitarian, hedonic rather than vocational, deinstitutionalized, bespoke, etc. Same-sex marriage isn’t just the addition of a set of marriages, but both symptomatic and productive of a shift in what marriage is supposed to mean for everyone. The introduction of same-sex marriage doesn’t function as the subjection of same-sex couples and LGBT communities to the norms of historic marriage and its attendant culture. Rather, marriage, historically oriented towards children as an institution, must be seen as a different sort of thing if same-sex couples are to be included on equal terms. And what reasons are there to believe that this shift in the understanding of the institution won’t debase marriage more generally, focusing it more narrowly upon the choices of those who enter into it and undermining the vocational aspects.

            5. The reasons why society would protect, regulate, sanction, and celebrate a sexual bond between a man and a woman are fairly obvious. All of us entered the world through such a bond. The bond between parents and children is of one piece with the bond that the parents have with each other. Through conception and birth, the private one flesh union of a man and a woman establishes its own third and naturally extrudes into a more public realm. We were conceived in the loving union that they shared and thereby received as a gift in that site of love, humanized from the outset as begotten through the deepest of bonds. The sexual union between man and woman is the site where society welcomes new members into the world. That such a bond should be expected to be exclusive and permanent is again a natural development of its very character. Furthermore, the seriousness with which marital norms are taken arises from the fact that they exist to serve, not merely the romantic choices of the married couple, but to secure the well-being of children that arise from theirs and other such unions.

            No such one flesh union can exist between a gay couple and their sexual union lacks the natural or social significance of the relationship between a husband and wife. Why should society celebrate such unions? Why should society take notice of the sexual union within them, beyond perhaps the couple’s desire for recognition and expression of it? We can’t even define what consummation or adultery mean in the case of same-sex marriage because the sex within it lacks a natural purpose or form. The sex within it means merely what the couple within the union decide that it ought to mean. Yet for some reason, the fact that they are engaged in unnatural relations justifies the social celebration of their union over a no less committed intimate yet non-sexual friendship.

            Unless they are to be merely parasitic upon and aping of the norms of the union between a man and a woman, there needs to be a non-arbitrary and compelling reason internal to their own character for why same-sex unions are expected to be sexually exclusive, permanent, and existing only between a pair in a lifelong committed bond. There needs to be a reason why same-sex couples, even when the spark may not be in their marriage or the love has gone, are expected to stick it out, repair the damage, and make things work, without divorcing or pursuing sexual relations outside of their union. The radical non-monogamy of so many gay couples and the very high divorce rates of lesbian couples manifests a problem with same-sex marriage more generally: sufficiently compelling reasons do not exist. Those who are most supportive of chaste, faithful, lifelong bonds are largely people trying to conform same-sex relations to a strong marriage culture around them, often within the Church. But borrowed reasons won’t be enough when it comes to the pinch and the influence increasingly runs in the opposite direction.

            The fact that it was so important that same-sex unions be recognized as ‘marriages’ is important to notice. If they were treated as a different sort of union, lacking the same natural orientation to procreation and the iconic union of the two halves of the human race, for instance, it was obvious to everyone that they wouldn’t be regarded as worthy of equal honour and recognition, because they obviously are not. It was essential for their cause that they were parasitic upon the prestige of marriage, that they be regarded as equivalent unions, because they lack justification internal to the character of their own unions for the recognition and honour that they demanded.

            6. In addition to the absence of natural ends, there is the perversion of natural ends. Marriage is oriented, among other things, towards the welcoming of children into the world and to securing the natural bond between biological, legal, and social parenthood. By admitting same-sex couples to marriage, such couples are increasingly being treated as if their unions were ordered towards the bearing and raising of children too. This has had perverse and destructive results in a number of respects. Adoption is increasingly being regarded as a right, rather than as an act of charity for which the interests of the child take priority, in relation to such couples. But beyond this, it has encouraged the increased normalization of gamete donation and the use of reproductive technologies that encourage the logic of making, rather than begetting children. It also normalizes the involvement of third parties in the formation of children. It normalizes a situation where every single child in a same-sex marriage has been separated from at least one of its parents. Children are ‘reconceived’ as a shared marital project, rather than as begetting out of a loving union that can only aim at the reception of such a gift indirectly.

            Same-sex marriage is incipiently transhumanist, a monstrous thing. It pushes against the male and femaleness of humanity, encouraging us to treat same-sex couples as interchangeable with and morally equivalent to male and female couples. The fact that God only blessed the male and female pairing with fruitfulness is increasingly perceived of as an injustice of nature to be redressed by technique and technology. Donor gametes, surrogate mothers, IVF treatments, and a host of other unhealthy, seedy, and dehumanizing practices are already being normalized by this. These practices increasingly commercialize and technologize the origins of the human person and present the child as a creature whose existence and traits are to be chosen (or not, as the case may be) by their prospective parents. And the technology is still developing. We should expect artificial wombs and the engineering of gametes from skin cells to enter the picture soon, along with the rise of genetic engineering and selection of embryos. The incipient transhumanism of same-sex marriage’s dishonourable and unnatural form should be expected increasingly to drive our normalization of dehumanizing practices, practices that manifest that same-sex marriage itself is a monstrosity arising from the validation of unnatural, perverse, and shameful desires.

            Now, I know you find this unpleasant—and so contrary to the ‘let’s all be nice to the wonderful LGBT people!’ vibe we must cultivate—but you have yet to give any real reasons against the ecological and cultural effects of same-sex marriage that I have argued for. Scripture speaks of same-sex desire as an abomination, dishonourable, vile, unnatural, shameful, vicious, and with other such strong and powerful language, not because LGBT people are peculiarly evil, but because same-sex relations are dehumanizing and monstrous, tending towards the undermining of the dignity of humanity and the human person. Like suicide, same-sex relations are a paradigmatic sin that strikes against something at the very root of humanity, however witting, culpable, or intentional those engaged in them might be.

            There are definitely gay people who are honestly seeking ‘chaste, faithful, lifelong bonds,’ and intending to pursue the dignity of human character within such unions. The problem is that the logic of reality is against them, something that is revealed both in the wider sexual practice of the LGBT community and of other same-sex couples, but also in such things as the transhumanist tendencies of same-sex marriage. They may even exhibit many virtues in their relationships, but the sexual character of their union and its supposed equivalence with marriage is corrosive of and contrary to the virtues that they are pursuing elsewhere in their relationships.

          • In fact, the very fact that we cannot generalise forces us to look all the more closely at what the actual percentages are. Jonathan needs to grasp the nettle of homosexual unfaithfulness being so **comparatively** high. Together also with the effect this has on the individuals, and the negative norms that are created.

            We’re not children, and have known for decades that things are not 0% or 100%, all or nothing. But it is the worst of dodges, which I hope none of us has engaged in, to claim that all the percentages in between (e.g., 9% and 82%, to pluck numbers out of the air) are the same as each other!! There can often be all the difference in the world between them.

          • Slow hand clap. You manage to call same-sex relations parasitic, a peversion, destructive, transhumanist (to be fair, I am not even sure what that is meant to convey), monstrous, dishonourable, un-natural, shameful and dehumanising, and corrosive.

            You also call the use of IVF unhealthy, seedy (ironic, really…) and dehumanising.

            So let’s unravel some of this putrid post.

            Quote: “And the existence of a minority of same-sex marriages that seek to be faithful still presents a problem.”

            Please provide reputable evidence that only a minority of same-sex marriages seek to be faithful.

            Quote from section 1:
            “The practice of open marriage by the majority of same-sex married couples…”

            Again, please provide reputable evidence for this. Otherwise it looks suspiciously like homophobia.

            Section 2: You call a motive of seeking equality ‘an ulterior motive’. In which case I only wish we had more ulterior motives in this country. Those seeking equality were not doing it for validation, but for justice.

            You also claim to know the motives of the majority of those who identify as LGBTIQ+. How on earth could you? Or is this another assertion without evidence?

            Section 3: Here are LGBTIQ+ people fighting for the right to covenant their lives to each faithfully (and for some before God), and you complain that they are too promiscuous? But actually, it wouldn’t matter for you if every single LGTBIQ+ couple was completely and always faithful and monogamous (as later sections will show). So the glaring logical fallacies don’t matter.

            Section 4: You clearly don’t like the idea of egalitarian marriages. Tough luck. Many do. And that includes inside the church.

            Section 5: Not all of us enter the world through the sexual bond of a man and woman. That hasn’t been true for the last 39 years. More to the point, procreation is not a necessary part of marriage, and the existence of children is no bar to marriage. And, given that through adoption, previous relationships, IVF etc some same-sex couples will have children, it seems bizarre to say that marriage is necessary to protect children, but we won’t protect the children if the couples are the same-sex.

            ‘Why should society celebrate such unions?’ Your logic is that marriage should also be banned for the infertile and those past child-bearing age. Frankly, it is insulting. Society should celebrate two people committing and covenanting to each other. And it does.

            ‘The sex.. …lacks a natural form’. Since this seems so key, I should note that ‘natural’ here is undefined by you. It certainly takes place in nature. And nothing same-sex married couples do is not also done (without condemnation) by straight married couples.

            ‘There needs to be a non-arbitrary and compelling reason… for why same-sex unions are expected to be sexually exclusive…’ Again, you are writing nonsense. You might as well write the same sentence for infertile couples, who would rightly be insulted by such a phrase.

            6. Apparently all the blame of new fertility technology is to be laid at the door of same-sex couples. Yes, reproductive technology can be used badly, but it can also be a blessing. And it is mainly heterosexual couples who are involved.

            You bring in scripture at the end, though I actually think your interpretation of scripture is what is driving all your other ‘arguments’. Suffice it to say, I consider your interpretation to be badly wrong, both on how we should consider what the bible says about same-sex activity, and more generally also your anthropology, which I consider seriously defective.

            Towards the end, you link same-sex relations and suicide. Frankly, it is attitudes like yours which have led to that being too close a link in churches. Your toxic message is corrosive, bearing bad fruit.

          • Thanks for the response, Jonathan.

            Yes, I managed to call same-sex relations all those things. And I stand by my statements. I also stand by my remarks about the use of IVF, especially in the case of donated gametes.

            The practice of non-monogamy and open marriage among same-sex couples is well reported, although I should clarify my remarks to be a reference to gay couples, rather than same-sex couples more generally. Gays and lesbians differ markedly in their sociosexuality because men and women differ markedly in their sociosexuality. Gays and lesbians also differ markedly in their rates of divorce because women are far more likely to pursue divorces, whether they are married to men or to women. Here are a few examples, from sources that are far from hostile or homophobic:

            Slate: The Dirty Little Secret: Most Gay Couples Aren’t Monogamous

            [G]ay couples are very different when it comes to sex, even if this is not the convenient moment to discuss that. And in legalizing gay marriage, we are accepting a form of sanctioned marriage that is not by habit monogamous and that is inventing all kinds of new models of how to accommodate lust and desire in long-term relationships.


            In his interviews with married gay couples, Thrasher gets them to open up about the arrangements they invent. Most are some version of Dan Savage’s “monogamish.” They are monogamous when they are in the same city, they can have sex with other people but not fall in love, or they can have sex with other people for some period of time. In some far-off, ideal world, this kind of openness may infect the straight world, and heterosexual couples may actually start to tackle the age-old problem of boring monogamous sex. But do any of us really believe that?

            Daily Beast: Gay Open Marriages Need to Come Out of the Closet

            Writer and sex columnist Dan Savage famously described these arrangements as “monogamish”—“mostly monogamous, not swingers, not actively looking.” And even more couples are in them than you think. I’d say that the Alliant and SFU figures are a tad low, at least for gays. I can’t speak for lesbian couples, but few queer men I know—including myself—are in relationships that are exclusively, 100-percent monogamous. Some couples occasionally invite a third into the bedroom for a night of play, while others independently arrange their own casual hookups. Some men might even have long-term partners outside their primary relationship.

            Gawker: Master Bedroom, Extra Closet: The Truth About Gay Marriage

            The public stories focus on the universal experiences of straights and gays, while the private ones touch on the particular gay experience of sex. These latter stories—so integral to how gay men relate to each other, are left out of the conversation about gay marriage, by and large. Where straight unions idealize fidelity, gay men’s version of a lifelong commitment doesn’t necessarily include forsaking all others.

            New York Times: Many Successful Gay Marriages Share an Open Secret

            New research at San Francisco State University reveals just how common open relationships are among gay men and lesbians in the Bay Area. The Gay Couples Study has followed 556 male couples for three years—about 50 percent of those surveyed have sex outside their relationships, with the knowledge and approval of their partners.

            The Atlantic: The Gay Guide to Wedded Bliss

            When, in the 1970s and early 1980s, Pepper Schwartz asked couples about their sex lives, she arrived at perhaps her most explosive finding: non-monogamy was rampant among gay men, a whopping 82 percent of whom reported having had sex outside their relationship. Slightly more than one-third of gay-male couples felt that monogamy was important; the other two-thirds said that monogamy was unimportant or that they were neutral on the topic.

            Unsurprisingly, there are differences between the sexes here:

            Decades later, gay-male couples are more monogamous than they used to be, but not nearly to the same degree as other kinds of couples. In her Vermont research, Esther Rothblum found that 15 percent of straight husbands said they’d had sex outside their relationship, compared with 58 percent of gay men in civil unions and 61 percent of gay men who were partnered but not in civil unions. When asked whether a couple had arrived at an explicit agreement about extra-relational sex, a minuscule 4 percent of straight husbands said they’d discussed it with their partner and determined that it was okay, compared with 40 percent of gay men in civil unions and 49 percent of gay men in partnerships that were not legally recognized. Straight women and lesbians, meanwhile, were united in their commitment to monogamy, lesbians more so than straight women: 14 percent of straight wives said they had had sex outside their marriage, compared with 9 percent of lesbians in civil unions and 7 percent of lesbians who were partnered but not in civil unions.

            If you think that gay couples typically approach ‘faithfulness’ in the same way as male and female couples, I don’t think you’ve been paying attention. This isn’t to say that gay couples aren’t thinking in terms of ‘faithfulness’, just that sexual exclusivity isn’t part of it. Again, this shouldn’t be surprising, as sex between two men doesn’t have the sort of objective meaningfulness that sex has between a man and a woman. Sex between two men can far more easily mean or not mean whatever the partners choose.

            ‘Marriage equality’ was always question-begging, a piece of rhetorical sleight of hand. The real question was always whether same-sex unions and unions between a man and a woman are equal. The fact that the latter form of union brings together the two halves of the human race in the natural union by which our race is propagated, within which new persons are welcomed into society, and by which biological parents are bound to each other and to their offspring is a pretty good argument in favour of society giving it a special recognition, protection, and celebration. What has the pairing of two gay men who love each other very much got in comparison? Not much, really. Perhaps some social protections and legal provisions could arguably be justified, but it is a far cry from marriage.

            The appeal to ‘equality’ was always a distraction from this basic fact, framing the issues as a matter of individual rights, avoiding looking at marriage as an institution which necessarily is ordered towards ends that exceed many of those of the people entering into it. We were supposed to focus upon the similarities between the love between two individuals, whether of the same sex or male or female, all in order to miss the bigger picture of marriage as a vocation and institution and how radically different same-sex couples are from male and female couples on that level.

