Archive for the ‘Gender & Sexuality’ Category

Gavin McInnes and Free Speech

For those who have been following the debate about VICE co-founder Gavin McInnes and his article on transphobia, this piece, “In Defense of Gavin McInnes,” written by Justine Tunney, is a good statement about the importance of free speech:

I just want to say that as a trans woman, I feel very triggered by this whole incident. Not because I found what he wrote to be offensive; I honestly don’t care what he thinks about trans women. The reason why I’m triggered, is because Mister McInnes’ crucifixion at the hands of the bloodthirsty progressive mob, brings back traumatic memories of the times when I received the same treatment. I’m also triggered by the loss of freedom in our society, as the list of people persecuted for thoughtcrime in our society grows longer and longer.

The State Of Marriage Debates In The Public Discourse

This is from Australia and I think sometimes it’s worth seeing how this debate is playing out around the industrialized English-speaking world, as it removes it a tiny bit from the personalities and battle lines right here in North America:

I don’t know if it’s just the camera angle, but the questioner’s angry death-stare does him absolutely no favours here. Now I know that some of those who might oppose same-sex civil marriage might have legitimate beefs with Rudd’s interpretations about what exactly is said about slavery in the New Testament, but what’s significant here is that this is a very similar form to what Dan Savage did in another debate video we posted here a while ago. Claiming that the Bible refers to outdated socio-economic relationships in the area of slavery opens the door to the possibility that the same is true for the Bible and same-sex couples. This argument may be constructed quickly and easily and strikes the audience as plausible. It’s enough that the questioner only has his impotent angry stare and no other answer. Even if Rudd loses the election (as he well might), he is winning this argument in the eyes of many.

Where the most vocal opponents of same-sex marriage have harmed themselves (and other Christians as well perhaps) is that the argument for equal marriage now moves the front line to the Bible itself. By insisting initially that the Bible and the Bible alone – as interpreted by conservative evangelicals and/or Roman Catholics – be the template for all human relationships in Western societies, even for those of other religious or philosophical views, they have made the Bible itself debatable. Savage or Rudd can now say, in effect, “You conservative evangelicals and/or Roman Catholics claim this book is what governs how all people ought to interact? Okay, let’s look at all of it here and see what it really says.” This is not confined to problems around unclear wording used in the New Testament or that much of the Levitical law has otherwise been abandoned by Christians, this is now the whole Bible up for debate. I do not know if the opponents of same-sex civil marriage are going to like where this leads.

Some Labour Day Reading

Zach Hoag posted a series over this past summer that was titled “Smokin’ Hot Conversations” about the perception of pastors who go on about their “smokin’ hot wives” as well as the wider world of sexuality and gender in American evangelical circles, particularly from the perspective of various female interlocutors. It’s worth reading views on the matter that is not either from an outsider or from another male voice.

Savage Vs. Brown On Gay Marriage

I had read this dining room debate was going to happen, but then I didn’t hear anything about it for a long time, and then this footage of the whole thing came up on some random YouTube feed and I thought it might be worth posting (since we did discuss the Hitchens v. Wilson debate on here as well).

Would be interested to hear our readership’s thoughts. I think that Brian Brown gropes for some kind of natural law argument but it comes off as a dictionary definition sort of tautology – marriage is one man and one woman because that’s what marriage is. Savage’s exegesis is sloppy, particularly around slavery. I don’t think Brown makes the case that Savage’s (re)definition of marriage to include himself and his partner threatens Brown’s own marriage other than that Brown will feel somehow cheapened.

One Man’s “Free Market” Is Another’s “Consumerism”

The possibility that the US may soon, at a federal level, do what several states, Canada, and a number other countries have already done vis-a-vis legalizing same sex marriage has caused any number of folks to restate comprehensive arguments both for and against same-sex marriage. The contra side often includes appeals to some kind of natural law, warnings about churches being persecuted but also arguments of the sort that Alastair makes here about the decline of a sort of marriage culture:

“[T]he re-imagining of marriage taking place in many quarters does not merely rest with the issue of whether two men or two women can marry each other just like a man and a woman. Rather, the very sort of thing that marriage itself is is in the process of being re-imagined. As I have argued elsewhere, marriage is ceasing to be about institutional norms and public values and is gradually moving towards a more privatized lifestyle consumer model.”

