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Thursday, August 15, 2019

Thoughts on Gender Equality


Alice C. Linsley


When people speak of "gender equality" I am curious about their beliefs and conceptions of reality. For some, the equality of male and female is simply an extension of their dualistic worldview. They embrace the philosophy of Yin-Yang, a soft egalitarianism that offends no one in contemporary Western societies. It is posed as the way of harmony.

Some people are influenced by the feminist conception of gender. I am speaking of ideological feminism which is rooted in Marxist thought, not equal pay for equal work. Ideological feminism gained momentum in the 1960s with the writings of Gloria Steinem, Kate Millet, and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Ideological feminism limits women by requiring them to compete with men in every area of life. This works by shaming, so that women feel bad about themselves when they don't enter the game.

Some views on gender are shaped by the person's religious beliefs. I've had numerous conversations with proponents of the idea that male and female complement each other. That is, they supply for the other what the other may lack. In this conception there is more than inter-dependency; there is absolute need. This notion gained popularity during the 1990s when Evangelicals were elevating the married state above singleness. This too involved shaming until the pendulum swung the opposite direction and Evangelicals started to talk about the blessedness of being single and celibate.

In Evangelical circles the conception of gender complementarity was coupled with the doctrine of headship. While men and women have different and complementary responsibilities in marriage, family life, and church roles, the husband has the final authority.

For Evangelical churches this meant that women clergy could serve only under the leadership of a male head pastor. However, Anglicans ordained women as priests, an action that was predicated upon the feminist conception of gender equality. Though that conception is far removed from the biblical view of gender, the practice continues even within conservative Anglican jurisdictions.

The biblical view of male and female entails binary distinctions and hierarchies. The gender distinctions reflect what the ancients observed about male and female in the natural order. Males are larger and stronger than females. Females are more attuned to potential ruptures in their social fabric. When threatened, males go on the defensive and assert their rights. Fear in females tends to make them clingy. This dynamic in the male-female relationship was articulated by Dr. Carol Gilligan, Harvard Professor of Psychology, in her seminal work In A Different Voice (1982).

We may dismiss these statements as generalizations, but generalizations are grounded in observation. I spoke to Dr. Gilligan about her book soon after it was published. We discussed the effects of fear and how these are expressed differently in men and women. Genesis 3:16 is a succinct description of the dynamic. Fear having entered their relationship (Gen. 3:10), God explains to the woman, "Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Gen. 3:16)

I speak on this topic and find that many people cannot hear what I am saying. The voices of dualism and egalitarianism completely drown the voice of the ancients. The term "binary" has become a bad word.

The distinction between the male and the female has become so blurred that none consider it odd that women serve in combat or as priests. Mothers kill their babies. Fathers abandon their children and abuse their wives. Men have sex with men. God is cast as goddess, and the fact that Jesus was born a man, and called the "Son" of God the Father, is dismissed as patriarchal language.

As an anthropologist, I have been researching the social structure of the biblical Hebrew for more than thirty-five years. In that published research I have demonstrated that the Hebrew did not have a patriarchal social structure. The feminist claim is false and unsubstantiated.

The Hebrew had a distinctive marriage and ascendancy pattern that has been identified through anthropological research using kinship analysis. Though the wives are not always named in the king lists, their presence is evident in analysis of the social structure of the ancient Hebrew.

Before Israel existed, the wives and daughters of the Hebrew rulers listed in Genesis 4, 5, 10, 11, 25 and 36 ruled over large royal households, arranged royal weddings, owned property, and assisted in the building of kingdoms. Among the biblical Hebrew all movable property such as tents and flocks belonged to the wife who ruled over her settlement.

Hebrew wives were essential to the establishment of a territory. The ruler-priest had two wives living in separate settlements at the northern and southern boundaries of his territories. Without these wives, there was no way to establish his kingdom and maintain his territorial boundaries. Abraham's territory extended between Sarah in Hebron and Keturah in Beersheba. Before his son could take the reins from Abraham, Isaac had first to marry his cousin bride. The cousin bride was always the second wife, taken later in the heir's life in preparation for his rule.

Among the biblical Hebrew, wives exercised considerable influence over the affairs of their settlements. Sarah ordered her servant Hagar to leave the settlement and Abraham had to concede. 

Cousin brides named their first-born sons after their fathers. Those sons belonged to the households of their maternal grandfathers. The biblical Hebrew had a double unilineal descent pattern. This pattern pertains to more than descent. It reflects the rights and responsibilities of the matriarch and the patriarch. In a double unilineal descent pattern, both the patrilineage and the matrilineage are recognized and honored, but in different ways.

For healthy conversations to take place about gender, there must be talk about patterns of relating that honor the dignity of males and females without imposing ideologies and shame.


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