Thursday, June 19, 2014

Modesty Culture Part 8: Sexism and Misogyny

Modesty Culture Part 8: Sexism and Misogyny

From Merriam Webster:

Sexism (noun):
1:  prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially :  discrimination against women
2:  behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex

Misogyny (noun):
a hatred of women

That “Modesty Culture” is strongly sexist is almost beyond dispute, but I will attempt to demonstrate this in this post.

I also intend to show that “Modesty Culture” is based on deeply misogynist underpinnings.

Sexism in Action

Some friends of mine have their children in a home study program from a local charter school. Although this was news to a social worker in one of my legal cases, charter schools are public schools. They receive public funding, and have to follow most of the same regulations that other public schools follow.

So, recently, this charter school scheduled an event involving water balloons.

Soon, an e-mail went out to all the parents making it clear that the girls were not to wear swimsuits.

Nothing was said about the boys.

Until one parent protested that this was sexist, at which point, the dress code was applied to both genders.

Again, let me say for the record: this was a public school. A public elementary school. So this involved kids, not teens. But apparently “Modesty Culture” has reached there too (probably because these are home school families), and someone got his or her panties in a knot imagining that little girls might wear swimsuits to a school event, and that little boys might actually see little girls in swimsuits. The horror!

This is how it always goes.

Whenever there is discussion of “Modesty,” it is always about the girls. It never, ever starts with the boys. People don’t sit around talking about how awful it is that parents don’t make their boys cover up. (Unless they are talking about ghetto pants - and that discussion has everything to do with race.) They never talk about the way boys are “defrauding” the girls.

More than anything, when activities involving water are planned, no one ever says, “We had better make sure the boys don’t wear swimsuits.”

Because this is never about male bodies. Just female bodies.

Sure, some try to make it seem less sexist by making a token nod to the guys, but that is never where it starts. It always starts with the girls. Always. I have never in all my time in the Patriarchy movement or in Evangelicalism heard it start with the boys. Nope, always with the girls. Usually, boys won’t even get mentioned.

(Good examples of the token nod can be found many places, but I would use the example of the Duggars, who have had a policy for their girls for years, but who finally decided that the boys couldn’t wear shorts. Dollars to donuts it was out of a realization that it looked sexist otherwise, not because they really started out thinking that boy’s calves caused lust in young women.)

Imagine, for another example, that you were planning a youth group pool party. How many seconds do you think would elapse before someone raised the issue of what dress code should be imposed on the girls? Ten seconds?

Likewise, imagine a “Letter to Young Men” that paralleled the ones to young women that proliferate on the internet. If the genders were reversed, wouldn’t it sound ludicrous? (see link below in the notes)

Perhaps the best example from the recent news is that of a certain Mrs. Hall. This Mrs. Hall has a blog, perhaps best described as a “Christian Mommy Blog.” She wrote a post entitled “FYI - if you are a teenage girl” - essentially an open letter to her sons’ female facebook friends, complaining about their clothing, their "selfies," and their supposed seductive poses. 

Now, Mrs. Hall seems well meaning, and is probably - like many who promote “Modesty Culture” - a decent, nice person. However, she is also a glaring example of the sexist nature of the discussion.

Her post went viral - probably beyond her expectations. Some of my friends re-posted it. It even hit the news media, where she ran into some flak for a variety of reasons. There are plenty of thoughtful responses addressing the root issues of slut shaming, “defrauding,” and male responsibility. A couple of the best were from Kristen Howerton and Beth Woolsey

However, there was another fact that was noted: Mrs. Hall’s blog had pictures of her teen sons on the beach, shirtless, flexing their muscles. (Mrs. Hall subsequently deleted the photos, but you can find them here. I’ll note another deletion, once controversy arose…)  

I love that the blogger who reposed them pointed out that the flex is the teen male equivalent of the duckface. So note, Mrs. Hall had no problems with her sons displaying their strength, virility, and - let’s be honest - their sexiness, for all to see.

