The woman question hasn't gone away. It is still the main topic of debate at many political websites. My own views have changed a little lately, and I'd like to explain why in a series of short articles. The main point I want to make is that one cause of this being such a difficult issue is that there is a paradox to womanhood itself. However, I think that it is useful to begin with something else, namely a look at the three main approaches or frameworks that are applied to this issue.
1. Liberal egalitarianism
This is the dominant framework in the West. It is supported by the state, the mainstream media, the educational systems and the major political parties. It is the idea that men and women are, apart from some irrelevant physical differences, the same and that our biological sex should have no effect on our role in society. Many who support this framework believe that "binary gender" (masculinity and femininity) is a social construct that oppressively denies choice to individuals.
This is the view that men and women are different but equal and that the sexes complement each other. The Catholic church holds to a particular understanding of complementarianism, as have I at this site (though I have shifted to something a little different).
3. Biblical patriarchy
Those who follow this framework believe that scripture places men at the head of the family, and also gives to men teaching authority within the church. This framework has most influence today amongst parts of the evangelical churches in the U.S., including the quiverful movement. One of its prominent online defenders is the writer Dalrock.
So what are the merits of each of these approaches? I'll start with liberal egalitarianism, as it is so prominent in today's society. Despite its influence, it is the least convincing of the three frameworks. It requires us to believe that there are no significant differences between men and women; that masculinity and femininity have no basis in human biology but are oppressive social constructs; and that being a man or a woman can and should be rendered irrelevant in society.
These ideas run against our own lived experiences; against scientific knowledge of human physiology; against the history of human society; and against the heterosexual instincts of the average man and woman. It is very difficult for even the most fervent of liberal egalitarians to live in a principled way according to these ideas.
So why then is liberal egalitarianism so dominant? It dominates because it is a framework that fits in well with the larger philosophical trends within Western societies. For instance, liberal modernity assumes that there is nothing external to the individual that is inherently good, but that value comes from a freedom to choose our own subjective goods. But if what matters is a freedom to self-determine, then something predetermined like our biological sex will be thought of negatively as a restriction on the individual, something to be liberated from. If our sex is viewed in such a negative way, it will no longer form part of our core identity or our telos (our ends or purposes in life). Similarly, liberal political philosophers have usually chosen to base their ideas on what is called the "unencumbered individual", meaning an abstracted and atomised individual without particular qualities, identities and relationships - this too removes the significance to the individual of their biological sex. Also, modern philosophy generally holds that there are only particular instances of things, and therefore it is held that there is no real existence (no real "essence") to categories like "masculine" and "feminine". If these categories don't really exist, then they cannot be significant to human life.
Finally, it is typical in modern thought to look for "scientistic" ways of managing human societies. The prestige of the natural sciences has been so great, that social scientists want to discover principles as equally clear and applicable as, say, the law of gravity, on which to neutrally, rationally and scientifically administer social life. The idea of administering men and women as equivalent units is much more amenable to this scientistic, technocratic view, than more difficult, messier and "opaque" understandings about distinctions between the masculine and feminine. It also suits big business interests to view men and women equally as labour units (as market resources).
So liberal egalitarianism is weak in being out of step with how people experience life personally, but strong in having the support of certain underlying assumptions within modernist philosophy.
(Note, though, that even if the liberal egalitarian framework is wrong, this doesn't mean that there is never any merit to the more particular and pragmatic observations of those who support it.)
And what of complementarianism? This framework is, at one level, easy to support as it recognises the reality of the differences between men and women, but also asserts an equal value to each. Furthermore, it sees a kind of harmony in the differences, with the masculine and feminine forming complementary parts of a whole. It is an ideal and positive view of the relationship between the masculine and feminine.
But complementarianism is not without its complications. First, it matters a great deal how the differences between men and women are understood. One option, for instance, is to see these differences as irrelevant in terms of which sex takes the leading role in public life. This is the option taken by the modern Catholic church. Recent popes have preached a Catholic kind of feminism, in which sex distinctions are defended but at the same time claims are made that society will be better off the more that women are brought into positions of leadership in society (a strange stance for a church with an exclusively male priesthood to take).
The alternative is for complementarians to argue that men are more naturally oriented to create and uphold the formal structures of society (the way I used to conceive it was that men acted to create the secure space within which women could then successfully bear and raise their children).
I have increasingly come to the view that complementarianism doesn't say enough about the difficulties in creating successful marital relationships between men and women. It isn't sufficiently focused on the potential for disharmony and discord between the masculine and feminine. The vision remains fixed on an ideal rather than confronting the more difficult reality.
Finally, there is biblical patriarchy. This is the framework I am least familiar with, as I do not belong to this church tradition. I suppose one weakness of this framework is that being based on scriptural authority its appeal will be greatest to those who come from an evangelical Christian background, which is a limited demographic in many Western countries. I have read a few accounts of families practising biblical patriarchy and there are some things I admire about it, such as a willingness of parents in this tradition to educate their children according to their own principles rather than leaving their children to be entirely influenced by the secular liberal system. Some families, too, are serious enough about their community to encourage a healthy birth rate and to protect the pair bonding instincts of their young adults. I do read Dalrock regularly and it seems that the principle of biblical patriarchy is being undermined within the larger evangelical organisations.