Why Are Christian Men Not All Raving Feminists?

Okay, so there have been some great comments and blogs on the situation regarding Caroline Criado Perez and Stella Creasy and the horrendous abuse they received because, essentially, they are women who think they should be treated as human beings and have the damned affront to say so...in public.

Loads of people have picked up the baton to condemn the actions of those who thought it was okay to threaten death and rape, simply because it was on Twitter and not in, you know, 'real life'.

So, I'm not going to write about that, and tell you what you, I hope, already know.  Threatening rape etc = bad = illegal, whether face to face or not.

I joined in with supporting Caroline on Twitter and retweeted stuff to raise awareness of what was going on... and then to encourage her when people started tweeting that she should just calm down a bit and stop retweeting her abuse - people didn't want to keep seeing the reality of what women often have to deal with.  The most disturbing part being that the abuse started off with very 'normal' blokes basically telling her that she was over egging the 'point' - that campaigning for women to be on banknotes and generally to be represented, was a bit...you know...embarrassing...that she was showing herself up a bit for taking it all too seriously...after all what does it *really* matter.

It was surprising, alarming and downright shocking how quickly the comments went from 'Calm down dear' to 'She needs to loosen up' to 'She just needs a good screw' to 'I'm coming to rape you.'

But, okay, here's something that I began to wonder.  And it is a bit uncomfortable to voice it.  I began to
wonder where the Christian men were?

I had a bunch of Christian women, feminist people commenting - my Twitter feed was full of it.  But, I had no idea what my brothers in Christ thought about this - relatively speaking, of course there were some, but you take the point.

And so I wondered if they felt a bit lost in it all? Perhaps they didn't think it was anything to do with them? I wondered if a lot of you felt 'what am I meant to think?'. It's not that you don't think abuse is wrong or anything, but how does this fit in to the whole picture of proclaiming the Christian faith?  How does it affect your day to day lives?  What should you do about it?  How are you meant to interpret this kind of sexism, in the life of Christians together, men and women?

I'm not entirely sure what the problem is, so I would really like to hear what 'the men' think.  But I've got a few ideas what might be feeding into this relative silence.

  • We've had a year of talking about sexism in the Church, particularly in regard to whether women can lead or not. We've spent a lot of time finding ways of saying that those who don't think women should lead/be bishops *aren't* sexist, and so we're not even sure what it is anymore. I think we've lost the vocabulary.  What's sexist?  What's not sexist?  Is sexism bad?  Really bad...or just, like, whether you're a cat person or a dog person?  It's okay either way, but as long as you don't kick the other one.
  • There is a lingering idea that this is 'an issue for the girls' - that sexism is something against women, rather than a fundamental affront to the doctrine of humanity being made in the Image of God and therefore at the heart of what it means for everyone, men and women to be faithful Christian disciples. Fighting it therefore can feel more about standing alongside Sisters in Christ ('this is awful for you'), rather than a gospel issue ('this is at the heart of God's purposes for humanity'), both good things, but the latter would likely command more significance in our minds and therefore on time and energy.
  • I also have heard that sometimes when men have tried to get involved in this issue that they have felt unappreciated, or dismissed. I think that this issue is one that it would be good to explore further.  It is however, the most difficult to talk about.  I think that often men would like to 'help' - and therein we have an issue I guess.  Women working for equality have much experience in the field of gender.  You may have noticed that there was a backlash when those experiencing abuse on twitter were told (often by men), to ignore the abuse.  Women are not likely to react well to this.  Working together on this issue is to be absolutely in partnership - and in fact, women working in this field may have some expertise to impart themselves.  There is further work to be done on how men become involved, particularly Christian men, who are used to a particular paradigm of relationships (ie. one in which they are reacted to in a particular way because they are male).  We need to find ways to help each other to work together in a new paradigm - one of equality and where the privileged status of the 'male' is no longer the norm, or is at least articulated wisely, so that we can work through it.  This is why this is quite tricky to raise as an issue - it cuts to the heart of our own prejudices.  So men can feel the brunt of not being treated in a 'privileged' way - a way they assumed was 'normal' and they interpret that as being dismissed (welcome to our world guys), and women can feel pissed off that men are expecting the same privileged treatment in a feminist space (ie a space where they assume at least some knowledge of gender dynamics) and get impatient.
So these are some observations and thoughts. Not comfortable for us to talk about and I am of course concerned that Christian men will think I'm having a go at them.  I'm not and I thought raising the issue was worth the risk.  Because I want you with me. So let's talk.


Anonymous said...

You are right, a new paradigm is needed. For too long the feminist movement has been tunnel visioned and focused solely upon the rights of women. Such a narrow outlook means that feminists have not stood up for others who are underprivileged, poor, oppressed etc. A breaking down of barriers on all sides, a fresh realisation of what it means to be human and made in God's image alongside a rearticulation of our Christian responsibility is probably long overdue.

