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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label gender roles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label gender roles. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Progressives: Please Help Me Understand International Women's Day

Today is marked as International Women's Day, described as "a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity."1 The Women's March, among other progressive women's rights groups, decided to mark the day by creating "A Day without a Woman" campaign, instructing women to:
  1. Take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor
  2. Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses)
  3. And Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman
As a heterosexual white male living in the 21st century, I definitely want to highlight the crucial contributions women have made to our society. But I need some help in understanding just how to go about doing this. Lest I be accused of "mansplaining" or bias because of my sex, I want to ask my progressive friends to help me make better sense of this day and just what it is I'm recognizing.

Question 1: How Do We Mark Achievements Today?

As noted above, this date is set aside to celebrate "the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women," yet women are being instructed to take the day off from labor—to go on strike. Fox News reports that "Several schools in at least four states were closed Wednesday so teachers can participate in ‘A Day Without a Woman' strike in which organizers are urging female workers to stay home."2How does this celebrate achievement? What happens to the female students who are supposed to be taught today? Does losing one day's instruction give them an advantage?

Question 2: How Do We Accelerate Economic Gender Parity?

Perhaps the strike is meant to accelerate gender parity. After all, the day is to be marked with calls to action. Does the fact that these schools closed mean the school districts need to hire more men so the ratio of genders is equal? Should we put quotas in place to ensure parity? What about other jobs where men are in the vast majority, like sanitation engineers or coal miners? Business insider lists these as two of the fifteen most deadly occupations with fatalities per 100,000 workers at 22.8 and 38.9 respectively.3 Christina Hoff Sommers documents how in the top ten highest paying college majors, men overwhelmingly outnumber women in all but one while in the ten least remunerative majors women outnumber the men in all but one. So, how do we accelerate gender parity economically here?

Question 3: How Do We Accelerate Cultural Gender Parity?

Perhaps economic parity isn't the only kind of parity we should strive for. Perhaps we can recognize that women as women offer unique and worthwhile contributions to our society that cannot be measured (or are undervalued) economically. But this seems to get sticky pretty fast. Can I say that women as a gender have a unique view on society and its problems? When the city of Los Angeles was in danger of having an all-male city council, former councilwoman Laura Chick decried the possibility, saying "Shame, shame. Absolutely it makes a difference. Our brains are different. We have different perspectives.... There's something terribly wrong with this."4

But how can this be true if a family requires two loving adults, no matter what their gender? Progressives have been telling me for a long time that children don't need women as mothers, they simply need loving individuals. Gender doesn't matter at all. To create a situation where children are intentionally denied the opportunity for a mother is so inconsequential that it shouldn't even be up for discussion. It certainly shouldn't be considered as a factor when adopting, as Catholic Charites were told, forcing them to shut down their adoption services in Massachusetts.

Question 4: What do You Mean by Woman?

Perhaps the fact that women bear children and are responsible for the lion's share of rearing them is a point to be underscored. But that would mean that the very concept of being a woman is rooted in biology. But according to my progressive friends, that isn't true at all. They say the very idea of gender is simply a social construct. All that is required to be a woman is to identify as a woman. Is that right? But that means I can be celebrated if I choose to identify as a woman today.

The big question in all this is how do we celebrate the achievements of women and rally to gain parity for women when the concept of what a woman is isn't defined? This is probably where I need the most help, as I can't make sense of it at all. If the very definition of what constitutes a woman is up for grabs, then what happens to those gender parity issues? I mean, there are those who deeply identify as football fans or basketball fans. I'm in the minority as a hockey fan. Should I seek a day for celebration of achievement and a call to parity since hockey fans are so underrepresented in society?

I would really love to celebrate women. However, in today's world with all the different messaging going on, I can't figure out just who it is we're celebrating or what kind of achievements qualify to be celebrated. If anyone can help me out, I'd be really appreciative.