            And ‘equality’ conceived of as individual rights and equal recognition of one’s subjective bonds with a partner was never going to produce a situation friendly to marriage as an institution. Marriage as an institution and vocation places limits upon a couple, because as an institution and vocation it isn’t merely about the couple who choose to get married. Permanence and sexual exclusivity aren’t things that we just get to choose for ourselves or not. Marriage requires them of us. However, the grounds of equal recognition of one’s subjective bonds and one’s individual rights to enter into a union with the person of your choice were never friendly to marriage as an institution that makes requirements of us that go against our choices, preferences, and perceived selves. So, again, it isn’t surprising that it leads to bespoke non-monogamous unions of various all expecting recognition on equal terms.

            Do you seriously think that the campaigners for ‘marriage equality’ wanted a situation where only monogamous same-sex unions and monogamous male and female unions would be regarded as faithful marriages and all others regarded as unfaithful or non-marital? The point of marriage equality is precisely to attack marital norms that privilege particular forms of union over others. And this was never merely about overcoming the restriction of male and female.

            I never claimed to know the motives of the majority of those who identify as one of the alphabet soup of sexual and gender identities. What I did claim to know was the driving force of the same-sex marriage case and its support. And this isn’t hard to work out, for anyone who has closely followed the debates in various countries and contexts. Some arguments come to the fore and others do not. Especially in Christian contexts, there always were some people arguing for gay people’s desire for the traditional norms of marriage, save for the sexual difference. However, these arguments were not the ones that really came to the foreground, gained the public imagination, or achieved great political traction. The arguments that prevailed were arguments about equality, rights, the sameness of the love between same-sex couples and male-female couples, etc. It was also obvious that actual commitment to and concern for traditional marital norms was never in the driving seat, as a great many of the leading LGBT figures in the campaigns for same-sex marriage explicitly distanced themselves from such values in their behaviour and statements. There was ambivalence about marriage, but lots of excitement about the principle of equality and the equal social affirmation of same-sex couples’ love.

            The fact that I have categorical reasons for opposing same-sex marriage doesn’t mean that my non-categorical reasons aren’t good ones. The promiscuity of the gay community and the level of sexual inexclusivity in same-sex relations really matters if marriage is a cultural institution and not just an individual lifestyle choice. The mainstream arguments in favour of same-sex marriage focused upon marriage as a lifestyle choice that individuals of all sexualities should be permitted to enjoy on an equal basis. This fixes our attention upon marriage as an institution corresponding to people’s personal ends. Some gay individuals want the right to covenant their lives to each other exclusively for life. Other gay individuals want the advantages and recognition of marriage, but want to keep their relationship open. Yet others have no intention of getting married, but want gay relational choices to be just as validated and socially recognized as ‘straight’ people’s choices. All of these positions involve a subtle reimagining of the sort of thing that marriage is, even beyond the denial of the need for sexual difference. Marriage is framed as a lifestyle choice for individuals, not a set of norms for society as a whole, both married and unmarried.

            This is why the promiscuity of gay communities really matters. If people care about the institution of marriage, not merely equality when it comes to lifestyle choices, they will strongly discourage and socially stigmatize promiscuity and extra-marital relations. They will expect persons who desire to be sexually active to get married and to stay married. As an institution, marriage places demands upon everyone and pushes us towards virtue. Reduced from a cultural institution to a lifestyle choice for individuals, the check that marriage places upon our sexual vices is drastically weakened. Chastity is reduced from a duty to an option. The arguments for same-sex marriage were overwhelmingly for marriage as a lifestyle choice, not for marriage as a culture that places responsibilities on us. And this directly undermines marriage, even when the arguments are made by people who personally want to be in faithful, lifelong, chaste relationships.

            One of the things that same-sex marriage displays is how different the tendencies of the two sexes are in relation to sociosexuality and marriage. Lesbian marriages, gay marriages, and marriages between a man and a woman have very markedly different patterns on several criteria because men and women are quite different. Marriage isn’t egalitarian, but is ordered around the union of a man and a woman. As Ian quoted, ‘Women settle men down. Other men do not.’ And men can give women someone with which to form a permanent relationship far more readily than other women. The partners in marriage aren’t symmetrical or interchangeable but categorically distinct and complementary, as the Christian tradition has historically recognized. A father isn’t just a parent or a husband a spouse who happen to be a male. Fathers and mothers have different forms of relationships with their offspring. The wife and mother can be the heart of the family in ways that the husband and father cannot be, for instance. Same-sex marriage denies the true importance of the complementary male-female dynamic of husband and wife or father and mother for the life of the family for a bland egalitarianism that flattens everything out.

            A small percentage of people don’t enter the world through the sexual union of a man and a woman, even though they require the union of their gametes and being borne in the body of a woman. IVF is a seriously dysfunctional practice in many of its forms. Procreation is a necessary part of marriage. Now, individual couples may not bear children, but the institution of marriage that they enter is ordered towards procreation and their own union will share in such an ordering. If they don’t bear children, their union will still be defined in part by its childlessness.

            Same-sex unions may sometimes have children within them, but they are not ordered towards procreation. Every child in a same-sex union is in that union on account of some form of brokenness or dysfunction: the improvidence, insufficiency, neglect, or abuse of their natural parents, the divorce of the union into which they were born, the use of the gametes of a biological parent from which they are separated, by which they were formed in a laboratory, rather than conceived through the sexual union of their parents. Marriage exists as the gold standard form of relationship, by which biological, legal, and social parenthood are held together. Marriage is built around the natural form of procreation, protecting its integrity and securing its strength. Every same-sex union, however, necessarily involves a breach between these forms of parenthood. It necessarily involves the intervention of third parties, rather than naturally producing children from the sexual union that society recognizes within it.

            For a same-sex couple, there is no connection between their sexual relationship and the children they might have, either a formal connection to children between the type of sexual relation they are in nor a particular connection through the actual conceiving of children within it. Same-sex marriage tends to normalize the brokenness of the child’s relationships with its parents. It may depend upon adoption as an irreparable breach between the child and their natural parent. It may depend upon remarriage after divorce or broken relationship, the new relationship sustaining and finalizing the tragic breaking apart of the child’s natural family, rather than allowing for the possibility of the repair of that bond. It may depend upon establishing a dehumanizing breach between the origins of the child and any sexual union at all, replacing the natural logic of begetting with the logic of making, and upon creating a breach between a child and a biological and possibly also a gestational parent. In addition, every single child of a same-sex couple is denied either a mother or a father, or has to find such a bond outside of their immediate family unit. Same-sex unions stand in the way of the repair of the bond between a child and their natural parents, or create the breach in the first place. Same-sex marriage incentivizes the severing or perversion of the bonds between children and parents in various ways.

            One of the problems we need to wrestle with here is the way in which adoption is increasingly regarded as a right and satisfaction of the desires of adoptive parents, rather than an act of charity towards the child and their natural parents and wider family. Our process of adoption and fostering should be ordered around keeping any breach between children and their family and community of origin to a minimum and the repair of these breaches where at all possible. Kinship adoption should be the ideal, for instance.

            If a same-sex couple adopt a child, it is appropriate for society to expect them to remain in some sort of committed parental relationship for as long as they are exercising this work of charity. What a child does not do is validate the sexual union of such a couple, or make their relationship marital. Their sexual relationship is quite irrelevant to the act of charity that they are performing. Besides, in the form of their relationship they are retaining the child in an unhealthy state where it lacks either a mother or father. Ultimately, such a couple is in the same position as any other unmarried people, for instance two sisters, who enter into a joint adoption.

            What marriage does is protect children from ending up in such broken situations to begin with, by socially recognizing, protecting, and celebrating a bond that holds everything together. It protects the natural bonds between children and their biological parents. It protects the origins of children in the loving sexual union of their parents and the naturally seamless relationship between the sexual bond between parents and their bond with the offspring of their union. It honours children with a strong lineage, not separating them from any parent and maintaining the integrity of the bond throughout life so that the life of the family can be passed on from generation to generation. While some unmarried persons may serve children and marriage through the practice of adoption, their situation is never to be normalized. Adoption is always the result of a bad or broken situation, even though adoptive parents may tend the wound well. Part of the perversity of same-sex marriage is that it seeks to normalize such broken situations, resisting any repair of the wound in order to celebrate a situation sustained only in the breach. While some gay parents like Elton John might openly speak of the ‘tragedy’ of knowing that their children will grow up without a mother, their relationship is the very thing that established or maintains such a broken reality. Yet they neither repent of their sin in creating the breach, or acknowledge their duty to pursue the repair of a breach that they received from the hands of others.

            My logic is most definitely not for the banning of marriage for the infertile or those past child-bearing age. Such relationships still involve the bringing together of the two halves of humanity in the one form of sexual union that is ordered towards procreation. As society recognizes the huge importance of and adumbrates this form of relationship in the institution of marriage there are couples that can enter into and uphold this form without being capable of bearing children. Nevertheless, they are ‘infertile’—characterized by the absence of a natural capacity—and their relationship, while it can be happy, will be framed in part by the lack of children in an institution and form of relationship that is ordered towards them. Infertile couples are not the equivalent of intentionally ‘childfree’ couples, or couples who only engage in anal or oral sex. Such relationships have not typically been sanctioned by society in the same way.

            Again, there is a difference here between individual marriages and marriage as an institution. Marriage as an institution stands above individual marriages and has ends towards which it is ordered, and to which it orders individual marriages. People may enter into marriage with different intentions and ends, but they are entering into something that has a particular institutional purpose. This could be compared to the difference between the incentives given for joining the Army in recruitment messages (‘Be the Best’, ‘This is Belonging’, etc.) and the purpose for which the Army exists in the first place. While many people might share the incentives that would lead them to seek to join the Army, no small number of these people are incapable of serving or conforming themselves to the ends of the institution. Also, the fact that some genuine soldiers may never see active service doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have been soldiers to begin with, that they weren’t really soldiers after all, or that they are equivalent to people who didn’t meet the criteria. They were ordered towards the ends of the institution, even while never actually getting to realize them. And, for that matter, even in the absence of active service, in maintaining a strong ordering towards the end of the military, they served its purposes in less direct ways.

            The issue could also be compared to the difference between a sport and particular games. The fact that some football games end in goalless draws does not mean that we could remove the goalposts with completely transforming the sport. A goalless draw played out on a field with goalposts is a football game; a goalless draw played out on a field without goalposts is not. This really isn’t very hard.

            The meaning of ‘the sex within it lacks a natural purpose or form’ shouldn’t be difficult to discern either. What ‘consummation’ in a relationship between a man and a woman means is obvious. Why? Because penis in vagina sex is sex. Everything else is ancillary to this, or a use of the genitals for something other than sexual union. One cannot consummate one’s marriage with a blowjob. That act lacks the natural and objective force of meaning of penis in vagina sex. That is the end to which our sexual organs and the two halves of the human reproductive system that men and women possess are naturally ordered. The difference here is like the difference between using the ear to hear and using your ears to keep your glasses on your face. The former act relates to the natural purpose of the ear in a way that the latter does not. The two can never be made equivalent. Marriage is an entrance into the natural meaning and telos of the sexed body and same-sex unions are incapable of that.

            The fact that so many gay unions aren’t sexually exclusive suggests that they might just need some help when it comes to reasons for being sexually exclusive! The reason for male and female couples, fertile and infertile, isn’t hard to discover. Marriage is the union of the two halves of the human race in the sexual bond for which their sexual organs were created. That bond is an objective and natural means by which two bodies are united together as a single reproductive system. It isn’t merely anal or oral sex, which involves the excitation of the genitals by other means, indifferent or contrary to their natural ends. The couple who have consummated their marriage, whether or not they bear children, have united their bodies and themselves together in a way that only a man and a woman can. This union doesn’t depend on how the couple feel about what has taken place, or what subjective meaning they give to it: it is something that has a weight of meaning of its own. The natural gravity of this bond, around which other sexual acts naturally orbit, is such that any participation in such a sexual relation—or its ancillary genital acts—outside of marriage will naturally be considered the violation of the union as a whole.

            Marriage isn’t just ordered around the love a man and a woman have for each other, but around the social sanctioning of their participation in one specific sexual act, an act that has unique significance. The essential fruitlessness of gay or lesbian genital acts, by contrast means that they are disordered and subjectively defined. While same-sex marriage presumes that the couple will be engaging in genital acts together, there is no sexual act of gravity to give everything weight. Same-sex genital acts are at best satellites that have drifted away from the gravity that holds them in their rightful orbit, passing out into the blackness of the abyss. Oliver O’Donovan is good on this:

            To this given connection in our nature between male-female relationship and procreation it is possible to respond in only two ways. We may welcome it, or we may resent it. Christian teaching has encouraged us to welcome it. Christian thinkers have said, in the first place, that the connection is good for the man-woman relationship, which is protected from debasement and loss of mutuality by the fact that it is fruitful for procreation. When erotic relationships between the sexes are conceived merely as relationships—with no further implications, no ‘end’ within the purposes of nature—then they lack the significance which they need if they are to be undertaken responsibly. They become simply a profound form of play, undertaken for the joy of the thing alone, and depending upon the mutual satisfaction which each partner affords the other for their continuing justification. The honouring of each partner by the other must be founded on the honour which the relationship itself claims, by serving a fundamental good of the human race.

            Same-sex unions lack the ‘weight’ which nature gives to the union of male and female. O’Donovan writes further elsewhere (in his Grove booklet on transgenderism):

            Marriage fulfils, and so makes sense of, a feature of our common human biological nature. Human beings come into existence with a dimorphically differentiated sexuality, clearly ordered at the biological level towards heterosexual union as the human mode of procreation.

            It is not possible to negotiate this fact about our common humanity; it can only be either welcomed or resented. Marriage, precisely by being organized around this fact, enables us to welcome it and to acknowledge it as a part of God’s creational gift. It therefore enables us to be Christians, who believe in the goodness of creation, rather than Manichaeans who do not. We learn through marriage to rejoice in the fact that humankind is sexually dimorphic and heterosexually procreative, because within marriage this non-negotiable biological datum enables us to form relationships of love, between husband and wife, parent and child. What marriage can do, which other relationships cannot do, is to disclose the goodness of biological nature by elevating it to its teleological fulfilment in personal relationship. Other relationships, however important in themselves and however rich in intimacy and fidelity, do not disclose the meaning of biological nature in this way. They float, as it were, like oil upon water, suspended upon bodily existence rather than growing out of it.

            It is clear why Christian understanding of marriage cannot be expressed solely in terms of relationship between persons. It is not that we can do without speaking of relationships and persons, but that this is only one of the two poles around which a Christian theology of marriage must move. To abstract this pole from the other is to deprive Christian thought of a movement which is essential to it, the demonstration that that which is distinctively human, the ‘personal,’ belongs most securely within the context of creation as a whole…. But a conception of marriage that abstracts the personal from the biological leaves the meaning of the biological order ambiguous, even questionable. Whereupon the temptation soon overtakes us to regard it as an arbitrary and pointless limitation on personal freedom which is better resisted.