But when girls did it, the poop hits the fan, and they have to be unfriended.

This is clearly a double standard - and just as clearly sexist.

I believe, however, that it goes beyond sexism. Beliefs about women and their bodies are rooted in a misogyny that dates to the beginning of recorded history and is as near to a human universal as possible.

The Misogynistic View of Women

A root idea at the heart of “Modesty Culture” is that women’s bodies are a source of sin. Men’s bodies do not carry the same baggage. Their bodies are just human bodies, to be used and enjoyed at will. If anything, male sexuality is looked at as being positive, and to the extent that it isn’t that fact is blamed on women. “He couldn’t help himself,” “ boys will be boys,” etc.

But this in fact goes even deeper, to a belief that women are inherently a source of sin, and that they are unclean, deviant, and dangerous if not controlled properly. This belief transcends history, geography, and religion.

Let’s take a tour.

In the Western tradition, much of our thought stems from the influence of Plato and Aristotle. (Even today, much of cutting-edge philosophy is concerned with the same debates that these two men brought to Western civilization.)

Aristotle in particular did a lot of thinking about women. His work, Politics, laid out how he believed society should be structured, and the relationships between a free male and his three subordinates: women, children, and slaves. (Saint Paul’s discussion in Ephesians 6 is a clear remix - a midrash - of Politics, which would have been intimately familiar to him as an educated Roman citizen.)

In Aristotle’s view, women were defective men. Fetuses that developed normally became male, and those that were crippled somehow became female.

“The female is a female by virtue of a certain lack of qualities - a natural defectiveness.”

This followed naturally from the limited medical understanding of the time. A man “planted a seed” in a woman. That seed would grow to resemble the parent (the father) unless something went wrong. (Our understanding of egg and sperm and DNA has superseded this idea, but the treatment of women as defective compared to males lingers.)

Thomas Aquinas, who attempted a unified philosophy and theology blending the ideas of Aristotle with Roman Catholic teaching in his Summa Theologica, put it this way:

“As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from a defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence."

Protestants are not exempt from this. Martin Luther:

“Girls begin to talk and to stand on their feet sooner than boys because weeds always grow up more quickly than good crops.”  

Confucius gets in on the act too:

“One hundred women are not worth a single testicle.”

Likewise the Koran explicitly states that men are inherently superior to women.

An orthodox Jewish prayer, dating back to antiquity - but still in use today - states:

“Blessed art thou, O Lord our God and King of the Universe, that thou didst not create me a woman.”

(The same prayer also gives thanks for not being created a Gentile and for not being created an uneducated man. Get your racism, sexism, and classism all in one place. It is possible that Christ was referring to this prayer or a predecessor when he chastised the pharisees for saying “I thank God I am not like other men.”)

Everywhere you look, you can find beliefs that women are defective compared to men. Indeed, this belief remains in the very depths of our thoughts and words about women. The assumption is that the “normal” form of mankind is male. Anything that deviates from that norm is abnormal, defective, dangerous. Thus, the ways that women differ from men are not really looked on as differences, but as defects. Woman’s smaller size is “weakness,” their statistically greater degree of empathy and cooperation is “sentimentality.” The very word “hysteria” means an illness of the uterus. Men are the norm, women are the scary “other.”

This likewise spills over into our view of female bodies and sexuality. The secondary sexual characteristics that define women are looked upon as the source of sin in men. The secondary sexual characteristics of men do not. Men don’t have to hide their broad shoulders, larger muscles, or facial hair. Those are normal human characteristics. The female characteristics - breasts, narrow waists, broader hips - are deviant and dangerous.

And what of the idea that women’s bodies are the source of sin? In fact, there is a longstanding, near-universal belief that women themselves are the source of sin. Let’s take a look.

Early church theologian Tertullian wrote the following:

Do you not believe that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives on even in our times and so it is necessary that the guilt should live on, also. You are the one who opened the door to the Devil, you are the one who first plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree, you are the first who deserted the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not strong enough to attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, man. Because of your desert, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins?

