Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The quest for feminine identity

Monsignor Cormac Burke has written an interesting essay on sex distinctions, one which challenges the orthodox liberal view on sex distinctions.

Identity

What makes up our identity? Monsignor Burke writes:

one’s identity is made up of certain characteristics which we have in common with others, and certain characteristics we have differently: and again of some qualities we have as “givens” and others we have acquired. It is only by knowing these that we can identify ourselves. The person incapable of self-identification just does not know himself or herself.

This is already outside the liberal orthodoxy. Although Monsignor Burke does allow that we acquire some aspects of our identity ourselves, others are given to us. So we are not, as liberals usually claim, blank slates, without limitations on our ability to self-define.

Monsignor Burke is aware that he is contradicting trends within modern thought:

The current confusion about identity is mainly rooted in the idea of the self-identifying or the self-defining person. ‘My life is mine and I can make whatever I want of it’. This is not so, in the first place because I only possess my life precisely insofar as it has been given to me; it is a gift.

He goes on to write:

When I receive a gift, it becomes mine; yes, that is true. But if I am sensible, I want to know the nature of the gift so as to use or handle it wisely; for it can be spoiled, even completely, by bad use. If I am given a paperweight of gold, I may drop it and nothing is lost. If the gift is a precious porcelain vase and I drop it, the gift itself is lost. It is important to know that some things given to us in life are both precious and breakable, and not easily recovered if broken.

Disenchantment

According to liberalism, we are to define our own good. Monsignor Burke points out that this has disenchanting consequences:

We live in a thoroughly ‘disenchanted’ secular age (as Charles Taylor brings out so well). There is nothing beyond what I see, nothing underlying what I feel, nothing that promises more than what I have ... Things, events, relationships, have no more meaning than what I choose to give them. I decide their value. But, at the best, that value is limited, for I do not, I will not, believe in absolute values. I identify things by how they suit me — my satisfaction, my advantage — not by any value they have in themselves.

What follows is a passage on what is (potentially) spiritually inspiring in the connection between the masculine and feminine:

But there is an enchantment in creation. God himself, the Bible tells us, was pleased, very pleased, with what he had created. He saw it all as good, very good (Gen 1:31). For God, it is a very good world. For man, the summit of his creation, God wished it to be an enchanted world, a world where everything, as an imago Dei, can point to the hidden, ultimate and infinite wonder of God’s existence and life.

It was Adam’s experience when he saw Eve. He was thrilled, she was an enchantment for him; something that seemed to come from another world, or to promise another world. And similarly when Eve saw Adam. In that mutual attraction of theirs, the physical differences were seen, undisturbedly, as a sign of a much richer human reality; and indeed as imaging an infinitely higher reality.

Male and female God made them; and the closer they are, the more they live in mutual understanding, the more they reflect something of the image of God. This closeness is only secondarily expressed in physical coupling. It is in the meeting of souls more than of bodies, in the harmonising of a masculine and a feminine way of being, that they image a perfection much higher than anything either can achieve on his or her own.

There is, or was, truth in that old saying that 'woman promises to man what only God can give’; truth also if the promise is expressed the other way round. Today it is not clear what the sexes promise to each other, and less still what they mean to each other. Romance, so it seems, is almost gone. The enchantment is gone, as is also the sense that there is something of magic in sexuality that has to be protected ... We have to restore the enchantment.

That, I maintain, is not possible without a restored sense of sexual identity; a sense of what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, what it can mean to show together a better image of God.

I'm not sure how this passage would strike a non-religious reader (hopefully as impressively non-liberal). But I would be disappointed if it didn't encourage Christian readers to seriously question the liberal position on sex distinctions (the view that masculinity and femininity are negative restrictions on a self-defining lifestyle.)

Isn't it clear that liberalism contradicts key tenets of Christianity?

13 comments:

  1. The passage is a direct affront not only to the notion of atomistic individuality, to the tabla rasa, but also to the feminist dogma that gender is merely a social construct.

    The ongoing scientific research into brain activity has already revealed physical, structural differences between men and women. There is much more to be learned, but the science is telling us clearly that gender isn't an artifice imposed from without, but a manifestation of inner differences. One can be an atheist and see this, but it is much more interesting as a Christian to see science essentially "catching up" with what theology already teaches.

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  2. The trouble is that the feminists and others are a bit more savvy, and have already started to react against these scientific trends some time ago.

    There's quite a significant side of modern feminism ("gender feminism" or "difference feminism") which admits to essential sex differences between men and women which are not constructed. However, it contends that the female essentialist traits are superior to the male, and that they must displace the male as being normative in society. Carol Gilligan is one example of this among many -- claiming that women have superior moral insight because they are generally more empathetic and context-driven in assessing moral questions, whereas men tend to want to apply abstract rules to everyone equally. Gilligan argues that the feminine vision is superior to the masculine one, because it is more linked to the individual and the person, and less to abstractions, and so on.