            Beyond the fact that the natural union of man and woman has weight that gives a gravity to their sexual relationship more generally, there is also the difference between men and women’s sociosexuality. The union of man and woman is also ordered towards sexual exclusivity in part because women settle men down in ways that other men cannot. Male and female forms of sexual desire generally differ in ways that counterbalance and complement each other.

            I don’t lay all of the blame of new fertility technology at the door of same-sex couples. However, they are the leading force in its normalization. In the case of other couples, though problematic, it is at least an attempt to deal with the reality of infertility and the failure of natural sexual relations ordered towards procreation to produce children. In the case of same-sex couples, it is not a response to the failure of nature, but an attempt to circumvent the natural order entirely. As a result, it normalizes artifice in a way that the use of IVF by male and female couples, though quite morally problematic (Oliver O’Donovan’s Begotten or Made? is still probably the best treatment of this), does not.

            My interpretation of Scripture doesn’t drive the rest of my arguments, but it does stand alongside them. I stand with the Scripture and the Christian tradition in declaring same-sex unions to be an abomination and in holding to a theology of marriage that is built around the male and femaleness of humanity and the bearing of children.

            I stand by everything that I have said. For the record, while holding these positions, I can address people struggling with same-sex desire, of whom I count a number among close friends and family, in a way that distinguishes clearly between their goodness as creatures created in God’s image, how much they mean to me as people I love, care about, and with whom I share a very close bond, and the evil of the sins to which they are drawn (much as I treat people who are suicidal or adulterous with compassion and care, while abhorring the acts that they commit or are drawn to).

            You may think that my position is toxic, bearing bad fruit. However, if there is one thing that is emblematic of your position, it is the fact that it is incapable of bearing fruit by its very nature, contrary to the life and the blessing that God has bestowed upon humanity in marriage. In its futile desire for life it may cling onto and worship youth, concealing its fundamental impotence with respect to life. It withers in upon itself, or rots in disease and bodily dysfunction. It may maintain a passable parody of the living union that it apes, but its inner emptiness leaves it without the gravity or the reality that it so loudly claims for itself, the stubborn insistence of its appeals all the stronger for its inability to substantiate its title to ill-gotten honours.

            Thanks for the interaction, Jonathan. I’ve said everything I want to say. You are welcome to have the final word.

          • Jonathan, are you saying that all Alastair’s arguments are mere ‘arguments’ in inverted commas? Or is there some nuance here?

            You say that in the last 40 years some babies have not come from the sexual bond of a man and a woman; they have still come from one man and one woman.

          • My thoughts on Alistair’s most recent and other posts (and a little commentary on the ‘research’ he presents) can be found at my reply (14th Nov 3.38pm) to Ian Paul’s comment (12th Nov 7.05pm). I will not be engaging further on this thread.

    • Jonathan, I am not clear why you are finding Alastair’s arguments ‘toxic’ and offensive. His comments are long, but he is used quite measured language, and he is rooting everything he says in evidence and research.

      By all means question his argument and his method as hard as you like—but accusing him of being ‘toxic’ feels like you are tackling the person, and not the argument.

      • Ian, I was quite careful to call his arguments toxic and offensive, rather than him. I called them that deliberately and after some consideration. I do not find his language measured at all. He has characterised the majority of same-sex couples as non-monogamous on the flimsiest of ‘evidence’ and traduced the motives of those seeking equal marriage. He has also asserted that the motive is for a ‘fabulous’ wedding. I fail to see how his can be read as anything but a sneering response.

        There are many comments on here and on other threads with which I disagree strongly, as you know. But as you also know, I have rarely (I think only once before) called out a comment as offensive. Alistair has also made many comments on this thread which (to me) are outright sexist nonsense, but he was not libelling the morality of a large group of people.

        If someone wishes to make such strong assertions about the morality and motivation of a group of people, they need equally strong evidence to back it up, otherwise it is at best reckless.

        Alistair’s ‘evidence’ has turned out to be a few magazine articles/blogposts and research that is decades out of date and predates equal marriage. Ironically, the research referred to in one of these articles (the Couples Study, Spears and Lowen (2016)) points to the exact opposite from what he was claiming.

        The study sought same-sex male couples aged 18-40, deliberately including couples who were both monogamous and also who had open relationships. Using their prime method, they recruited 290 monogamous couples and only 48 non-monogamous. They actually had to go looking extra hard (they used Grindr) to find more non-monogamous couples. They also recruited 242 single men, of whom 90% were seeking a monogamous relationship.

        In other words, the vast majority of gay people want to find a partner for life, just like most straight people.

  8. “I think [men] should feel some reflected sense of shame …”

    Unlike Martin Saunders and Ian, since I’m an incorrigible believer in old fashioned ideas like personal responsibility, a corollary of which is rejecting collective guilt, I don’t. You may as well say that women should feel some “reflected sense of shame” at the actions of every Mean Girl (and I’ve deliberately picked the mildest example I could).

    Even if I agreed with the principle, what about the practical consequences? Either generalizations are fair game, or they’re not: you can’t just insert “power + prejudice = [-ism of choice],” and double standard duly created, expect that to be the end of the matter. If men are subjected to collective guilt, it won’t turn most towards whatever mold they’re supposed to fill; it’ll drive more and more towards the out-and-proud misogyny found in the darker corners of the manosphere.

    This is, at root, an abuse of power, and power’s ruthlessly egalitarian. Alienating a majority of men into silent resentment is only gonna exacerbate the problem.

    • James, that’s interesting. But although I quote Martin S sympathetically, I don’t take quite the same position, and I agree with you that I am sceptical about the value of collective guilt.

      I do, however, believe in collective listening. I have not a few female friends who view all this rather more robustly, and think that drawing clear lines and telling people where to get off is the right response. But there are complex power and personality issues, and I think it is easier for women to say that to other women (should they wish to) than for men to.

  9. Ian, if you’re interested in an imagined world where men and women exist on equal terms as of right, I can point you to my Tales from Ragaris (Swords without Misogyny on Facebook, and website Power is abused here by both sexes.
    I haven’t read through all the comments on your piece in detail, but note that they seem to end up abusing feminists and gay campaigners. I wonder why?

    • Hi Penelope.

      Don’t you think that in order for abuse to be taken seriously as it should we should keep the word for actual abuse rather than throw it around in conversation between people who are engaged in a critical assessment of social and intellectual movements? Accusing those who disagree with you of abuse is very poor form and suggests a desire to close down intellectual dispute through smear and personal attacks. Why not actually engage the arguments rather than merely dismiss them out of hand?

      • Hello. I am an old-fashioned person who often thinks of the word “abuse” in its old meanings, which include (I think) “criticise”. I apologise for unintentionally offending people by forgetting that it now means or implies serious misbehaviour or crime in any context.

    • Penelope, they might attribute bad things to certain feminists and gay campaigners, but that is not abuse. We will not have a society where what is honestly considered to be statement of fact can be termed ‘abuse’ as though it is something that should not be said. If someone thinks something is true, then who has the right to stop them speaking truth or perceived truth? On occasions the truth is backed up by hard data, and still people try to stop them uttering it. This is in a climate where even untruths are not illegal. No-one should ever accede to a request or demand not to utter perceived truths, still less truths backed by hard data.

  10. May I just say I have found this comment thread to be fascinating but don’t have enough time Tom contribute at the moment. Thanks Ian for your original piece. I do feel that society has many things wrong with the relationship between men and women at the moment – the sexual revolution has in fact driven men and women apart. Which is why the world desperately needs the gospel at the moment!

  11. I think we are leveling our complaints at the wrong targets, and criticism of modern ‘3rd-wave’ Feminism (as well as criticism of aspects of the SSM debate) while tangentially relevant and important in their own right, are neither the source of the behavior to which #metoo is a response, nor an adequate solution to it. They are side-tracking this discussion, and, in some cases, exhibiting the behavior we should be condemning.

    My thoughts are that, at it’s heart, #metoo is a legitimately angry and frustrated reaction against the abuse of power in closed spaces, an abuse primarily -but not exclusively- perpetrated by men. Within that also is another anger, anger at the deliberate and silencing (in the sense of depriving a voice) pressure placed on those affected. The response that is needed is not one that demonises men, or trivalises women, but one built around a narrative that seeks to rebuild trust between the sexes.

    On the specific issue of feminism, I’ll say only this, and hope that people can come into agreement with it.

    That Feminism is, at it’s core/origin, is the desire for justice and freedom commensurate with that which is perceived* to be held by men, yet aware of the differences between the sexes. In this at least it is not intrinsically evil, or misguided, and actually something that as Christians we should support. The virtues of feminism are many and varied, they still are, and should be defended by men as much as by women. That said, it is also surely the case that ‘Feminism’ (of the 3rd wave), as experienced in public discourse today, bears only a passing resemblance to that origin, and there is much to be critical of. How is it that, within feminism, Germaine Greer, once the radical progressive ‘destroyer-of-families’, is now no-platformed out of universities for being too conservative! Modern feminism is also what gave the world Milo Yiannopolis…

    We desperately need, in the current narrative, to separate the two. We should not use the word feminist as a general pejorative term, and be specific about what we mean: after all Feminism gave us both the ‘slutwalk’ and universal suffrage…. What feminism do we mean?

    • Exactly! ‘Feminism’ is too vague a term.

      Equality is good.

      Seeking equality on all the things men do wrong is really bad.

      Seeking more freedom than was present 50 years ago is also bad unless ‘freedom’ is defined coherently.

      Even when it has been defined coherently, demonstrating that the freedom in question is a good thing is a second task.

      The name feminism is problematic since what we want is the best for all, and focus on one gender to the exclusion of the other is detrimental to that goal.

      Speaking of ‘women’ as though all women were the same (‘Trust Women’ to seek an abortion…) can only be sinister since it cannot be put down to low IQ.

      • I agree with you in general Christopher, but I’m not sure I understand the final comment?

        “Speaking of ‘women’ as though all women were the same (‘Trust Women’ to seek an abortion…) can only be sinister since it cannot be put down to low IQ.”

        I understand that you’re saying we shouldn’t assume that all women speak with an identical voice, and that to do so is ignorant and I quite agree, but I’m not sure what the comment in parenthesis is in reference to?

        Please clarify…

        • Abortion campaigners often generalise about ‘women’. But the women of which they speak are actually a minority – and even then one can never generalise. They know these things to be true et continue with their clichés. That is not because they have low IQ. They are either taking the mick or thinking that the selfish end justifies their selfish means.

        • Yes – often people are trying to make apples equal to oranges. Which really is a backwards step. I would far prefer to have both apples and oranges.

    • Hi Mat

      Surely that’s the genetic fallacy – judging a movement by its original intentions rather than what it is really like now.

      Even Tom on this thread still defines feminism in terms of opposition to ‘patriarchy’, whatever that is.

      My question is whether women are really better off now than they were pre-1960s (for all its faults), and whether the freedom and power they seek is really what is best for women, men, children and society. What actually is the ideal, non-utopian (given fallen human nature) relationship between the sexes? I rarely feel like those who call themselves feminists are offering a convincing answer to that question. Though perhaps your experience is different?

      • It would be the genetic fallacy if I was passing judgement in that sense….saying “feminism is good because it’s origins were noble”, but that’s not what I said, or at least not what I intended to say. The nub of my assertion is that feminism contains both good and bad, and should not be characterised exclusively by either. That’s not a judgement call. 😉

        As for your question, I don’t think there’s an answer that would be satisfactory for anyone capable of being handled in the comments section of this blog. I’ve argued before though that I agree with you, and what women’s emancipation has brought is not so much ‘freedom’, simply a more forgiving master: liberated from the home, enslaved to the workplace…etc.

        What is the ideal? I haven’t the foggiest.

      • Are women better off now than they were pre-1960s? You could make an argument that a prisoner is better off in a well-run prison than outside in the wide world. At least in prison prisoners get properly fed and looked after, get most their decisions made for them, and are not in danger of being set upon by passing marauders. It’s an extreme analogy, but applicable, I think.

        • They are not as happy. Happiness levels were highest in 1957 (General Household Survey). So if they are less happy, to an important extent one can ask What Was The Point? You will not be happy if there is a manufactured male-female stand-off in society, or your are incredibly stressed from balancing work and married life and somehow trying to give your best to your children – all this in an era of labour-saving devices, or if you are in the midst of the sexual revolution which is not conducive to human flourishing.

          • I don’t know if you were around in 1957, but I was. I was 6 years old. My mother was very unhappy, but was the kind of person who if she had then filled in a survey, would probably have said she was happy, because she felt she should be. Really, the 1950’s were not that great.

          • That is a highly relevant point, which I had thought of, but:

            -who is to say people are any more honest today?

            -how typical was she?

            -the point is certainly not that the 1950s were great, but that these are indeed the statistical findings, and sometimes we can be happier when less affluent. Community spirit and having to work for things produces a happier life.

            -nor are the 1950s a single entity by any means. Purse strings at the start were tight, whereas by the end they had never had it so good, we hear. This particular finding, significantly, dates from the latter period.

          • Addendum: What is bound to happen is that if the biggest and most reliable happiness-correlates (marriage and religious involvement) are present, then happiness levels will be higher – it would be very surprising if the happiness levels were not higher under those circumstances.

          • Correlation does not equal causation – it’s almost pointless to say that a survey on happiness can tell us anything about the effects of feminism given there are so many other factors involved.

            I noticed Will made a comment earlier about patriarchy ‘whatever that is’ – I suggest the best way to find out is experientially – go and experience a non-Western patriarchal society and listen to women’s stories. I can tell you from experience that they don’t have many happy endings.

            We really have a distorted view of these issues in the West. For example, women following men’s footsteps into workplaces displaced from the home environment (which is the result of the industrial revolution) is not a good thing for family life – but it probably wasn’t a good thing when men did it in the first place. Not that most people had much of a choice but then, the wife staying at home with the kids is a middle class privilege and not a luxury which less well off women can afford. I guess in a perfect society, children would be where their parents worked.

            Most of us men (especially if we are Christians) live sheltered from what has given rise to #metoo phenomenon – and thankfully it seems to be more and more confined to the worlds of show biz and politics. When I started my first job as an engineer back in the late nineties, I was amazed that my colleagues didn’t swear or talk in a derogatory way about women (having had previous experience of hearing the most horrendous conversations in a summer job) – until one of them told me that everything changed on the day I started because on the same day the first female engineer joined their department! What was the main reason for their change in behaviour? A company policy of zero tolerance towards inappropriate behaviour towards women.

            There are layers of complexity to this issue and the way we view it through our personal male Western experience. Sometimes in the evangelical world we take too simplistic an approach – especially when we use self-contradictory statements like ‘equal but different’ which have more in common with a George Orwell novel than the Bible.

          • Christopher – I agree on marriage and religious involvement correlating to happiness and almost definitely causing it – but there is definite research leading us to those conclusions.

          • ‘Equal but different’ is not remotely contradictory.