By the way, this is from the first chapter of On The Apparel of Women, his detailed list of rules for how women should dress. (Modesty Culture has some deep roots.) In addition to his forbidding of any jewelry or makeup, he argues that women shouldn’t wear colored clothing at all. The worst, though, is his argument that if women really understood their true guilt via Eve, they would be “walking about as Eve mourning and repentant, in order that by every garb of penitence she might the more fully expiate that which she derives from Eve,— the ignominy, I mean, of the first sin, and the odium (attaching to her as the cause) of human perdition.”

He makes it even worse in another work.

"Woman is a temple built over a sewer, the gateway to the devil. Woman, you are the devil's doorway. You led astray one whom the devil would not dare attack directly. It was your fault that the Son of God had to die; you should always go in mourning and rags."

Perhaps St. Clement put it most succinctly:

“Every woman should be overwhelmed with shame at the thought that she is a woman."

This idea that women are responsible for the first sin - in a way that men are not - is woven through the history of the theology of gender. Make no mistake: women were believed to be as dangerous as Eve - or the devil. Each and every woman. All are the source of sin.

St. Jerome:

“Lift the corner of the dress and you will find the tip of the tail.”

St. John Chrysostome:

“Among all savage beasts, none is found so harmful as woman.She is an inevitable evil, an eternal mischief, an attractive calamity, a domestic risk, a charming and decorated misfortune.”

Martin Luther:

"God created Adam master and lord of living creatures, but Eve spoilt all, when she persuaded him to set himself above God's will. 'Tis you women, with your tricks and artifices, that lead men into error."

St. Albert Magnus:

“Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison to his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one's guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil. ... Thus in evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good.”

Or how about this one from the Hindu Code of Mann, circa 100 BCE:

“It is the nature of women to seduce men in this world; for that reason the wise are never unguarded in the company of females. Women, true to their class character, are capable of leading astray men in this world, not only a fool but even a learned and wise man. Both become slaves of desire. Wise people should avoid sitting alone with one’s mother, daughter or sister. Since carnal desire is always strong, it can lead to temptation.” and “Men may be lacking virtue, be sexual perverts, immoral and devoid of any good qualities, and yet women must constantly worship and serve their husbands.”

Wait, isn’t that sounding a bit like Modesty Culture? (Actually, it is frightening how much this Hindu work resembles Doug Phillips’ teachings on gender, "stay at home daughters" included.)

Or how about the secular politician Cato, arguing that a law prohibiting women from wearing jewelry should not be repealed. (It was, despite his efforts. This incident, by the way, occurred during the same cultural period as the New Testament.)

“Give loose rein to [women’s] uncontrollable nature and to this untamed creature and expect that they will themselves set bounds to their is complete liberty, or rather if you want to speak the truth, complete license they desire...From the moment they become your equals, they will become your masters.”

Yes, if we don't control women and their clothing, utter license and perdition will follow.

From The Ancrene Rewle, on the reasons women should enter convents:

“It was commanded in the Old Law that a pit should always be covered; and if an animal fell into an uncovered pit, the man who had uncovered the pit had to pay the penalty. These are horrible words for the woman who shows herself to men’s sight...The pit is her fair face, and her white neck, and her light eye, and her hand...She is guilty...and must pay for his soul on the Day of Judgment.”

Sound familiar? See, you cannot separate Modesty Culture from the misogynistic view of women and their bodies. Female bodies are dangerous to men because women are dangerous, defective, the very source of evil in the world.

Whenever one talks about “defrauding,” “making it hard for the men,” “sending the wrong message,” and so on, what one is really saying is “women and their bodies are pits, by very nature the cause of men’s sin.”

At the root, it is misogyny that causes us to view women’s bodies this way, and men’s in a completely different way.