Phil Mayers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Phil Mayers said...

It's only in the last year or so, through online and offline conversations with some what I would call "balanced feminists", I've realised that you're not all hairy-armpitted, bra-burning, power suit wearing, man haters!

As a Christian man, I'm probably not alone in this view, but also I still find the term 'feminist' too broad a label to support wholeheartedly.

Am I for equality? Yes. Could I call myself a feminist? No.

Steve Holmes said...

Jody, thanks for this. You ask a good question.
I don't think this is a good answer - I'm not proud of it - but it has the merit of being honest, at least from me.
I saw a cartoon once, with a man in front of a desktop PC (I know, a cartoon from the dark ages!) saying to his wife without stopping looking at the screen 'I can't come to bed now, darling - somebody is wrong on the internet!'
It has stuck with me, not just because it's funny but because I know that for my own sanity/for the sake of my marriage/so that I can spend some time with my daughters/for the sake of keeping my job/... I need to choose which internet fights to get involved in, even at the level of sending one tweet of support (because, so often, it doesn't end there - that one tweet becomes a two-hour conversation).
So, yes, I spotted some of what was going on with Caroline Criado Perez, and I thought, 'how horrible; that should not be', but I probably saw twenty other things online that day which I thought much the same about. I can't fight twenty battles a day, much as I would like to be able to, so there comes a moment of choice - and the choice, for me, is at the level of 'do I absolutely have to do this?' - because there are enough things I answer yes to on that question to (more than) completely fill the time I have available.
You know, I think, that I intervened in at least two controversies over online misogyny this week - the area is not one I avoid, but I avoided the one you highlight.
So why not Caroline's battle? As far as I can analyse my rapid thoughts on seeing it and considering the question - and I did - there were various issues in play, but probably the decisive one was lack of personal connection - when something similar happened today to Vicky Beeching, I delayed responding, because I was too angry to tweet sensibly, but waded in. When some idiot challenged you about being a preacher, I went straight for him.
Why those two, and not Caroline's problems? There are two differences. One difference is as boring as Vicky is a friend, who I know, have prayed with, worked with, drunk coffee with. Caroline isn't. That does not (obviously...) make her a lesser person but, just as care for members of the congregation I serve is higher on my agenda than care for others of equal human worth, it does make a difference. The other is that my vocation, as far as I can discern it, is to serve the churches, and so stuff happening within the churches, particularly 'my' churches - Baptist; evangelical; anything to do with Spurgeon's College - is stuff I feel a responsibility for addressing. Other stuff, like banknotes, not so much...
That does not make one cause more right than the other - of course not - but it makes one cause mine and another not.
As I say, I'm not proud of this; I wish I could do more in this area - and a dozen others. But this is the reality for me. Really happy, however, to be taught a more excellent way.

Jody Stowell said...

Ha ha Phil, yes, I'm glad you've met a few Feminists who've helped to explode the myth.

And actually, I have met a few Feminists recently who I wouldn't be able to align myself with either.

I still would use the label because I understand it as the true humanism - in line with a biblical understanding of what it means to be male and female together.

thanks for replying :)

Jody Stowell said...

Hey Steve

absolutely! And I have seen you get involved, as you say with Vicky's comments and my own encounter (which I valued highly). I have to say I probably had you in my head when I gave my caveat :)

I completely agree with you that we can't fight 20 battles and that we should make sure to have healthy relationships with our beloveds.I don't comment on twitter on everything I think or tweet that I see, and I'm certainly not suggesting you should have. The Caroline story was more a 'hook' for the bigger question.

I think my question was about the fact that the percentage responses seem imbalanced in general to do with issues of sexism - with, as I say, exceptions. The abuse that Caroline received was 'big' enough for everyone to know pretty much what I was talking about - also, as a slight tangent, it was highlighted by the fact that a number of 'sensible' men came on to tell her how to handle the abuse, which was to say 'stop reporting it'. But as I say that's a tangent for another day.

I guess I was feeling that in general, sexism it seems is still a 'women's issue', and I'm not sure exactly why. What stops men (the ones who are generally supportive) from seeing this as their issue?

I think that there is some truth in my observations and wonder if people will recognise themselves in that at all.

But I have to say that I think you are way ahead in thinking through all this.

But it may be interesting for you to write about how it feels to work with women on this issue - where you want to work differently, how women might help it be a joint endeavour.

Steve Holmes said...