            It means people are to be regarded as being of equal worth, paid the same if they do the same, that sort of thing.

            Which of the 2 are you denying? Equal? Or different? Because they are 2 of the most undeniable things there are.

          • ‘Equal but different’ is contradictory because difference normally means inequality especially in a fallen world. If the slogan was ‘equal worth but different’ it would be somewhat better but it removes the rhetorical intent which, to my mind, is to say “we’re not being unjust even though it appears we are because we value you as you are even though we are not letting you do things you are perfectly capable of doing”. The slogan is normally applied by complementarian men to marriage and roles in church and it is there that the contradiction becomes more apparent.

            For example, if women cannot lead or teach (other than children and other women) in church, that is an inequality and not merely a difference because those who lead or teach are the ones who are listened to most, who make the big decisions, who are valued more and are paid more. You could of course argue that the last factor shouldn’t be the case and we should pay the cleaner as much as the pastor but that opens up a whole other debate!

            I am not denying difference or equality. It’s just that the slogan is normally applied in such a way that it means – ‘you are different and therefore you cannot be equal in these specific areas’. In other words, one difference (gender) is used as a reason for inequality in roles in church. Or to put it another way, I could use the slogan the other way round, ‘different but equal’ to mean that women should lead and teach in church – and in that way I would be denying neither difference nor equality. Then you would have to dispute my slogan and that is exactly the problem with slogans like this and why this comment is more than three words long (and so was yours).

          • Hi Tom.

            By patriarchy you appear to mean simply the fact of men having more power (social, cultural, economic) than women. But men (almost) always have more such power than women – it comes with the territory. So you’re basically criticising all human culture and its impact on women. But cultures differ hugely in how they impact women. Should we not differentiate between them? Particularly as the greater social and economic power of men is surely here to stay.

            Besides, our own societies which have gone furthest with gender equality are hardly gardens of female delight. The misery of women in a culture which has (in part in response to feminist demands) deregulated sex, condoned promiscuity, promoted divorce and abortion, normalised illegitimacy, marginalised marriage and promoted relentlessly the vision of the self-sufficient woman who ‘has it all’ is well documented. In response feminists often say that it is better to be free than happy but imprisoned. But this is the cry of utopians down the ages, who look at nature and culture and see in them only artificial limits which, if only we could be rid of them and establish equality then all will be well, or if not well then free, or if not free then equal.

            For what actually is the endpoint here? If patriarchy is treated as the problem then the only solution is to end the greater power of men. But that is not an achievable goal – men will always wield greater social, cultural and economic power for reasons too numerous to list here but linked to their essential nature. So we just enter a permanent state of criticising and emasculating men and trying to promote and empower women to achieve by artifice a parity which the natural course of things would never obtain or sustain. More quotas, more parental leave, more support for childcare, more fertility treatment, more support for mental illness and stress, more rules on how men should behave etc etc.

            And if by some almighty act of cultural will we somehow succeed in achieving (and sustaining) the equal power of men and women, what then? Will we all be happier? The evidence is strongly against that one. Perhaps we will be freer – but if freedom is defined in terms of harmony with one’s true nature then that too seems doubtful. More equal then? But since justice only requires that like cases be treated alike it is questionable whether an equality which treats such different things as men and women alike (and in the process makes them miserable) is even a true equality.

            And what is a true equality anyway? I confess I am yet to see a convincing answer to that advanced by feminists. How is this utopia supposed to work? You suggest that the children should join the parents in the workplace. That really is a utopian dream, and obviously impractical and undesirable. You speak of the stay at home mum as a middle class luxury, but in that do you not betray the truth – for a luxury is a highly desirable thing? But the more families who opt for that luxury when they can afford it reduces the overall ‘power’ of women in society (since power in the sense meant is always exercised through the workplace), so the quest for equal power never ends.

            Men will always exercise more social, cultural and economic power than women, for numerous reasons linked to biology, psychology and the practical business of life. Call it patriarchy if you must but I suggest you come to terms with it and stop seeing it as the enemy, and start seeing the good in it, and how it can benefit women and not merely oppress them. Anything else is to invite despair in the midst of ceaseless striving.

          • Will You write – ‘Men will always exercise more social, cultural and economic power than women, for numerous reasons linked to biology, psychology and the practical business of life.’ I find this a very strange assumption and, if nothing else, based on no vision of the Kingdom or gospel critique of prevailing culture – at least not one that you make clear. What might patterns of power and relating look like in a redeemed society then? Just more of the same but perhaps more loving as it happens?

          • Hi David. Why do you find it a strange assumption when it is an observation of universal experience in Western society even after a century of feminism, and the causes of the disparity of power are apparent and well-documented? Surely it is the assumption that it could realistically be otherwise that is strange.

            While the NT presents a vision of women treated with equal dignity and enjoying more power and responsibility than otherwise, I see no reason at all to expect equal power of men and women as a social reality as an expression of the kingdom in this world. What would give you that impression? The kingdom is never presented as overwriting the natural differences between men and women including in their relationship to power.

            It’s one thing to assert that women should have the same opportunities as men in terms of leadership positions, quite another to expect population level differences between men and women to dissolve and leave some kind of equal condition of power between the male and female sex. Now that really is utopian, and even to aim at it is deeply harmful to women, men, children and society.

          • Hi Will
            That men have ‘always’had more power than women is the essence of patriarchy. That something has ‘always’ been so does not make it right. We are constantly reminded on this blog that our culpable nature and the transgressions of our culture(s)are due to the Fall. The dominance and asymmetry of patriarchy is surely not part of God’s good creation, but a corruption of it.
            Why assume that men will always yield more power? And why assume that this is either natural or good? What you speak of as natural in society is highly artificial. Women have always worked alongside men. It’s only in the upper classes that women were able to be idle, or, more recently, that middle class mothers stayed at home with their children. Working class women, peasants and slaves have always worked.
            In your reply to Karen below you suggest that no one here has anything but goodwill or respect for women. If you really believe that I suggest that you re read Alastair’s lengthy commenuts.

          • Hi Penelope

            Men will always occupy more of the powerful social and economic positions than women for reasons such as:
            1) Women tend to choose to spend more time caring for their family than advancing their position and power
            2) Women tend to be less interested in position and power anyway
            3) Women do not tend to push themselves forward as much as men
            4) The human race, and any given people group, needs women to give greater focus to raising the next generation if it is to survive and this need is often internalised
            5) Women tend to prefer jobs that give them better work-family-life balance
            6) People (men and women) on average have a preference for male leadership

            These factors are very well known and I’m a bit baffled why I need to rehearse them.

            I am not making an argument against women working or leading but against the very different idea that we should expect or aim for an equal power in society of men and women. Such an idea is crude social engineering that can only be achieved by gross violations of freedom and other important social values. There is also no reason why it should be thought desirable.

          • Hi Will
            Your reasons pertain to industrialised, modern western societies. They may have a norm, but they are cultural and contingent. What is your evidence that women tend to be….any of those things. No one I know has a preference for male leadership; they have a preference for competent and ethical leadership.
            And, if so, might this be because they have been conditioned to this tendency….by patriarchy?
            Women who do push themselves forward get called pushy, strident, ball-breaking etc. Pushy men are called manly and assertive. Alastair below comments that women do no t contribute as much as men to news sites. Is it any wonder when you see the vile trolling someone like Mar Beard suffers?
            Of course women should have equal power, equal access, equal influence. We, too, are image bearers.

          • Hi Penelope

            So you agree that they pertain to our society. Which is our context.

            They will also pertain generally since they are grounded in nature.

            The relation between the image of God and the overall social and economic power of each sex is not as you state. The image of God does not contradict the differences of sex, and there is no reason to think that it confers on sex as a natural phenomenon any particular relationship to certain forms of power.

            More generally there is no reason to suppose that either the image of God or the kingdom involves a commitment to equality of outcome in any given area for the sexes, including social and economic power.

            Concerning preference for male leadership, see eg

            ‘The study [by The Female Quotient], published on Tuesday [17 January 2017], showed that not only do an overwhelming 77% of men believe that a man is the best choice to lead an important project, but also the majority (55%) of women.’

          • Tom, your point on workplaces displaced from the home is an interesting one and brings us back to Chesterton and Belloc’s distributism.

          • Hi Will
            Yes, they pertain to contemporary society because they are contingent.
            Yes, they are always contingent. How can we tell that they are ‘grounded in nature’?
            As Jonathan has observed above, there are few differences between male and female brains. Since we have lived in agrarian societies, the physical differences between men and women have been comparatively insignificant and it has been only the elite castes who could afford male and female roles. Even the way we speak about gender: effeminate men, girly girls, tomboys, manly men, demonstrates how cultures have constructed gender norms and how they are seen as in opposition to each other.
            I am not at all surprised that 77% of men believe that they make better leaders. To misquote Mandy Rice Davies : they would, wouldn’t they? Nor does the 55% of women surprise me. It is hardly objective. Women have been conditioned to believe that men are ‘natural’ leaders (and all oppressed groups can collude in their own oppression. Just look at ‘Conservative Woman’!).
            I am not so sure as you seem to be that all gender differences persist in the kingdom (or in the new creation) but if they do why do you infer that difference presupposes inequality? Patriarchy is a distortion of God’s good creative purposes and the product of a fallen world.

          • Dear David and Penelope, one of the classic examples of this is world Scrabble. Scrabble as a casual international game is largely played by women, which is perhaps not surprising given the widely attested greater linguistic fluency amongst women.

            But the world championships are dominated by men. This is an indicator that men are more interested in competition, and are more open to the obsessional interest that is needed to become a champion.

            Will the presence of the kingdom of God reverse this? Why should it? There is nothing at stake here, but it is a reflection of differentiated interests and abilities.

            For people like you and me David, who believe that there is no arena of ministry which is not in principle open to women, it is confirming to see women in all the different roles of leadership in the NT. But it can be a tad embarrassing to note that there are still more men in leadership than women—and no-one in the NT appears to have any problem with that.

            The difference in the kingdom of God might not be the differentiated distribution of characteristics which lead to differentiation distribution of power, but the way that that power is used—to serve and support, not to dominate and control.

          • Penelope, merely quoting the *name* of ‘Conservative Woman’ is not incriminating evidence against it. Evidence would need to be substantive, chapter and verse, which we can then assess.

          • Tom, difference does not normally mean inequality. Apples are not unequal to oranges. Giraffes are not unequal to filing cabinets. 7-year-olds are not unequal to 52-year-olds. Women are not unequal to men.

          • Hi Penelope

            Women in Britain in 2016 in the workplace are conditioned to see men as natural leaders? Are you serious? How many decades of feminism and progressive education do you think it will take to recondition them? And the men too for that matter? At what point in your social engineering experiment do you accept that actually the reason this has always been and continues to be the case is because it isn’t conditioned but is natural? The qualities of what people look for in leaders (because of what leadership is) just do more strongly correlate with the qualities more strongly connected with being male.

            It doesn’t take big differences in brain structure to translate into large differences in psychology, especially when accompanied by other genetic and hormonal differences. This is a good link:

            I see no scriptural reason to think that God ever intends men and women to have the same power of any particular kind (that would require having all the same capacities and propensities) or have the same average outcomes in any particular field.

          • This debate could go on for ever – after all the problem did start in Genesis 3:16 and will hardly all be unwound here. But just to make a couple of brief replies to Christopher. Yes, Chesterton and Belloc’s distributism is interesting although I’m not sure it is necessarily the answer to workplace displaced from home. With more and more automation of production, the progress of technology which allowed the industrial revolution may well allow a return to working closer to the home or from home – but society would have to see that as a priority. That priority could be overridden by the desire to have riches rather than the happy medium advocated in Scripture of ‘neither poverty nor riches’ (Proverbs 30:8).

            As for difference leading to inequality – it doesn’t really work to argue from analogy without mentioning specifics. Oranges are more useful than apples if you want more vitamin C rather than simply it being a matter of taste. A seven year old can’t vote but a 52 year old can. It is necessary to come down to specifics. Are there specific differences between women and men which mean women cannot lead or teach in church?

            Ian’s point that the way power is to be used in the kingdom of God is crucial – if we have a model of leadership that is about command and control then men will be better at it (I would argue men are better at it because of social conditioning rather than anything genetic – and that is why they also dominate the competitive scrabble world). But if it is leadership in a more biblical sense there is no reason for women not to be as good as men. They may even be better because social conditioning as given them the higher emotional intelligence necessary when for leading by influence and not control (which in the church where everyone is a volunteer, has to be the normal mode of leadership). In my experience, female Ministers tend to exercise better relational leadership than men. But of course men can do this too if they recognise that their socially conditioned need to be in control is inhibiting good leadership in the church.

          • Hi Tom

            You suggest women tend to be better at biblical leadership than men. If that is so why are there not more female leaders in the bible, and why did Jesus not appoint more?

            But anyway, I don’t really want to dispute the ability of a woman to lead effectively – I know many very good women leaders (including my wife).

            Having said that, leadership of most kinds tends to come more naturally to men because as a function it tends to require being confident, assertive, having mastery of one’s emotions including in conflict and disagreement, and being inspirational to others and inspiring confidence. These are characteristics which come more naturally to men, though of course many women also excel in them. But averages concern populations not individuals.

            I should say they are also characteristics which come more naturally with age and maturity (and I say this as a youngish person in my 30s).

          • Christopher
            I would quote examples from ‘Conservative Woman’, but since the vast majority of the articles by women are examples of Stockholm Syndrome, you need only to pick one at random.

          • Hi Will
            If you believe that decades of feminism and so-called progressive education have improved things significantly, then you only need to look at Trunp and Weinstein and the #me too campaign to see how far we are from true equality. And it is not about social engineering, it is about equality of access and opportunity. It is about justice. Which is a kingdom value.

          • Penelope – justice involves treating like cases alike. It doesn’t involve trying to make groups with different innate average characteristics produce equal average social outcomes. God would never set us such an absurd, unattainable and harmful social goal and there is no reason at all to think he has.

          • Stockholm Syndrome? So women are victims and men are captors? I rebuke that.

            Surely that was not what you meant?

            In addition, to say that all the articles are the same is a worthlessly sweeping generalisation in spades.

          • Christopher

            All the articles in Conservative Woman are driven by ideology and all the ones I have read are equally toxic. The women who write for the site collude with its misogyny. That what I mean by Stockholm Syndrome

          • Gosh! My memory is hazy but I have read 10 or so articles from them and remember agreeing strongly.

            Your term ‘misogyny’ is an emotional term and their topics were factual not emotional. Surely to turn factual to emotional cannot be defended, can it?

            ‘Toxic’ is an even stronger term. Does it apply without contradistinction to everything that appears on their site. No nuance here?

            All that when I asked for chapter and verse.

            Stockholm Syndrome I had not heard of, but it cannot have a private meaning, only an agreed meaning. For some reason I found a definition that Stockholm Syndrome is where women are, without realising it, the compliant *victims* of *captor* men. Strong stuff. Is that different from your own understanding of the phrase?