I bring this up in part because there has been a lot of ink wasted on trying to find reasons, scientific and religious, why women’s bodies are different, and thus naturally sexualized. On the Darwinian side, you have the argument that it is easier to see a woman’s likely fertility from her shape than a man’s. Or the old saw that men are more visually stimulated than women - which turned out to be false once one actually, you know, tried a scientific experiment.

All of these seem to me to violate Ockham’s Razor. Among competing hypotheses, select the one with the fewest assumptions until proven wrong.

The simplest theory is that of misogyny, driven by an exclusively male experience of sin and lust.  A disdain for - and dehumanizing of women combined with a desire to shift blame. As the father of our race once put it, “The woman you gave me…”


In the next installment, I will talk about the inconsistent ways dress codes are applied, depending on unchangeable phyisical characteristics - and also the presence of “shamefacedness” and adherence to gender roles.

Note on Sexism in dress:

I cannot recommend highly enough Are Women Human? by Dorothy Sayers.
As well as brilliantly taking down many of the sacred cows of patriarchy and sexism, she shows pretty clearly that whenever anything becomes desireable to men, they take it from women, and it is thenceforth forbidden to women. She lists all of the vocations that were once women’s work, until they became profitable enough for men to take them over, and exclude women from them, except as low paid workers.

She also notes that this is the case when it comes to clothing. This was written when it was still controversial for women to wear pants - it was considered “immodest” of course...exactly the way pants for women are treated by Lindvall, Gothard, Phillips, and the rest...

[T]ake the sniggering dishonesty that accompanies every mention of trousers. The fact is that, for Homo, the garment is warm, convenient and decent. But in the West (though not in Mohammedan countries or in China) Vir has made the trouser his prerogative, and has invested it and the skirt with a sexual significance for physiological reasons which are a little too plain for genility to admit. (Note: that the objection is always to the closed knicker or trouser; never to open drawers, which have a music-hall significance of a different kind.) It is this obscure male resentment against interference with function that complicates the simple Homo issue of whether warmth, safety, and freedom of movement are desirable qualities in a garment for any creature with two legs. Naturally, under the circumstances, the trouser is also taken up into the whole Femina business of attraction, since Vir demands that a woman shall be Femina all the time, whether she is engaged in Homo activities or not. If, of course, Vir should take a fancy to the skirt, he will appropriate it without a scruple; he will wear the houppelande or the cassock if it suits him; he will stake out his claim to the kilt in Scotland or in Greece. If he chooses (as he once chose) to deck himself like a peacock in the mating season, that is Vir’s right; if he prefers (as he does today) to affront the eye with drab colour and ridiculous outline, that is Homo’s convenience. Man dresses as he chooses, and Woman to please him; and if Woman says she ever does otherwise, he knows better, for she is not human, and may not give evidence on her own behalf.

(Note: throughout the work, Sayers uses Homo to refer to humans collectively, Vir to refer to males, and Femina to refer to females. She also shows how Vir is considered to be the representation of Homo, and that Feminia isn’t. Did I mention how strongly I recommend this book?)

An Alternate View of Adam and Eve:

It’s pretty funny, actually, the old belief about Adam and Eve. Eve was supposedly more easily deceived, and that’s why the devil picked her.

In my view, this is backwards. The devil picked Eve because he figured Adam would be a pushover. The “Father of Lies” himself, the greatest deceiver in the history of the world, a great and powerful supernatural being: the most irresistible liar of all time! And she questioned him. Eve was persuaded by the best there ever was.  That’s respect! Adam, on the other hand, didn’t even say anything in protest, easily being led along by a mere woman.

Perhaps what would have happened had Adam eaten first is that Eve would have given him a look, and said, “couldn’t you even ask for directions?” Just saying.

A bit on the thinkers of the past:

My intent is not to run down the great thinkers of the past. Aristotle and Aquinas and Luther all contributed to much that is good in the world. However, they were products of their time, and subject to making wrong assumptions just as we are. That said, I do not excuse misogyny in them. As with any human’s writing, one must cling to what is good while rejecting that which is not.