    In any case, the feminists are well-prepared to move forward with their agenda even if the blank slate completely disappears from discourse, because to a large degree they've already moved on to gender feminist ideas anyway. Gender feminist ideas are the ones that underlie ideas like "men should be more like women" and "masculinity is toxic for men and women alike" and "he's suffering from testosterone poisoning". All of these are "essentialist" statements, yet ones which view the female as superior to the male -- and view the male as in need of adaptation more towards the female in order to "become more human" (something else we hear from advocates of this). Plain and simple, this is female supremacy and misandry, full stop, yet it gets quite a bit of truck in our culture due to the widespread loathing of men that is broadcast nearly 24/7 from every direction an in every context.

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  3. Thanks for the post, Mr. Richardson. It should give the Galatians 3:28 folks something to think about.

    I do wonder, though, what he means when he says this

    "This closeness is only secondarily expressed in physical coupling. It is in the meeting of souls more than of bodies, in the harmonising of a masculine and a feminine way of being..."

    and this

    "That, I maintain, is not possible without a restored sense of sexual identity; a sense of what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman..."

    What does it mean that the differences between the sexes are "only secondarily" expressed bodily? That word "only" sounds dismissive, as if the bodily difference isn't really important at all.

    Does this mean that Monsignor Burke believes in a spiritual masculinity and a spiritual femininity rather than the traditional corporeal versions?

    I don't see how that makes sense.

    On the other hand, if he just means that the physical expression of sex is less important than the spiritual expression of it, I guess I still wonder where he gets the idea of spiritual sex identity. As far as I can see, the Bible tells us that bodily distinctions are important and exist only on this earth. But I could certainly be wrong on this.

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  4. I am not very religious at all, and I have to say the good priest has a ring of truth to his words.

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  5. Nova Seeker writes "However, it contends that the female essentialist traits are superior to the male, and that they must displace the male as being normative in society."

    Reminds me of the Sotomayor flap over here in the States

    “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

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  6. Novaseeker,

    I believe there have been several responses by feminists to the science on sex distinctions.

    One response is to attempt a counter-science. There have been a couple of books lately by feminists disputing the existence of significant biological differences between men and women.

    It's noteworthy that these feminists fear the political repercussions of accepting biological sex distinctions.

    Another response is to accept some degree of distinction but to obfuscate - perhaps by arguing that there is overlap or that there are more in-group differences (differences within the sexes) than between group differences.

    For instance, I was in a debate some months ago with a feminist who accepted that men were more influenced by testosterone than women but who claimed that there was overlap: that some women had more testosterone than some men. This was thought sufficient to undermine ideas of masculinity and femininity.

    (Ordinarily there is no overlap:

    "Normal free testosterone levels in men range from 44 to 244 pg/mL (0.68 to 3.76 pmol/L). In women, the free testosterone level may range from 0.6 to 9.2 pg/mL (0.01 to 0.14 pmol/L).")

    Yes, another response is to accept the idea that there is such a thing as "female" characteristics.

    However, in my experience this is rarely a straightforward acceptance of really existing sex distinctions.

    Eve Ensler, for instance, believes that there are "girl cells" which give us all the positive qualities like empathy, intuition etc. Boy qualities in contrast are destructive and violent.

    However, she also believes that the boy qualities are false: that they are forced on us by the patriarchy.

    The girl cells are in in everyone, male and female. Boys can live by girl cells.

    Furthermore, the girl cells are also somewhat masculine, being adventurous, rebellious, assertive and so on. They have nothing to do with wanting to please.

    So Eve Ensler doesn't accept the idea of complementary sex distinctions. She envisages that we'll all end up living through "girl cells" which themselves are not very feminine.

    It ends up sounding androgynous, despite all the talk of "girl cells".

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  7. OT but take a look at this:

    http://blogs.news.com.au/dailytelegraph/timblair/index.php/dailytelegraph/green_dream/

    That sound you hear is the plummeting of the climate alarmists credibility.

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  8. Focusing on statistical outliers is one typical way some feminists deal with the science. One problem is ironic; many, possibly most, feminists do not actually understand elementary statistics, so they don't really have a grasp of what the full implications are of the higher variance in IQ that we see in men vs. women.

    It means that there are more men with IQ > 110 than women. It also means there are more men with IQ < 90 than women as well.

    However, that's old news. The news that is coming up has to do with actual brain lobe mass; some parts of the brain are physically bigger in men than in women, and vice versa. That has all kinds of implications.