  12. ‘…We desperately need, in the current narrative, to separate the two. We should not use the word feminist as a general pejorative term, and be specific about what we mean: after all Feminism gave us both the ‘slutwalk’ and universal suffrage…. What feminism do we mean?…’

    Thanks Mat – helpfully stated and steered. Never heard of ‘slutwalk’??? but with you on the rest. The Church should be at the forefront of the liberation of women to be all that God created them to be. We must carefully examine our theology, culture, own nurture and presuppositions and search for the mind of Christ in this. For long the Church has adopted or crafted the gender injustices and inequalities. I am a Biblical evangelical Christian Feminist.

    • Thanks Simon.

      I often find myself in the curious position where I would not call myself a feminist, and actively avoid such classification, but yet would agree with and advocate for positions that form the central pillars of said movement….

      It is not that feminism is a ‘dirty’ word as such, but that in my opinion it simply carries to much baggage to be useful. Much like the word ‘progressive’, it now does more harm than good, and in some contexts even constitutes a slur. I hope that Liz Shercliff, Penelope and others continue to work for the good in feminism. It undoubtedly exists and I am worried that a discussion of this intensity might silence some of the more valuable voices….

  13. Many years ago I was invited to speak at a university Feminist society. When I got there I felt like Daniel in the lion’s den with Initial intense animosity from many whose questioning was sharp and aggressive. I was struck by their sense of collegiate pain. It seemed many had the presupposition and prejudice that I as a churchman was somehow pre-programmed to be misogynist. After my brief summary of scriptures highlighting the significance women had in the life of Jesus and the equality and dignity shown by reception of the same Spirit at Pentecost and their leadership roles in Romans etc, they were shocked and softened. It was quite a lesson to me – they had been hurt by men or the church, or fed a lie about the church and were wired to be on the offensive. Definition is key and feminist as a word carries all sorts of baggage in the church, however I think using it both pragmatically useful to awaken interest in the suspicious, to provoke reflection from the christian and to use it to speak of the full equality with men, dignity and priceless worth every woman has to Jesus.

  14. Thanks for the post as ever Ian.

    I do have one gripe though: what does “neoliberal economics” have to do with anything?! You don’t think sexism, inequality or harassment occur in socialist organisations or states? Or that women were harassed or abused under the feudal system? Come on, you’re not George Monbiot.

    • Social organisations and states have a nominal commitment to an egalitarian distribution of resources, and most such movements (including e.g. both the French Revolution and the Communist movement in Russia) initially included statements of women’s equality.

      Alas, power corrupts, and this egalitarianism is quickly forgotten in both kinds.

      But neo-liberalist economics does not even have a pretence of interest in being egalitarian—indeed, it is based on quite the opposite. I think it therefore has a structural commitment to the unequal distribution of power, and it is no surprise that it is therefore dominated by men. The only way women appear to be able to compete is imitating men by ‘leaning in’.

      • I think the line between state ideology and economics is being very blurred here.

        A centrally planned economy may well be inspired by philosophical notions of equality but is not obliged to promote any particular line on gender expectations.

        And under “neoliberalism” (what this actually is and whether we have it now is a debate for another day), we are currently making many inroads into gender equality, and I would argue this is because Mises is right about economics itself being morally neutral.

        It confuses me that, first, you seem to envisage a degree of social democracy that would diffuse power enough to limit abuse (! – good luck with that) and second, you sound sceptical about society asking women to “lean in” and imitate men when this is surely the exact same treatment they would get under one of these egalitarian regimes, i.e. “we’re all equal… so off you go to work in the fields.” If you suggest that women would be respected as equal in value but different in suitability for different roles in society then we’re back to systemic power imbalances…

        • Hi Tom

          Surely ‘systemic power imbalances’ is just a fancy (and ideologically motivated) way of saying that two groups with different general features will have different general outcomes in areas where those features are relevant? Given that God has made men and women different it is surely obvious that they will have different average outcomes in any area affected by those differences. I don’t really understand how this can be disputed if looked at objectively. Why then would he require that men and women ought to have equal average outcomes in areas for which their innate differences will plainly give them different average outcomes? That would be a bizarre and incoherent ethical principle. Why on earth does anyone think this is scriptural, or sensible for that matter?

          • Hi Will – I agree with you. I don’t see inequality (i.e. of workforce gender balance, in a particular area) as evidence of systemic oppression – if it is, why aren’t we campaigning for more women refuse collectors? These inequalities can help us to ask questions but shouldn’t make us jump to conclusions.

            I’m critiquing Ian’s implicit derision of a neoliberal system as being “committed to inequality” in a way that makes abuse inevitable. My point is that you can easily have social power imbalances and abuse within (what is hoped to be) an economically egalitarian system.

            That said, we need to accept that many of the so-called inherent differences between male and female are socially programmed and we shouldn’t just accept these as given, nor assume they are part of the creation order.

          • Thanks Tom. I think I’d say they are particular social expressions of innate differences. The point is to avoid a suggestion that they’re arbitrary or lack all grounding in natural characteristics.

            Dress is a classic example: fashions vary considerably, but the acceptable dress of each sex always reflects something about them that is thought important to express.

  15. 87 posts: of which barely a dozen, decently short ones are actually *by* women, while the men barely take time out to remind us of our physical weakness and predestined role as child bearers before reverting to their favourite topic of whether they can or can’t sleep with each other.
    One can only wonder that we’re even considered worthy of the sort of attentions Ian’s original post was (had we forgotten?) about – which I, in common with most women it seems, merely experience as “business as usual”.

    • Hi Karen.

      If there are fewer comments by women here that is not by any design or cause beyond the fact that fewer women have commented. Your tone appears sneering towards men, which is hardly pleasant, particularly as no one on here has anything but goodwill and respect towards women. Perhaps you would consider contributing to the discussions, which as well as being constructive would also address the lack of female voices which you note?

      • Will,

        It is probably worth bearing in mind common differences between male and female modes of interaction. Men love to spar and argue in comments and elsewhere. Our typical behaviour in comments is to challenge and dispute, to stress test ideas and fight our disagreements out. We do this on most subjects and we can obsessively devote ourselves to the discussion of subjects that don’t have immediately personal relevance to us, simply because we like to sharpen our thinking in and play the games of argument.

        We don’t need to wait for permission to speak up or to take space in the conversation, because we expect that everyone must make their own space and justify their presence by the strength of their ideas and capacity for debate. We may also believe that such a form of debate is usually more apt for exposing the strengths and weaknesses of ideas than highly egalitarian and non-confrontational forms of discourse, when everyone gets a say and people can’t really be challenged, lest they be cowed into silence.

        Men leave over 80% of comments on news sites, for instance. We represent about 90% of editors on Wikipedia. We are often in our element in such interactions. Of course, some men dislike such interactions and some women love them, but the norm is that male groups have a considerably higher preference for such forms of engagement. By contrast, if you look at any online context dominated by women, you will see very different patterns of engagement, with a lot less appreciation for conflict and a lot more emphasis upon equality.

        And these patterns can be seen elsewhere. Deborah Tannen and others have explored them in children. Young boys are far more accustomed to competitive speech, to sparring, arguing, or one-upping each other, proving their strength and the strength of their positions through ritual combat. Young girls, by contrast, are far more accustomed to speech that is collaborative or mutually affirming. You’ll also see this in a classroom or discussion setting. The men, operating with a competitive model of speech, will be more likely to put themselves forward, to assert themselves, to interrupt, to challenge, etc. The women, by contrast, working with a more communal and egalitarian model of speech, are more likely to feel that their voices require permission or that they must apologize for speaking up.

        Neither approach is ‘wrong’, just different. We must recognize the strengths and the weaknesses of both and create space for both. So, for instance, I really think that it is important to have contexts where we can stress-test beliefs such as the belief Roger Olson mentions, concerning society’s supposed lack of need for men save for reproduction. This view is really a ridiculous one, yet speaking of the ways in which society needs men can be considered threatening for many women, as it highlights relative strengths and advantages that men have that may seem to them to be naturalizations and justifications of their oppression or of a second-class status for women. If there is one fact that we are always seeing the results of, but which is very costly to face up to in a society where everything is reduced to univocal values, it is the fact that women truly are the weaker sex. Understanding how this can be true without women being the lesser sex is something that modern egalitarian types struggle to do. As I pointed out in my first comment here, we need places where our strengths can be explored and developed together, which is one of the reasons why treating men and women interchangeably is a problem. Such contexts will advantage men, because men are typically more agentic, assertive, confident, and prepared for rough interaction.

        Recognizing this, I listen to and read a lot of women, but tend to be wary about where I argue about and stress-test their ideas, knowing that doing this with women themselves can leave them feeling that I am closing them down. The context of a man’s blog post is a good context to discuss these ideas in a way that the context of a woman’s post probably wouldn’t be. The fact that I respond much less to women’s posts and comments is because I think it is best to listen to them, rather than to argue with them, as I would do if their positions were being articulated by a man. If I know that the woman in question is up for an argument, is publicly pushing ideas that really need to be challenged, or is up for constructive challenge, I will engage with her, but not so much otherwise.

        It is difficult to see or hear listening or reading online. I’ve spent more time reading books by feminists or about feminism this week (I’ve read Mary Beard’s Woman & Power, been rereading Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, and have started reading Charlotte Witt’s The Metaphysics of Gender) than I have spent commenting on this post (I write comments at a rate of over 2,500 words per hour, so writing a lot has never been a struggle). I have also read literally dozens of articles by women in the past week and have read every single comment a woman has left in this, and a number of other, comment threads. I take what they say seriously enough to devote a lot of my time to it, even though I disagree with a lot of it.

        The radical desegregation of the sexes in discourse that modern society, and the Internet in particular, establishes leads to lots of problems as discursive norms conflict. If I treat women as I do other men, they will feel threatened and attacked by me and feel that I am being misogynistic in opposing them. If I speak of the well-researched differences in tendencies between men and women, they will feel that I am dismissing them as ‘other’. If I treat women in a way that suggests that they are in any sense the weaker sex and in need of protection, I will be considered condescending. However, if as a man I downplay my actual strength and go to great effort to be affirming of them (which is, of course, important in its place), there will be no way to challenge the many errors that are protected by their weakness. This said, when it comes down to it, I don’t care that much how women on here regard me, provided that I know that I have acted in good conscience and that the women who actually know me personally regard me well, trusting and respecting me, and knowing that I respect and take them seriously too.

        There’s also the fact that truly working through ideas, rather than just having tiresome drive-by ideological shootings of a couple of sentences, takes time and requires far more expansive comments. And this takes up space in comment sections. Fortunately, space isn’t hard to come by on the Internet. When we are discussing and stress-testing important issues, I really believe that it is important that we write at the length required to get our teeth into them. I know that a great many people follow my comments or ask me for my comments precisely because I do this. I’ve been given a book deal on account of my comments and have had my comments republished on major websites or blogs on a number of occasions. I don’t brush off challenges, but give rigorous and comprehensive responses, in order to sharpen my own thought and the thought of others. This means that I often take up a LOT of space relative to others. And I see why this might be annoying to some. However, I don’t expect of anyone that they read my comments, except if they claim to be responding to them. Whether or not someone engages with me is entirely up to them. I’m not interested in a flame war, but in robust and thorough debate. If people want a substantive discussion, I offer just that and I love when people respond seriously in kind. I come to places such as Ian’s blog because, although we don’t see eye to eye on a number of issues, I know that he is a serious and fair-minded person and that he has some thoughtful commentators too. I am offering exactly the sort of conversation that I wish others would give me. If I just wanted to pontificate, I have a blog where I could do that and potentially reach tens of thousands of people (I’ve had posts with over a hundred thousand hits). But obscurity is best for some conversations and I’ve gained so much from comment sections for precisely this reason.

      • When a man challenges – often to my taste quite rudely – what another has said on here, it’s “stress testing”: when I do it, it’s “sneering”?

        Go back and read that first comment about hormones and menstruation – it’s a dead ringer for the sort of excuses deployed in previous centuries to deny women education, employment, full pay and the vote. Mere sarcasm represents a considerable spiritual victory over the despair and seething rage I started out with. And yes, I would have to be more than human not to find scope for at least mild satire in the hi-jacking of a thread about the almost universal harassment of women and girl children, by the same old argument about *male/male* relationships.

        What do you think that might look like, to a woman?

    • Hi Karen
      One of the reasons perhaps why women’s voices are heard less often on this blog is that some (by no means all) of the male commentators here are condescending and treat women as ‘other’, as you may have noticed. Being told that women are lovely does not persuade me that we are having an authentic conversation.

          • No, David, I don’t know which comments Penelope has in mind. One of the things I value about comments made on this blog is that people are open, honest and straight with each other. Some of the comments above are hard to justify; but others are clear, expressed strongly but reasonably, and with evidence—but have been written off as ‘toxic’.

            This debate is mired in assumptions, lack of clarity, and speaking past one another. Rather than make a general call-out as Penelope has done, she needs to give examples. I am always happy to hold people to account when appropriate.

        • The monthly cycle means that women in effect are a succession of different people at different times of the month (slight exaggeration, but…).
          (a) One of these ‘people’, so to speak, will regret the actions of another of them.
          (b) If they have resentments against particular men anyway, this is the perfect opportunity.

          How about that? That’s fairly condescending wouldn’t you say? It’s the 10th comment too, so most people will have seen it.

          Christopher Shell has said in the opening exchanges in the comments, that simply due to their biology women are in effect double-minded schizophrenics, irrational, and implied they cannot control their tongues; to the degree at least that what is said one day may not be meant the next…Worst of all, the implication is that women’s apparent irrationality may be partly to blame for some of the responses to the abuses in the media.

          It’s no wonder your regular female contributors are on the defensive.

          • To be clear, I’m not trying to speak for Penelope.

            I’m saying that I personally, a man, found that comment offensive and can see how it would be moreso for a woman; it clearly oversteps the line of what conclusions can be legitimately drawn from sex differences….

        • Ian
          I have looked, but I am afraid I cannot find the instance to which I think David R. was referring. At least, he was the one who called it out. (And I’m afraid I cannot give it any more time.) Less egregious examples abound. Two may be found above: a remark that women are ‘lovely’ and a comment from someone else that he respects women and has nothing but goodwill towards them. Both are trivial. Both are examples of seeing the female as ‘other’. I find most of Alastair’s lengthy contributions extremely patronising, illegal-judges, and seemingly unaware of the continengent in male/female roles.
          I did not consider Christopher’s comment about hormonal differences condescending. It may have been a bit sweeping, but we are only just learning how hormones and emotions such as stress may affect us physically, even genetically.
          I am a little sad that so few women contribute here. But that may be partly due to some of the ‘willy waving’. Forgive me if that is sexist!

          • “I did not consider Christopher’s comment about hormonal differences condescending.”

            Then he stands somewhat vindicated, but I still think he crossed a line. I’ll say nothing else and just leave the thread where it is now.

            “But that may be partly due to some of the ‘willy waving’. Forgive me if that is sexist!”