What I find most annoying is not that historical figures and cultures have been misogynist, it's that modern day Christian leaders try to pretend that we don’t have a misogynist past. That we always believed women were equal in value, intelligence, and ability. No, we didn’t. Until recently, and only in some cultures, women were believed to be inferior to men. Period. End of sentence. This isn’t debatable.

Even worse, though, is the way that Christian leaders try to claim that we believe women are equal in value, intelligence, and ability, while saying things that clearly indicate an inferiority. “Women are more easily deceived.” “Women shouldn’t be leaders in the church, home, or society.” Sorry, that indicates a belief in inferiority, and you sound silly when you say that you believe women are not inferior. It also requires that you ignore the misogynist roots of those ideas. Woman's exclusion from leadership is inextricably fused with the idea that women are congenitally inferior, as are most of our stereotypes about male and female traits. And yet, we have book after book proclaiming gender essentialism as being God's truth, rather than the lingering result of millennia of misogyny.

Which leads me to:

Note on the struggle to keep one’s faith:

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most offensive things Christians can say is, “People become atheists because they want license to sin.” It’s far from universally true, and it paints everyone outside the faith as immoral and unethical - as monsters, really.

I can say, as someone who has wrestled greatly with my faith throughout my adult life, that it is often the opposite. The struggle for me has been how to resolve the conflict between my faith and my conscience. The things that are taught and done are offensive to my conscience. The apologies for slavery, for example, I find to be evil. Likewise, the longstanding misogyny and sexism is a problem for me. Originally, it wasn’t unique to the church, obviously, but a universal. (And even now, strident atheism is largely misogynistic too.)

Lately, however, many parts of secular culture - (gasp!) Feminism, for example - have actively fought against misogyny, while the church seems largely intent on defending it, whether by condoning domestic violence, promoting gender roles and stereotypes as God’s plan for mankind, or by being the one last place that women cannot speak or lead.

This has led me several times to places where I worried that I would either have to jettison both my brain and my conscience, or leave Christianity.

Ultimately, though, I have hope, because Christianity did eventually reject slavery, witch burning, and other evils of the past. It can evolve - and badly needs to.

The bottom line: Christ himself was never dismissive to women, never blamed them for men’s sins, never treated them as defective or dangerous. If Christianity can be more like Christ, and less like the culture of the past, I can accept that.  

A few links:

Micah Murray’s excellent post on feminism and why sexism is real. Excellent job of reversing the genders to show how ludicrous it is.

Oh, and this one too. Darcy’s blog is full of gems, not the least of which is her harrowing account of her courtship. This post takes the whole “Letter to Young Girls” thing and gender flips it. 

One final gender flipper. A friend tagged me when she posted this. I am so guilty of this. Heck, I’ve owned a tux since I was 18. “When Suits Become a Stumbling Block”

Yet another one on the targeting of females with dress codes. “Dress code continues to be a concern, specifically with our female students.” Nope, no sexism to see here. Move along.


  1. I think your comments on swimwear are not quite right. In the USA male swimwear is typically knee-length shorts. Have some boys or men show up in brief/Speedo style swimsuits and you'll hear the modesty police start squawking.

    Brief style suits are common in Europe, but if a boy or man were to wear such in the US they could expect giggling and pointing at best, and possibly homosexual slurs. Because the fashion is for boys to wear "modest" swimwear there's no need to remind them to.

    1. I doubt you would hear that the boys in speedos were making women sin. You are right about the "homosexual" connection. (And the Europhobic connection too...)

      I would note, though, that boy's suits are "modest" because we say they are. A better comparison would be the way that men and women are treated regarding the same body parts. Men can and do show their navels. (And a whole lot more too...) Much pearl clutching results when a woman does so.

    2. Perhaps they wear shorts that are longer, but they are still (usually) shirtless. But women who wear bikini tops--even if wearing long shorts--are still considered "immodest" because they are showing the same body parts (though with breasts covered) as those boys who are permitted to be shirtless.