Thanks for your very kind reply.
Yes, the gender differential - I wonder if it is something like this: I have never been threatened with rape/told to get back in the kitchen/asked to get my tits out for the lads/... online; if I had been, repeatedly, then I can imagine that I would have decided in response that I needed to re-frame my evaluative scales so that this was at the top, and these fights were the ones I would give myself to, every time...
...and this is where I find it hard. Because I am saying, essentially, that because I am not a woman (because, being who I am, writing what I write, saying what I say, I would have become that target at some point if I were a woman) - because I am not a woman, this is not my fight. And I don't want to say that; I really don't. That is a form of misogyny when I think it through.
But the reality is, that I have never been threatened with rape and so I don't know what that feels like. I don't live my life subject to constant low-level sexist undermining of my gifts and abilities. I don't have to suspect every decision about my worth or achievements or future is being warped by my gender. I can check my privilege (being white, male, middle class, straight, able-bodied, ... it takes me a while to get through all the boxes, but I can do it) - but I can't experience what it is like to live without my privileges.
And as soon as I type that, I know it is the endless excuse of the misogynist, or other oppressor - 'We can't know what it feels like to be you; tell us more, and we will finally understand and change' - but the power of that lie is the kernel of truth at its heart. (I've been meaning to blog on this point for some time - I will try to actually do it this week.)
If I am an average male Christian, then the problem is that the injustices are in our heads, not our guts. And online we respond to the stuff in our guts, not the stuff in our heads.
Again, really not proud of these answers, but trying to be honest.

Jody Stowell said...

Hi Steve

thanks for this - I admit to finding it quite moving to see all that stuff written down.

For me the question becomes whether anyone reading this understands the term 'privilege' in this context.

When I've tried to have that conversation it always seems to come out wrong and I find myself having to insist I'm not trying to have a go - and often people don't 'feel' privileged, so to use that conceptual language draws derision.

Not sure how to overcome that.

Also, I grew up with a mum who worked in social services and I was well versed in the notion of privilege very early on. It was normal conversation to question one's own prejudice and assumptions. This is part of my native language. I recognise it simply isn't for most.

So what you write is a step on from the conversation I'm used to having.

For me this is something which is about the heart of the Missio Dei, because it's about who we are as the Imago Dei. God's purposes are hobbled by our dysfunction. (Surprise! Not a Calvinist ;) )

But perhaps I have to take a reality check, that *I* would see it like that - because it is personal.

So, how does privilege work for the detriment of those privileged? In tangible ways, so that it is a gut thing?

Oh flip - off to bed for me, before I tie myself up in knots :)

thanks, Steve. x

Terry Wright said...

I'd have to echo Steve's comments to some extent: a lot of it is about discerning which battles I can fight.

In my previous church, I came to a point where I realised I needed to take a stance on the women-in-leadership issue rather than just sit back and let things unfold before my mostly disinterested eyes.

But as I say, that was in my previous church. In my current church, which does accept women-in-leadership, there's a different battle of equality I'm trying to push for: true inclusivity of children in church. And so my mental energies - which at the moment are also being directed towards trying to work out all things BAP-related - are attending to how children can be involved in services, etc., fully, and not just as props to hold up pictures, etc.

Regarding all the Twitter stuff: as I'm not on Twitter, I don't feel that I can enter the arena just to denounce these offensive comments made against women. It's not that I wouldn't if I did tweet, but I don't feel that my voice is necessary at the Twitter level. I even wondered about posting this comment, but, as I support your endeavours to push for gender equality and see you as a rising spokesperson in the C of E for such, I thought I would, all the same.

I don't feel that my stance on all this is adequate, but I'm beginning to realise that there is wisdom in picking one's battles. It's not that I don't care; it's more that I'm not omni-capable.

Roger Hurding said...

Many thanks Jody for this blog and for your voice on Twitter, Facebook and Fulcrum.
I began to develop my feminist views in the early 1970s in the context of women's lib and other voices. In the early 1980s I declared I'm a feminist within a lecture for Christian counselling and was met by a palpable silence (puzzlement? horror?).
You're right. We Christian men who are feminists need to speak out with more compassion and vigour.

Jody Stowell said...

Thanks Roger - absolutely and we need you to :)

Jody Stowell said...

Hi Terry

thanks. Yes I think that seems to be the feeling that I'm getting. That this isn't felt to be the 'battle' that most men feel in their gut.

This is part of the conversation I wanted to have - can it ever be that for men? As Steve said, it's pretty much impossible to step outside the privileged position.

But I have hope :)

And Roger's response indicates that it can be a 'gut' thing for men.

Interesting conversation! :)


Steve said...

I consider the bank-note decision deeply sexist. Whereas all notes feature a woman, now some will have two women, and no men on them. For those committed to gender equality and inclusiveness, this is a travesty.
Christian women should be standing up and supporting their victimsised brothers!