            How can it be sexist, don’t we live in a world where sex and gender are changeable and malleable? How dare you suggest that only men have willies to wave about! 😉

          • Hi Penelope

            There had been a number of suggestions that commenters on here were being abusive or mean to women – hence a need I felt to assert that this was not the case. This wasn’t meant to be patronising and was only done to counter allegations to the contrary.

            Incidentally ‘willy-waving’ is clearly derogatory and ad hominem and seems out of place in this kind of debate. It also, ironically, plays on the very sexual differentiation in behaviour you deny.

          • Hi Mat
            I was first introduced to the term ‘willy waving’ at a theological conference. It was used by someone to describe the number of men who stood up ostensibly to ask questions after a Paper, but, in reality to say: if I’d been asked to give a Paper, I would have done it quite differently!

          • But we are not obliged to accept the speaker’s premises; in fact we will rarely accept them 100%. To present as though accepting all premises would be a lie; therefore the only approach that aids the quest for truth is to outline first of all where one differs (this will generally be at least 1%, and may not often be more than, say, 30%). However, often our question will concern an area where we *do* accept the premises.

            That outlining is what I (fondly?) imagine those men were largely doing, and it is difficult to see how they could have done otherwise and the quest for truth still been served.

        • Ian and Mat
          I have re read Christopher’s comment above (the 10th) and, yes, I do find it condescending, offensive and inaccurate.

          • But also including, to date, 5 concessions, of which (a)-(b) were in the original comment:
            (a) ‘I exaggerate’
            (b) not just women: men too
            (c) many, not all
            (d) clustering in certain age-ranges
            (e) ‘different people’ will certainly be understood to be an idiom.

          • Ok, I will say nothing more.

            The aim was to point out an example of what someone had asserted, not prolong a dissection of an individual’s comments. I think we have exhausted what be said in that regard.

            Thanks Christopher.

          • It’s a pleasure. Words are never 100% accurate in conveying the meaning we want to convey, however hard we try to be precise in our wording; and the internet is a medium that does not allow one to see facial expressions and tones of voice. (Not that either of those were relevant in this case.) If I were a translator I would go mad for that reason – you can’t be both a translator and a perfectionist. How I admire Tom Wright who manages to be both a very exact scholar and a translator as well.

  16. Yes, I shpuld have said ‘many women,especially in some age ranges’ (Men have their own cycles too as I mentioned, albeit less to a less pronounced extent biologically.)

    What is ‘offensive’ is an emotional matter, not connected to truth and falsehood. These 2 questions should be acknowledged to be separate. People are allowed to lie and be abusive in our present society, neither of which generally does anything but harm – these 2 practices are not however generally treated as illegal. Trying to prevent people speaking truth (not lies, not abuse) – even perceived truth, though biology falls in the former of these categories – is out of order, and even more so in a debate context.

    Ideology and leaving obvious truths unsaid is the great anti-scholarship enemy that stands in truth’s way.

    What I have frequently found is that the more peer-reviewed the scholarship, the closer to truth something stands, the more people want to silence it. This issue ideology vs truth is at the heart of this and every other debate. It is a simple configuration of the big picture, which, when adopted (and its adoption is only scholarship 101 after all) helps us see how a lot of things fall into place. We all know the Christian truth-love combo, which is the best, and it is certainly normal for truth to be a loving thing, and lies to be harmful …certainly in the long run. And the long run is all there is. All the short-terms add up into one long-term.

    • Yes, my point in bringing that comment up was not to discredit you, I just thought that a legitimate point (which you made a second time much clearer later on) was clouded in some lazy and dismissive writing that was better avoided, and that this writing was probably a good example of what Penelope meant.

      So, for the record.

      1. I did not say you were wrong so explicitly. My complaint is that while the basic substance of your comment is undeniably true and provably so (unique biology and hormonal patterns do have a noticeable and measurable impact on behavior) the conclusion you draw from this (that said differences produce such extreme emotional variables, to the point of double-mindedness and irrationality) is stretching the evidence a bit too much. You effectively said that during menstruation women cannot be trusted to be consistent, or faithful even to their own testimony; the implications of which are worrying. I suspect of course that you probably didn’t mean that, but that is likely to be a common interpretation of what you’ve written and you should know it.

      2. I did not mean to claim anything by saying I was ‘offended’ (and I used the word carefully), other than to make clear that I felt your comment crossed a line of acceptability, one that is potentially damaging to the debate. I do not think I have a right to be safe from offense, or that you should be censored because of it (far from it!) and would not advocate for such. Given that you are such an advocate for truth, I do think you should have been more careful.

      3. While I picked on your example, that was simply because it was the first you come into contact with in these comments. There are others under this article that I think fall into that category too, but I don’t want a witch-hunt in the comments, and to your personal credit I doubt you will be deterred from speaking your mind, or take my comments personally.

      Ultimately though, this wasn’t about the scholarship or otherwise of what you said. It was about the conclusions you drew from it. The evidence is clear, I agree, but what that means and how that is interpreted is not.

      • I feel I should elaborate on those last lines, and be explicit.

        I do not dispute the objective evidence you alluded to, and everyone here would, I hope, recognize that too: there are distinct biological differences, which affect behavior, between the sexes. No one here is arguing against that. (?)

        That evidence however is not itself making a judgement. Judgement and assessment of evidence is the human element in the equation, and is open to questioning. You have drawn conclusions from the data that I believe are mistaken, and it is those conclusions I am challenging, not simply as inaccurate, but as divisive and unhelpful.

        Can you show me any peer-reviewed, academic study that would back up any of your assertions?

        1. That women can be at times be, in effect, “different people” in behavioural terms.
        2. That this is true of “many” women. (please qualify ‘many’)
        3. That women are always regretful of said behavior
        3. That hormonal influences on female behavior have any positive correlation with willingness/desire to report abuse


        • I must definitely put my hands up here and say I have not studied the science on this particular topic. If anyone is interested, I am sure we can do so, and I feel a bit obligated to do so myself.

          I didn’t say ‘different people’ but ‘different people (slight exaggeration, but…)’.

          Even then, ‘different people’ is obviously an idiom. It is clear I am not talking about different genetic identity or different space-time identity.

          Not did I say that women (accursed generalisation…) ‘always’ regret.

          Hormones by their nature will affect moods and action. Are studies needed to prove that? Studies are, however, what we need to consult in determining the precise extent.

          I am not sure why this is especially controversial. The same person can at one time live to maximise enjoyment and at another time live to maximise staying true to their best principles. At different times one or other of these urges wins. The swings of a monthly cycle will exacerbate that, not lessen it.

          • Ok, I don’t want to labour this excessively as I expect it looks like I’m virtue-signalling, but;

            1. Acknowledging in parenthesis that you are exaggerating is not a good defense against the charge that people are devaluing the conversation/contributors, especially if the exaggeration in question could be seen as insulting, or stereotypical, or dismissive. I guess my frustration is that was unnecessary more than anything else.

            2. You may not have said ‘always’, but surely you can see the implication? To quote you again:

            “(a) One of these ‘people’, so to speak, will regret the actions of another of them.” (emphasis mine).

            …and that’s pretty definitive language. They ‘will’ regret it. Not ‘might’ regret it, ‘occasionally’, or ‘sometimes’ regret it, but ‘will’…….

            Now obviously I know that you didn’t mean that, and that this was almost certainly intended as hyperbole, but you often type your commentary here in very black-and-white terms (often helpfully) but in the context of the rest of your comment I don’t think that was obvious and it reads like a blanket-statement/pronouncement.

            3. It is not controversial, at all, and no one is attacking the underlying premise, just the degree to which you drew conclusions from it.

            4. You still have not addressed what I think is the most egregious of your comments; the implication that the hormonal differences of women during their cycles could be a sufficiently significant factor in the veracity of their allegations in regards the #metoo campaign….

            Can you not see that these things, taken together, could form the sort of impression Penelope describes?


          • Hopefully it’s a matter of degree. We can debate what’s the precise degree that reflects the reality.

  17. I would appreciate hearing from Penelope and other women here if they found that comment from Christopher offensive and is the sort of condescension Penelope was referring to above. That PMS/PMT/PMDD can severely affect mood and thought in some women is hardly debatable, and has even been used as mitigation in criminal defence. However, it is, I believe, only a very small percentage of women who suffer the severe condition that would cause the personality/rationality swing that Christopher implied as normative of the whole sex. As a diabetic, there are times when my bloods are so messed up, my poor wife has had to endure mood swings, irritability & irrationality on a daily basis let alone monthly.

    • Hello Simon
      I have put something in an answer to Ian, above. But, I did not find Christopher’s comment offensive, a little overstated, perhaps. Though, thank you Mat. At least, I do not find his comment about hormonal differences offensive. I do believe, however, that Christopher is wrong about how essential the sex differences between men and women are. I also think he’s wrong about the complementarianism of the sexes. It’s quite a modern notion.
      Of course, saying that one sex is less objective than the other is offensive. But it was not Christopher who did that.

    • Simon and Mat

      Forgive me.

      Having re read Christopher’s comment (no. 10), I do think it is condescending, offensive and inaccurate. I am not denying that, particularly during their fertile period, women are affected by hormonal changes. However, this does not make them different people, nor does it predispose them to imagine sexual abuse.

      I think I had only skimmed it before. And it was not this comment I was thinking of when I commented above on condescension.

      • What I said was different. I said the term ‘different people’ was both a figure of speech and somewhat of an exaggeration.

        Not did I say that women in general imagine sexual abuse. The point was relevant to a situation where there are grey areas and fine lines. Adoption of the sexual revolution makes those grey areas and fine lines multiply exponentially. If we are talking about degrees on a percentage scale, then even quite small factors can tip the balance; adn PMT etc is not a small factor as women themselves agree.

          • As you’ll see, that is not what I said. (I do not know whether it is true or not, which is a separate question.) What I said, or certainly meant, was that PMT is a significant experience (that can at times, for example, cause suffering or anxiety greater than the sort of physical pain or illness which would normally lead to time off work) in affecting moods and action; and that even a lesser experience than that can be the one that tips the balance when there are fine lines and grey areas.

            As for ‘imagining sexual abuse’, I never said anything on that topic. Whatever could you mean? I spoke on the topic of assessing unwanted male attention.

            A crucial point is the Alan Clark one (perhaps one of the only things he said that I agree with) – It is quite obviously logically not possible to know that something is unwelcome till *after* the event – by which time it is too late. Being married, he disqualified himself from being taken seriously on this – but the point applies to those who are not married.

            No-one who has ever been married or had a boy-/girlfriend has avoided having to make moves that ‘up the game’ – few times can one be sure that these will in fact be welcomed. The risk is part of the game and the romance and the excitement. A particularly large risk may in fact be the clincher that makes your union a particularly romantic one.

            People also play games like ‘I made the first move not him/her’, ‘I dumped her/him not vice-versa’. Since there is that much economy with the truth, it makes one reluctant to believe everything one hears. One expects there to be a bit of spin. Maybe to impress the mates of one’s own gender.

            Oh boy is this not a black and white issue.

            And all that even before we factor in that individuals will view and assess events differently, notice or emphasise different aspects. The 2 genders on average will view and assess events differently too.

            And all that before we factor in that there are not, and cannot be, any agreed ‘rules of engagement’ once the sexual revolution is accepted and the Christian way abandoned.

            And all that before we factor in human nature and admit and agree that there will be a lot going on that is unacceptable by any standards.

  18. Exactly.

    But I do think that every time it is even suggested that women are on average more vulnerable or less able than men in even one single area, everyone has to rush and say that men are just as bad. That is social conformity not accuracy.

    What is the truth? The truth is that there are thousands of areas we can measure. We would expect by the law of averages that men would score better in around half of these, and women likewise. That is an awful lot of areas that women may be expected to score worse in (on average), likewise score better; likewise men.

  19. Christopher I do not want to argue men are ‘just as bad’ ( is this anything to do with ‘badness’?). I simply don’t accept your premise and find it a very unhelpful way of exploring the partnership of women and men in church or society. Nor in the earlier lists that men have been posting on this thread about power, male and female preferences, social roles, what is ‘natural’ to either or other etc do I recognise the world of women and men that I rejoice to inhabit in church and world. I just don’t. As a man here I find the tone of men declaring how things ‘naturally’ are for women is condescending – and not true in my experience or in my vision of gospel communities. Condescension begins with the presumption that one group/individual speaks for another and knows what is true and right for them. I find quite a lot in this thread.

    Ian – very grateful as I am for your blog it has been noted here how overwhelmingly populated by men it is – and I would add that a significant number of the male contributors argue from a conservative/traditional viewpoint on many of the topics here. So even at its most hospitable it is hardly the basis for the discussion you aspire to.

    • They’re facts, David, facts shown by research and science – the characteristics of men and women exist on bell curves like most other natural phenomena and the marked differences in these statistical distributions affect expected and average outcomes across a variety of areas. This is just how statistics works. The fact that you don’t ‘recognise’ them or they don’t align with your ‘vision’ doesn’t alter them. Facts don’t care about your feelings!

      Why on earth are we having to justify the use of something as basic as statistical analysis of natural phenomena? We don’t treat this as controversial for any other species. Humanity is a species. It exhibits gender dimorphism. This can be expressed using statistics. It affects average and typical behaviour of the sexes. This is not controversial, it’s just everyday science.

        • I think Ben Shapiro is a veritable model for the debater. As to whether he is calm or not, he is a lot more calm than most, but how would that affect the substance of what he says anyway?

          I don’t agree with him on guns though (albeit that was his means of getting Piers Morgan the reverse green-card).

          • Ben Shapiro is a no-nonsense debater, and a competent one, on whom I wasn’t passing judgement. I simply thought it was funny that Will Jones repeated Ben’s ‘catchphrase’, “facts don’t care about your feelings!” when he was getting more heated, hence the wink.

      • Hi Will
        You comment at 1.37 above about leadership coming ‘more naturally’ to men because they are more aggressive etc. etc. Do you believe this to be a ‘fact’?

        • Assertive, not aggressive (though men are also of course more aggressive on average).

          Characteristics which in general assist in leadership are in most cases on average more prevalent in men. Yes, that is a fact.

          • Sorry, assertive. I lost the comment when I wanted to return to it. But is this a ‘fact’. And is it rooted in biology, or nurture or culture? What is your evidence for asserting that men are more assertive?

          • I don’t understand how this could fail to be the case.

            (1) None of us considers that the men and women we know are on average exactly the same. Not even close.

            (2) The biological differences (which are several) will have interlinks with every other part of an individual’s being.

          • Hi Will
            There are sexual, anatomical differences between mean and women. There are hormonal differences. Thus men may natural be more aggressive(as a gender). But traits like assertiveness, good leadership, empathy etc. are simply contingent upon our culture and assigned as feminine or masculine accordingly. Another term for willy waving is mansplaining (not exactly synonymous). Men take up more of the public space, since, as Mary Beard observes, my namesake was told to go to her quarters and weave or do some other ‘women’s work’.

    • I am not one of those who argue ‘from’ a conservative / traditional viewpoint, for many reasons.

      (1) One should not argue ‘from’ any presuppositions, because presuppositions determine conclusions in an unedifying circle. That is what ideology (anti-scholarship) is.