  2. RE: Adam & Eve.
    The command not to eat the fruit was given to Adam before Eve was made. There's no record of God giving the command to Eve. Let us surmise then that Adam was responsible for relaying God's command to Eve. Note that Eve's citation of the command includes a command not to touch the tree - something that God did not say to Adam.

    Perhaps the passage is showing us that Satan manipulated Adam's poor relaying of God's command.

    1. I think we get into trouble when we try to use the account of the fall as a text to discern things about gender. One of the worst things about Patriarchy, in my experience, is the way that they use Genesis as a proof text for misogyny. My own "interpretation" was meant to be a bit tongue in cheek.

  3. I have really enjoyed reading your posts on the modesty culture... I grew up thinking what I wore had an effect on the spiritual lives of my male friends and that it was my responsibility to dress modestly. The tag line was to "guard the hearts of your brothers in Christ." I remember feeling guilty every time a young (or not so young) man would look at me and my body. I would pull my cardigan over my shoulders, clasp another button on my blouse and make my posture less attractive. I would still feel guilty no matter what i did.
    I think it all culminated in my private christian high school where what i wore was constantly being scrutinized under the guise of uniforms and dress code. I remember one day in particular my teacher came to my desk and asked "what were you thinking when you got dressed this morning? Did you miss that top (and I mean TOP) button on purpose? What were you trying to communicate?" I did up the button and sported the "sharefacedness" you reference in your first post. The very next class period my male classmate (15-16 years old) called me a slut.
    Things like this, I believe, have had a huge effect on my self confidence and I have yet to gain back my full voice.

    Thanks again for your post!

    1. Thanks for the kind words and yet another story illustrating the misogyny.

  4. "This has led me several times to places where I worried that I would either have to jettison both my brain and my conscience, or leave Christianity."

    I am currently having a very hard time with this very issue, probably for the same reasons as you. Plus, I have been helping someone with research into the actions and attitudes of deeply evangelical and conservative churches during the time leading up to the Holocaust. It is not a pretty picture.

    I can only hold on to Jesus, not in any mystical way (because I most definitely am not), but as an picture of what God is like: "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself."

    What has helped me the most is a novel which I would not have expected to finish, let alone like: Sister Pelagia and the Red Rooster (or Coquerel, depending on the edition) by Boris Akunin. It is a "what-if" story: "What if Jesus walked the earth today?" but, of course, Akunin, being a rather good writer, doesn't set his story now, which would quickly date it and open it up to carping, but around 1900.

    Anyway, thanks for all your writing. I'd rather think about what I've experienced or skimmed over than live in a dream world, however depressing and shaming it may be.

    1. I haven't read any of the Sister Pelagia novels, but I did read The Winter Queen from Akunin's other series earlier this year.

  5. I appreciate this series very much; it is a very important issue. You certainly pulled together a lot of pertinent material in this article, and you presented it well. I will keep this for reference.

  6. "Girls shouldn't wear swimsuits!" Yeah, I've heard that. But there are few garments so useless as the swimsuit. (The tie and the bra come to mind. And the tie as currently worn is a phallic symbol! *lol*) And Christian nudists quickly find that once we get accustomed to nudity, it's actually sexier to see a woman in a swimsuit--or wet clothes!

    Of course, as a Christian nudist, I tend to turn the saying on its head: No swimsuits for either gender! Or any other garment for that matter! Our clothing is God's righteousness and our good works done with His help. And it feels so much better to swim without those clinging suits! You'd think He made us this way or something. :)

    1. I am not inclined to go the whole nudist route. If nothing else, it is awkward and inconvenient when one's arousal is visible.

      I'm with you on ties, though. I remember wondering if the tie was a replacement for a beard (I was probably thinking of the Egyptians), but it definitely is associated with masculinity and power. Not as obviously phallic as the mitre, perhaps, but easily interpreted that way.