1. "About International Women's Day." International Women's Day. Aurora Ventures (Europe) Limited., n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
2. "'Day Without a Woman' Strike Shuts down Schools as Teachers Bolt." Fox News. FOX News Network, 08 Mar. 2017. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
3. Lubin Gus and Kevin Lincoln. "The 15 Most Dangerous Jobs In America." Business Insider. Business Insider, 21 Sept. 2011. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.
4. Newton, Jim. "An All-male City Council?" Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 1 Apr. 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2017.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Stop Dismissing Feminine Values

By any account, Mia Hamm is considered one of the all-time great soccer players. Twice an Olympic gold medalist and twice a World Cup winner, Hamm held the record for most goals scored in international play by a woman until fellow American Amy Wambach broke it in 2013.1 She was even named Female Athlete of the Year at the ESPY Awards.2 When Hamm stepped onto a FIFA football field, she was considered a force to be reckoned with.

However, what if the field that Hamm stepped on wasn't playing by FIFA's rules but those proscribed by the NFL? How would all of Hamm's skills and abilities be judged as she faced off against 250 lb. linebackers? Certainly some of her talents, such as her speed and playmaking vision would be valued, but her standout skills like scoring and dribbling ability would be seen as worthless. No one could see the real value in Hamm's abilities here.

The NFL and FIFA are both called football. Both have great athletes and offer fa participants wonderful opportunities to express their skills. They are, however, two completely different games and to be great in one but not the other doesn't mean you aren't a great athlete. One may be a different kind of player, but equally great at one's chosen sport.

Equality Isn't Everyone Playing the Same Game

I offer this illustration to underscore a point often missed in the gender wars. Lately there has been a lot of noise made about how women are treated unequally. Articles continue to appear complaining about the supposed wage gap between women and men, the lower percentage of women in the sciences, and even how U.S. women's professional soccer players earn only a fraction of their male counterparts. There's also much talk about how media needs to do a better job in portraying women as not simply domestics but warriors who are equally capable of taking out the bad guys in the story.

It strikes me as glaringly obvious that these efforts are using a masculine-tainted yardstick in measuring the worth of women. Alistair Roberts recently made the same point in his article "Why We Should Jettison the 'Strong Female Character'." Roberts focuses his complaint on today's media fascination with portraying women protagonists as action heroes that basically out-man men. He writes:
What is perhaps most noteworthy about most of them how much their supposed 'strength' and independence and their narrative importance often depends upon their capacity to match up to men in combat, requires the foil of male incompetence, villainy, and weakness, or involves the exhibition of traits and behaviors that are far more pronounced in men.

...Herein lies a tragic failure of imagination that weakens both men and women. Women are measured according to an unfair standard that encourages frustration and resentment, as they are pressed to play to their relative weaknesses; men, on the other hand, are ill-served as their strengths must be either pathologized, stifled, or dissembled in order to make women appear equal or stronger. Kickass princesses are an invitation to young girls to pursue their strength in a zero-sum gender game.

...The problem lies with the lack of corresponding films for women, especially films that explore what it means to be a woman who achieves full agency playing to female strengths and according to women's rules. The problem also lies with the lack of female characters that teach men to respect women as women, not only to the extent that they can play to male strengths. Without denying that some women can and do effectively play to male strengths, they should not have to do so in order to be valued as full agents. 3
Roberts goes on to offer a couple of examples to show that women can be valued for those traits where they themselves excel. He leverages Proverbs 31 to underscore his point.

What if Value Is Measured Differently?

When discussing issues of equality, I have often questioned why economic benchmarks are usually the only ones offered in the discussion. Is professional success the only valuable activity? I could just as easily say we need to measure importance by the amount of trust we place on those who are responsible for shaping and molding the most valuable assets we have: our children. Anyone can be indentured to someone else for eight hours a day, schlepping off to do another's bidding just to earn a few dollars for a scrap of bread. The true value lies in the relational bond and power that comes in teaching those who will one day shape our world.

Of course, the example above commits the same error in the other direction. Both men and women are valuable and neither should be considered replaceable. They each have strengths that by and large the other lacks, which is why we decry anyone stifling the voice of either. But let's stop claiming women are equal by telling them they must stop emphasizing those things that differentiate them from men. That isn't equality, is demanding conformity and elevating a man's playing field to judge by.