      (2) Conservative and traditional are just that – the same as liberal, maverick, pietistic, irredeemably eclectic and all the others – they are all ideologies. Therefore they don’t prioritise research and evidence.

      (3) To classify things by how new or old fashioned they are is a big misunderstanding at the most fundamental level. How new or old fashioned things are, far from being the main consideration, is almost the least important. What matters is how theories square with evidence.

      (4) I suppose that by the law of averages any honest and truthful person will come to tentative conclusions that are eclectic and various along the conservative – radical scale. That has certainly been my experience. However, sometimes the ones that are called conservative are just common sense, which is why they have been held by people down the ages. Nor is it smart to be enslaved by fashion, which is exactly what one sees when people follow the majority and claim to have changed their views at exactly the same time when a new majority (as opposed to a new scholarly consensus) appears to be emerging. That pattern is beyond coincidence, and therefore has another explanation.

    • “As a man here I find the tone of men declaring how things ‘naturally’ are for women is condescending – and not true in my experience or in my vision of gospel communities. Condescension begins with the presumption that one group/individual speaks for another and knows what is true and right for them. I find quite a lot in this thread.”

      Surely there is a balance to be found here? I don’t agree with you here David, but I don’t think the alternative -that everyone’s opinion has equal weight and validity in every context and circumstance- is necessarily valid either. To be fair, I don’t think I’ve really been agreeing with anyone in the comments of this article….

      I am quite content to speak for myself, a man, but just being so doesn’t mean I could authoritatively speak for all men, but nor does it prohibit me from speaking on behalf of some women. The problems come when we make perspectives fully exclusive, or inclusive, when they are only partly so…

      I would go further, and argue that part of what is fundamental to humanity, and a crucial part of redeemed humanity specifically, is the ability to see things through the eyes of another; at least to a degree. Empathy is part of our unique character as image-bearers, and it is strongest when two come together as one: you cannot appreciate a 3D film when only a single lens is fitted in the glasses. Your perception lacks the necessary depth.

      That should have been the first step in reflecting on the #metoo campaign, but I fear that we started our analysis in the wrong place, seeing the situation primarily as a problem to be fixed (though it is that) rather than a situation to be understood.

      I do not think you need to throw the value of empirical evidence, or of a male perspective, out of the window in order to attain that balance. But you do need female imput.

      We are missing our other lens.

  20. Will – when you insist as a matter of science and fact that gender differences re things like family or leadership are ‘natural’ and ‘typical’ do you mean these are universally the same across all cultures/societies in the world today … and have in fact been the same in all cultures throughout history … So this is fixed and unchanging and a God-given?

    • Hi David

      Yes there are fixed innate differences between the sexes, though these can express themselves in different ways in different cultures.

      Perhaps it would help if you specified which part of the following you deem to be in error:

      Humanity is a species. It exhibits sexual dimorphism. This can be expressed using statistics. It affects average and typical behaviour of the sexes.

  21. Penelope and David

    Do you think that human males and females, despite their marked anatomical, genetic and hormonal differences, despite universal observation, and uniquely among primates, exhibit no behavioural differences?

    These behavioural differences include a number which impact on average capacity for, interest in and attainment of leadership positions and other forms of power. It would be remarkable if this wasn’t the case and all these differences added up to zero overall influence on the outcomes we call ‘power’. But it is clear from general observation and studies that they do.

    Penelope’s argument that all the observed behavioural differences result from men telling women what they may and may not do is simply not supported by the facts. Besides, it is also self-defeating, as even if it were true it would show that men are inclined to command and women to do as they’re told, thus disproving its own assertion.

    • Will and Christopher

      Certainly, there are hormonal and anatomical differences. I am not so sure that there are significant genetic differences. However, I stand by my argument that most behavioural differences are owing to the cultures in which we live and who holds the power within those cultures. I.e. men.
      It is not simply about men telling women what to do. It is about what has been considered normative- men as rational and natural leaders; women as emotional and inconstant. Men are, perhaps, more inclined to command because they are, perhaps, more aggressive, and this is, perhaps, due to testosterone levels. Being more inclined to command, however, does not necessarily mean that men are fitter leaders.

      • Hi Penelope

        Even if we accept the negative phrasing of your argument it still undermines your position as you appear to concede that men have innate differences which mean they will on average exercise more power in society than women.

        Of course, to characterise this difference and outcome wholly negatively as you have done, as though it is nothing more than a moral problem in need of fixing to restore some kind of primal balance of social power destroyed by wicked male aggression, is pure misandry.

        • Will, men may, on average, be more aggressive than women. That is a difference which I acknowledged. But being aggressive isn’t an indicator of good leadership. Seizing power because you are more aggressive may be natural in one sense, but this is the sort of nature which religion and philosophy try to mitigate.

          • Again Penelope the only difference you are willing to acknowledge is a negative one, aggression, which you wish to see nullified. This only confirms my impression that your position is rooted in pure misandry.

          • Dear Will

            I am really getting quite cross about your repeated conflation of patriarchy with misandry (above and below). All historians and anthropologists would – I believe – argue that all recorded human societies have been patriarchal. Not all historians and anthropologists are misandrists.
            You may believe that patriarchy is the ‘natural’ order and is either morally neutral or beneficial. I believe patriarchy is a falling away from God’s creation and that it mars God’s image in us (Gen’ 3.16).
            Further, I believe that scripture offers hope that humanity will be redeemed from the distortion of patriarchy (Gal. 3.28).
            I used the example of aggression, not so much because it is negative but to show that what is natural is not always beneficial and is certainly not the mark of a good leader. The examples you gave above such as assertiveness are not naturally male (at least, you have shown no evidence that they are), though they have often, unsurprisingly, been codified as male in patriarchal cultures.
            Another anecdote, from the same theology conference at which I learnt the term ‘willy waving’. On the opening evening, I was invited to a women’s reception. It was the first theology conference I had attended and having had a fairly senior role in the fairly egalitarian BBC, I wondered why such a reception was necessary. Would it not contribute to ghettoization? When the doors opened from our anteroom to the main reception, I saw why it was considered necessary. The main reception was a vast sea of men and a few purple shirts (there were some, male, bishops at the conference). I was there for fun, but I cannot say it was an encouraging site for the young women around me: the postgrads and early years scholars. Now greater upper body strength is not, I believe, a prerequisite for being a theologian, (nor, indeed, is leadership) so why was there such a preponderance of men. Especially since at undergraduate level I suspect there are more women in theology, biblical studies and religious studies departments? I am pleased to say that this particular conference is doing a great deal to overcome gender imbalance, by having a gender balanced panel of keynote speakers, for example. But is does demonstrate, I believe, how inegalitarian our culture is still – even in areas where there is no ‘natural’ advantage in being male (or female).

          • But there are innate and legitimate differences between the sexes that explain many social gender disparities, that’s the point – we’re going round in circles here.

            I’ve provided many links to evidence for this.

          • “But there are innate and legitimate differences between the sexes that explain many social gender disparities, that’s the point”

            Perhaps the reason you feel you’re going around in circles Will is that no one is arguing against that supposition, certainly not Penelope, who accepted this almost immediately (or, if she resisted, I cannot find that comment).

            What you are being asked is a question of degree;

            1. Can we separate those ‘Innate and legitimate’ differences -which are unavoidable and natural- from culturally-conditioned ones that are, perhaps, not?

            2. If we can, how significant are those ‘innate and legitimate’ differences relative to the ‘artificial’ ones, can it be quantified?

            If I am understanding the thread correctly, the point of contention between you and Penelope is that while you both answer ‘yes’ to #1, the disagreement is over #2. Penelope’s assertion is that a great deal of what we might consider ‘innate and legitimate’ are not, and could be resolved or deconstructed if we cared to try. It’s an interesting proposition.

          • Hi Mat

            As far as I am aware Penelope has yet to affirm that there are innate and legitimate differences between the sexes that account for many gender disparities. If she did it would follow from that that it is not legitimate to seek the equal social power of men and women since at least some of the disparity arises from innate and legitimate differences which it would be harmful to nullify. But Penelope, as far as I can tell, is committed to the notion that the greater social power of men is intrinsically something unjust and distorting called patriarchy which there is an imperative to eliminate, regardless of the legitimacy of its origins.

          • Dear Will

            I have perused 3 links which appear to say that there are ‘some’ personality differences between men and women and that one gender is more predisposed to certain diseases than the other. There seems to be debate about whether these are brain differences. I cannot seethat any of these psychological or biological differences suggest that men are ‘naturally’ fitted for leadership roles. A difference is not necessarily a disparity.

            Dear Mat

            Thank you. More or less. Though I would argue that separating the innate and the contingent differences can be very difficult. For example, I think we are culturally conditioned to think that some differences are ‘natural’ when they might simply be ‘traditional’. I think that attempting to deconstruct these is a worthwhile project and a step towards an egalitarian ideal.

          • Hi Penelope

            What you haven’t explained is, if there are legitimate innate differences between the sexes which explain in part the disparity in social power and other social outcomes, why would there be a social ideal to eliminate the disparity? That would require the nullification of the legitimate differences. You can’t have it both ways. You either have to deny that the differences which give rise to the disparity are legitimate, so may be nullified, or you have to deny the ideal of equal social power and outcomes.

          • Mat – Penelope attributed the different social power outcomes for men and women wholly to men telling women what to do:

            ‘Men take up more of the public space, since, as Mary Beard observes, my namesake was told to go to her quarters and weave or do some other ‘women’s work’.’

        • “What you haven’t explained is, if there are legitimate innate differences between the sexes which explain in part the disparity in social power and other social outcomes, why would there be a social ideal to eliminate the disparity?”

          Personally I would answer this by saying I do not want to eliminate all disparity and thus erase the male-female distinction, but I do, and should, seek to identify and eliminate any disparity that comes as a result of fallen nature. To do this I need to recognise that these are separate categories. My objection to what you’re arguing Will is that we cannot know (or cannot know easily) which of these tendencies are part of God’s intention, and which are human initiated, as the statistics you cite tell us only what is, not what should be.

          “Mat – Penelope attributed the different social power outcomes for men and women wholly to men telling women what to do:”

          I am not her personal apologist, though I may seem it at the moment, but it seemed clear to me that this was a deliberate generalisation from an anecdote and not a universal truism. 😉

          • Hi Mat

            So God has left us in the dark about sin and righteousness and we just can’t tell what’s good and bad about being a man? I don’t buy that. Besides it’s not just about aptitude it’s also about propensity.

            Here’s a list of some standard reasons why men will tend to end up with more social power than women. Maybe you can tell me which ones you think ought to be eliminated and which you’re not sure about?

            1) Women tend to choose to spend more time caring for their family than advancing their position and power
            2) Women tend to be less interested in position and power anyway
            3) Women do not tend to push themselves forward as much as men
            4) The human race, and any given people group, needs women to give greater focus to raising the next generation if it is to survive and this need is often internalised
            5) Women tend to prefer jobs that give them better work-family-life balance
            6) People (men and women) on average have a preference for male leadership
            7) Men tend naturally to have a greater degree of confidence, assertiveness, emotional resilience, and mastery of emotions including in conflict and disagreement

          • I would not dispute 1, 4 and 7 (though I do not think ‘mastery of emotions’ is the right phraseology).

            I would dispute 2, 3 and 6.

            I am unsure about 5.

          • I mean that I would argue 2, 3 and 6 to be more dependant on/caused by cultural pressure and external stimuli; as opposed to 1, 4 and 7 which I think you can make a good biblical/creational case for (less so 7), and are far more concretely rooted in biology and psychology.

          • Don’t 3 and 6 follow from 7 ie the more assertive and resilient psychology of men (in general) leads them more often to put themselves forward and gives people more confidence in them and makes them more attractive and inspiring as leaders? (This is relative obviously.)

            I agree that 2 seems more likely to be cultural – though arguably if cultural pressure arises from innate differences then the culture itself becomes part of innate behaviour.

          • “Don’t 3 and 6 follow from 7(?)”

            Not always.

            It would take significant time to unpack this to the degree it needs to be unpacked to have an impact on the debate in general (not to mention require some expertise in Psychology, well beyond that which I possess), and so, with respect, I’ll leave it there, probably to be picked up another time.

            My intent from the start was not to reach a solid conclusion, but to argue that a position of skepticism in regards what can be can considered innate is justified. I am wary of comments that say (and I am not saying you, Will, explicitly articulated this) that because things categorically are the case now, it also means they always were, or that they always should be.


            Thanks for the stimulating discussion.

          • Thanks Mat.

            Yes with any difference we need to ask: is this true in our culture, is this true in all cultures, is this innate, does it arise from things which are innate, if it is in principle changeable is it in practice changeable, and if it is changeable would it be overall beneficial to attempt to change it all things considered?

            But even so, I don’t think in practice this is all that complicated to do. And either way it is clear that there will always be some innate and legitimate factors leading to the greater social power of men. Nor do I think that is regrettable or contrary to God’s will – he seems to encourage it in scripture.

            I’m sure we’ll be discussing this again before long – it’s not an issue likely to go away any time soon!

      • Will and others … Thank you for this discussion but I am genuinely puzzled by the complete lack of any theological reflection as the basis of the views expressed on gender roles here. It is not the way you usually argue here at all. Since leadership is mentioned here is evangelical OT theologian John Goldingay on this: ‘Leadership as we understand it is a subset of patriarchy and a biblical theology of leadership is a subset of the biblical doctrine of sin. At the Beginning, God did make leadership part of the way the world was created. … and the agents made responsible for this leadership were the human beings God created (Gen 1:26-28). In the second creation story, God planted a garden, formed a gardener, put him in the garden to “keep” it (literally, to “serve” it), and then provided him with a co-worker, but did not tell Adam to exercise headship over Eve. In both stories, it was humanity as a whole that was commissioned to subdue the world and serve the garden. There was no leadership of one human being over others, only leadership of the world by humanity as a whole.
        The practice of leadership within humanity rather than by humanity is another aspect of the way sin came to spoil human life. [After the Fal] God declares that the result will be to damage not only marriage and work but human partnership. Henceforth one human being will rule over another. Leadership is thus “toxic” in its origin, and is generally portrayed as toxic through scripture.
        John Goldingay, Key Questions About Biblical Interpretation: Old Testament Answers (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2011), 266-27.
        I find scripture, with Goldingay, critiques of prevailing patterns/assumptions around human relating rather than making any presumption of its ‘naturalness’. Indeed on these discussion threads that would more usually be the driving assumption and those taking their views from the ‘natural’ or ‘typical’ in the world around would be strongly challenged. Wouldn’t they?

        • “Will and others … Thank you for this discussion but I am genuinely puzzled by the complete lack of any theological reflection as the basis of the views expressed on gender roles here. It is not the way you usually argue here at all.”

          Surely it is fair to take all those lengthy discussions as the mutually-acknowledged subtext of this conversation? We have enough ‘shared conversation’ here to not need to re-tread ground, and instead be very specific about the details. I concede this makes for poorer reading to a newcomer, but I don’t think it’s right to lament it.