      I tend to think of bras and swimsuits as having a definite function in the context of vigorous exercise. Better to have things kept in place so as not to disrupt the rhythm.

      Just my opinions.

  7. There's no doubt misogyny exists. We see Islamic examples of it every day in the news, but I don't think misogyny exists for misogyny's sake. Rather, I think the crankiness of celibate philosophers through the ages comes from the platonic hatred of the flesh and the irritation sexlessness nurtures in people. A culture that doesn't teach healthy sexuality will end up hating the thing it hungers.

    1. That's an interesting idea. Your last line is excellent, and I couldn't agree more. I believe there is a lot of fear in Evangelical culture surrounding sexuality, resulting in a sort of unspoken belief that less is better.

      On the issue of misogyny, I think additional factors could apply as well. As with racism (and the counterpart, racial supremacy), it serves to perpetuate the power of those with power. And likewise, blaming those with less power for the problems experienced by those in power keeps the structure intact.

    2. Riley's absolutely right. Modern-day Pharisees like Harris and Gothard were the kinds of Judaizing "dogs" that Paul called out in Galatians. They were jealous of the happiness and peace that was obvious in the Christians who were filled with the Holy Ghost and wanted to impose their own hang-ups on them and drag them down to their level of misery and bitter self-righteousness.

  8. I'm going to de-lurk and say I've been fascinated by this series (and, ahem, most of your blog, of which I have read a lot.). How refreshing to read educated, intelligent, non-hateful posts on a subject (namely, misogyny) that I grew up knowing little about and yet needs to be addressed.

    I am writing a blog series on the history of feminism, inspired largely because a lot of people seem to think feminists are mostly bra-burning man-haters. (I was one of them not too long ago.) Would you mind if I linked to this blog post and perhaps a couple of others?

    Here's my blog, if you're interested.

    1. Welcome aboard. Your series sounds interesting. I am always torn between two opinions on why feminism is so hated in conservative Christian circles. One is that it is due to ignorance - and that can be cured. The other is that those in power benefit from demonizing feminism and have no intention of really treating women as equally human.

  9. What many misogynists, particularly the Christian ones, seem to forget is that when Christ was resurrected, He first appeared to a group of women. The first person He spoke to was Mary Magdalene. If that isn't an absolution of the sins of Eve and a demonstration of the value of women, I don't know what is.

    1. I would agree. And I believe there is ample additional evidence. Christ commended Mary for sitting at his feet - an act that in that culture would have been understood as her learning theology from a rabbi - and training to be a rabbi himself. (Saint Paul learned "at the feet" of his mentor.) Women clearly "prophesied" in church. One meaning of that word is "preach." Certainly, that is how we do "prophesy" in church these days. Junia was an apostle - and a prominent one. Women led churches, if Saint Paul's letters are to be taken at face value. Really, things went downhill when the church became a bureaucracy and men sought to consolidate their power.

  10. Loved this whole series and this post in particular! I've been reading a lot (and discussing a lot and sadly debating a lot) over the misogyny in the Western and/or Christian tradition. But seeing so much of it in one place had an unusual effect; by the time I got to the Luther quote I couldn't help bursting into side-splitting laughter!! If one thought that women were a defect and inferior than OF COURSE one would have to come up with an absurd analogy anytime a girl appeared to be "better" at something than a boy.

    The real takeaway for me, though, was that last line from Cato: "From the moment they become your equals, they will become your masters." This fear is what I keep running up against in discussions on feminism and egalitarianism with Christian friends and family members. Because surely equality/egalitarianism is not really feasible, so a society promoting feminism will just devolve into a matriarchy [basically our Western Tradition's deepest fear]. Granted, perfect equality may not be possible this side of heaven, but weren't we taught to pray (and by extension act on) "on earth as it is in heaven"? Yah, I'll keep pursuing this "dangerous idealism."

    1. It is kind of amusing (and sad) that there is this genuine fear of Matriarchy. In my experience, this is usually a fear of insecure men. Ones who, despite their supposed manly superiority, seem threatened whenever they are around a strong woman. Those who are truly secure in their manhood aren't threatened by either strong women or the possibility of equality.