    Sticking with the "men bad women good", or "men are defective women" meme won't stand up too long to science, I suspect.

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  9. "For instance, I was in a debate some months ago with a feminist who accepted that men were more influenced by testosterone than women but who claimed that there was overlap: that some women had more testosterone than some men. This was thought sufficient to undermine ideas of masculinity and femininity."

    I guess the feminist would argue that since, for example, some women want to go in the army and some men want to be hair dressers, that this indicates the women who want to go in the army have more testosterone or some other masculine characteristic than the men who want to be hairdressers.

    However, even if some women are more masculine than some men in some respects, the vast majority of men are more masculine than the vast majority of women.

    The presence of outliers doesn't discredit the reality of significant sex differences.

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  10. "Romance, so it seems, is almost gone."

    You don't say. Now it's all about "hooking up," and anyone holding old-fashioned ideas about dating and relationships is met with derisive laughter at best and open hostility at worst. Relationships mean nothing and sex is just a physical act.

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  11. Well, as the mother of three boys, I can tell you that those 44 to 244 pg/mL of testosterone are readily apparent from birth. It has been the greatest life lesson a person could have to watch them develop. Blank slate?!!!


    My response to researchers like Gilligan, is that although it is clear that girls at a young age display more empathy, I cannot agree that a feminine vision is superior to the masculine one. Has anyone ever witnessed a seventh-grade classroom? Girls can abuse their superior perception of feelings and relationship nuances to be quite cruel. Empathy is information, and with information comes power. As a teacher, I have spoken to many girls who could articulate their understanding of the feelings of others quite well, and then who acted in a manner that took advantage of this understanding.

    Our task is to face the inherent realities in our children and help channel them in positive directions. I spend my time devising games and activities and rules for my boys that take into account their inherent high energy levels, love of combat, "things that go fast" and desire to build and construct.

    The same must be done for girls. Girls' obsession with their bodies, their dress and what other girls think of them are distortions of their unique insights as females.

    During my high school and college years, a surprising number of my girlfriends, including myself, followed the path forged by the feminists before us and majored in engineering and science. I myself (though I felt drawn to medicine) felt I had to reach higher, for research, a Ph. D. was a must...I had to prove I was as good as the boys. Fifteen years later, fully NONE of the engineers are still engineering, they are now teachers, mothers, and software salespeople. Several of the women I knew in biotech are now back in school to become nurses or selling and making jewelery. Many are home with their children, I went back for teaching.

    How interesting that given the world of choices, so many of us has reverted back to the "traditional" fields of our mothers' generation (that we shunned in our twenties). Some would argue that it is because the world of men is hostile to females, and there is probably some truth to that, but I now understand that those traditional roles make good use of our inherent female gifts of empathy, and the desire to nurture and guide.

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  12. Well, as the mother of three boys, I can tell you that those 44 to 244 pg/mL of testosterone are readily apparent from birth. It has been the greatest life lesson a person could have to watch them develop. Blank slate?!!!


    My response to researchers like Gilligan, is that although it is clear that girls at a young age display more empathy, I cannot agree that a feminine vision is superior to the masculine one. Has anyone ever witnessed a seventh-grade classroom? Girls can abuse their superior perception of feelings and relationship nuances to be quite cruel. Empathy is information, and with information comes power. As a teacher, I have spoken to many girls who could articulate their understanding of the feelings of others quite well, and then who acted in a manner that took advantage of this understanding.

    Our task is to face the inherent realities in our children and help channel them in positive directions. I spend my time devising games and activities and rules for my boys that take into account their inherent high energy levels, love of combat, "things that go fast" and desire to build and construct.

    The same must be done for girls. Girls' obsession with their bodies, their dress and what other girls think of them are distortions of their unique insights as females.

    During my high school and college years, a surprising number of my girlfriends, including myself, followed the path forged by the feminists before us and majored in engineering and science. I myself (though I felt drawn to medicine) felt I had to reach higher, for research, a Ph. D. was a must...I had to prove I was as good as the boys. Fifteen years later, fully NONE of the engineers are still engineering, they are now teachers, mothers, and software salespeople. Several of the women I knew in biotech are now back in school to become nurses or selling and making jewelery. Many are home with their children, I went back for teaching.

    How interesting that given the world of choices, so many of us has reverted back to the "traditional" fields of our mothers' generation (that we shunned in our twenties). Some would argue that it is because the world of men is hostile to females, and there is probably some truth to that, but I now understand that those traditional roles make good use of our inherent female gifts of empathy, and the desire to nurture and guide.

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  13. The often derided male ego or I and then seeing the not I in a woman is the basis of sexuality. This ego is expressed more clearly in men and hence men are less likely to be bisexual while women are more malleable in their sexuality.

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