          Also, while I agree that the commission to subdue and care for creation was a shared one, and not hierarchical, this is hotly disputed. Where we part ways in agreement is the idea that leadership in general terms is toxic. I do not think this hold water; certain types of leadership, and certain types of leader clearly erode the notion, but in scripture I find plenty of examples, not least the Lord himself, showing us that leadership is not only necessary, but good, and worthwhile.

          • Indeed. Just because there is no leadership portrayed pre-fall doesn’t mean leadership is not part of redeemed humanity. Jesus and the NT includes a lot of leadership, portrayed as of God. In general post-fall institutions are not necessarily toxic or to be eschewed. Redemption is not a simple return to the prelapsarian state. One way this is represented is that we began in a garden with only two but end in a city filled with people.

        • Hi David

          That’s because all we’re disputing at this point is whether there are innate (population level) differences between men and women which will tend to lead to differential overall distributions of power in society.

          Once that fact has been established then we can consider normative and moral questions connected with it.

          The suggestion is that despite this fact there is an overarching moral imperative to create an overall balance of power between the sexes in society.

          The problem with this claim is that at least some of the causes of the difference in average power outcomes are not a result of sin but are a consequence of intentional (either positive or neutral) differences between the sexes. This means the power differential cannot be addressed without doing violence to these differences. This is what we see in the misandry that characterises a lot of the current thinking in this area – seeing all the innate reasons that men end up with more power than women as a problem to be addressed, a problem with men and the way they run society, with ‘patriarchy’.

          In truth though it is harmful to men, women, children and society to attempt to overcome this power outcome differential and the behavioural differences which lead to it. Certainly there is no evidence at all that the various equalising reforms advocated by feminists – easy abortion and divorce, normalised promiscuity and illegitimacy, prioritising career and self over family – have made women happier – their mental health is worse than it’s ever been, and the state of family life is in crisis.

          Scripturally there is no reason at all to think that God has set us a social goal as unachievable and harmful as overcoming all the causes of differential social power between the sexes in order to establish by artifice an equal overall average power between them. This goal is not found in scripture, did not come from scripture, and does not belong there. Whatever else the equality of the sexes means we can be confident it does not mean that.

          • Well it is novel to be the one here insisting there is not enough bible and we are simply taking our belief from observing ‘natural’ traits within society and history! But that is my view.

            Matt – I am not newcomer here and I do not find this re-treading’ – we aren’t discussing it at all here. Will – I still simply do not know how you are using scripture as a basis for your approach here, because you have not told us.

            In addition to my quote from Goldingay
            – There are no words in either the Hebrew or Greek Testaments that actually correspond to “lead” and “leader” as we are using them. Why not? In fact NT church appears to carefully avoid the word ‘leader’ and never uses the commonest words for it in the surrounding society of their day (in total contrast to today’s church). Instead ministry in that emerging church is mutual and exercised within the community – each contributing from a range of gifts and ministry as the Spirit gives.
            Kenneth Bailey notes the shift that happens on either side of Mark’s narrative of the cross (chaps 15-16). Leading up to the cross the men are to the fore and the women are silent and in the background. After the resurrection the women come out of the shadows, they speak, they take all the initiatives and are called to witness to the men that Christ in risen. ‘Symbolically and actually they are signs and witnesses at the threshold of the new age in its vulnerability and possibility’ (Bailey). He finds this totally consistent with the way Jesus relates to women and men throughout his ministry – and I agree.

          • David – you haven’t addressed any of my points.

            I am using scripture as the supreme authority in all matters of faith and morals. All you’ve shown is that scripture supports women’s ministry, which no one is disputing. You haven’t shown that God requires the engineering of an equal average power of men and women in society through the annulment of all gender differences which lead to disparity, whatever the consequences for men, women, children and society. Which is the critical point in this debate.

          • Sorry David, I didn’t mean to imply you were the newcomer; the person I had in mind was the hypothetical one who might be reading Psephizo for the first time. I appreciate that wasn’t clear, but no insult or dismissal of your contribution was meant.

            My point about re-treading the discussion was not that we were doing it, but that we did not need to do it, as it could be inferred subtext, hence its absence from the discussion. Is that clearer?

          • Thanks Mat and Will. I had not taken offence.
            Will You write ‘you haven’t shown that God requires the engineering of an equal average power of men and women in society through the annulment of all gender differences’. That is because I do not believe that and am not arguing for that (nor is anyone else here I think). I think the whole redeemed partnership of women and men is transformative and wholly positive for humanity. I also think my brief comments imply a great deal more than just support for women’s ministry. Sorry if I have used other points you raise. Not intentional. You have not responded to all of mine either …
            I am still curious to know if you think the invention of contraception has any continuation to make to this discussion?
            Thank again to you both …

          • Hi David

            Good – if you are happy to accept that overall average power differences between men and women in society can be legitimate and do not necessarily need to be addressed as manifestations of an illegitimate patriarchy then we are on the same side in this particular debate.

            The invention of much more reliable contraception, and the ethical and social permission to use it, makes it easier for couples to have smaller families which practically speaking opens up more possibilities for women overall. The consequences of this for women, men, children, families and society are very mixed.

          • Mark is too short a book, and the appearances of characters in these 2 chapters too few, to make such sweeping conclusions (much though I admire Bailey’s work, which I do enormously).

            Mark is just telling who were the main players in actual fact during the triduum. We shouldn’t read too much into it.

  22. Will – ‘if you are happy’ – not without further clarification of what you mean. I’m wondering why are you focused on power at all in this discussion? ‘Average power’ is a meaningless concept in my marriage and work team here for example. Do you mean physical power? – I can lift chairs more easily before a meeting. Is muscle size a criteria for leadership? I am struggling with your train of thought here.
    I find your comments on contraceptives rather grudging. The event of reliable contraception was a hugely transformative gift – positively impacting on the health, life expectancy, finances, career possibilities and life choices for women. It also made new patterns of marriage and family life and child raising possible too. It made it possible for men and women to explore new roles and partnerships in society as a whole – which we have been exploring ever since. Worth noting that at the time it arrived in the 1930’s the church (and Mother’s Union) could only bitterly opposed it as they could only see it as inviting promiscuity. The historic consequence of no reliable contraception for women, men, children, families and society was arguable even more mixed. I know where I see the gifs and possibilities.

    • Hi David

      Above you wrote:
      ‘Will You write ‘you haven’t shown that God requires the engineering of an equal average power of men and women in society through the annulment of all gender differences’. That is because I do not believe that and am not arguing for that.’

      But now you are saying you need further clarification of what this means.

      The focus is on power because I am disputing a concept of patriarchy defined in terms of the greater overall social power of men understood as a social evil, along with an imperative to dismantle this patriarchy in favour of equal overall power. You appeared to agree with my position but now are saying you are unclear what I mean, though I’m not sure how I could be clearer. Do you or do you not support the aim of establishing equal overall social power of men and women (even where that results from legitimate differences between the sexes)? If you think that overall social power is a completely meaningless concept then be default you cannot support the aim.

      I don’t want to start debating the pros and cons of contraception here. I was just being polite and responding to your direct request for me to answer an earlier question of yours.

  23. But why be selective about the consequences of contraception?

    Where else does no-strings and much-increased extramarital sex come from, with all its harvest of making people unable to form lifelong bonds and stable families, with all the theft from children that that brings?

    That is not just bad fruit , it is the worst fruit imaginable. How could your summary not mention it?

    • Christopher… Ive been watching the thread a bit… I really do not understand this conclusion:

      “But why be selective about the consequences of contraception?
      Where else does no-strings and much-increased extramarital sex come from, with all its harvest of making people unable to form lifelong bonds and stable families, with all the theft from children that that brings?”

      Surely good things can be wrongly used? Contraception has not ruined my marriage or sin per se. Sin does. It uses any tool at hand.

        • Ian, I disagree, because I think

          (a) those things were inevitable post-contraception;

          (b) anyone who would disagree with (a) I would like to see their argument or evidence. There is an absolutely constant correlation between the growth in those things and the growth in contraception, contraception being a closely related (rather than unconnected) matter.

          (c) How could you explain those things being so much lower pre-contraception?

          (d) Contraception itself is both against nature, yukky, and (in the case of ‘the pill’) productive of adverse side-effects.

          (e) It *both* presupposes *and* multiplies nonmarital sexual behaviour. But the divorce between marriage and sex is the central issue and problem of all in this context. This shows how centrally contraception is implicated. That is not to say that there are not occasions where its use is not sinful – it is to say that if you provide it at all, the total balance of outcomes may well be worse or a lot worse than before.

  24. Will Thanks again. We do keep missing each other here. I read you suggesting I was arguing for ‘the annulment of all gender differences’. I am not. Nor would I.

    I still do not understand why you make power so central to this discussion. Why not love, mutual respect, partnership …? Where do you find power in the way the NT or Genesis teaches human relationships for example – back to the Bible again.

    Christopher ‘why be selective about the consequences of contraception?’ I want to ask the same of you. And are you suggesting the fear of pregnancy is a better basis for moral choices than contraception?

    • Hi David

      Power is central to the discussion because the topic is the legitimacy of ‘patriarchy’, defined in terms of power. It feels as though you are avoiding answering the central question in the discussion and trying to change the subject. (The question was: Do you or do you not support the aim of establishing equal social power of men and women (even where that results from legitimate differences between the sexes)?)

    • David, if we are to accept your remark, you would have to *name* even one time I was selective about the consequences of contraception, or about anything else.

      Truth lies in comprehensiveness.

      Obviously we do not always name all factors, but we do not deselect them.

      I added further factors to make a more complete picture, and did not argue with any of the factors you had already named.

      And over and above all that, your answer was a ‘tu quoque’, and ‘tu quoque’ is a fallacy. Why is it a fallacy. Because if you are calling me out for doing something (which on this occasion I did not actually do anyway), you must regard that thing as bad. So you are agreeing that when you did it yourself, it was bad.

  25. Will A lot of people have contributed to this discussion, often at length. This question has not been the only one explored either. I am not avoiding it. I had forgotten it. I can’t even find it now. Sorry. But quite simply I have no wish to define relationships between men and women in society in terms of equal power at all. I also think the gospel calls us to the vision of a post-patriarchal world and rejoice in that and by God’s grace I seek to offer a redeemed and redeeming male contribution to that vision.
    But we are starting from very different places so I am not sure how much further we can get here.

    • But a vision of a ‘post-patriarchal’ world is a vision defined in terms of power because patriarchal is a power-based concept! You can’t just deny this is the case. And with patriarchy defined in terms of the greater social power of men this necessarily involves nullifying any differences between the sexes which contribute to this disparity, even where they are innate and legitimate.

      By central to this discussion I meant the current exchange about patriarchy not the whole comment thread.

  26. Will Patriarchy is about power. Post-patriarchy is a world defined on different terms. My starting point for this is the cross.

    • No David, a post-patriarchal world is defined in terms of the absence of the greater social power of men. It is defined entirely in terms of power. That’s the whole point. If we weren’t worrying about power we’d stop thinking about it and the balance between men and women which so pre-occupies those opposed to patriarchy.

      The cross and resurrection are a display of God’s power. The kingdom of God depends on power (1 Cor 4:20).

      • The kingdom of God depends on God’s power (not man’s) which is made perfect in weakness. I am surprised that there is a debate about the legitimacy of patriarchy. I believe it to be corrupt, a distortion of God’s original intention for humankind. Christ redeems humanity, not men. The absence of the greater social power of men is a good thing; it does not nullify difference.

        Male privilege is toxic. Like white privilege or class privilege, or heterosexual privilege. We have shored these up against our ruins. They are not fruits.

        • ‘The absence of the greater social power of men is a good thing; it does not nullify difference.’

          But it does, Penelope, necessarily – you can’t bring about equal outcomes between men and women without nullifying the difference between them.

          By male privilege you appear to mean that men exercise more social power than women. The fact that you regard that as intrinsically toxic, and not just potentially harmful and abusable, is what I mean by misandry, as it regards male power (and men being men) as intrinsically suspect.

          • Hi Will

            Just one response and then I think I’ll leave it there.
            You can try to bring about equality between black and white without nullifying the differences between them. ‘Giving’ women the vote and making marital rape illegal does not nullify difference. Saying that male privilege is toxic, just as white privilege is toxic is neither misandrist nor racist. I do not hate men, nor do I hate white people. But I do regard cultures which privilege masculinity and whiteness as being intrinsically harmful (and not simply potentially so).

            Interestingly, returning to the original post, the #metoo campaign has demonstrated one of the evils of patriarchy – it’s abuse of women as second class citizens. Quite properly, we have learnt to deplore the treating of blacks and slaves as second class citizens and to realise that holding power over other human beings is immoral, and religion has had a part to play in that awakening. We are also learning, I hope, that the asymmetry between male and female can be redeemed.
            Thank you for your engagement.

          • Thanks Penelope. I’m tempted to respond to these last remarks, but in the interests of letting the exchange end I’ll refrain. I’m sure we’ll take this up again before long! Something to look forward to…

  27. Will If I started where you started I would end up where you end up. But I don’t. So I don’t. I am puzzled why you don’t stop thinking about power actually. And actually if salvation comes through divine self-emptying, weakness, surrender, submission, suffering and death then I don’t think the Kingdom depends on power at all.
    I think I am respectfully going to stop here. I don’t think we will agree but I thank you, my brother in Christ, for your engagement and your attempts to get me to grasp the obvious.

  28. Obviously personal experience is a very small sample size and one can’t and shouldn’t argue against the weight of evidence that shows the vast majority of sexual harassment is carried out by men. My own experience though is that I have been sexually harassed 6-7+ times in my life – Three times by women (once by my mother, who was in a drunken state at the time; at least once by a senior work colleague and once in public by a group of teenage girls) and three times by other (presumably gay) men.

    Now, I have to say, when I was harassed by women, I did feel embarrassed and awkward (and somewhat ashamed, in relation to my mother) but I didn’t feel particularly physically threatened, which I think might be one of the main differences between what many young men feel compared to younger women in particular. I’m assuming both young boys and girls feel similarly in every measure.

    Concerning the three times I was harassed by men, on two occasions I actually did feel threatened for my safety. Fortunately, I was tall for my age and assertive enough to resist their advances, which I felt had quite a predatory nature to them. The other times were by my manager at work and they were probably more a case of inappropriate touching, like unasked-for shoulder rubs and the like. So yes, not much in those, and I still liked him as a manager, but nevertheless I wouldn’t dream of touching a female work colleague in such a manner.

    I’ve been married twice and I know my present wife and my previous have both suffered quite extreme sexual abuse by previous partners. This leads me to the conclusion that either this is just a mere unfortunate coincidence or that sexual abuse of women is quite common. I lean toward the latter.

    My other conclusion is that sexual harassment by women toward younger men or junior work colleagues is also quite common but is often at the lower end of seriousness, perhaps due to the constraining effect men’s superior physical strength has in counteracting the effects of the abuse of authority some women carry out. Of course that doesn’t make it acceptable, but let’s keep it in context with the seriousness of what acts many men perpetrate against women, children and even against other men.


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