1. "Mia Hamm." A&E Networks Television, n.d. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
2., 2016.
3. Roberts, Alistair. "Why We Should Jettison the 'Strong Female Character'" Mere Orthodoxy. Mere Orthodoxy, 18 Apr. 2016. Web. 27 Apr. 2016.
Image courtesy Mark Ramelb Flickr source, CC BY-SA 3.0

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Women in Combat or Women as Victims

One of my most visceral reactions is against those who would perpetrate violence against women. Even when young, movies such as The Burning Bed would cause me to have a strong emotional response. So, when I saw Eve Ensler's "One Billion Rising" events held this Valentine's Day, coupled with the U.S. Senate's passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), you would think I would be elated. But these events actually brought more questions to my mind than adulation, primarily due to the recent announcement by Leon Panetta to allow women to serve as combatants. It seems to me that these positions contradict each other, even as the same elected officials continue to push for both.

Photo by Israel Defense Forces
Let's look at Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) as an example. Gillibrand serves on the Senate Committee on ordering the military to come up with a plan to send women into battle. In so doing, she said "Just like it was wrong to discriminate against service members because of whom they love, it is also wrong to deny combat roles to qualified women solely because of their gender." But such reasoning does not fly. Women simply don't have the upper body strength men do, and they have 30% less muscle mass overall. Now, I know that there are some women who are stronger than weak men. However, this fact is unconvincing for two reasons. One, weak men get stronger through training. Testosterone builds muscle. And those that can't strengthen themselves due to some physical ailment will usually be assigned to non-combative roles. Secondly, women's strength can atrophy faster than men's.  Marine Captain Katie Petronio, who herself has been in combat-type situations, makes this argument.

Beyond the strength issue, there's another big concern in allowing women in the military, and that is that gender matters.  Ryan Smith in the Wall Street Journal did an excellent job in painting a picture of what combat conditions really look like, as he had served as a Marine infantry squad leader in Iraq in 2003. He tells of being enclosed in a vehicle for 48 hours, urinating and defecating just inches away from fellow soldiers, then having to strip with all his comrades while his clothing was burned for decontamination.  Will women feel empowered by such actions? Will men?

Men and women also interact differently.  When polled, 17 percent of male marines would leave the service if women were placed in combat roles, their biggest concerns being "fears about being falsely accused of sexual harassment or assault, fraternization or some Marines getting preferential treatment. They also worried women would be limited because of pregnancy or personal issues that could affect the unit before they are sent to the battlefield." The truth on this matter is we simply don't know what effect a large-scale deployment of women in combat units would have.  There's no data because it has never been done before.

Then there are the larger family issues. According to this report, over 30,000 single mothers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and about 10 percent of women in the military become pregnant each year. So, female soldiers train and work alongside their male counterparts, but one in ten must be replaced so they can take maternity leave. Does that affect a unit's effectiveness? Add to that the higher divorce rate among female service members and one can see that sex makes a difference on how one processes military situations. These differences will only become more acute when more women are placed in high-pressure combat roles.

Ten months after her Senate proposal demanding women be placed in combat roles, the same Senator Gillibrand is standing before the Senate lobbying for the VAWA. "There is simply no room for partisan gamesmanship when we're talking about the safety of our families," Gillibrand said. "For millions of women and families, VAWA serves as a lifeline to keep them safe." So, Gillibrand seems to think that it is appropriate to focus on the sex of the person when worrying about the safety of women and their children. If such is the case, that standard should be applied appropriately to the question of female combatants.

 It's important to realize that the Violence Against Women Act is calling for special protection for women, that a man attacking a woman needs to be categorized differently than a man attacking a man. If one were to ask why women need such special protections, the reasons listed would be pretty much the same as to those that are offered for keeping women out of combat roles. But folks like Gillibrand want it both ways. On one hand, women can do anything men can do.  Give them a gun and everyone is equal (even though combat is not simply firing a weapon.) On the other, a fight between a man and a woman isn't a fair one, so women need the protection of the law. A woman should never be punched, but its O.K. to put her in a situation where she can be killed.

Equality has never meant that we must erase our differences. God made men and women differently, and this is clear when we look at biology. Gillibrand rallies for keeping families safe, but women in combat works against that standard, not toward it.  It also does nothing to strengthen our military. Remember, the military should first and foremost be concerned with protecting our troops and winning battles. Of course we should do so in an ethical way, but I don't see barring women from combat situations any less ethical than barring asthmatics from the military altogether. If barring women from combat is somehow discriminatory, then we must judge the VAWA legislation to also be so. It is simply inconsistent to hold to both positions.
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