      (I've loved strong women as far back as I can remember. That Meg Thatcher was a FOX, I tell you!)

      And yes, let's pursue this "dangerous idealism." Funny thing, most of the Western world is going that direction, and it is, alas, Christians who are being dragged kicking and screaming.

  11. Another way in which the story of Eve has been both misinterpreted and used against women has been to insist that they deserve to have pain in childbirth. I have heard women (who, incidentally, are fans of the Pearls...) say that we ought to have pain in childbirth because it is Eve's punishment that we are meant to bear, and that no attempts to ease labor pains should be made. This also echos of the idea that women are nothing more than baby factories and serve no purpose but to prove men's virility. As a doula, that aspect is especially close to my line of work, and there is a great taboo about birthing in our culture, which I believe is directly linked to these antiquated, misogynistic views of womanhood, and the misunderstanding of Eve's curse. I'd love to see someone (maybe you?) explore the exegesis of Eve's curse, and relate it to our modern view of women and birth. Perhaps that should be MY next project, but I don't know that I am confident enough in my tackling of that passage to do it accurately. Something to work towards, I suppose. :)

    1. I'm not sure if I am the best person to write that post, having somewhat limited experience with the childbirth industry. :) I would imagine you have a lot of material already. If you do, please drop me a line, because I would LOVE to read it.

      I do rather agree with you, that it would be an interesting exploration, and I would not be surprised to see some lingering misogyny there as well.

      I have heard of a few people with those weird views about women needing to have pain in childbirth. Not surprising they are fans of the Pearls, I'm afraid. Oddly, I haven't heard any corresponding pushes to do away with agricultural implements (including the hoe) so that the man's part of the curse would be left in place. Just saying.

    2. I read an extremely interesting discussion of this issue in the book _Childbirth without Fear_ by Grantly Dick-Read. The first copy of the book was published in 1945, so it's not exactly recent, but his views and experiences are incredibly valuable still. As a doula, I think you will find it a very interesting and useful read (even if it is quite dense). Obstetrics in his time was HIGHLY misogynistic; some of the quotes in his book from other doctors of the time are very disturbing to read.

      Anyway, the relevant discussion is in Chapter 9, Part 2. It sounds like it is a very similar instance of the problem with translation with "shamefacedness" and “silence”, namely that the same words are translated differently based on whether they are referencing a man or a woman.
      ‘Genesis 3, v16. “To the woman he said: I will greatly multiply your pain (“itstsabon”) in childbearing; in pain (“etzev”) shall you bring forth children.”
      Genesis 3, v17. (To Adam) “Cursed is the ground because of you; in toil (“itstsabon”)shall you eat of it all the days of your life.”
      Genesis 5, v29. (Regarding Noah) “Out of the ground which the Lord hath cursed, this one shall bring us relief from our work (“etzev”) and the toil (“itstsabon”) of our hands.” "

      Taken in this context, the Lord is saying that child birth will be hard work, but never says anything about it being painful. The translators of the time regarded childbirth as extremely painful, and so translated the words according to their own bias.

    3. Those are very interesting. It's a good reminder when we read the bible (or any ancient work) that translation IS interpretation, and that we really can't assume that we are getting an unbiased and transparent rendering of the original.

  12. So, I admit I haven't read this section of your series yet, but I found this article today and wanted to post it somewhere pertinent. I think you will find this interesting, if you haven't already seen it. It supports things you've said on this blog.


  13. Hi, there is one quote which is a bit off I would like to point out in this section. "One hundred women are not worth a single testicle" is NOT from Confucius. Confucius did also state some sexist statements such as "唯女子与小人难养也” which would be translated as "women and the reprobate are equally hard to be dealt with" or "男尊女卑(men are superior to women)”

    All in all, great blog! I have been reading the series this evening and they definitely led to good conversations!