Perhaps you have heard the recent comments (and subsequently firestorm of rebuttal articles) by a certain well-known Catholic cardinal who seemed to say that the women’s movement has hurt society and especially men.
He isn’t the first so–called conservative–thinking celebrity to lump all facets of the women’s movement into one, aligning all women–related efforts to radical feminism. In doing so, these persons pit women against men. While I would argue that the cardinal probably didn’t mean it the way it sounded, it does resurface an age–old discussion: Are men or women more important? Who is superior and therefore demands our primary attention?
If you look at ways of viewing the male–female relationship in society, there are a few themes that begin to surface. We’ve seen these themes come out in centuries-old misogynistic views and also in radical feminism. People see men and women as either: opposites and one is greater than the other (usually the man is considered superior in this view and the technical philosophical term is Sex Polarity), or the same — women and men are exactly the same and any differences we see are unimportant (this one is called Sex Unity), and the third view is that women and men are equal in value but different in a complementary way (this one is called Sex Complementarity).
Throughout past centuries, it is easy to pick out the view that men were viewed as superior than women (sex polarity). Men were in charge. Men could own property, vote, hold a job, make a living. Women were allowed only limited options and often seen not as a full human person, but the property of another.
This discrimination against women is what inspired the first wave feminists like Susan B. Anthony who fought, among other things, for a mother’s right to keep her children and for women’s freedom from sexual violence.
In continuing to react to this vision of male superiority, radical feminism adopted a view to contradict this discrimination. Instead of saying that men were superior, they said men and women are exactly the same (sex unity). Anything a man could do, a woman could do. Any difference we saw (even physical) were unimportant. Yet, they didn’t stop there, but took it to another level: not only were these differences unimportant but they became a hindrance to true equality and must be removed.
Of course the differences we are discussing here are differences in gender. The Pill then began the first stage in using technology to rid women of gender. In doing this, they believed that they could reach a purity in the level of sameness, or in their minds, “equality.”
The interesting thing to note here is that this was all an opposing reaction to the view that men were superior to women. Yet, isn’t it ironic that at the end of the day, they have sought to take away the main things that make a woman a woman, namely her femaleness. In their need to force an equality of sameness on the sexes, they inadvertently sided with the view they were opposing. By basically changing women into men, they are conceding that men are, in their view, the superior gender. Thus, they played right into the hands of the mentality they wanted to oppose!
So the Sex Unity theory finds itself an ugly step-child of Sex Polarity, whether they like it or not. Again, we find ourselves pitting men against women. It is as if it cannot be avoided. So, who do we choose? Perhaps women are superior? Some radical feminists argued that it would be better to have one final generation of women who lived untouched by men (and therefore in perfection), then to continue to perpetuate children in a hostile-to-women world.
However, we do have one more option. It is the view that although women and men are different in nature, they are equal in human dignity. This theory holds that not only are they different and that these differences are okay, but that these differences are made to complement each other! And that this complementarity of physical, emotional, and spiritual differences among women and men is the answer to finding wholeness in humanity.
The New Feminism Movement emphasizes that it is only in the theory of complementarity of the sexes that the truth of the reality of our human nature can be found. It is always important to make a distinction between those who focus on women’s issues in order to seek an equality of sameness, working to rid society of gender difference verses those in the New Feminism Movement who seek to elevate the differences of women and men in order to affirm simultaneously their uniqueness and equal dignity of worth.
We would hope that religious and secular people alike could see that the great beauty of the woman and man, the female and male, do not have to be thrown always into a choose one or the other battle. We hope that people can begin to see that those who work for authentic dignity of womanhood are simultaneously (even if indirectly) working for the elevation of the dignity of manhood, because the two are connected and one cannot rise without bringing goodness to the other.
photo credit: jonseidman1988 via photopin cc
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