One has to pause here and ask what, in all of North American and wider Western culture, is not being remade in a “privatized lifestyle consumer model?” Indeed, by wanting to enter into the institution of marriage, it may be argued that at least some LGBT people are specifically wanting to make a public, lasting commitment to their spouse (while I’m sure not all do, just as not all heterosexual people really *get* marriage). But back to my question: in what spaces are any of us, especially Christians trying to resist a sort of consumerist mentality that privileges individual choice and makes little effort to stand in the way of those sorts of choices? Now I suspect that the standard refrain here might be something about abortion, yet the arguments that I most commonly see against abortion are very libertarian-friendly, that abortion, limits the future choices of another autonomous individual, not so much that it is damaging to society as a whole (though that argument is also advanced sometimes).

Why should the idea of marriage as a public good and a lifelong commitment survive in a society where we no longer expect to work for the same company for our whole adult lives, where business-friendly commentators mock anyone who wants stable, long-term employment as thinking themselves “entitled” to a “job-for-life” and scoff at any retiree naive enough to believe that their pension would be there for them, where workers are told they need to be “flexible” and “competitive” (i.e.: work for cheap with no long-term guarantees)? If we’re told over and over that we need to be flexible and competitive in our work life, how do we not allow that to bleed into our family life? Few conservative pastors or speakers seem to express much interest in opposing the privatized consumer lifestyle model when it comes to most other areas of life. Churches themselves seem to actively employ consumerist models as growth strategies, so it seems that a consumer lifestyle is acceptable, so long as you’re straight.

Natural Law And The Gender Trap

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

I thought that this was apropos our current discussion on natural law. CBC’s radio show, Ideas did a couple shows under the title “The Gender Trap” discussing the idea, popularized in recent years that boys and girls have all these fundamental differences in how they learn,  develop, and interact with the world. What they find is that parents, schools, and advertisers construct much of this world for children. One of the examples they gave was a study where mothers were asked to estimate how a steep an incline their 11 month-old baby climb up. At this stage boys and girls can handle the same incline but their mothers would consistently overestimate the ability of the boys and underestimate the ability of girls. It’s not hard to extrapolate a lifetime of this kind of “soft bigotry of lower expectations” as one might call it. Then some pop-psychologist or megachurch pastor (wait, is there a difference?) pronounces on how boys or men like to be challenged or rise to a challenge or something.

My own field research on this (consisting of raising my own daughter for the past year or so) has confirmed at least some of this. A quick example: We bought my daughter a toy seaplane and my own grandmother expressed concern about whether this was an appropriate toy for a baby girl. This made me laugh since my grandmother had taken flying lessons in the 1930s and, had World War II not broken out, probably would have earned her pilot’s license. And yet here the same gender assumptions come up, girls can’t or won’t or shouldn’t want to play with something like a toy airplane. Who knows, maybe she’ll hate it, but it’s funny how these sorts of cultural expectations rear up and try to enforce gender roles, even emanating from someone who once flouted those roles. What we talk about when we talk about a sort of natural law or a tao or some other innate set of rules for human flourishing is almost certainly being corrupted by our own assumptions, prejudices, and cultural expectations about gender, race, class, politics and everything else.

Andrew Sullivan Vs. Douglas Wilson

Here’s a little debate they had with Peter Hitchens as moderator:

As for me, I think that the what carried the day for Sullivan was what I have seen here in Canada, there has been widespread access to civil marriage for gay couples for a decade in Ontario and the whole country for eight years and I cannot see some sort of marked disaster for our society as a whole. The polygamists were here before gay marriage, and they have not grown more numerous or more powerful since the early-mid 2000s. Given this state of affairs, I do not see why evangelical Christians should continue to push more resources into telling people who should be allowed to marry whom. I’m reading a bit of Aquinas these days (it’s really easy to get anything in the public domain onto your phone now) and perhaps something about this cosmic order bit will impress to me why I need to barge into other people’s homes and tell them who they can and cannot marry, but so far I have my doubts.

Christina Rossetti and Women’s Suffrage

March 8 marks International Women’s Day; originally a Socialist commemoration, it has morphed into something more like Valentine’s Day. Whereas its earlier incarnation celebrated working women, for many today it merely rises to be a reminder for men to show appreciation for the ladies in their lives. While not wanting to get into the pros and cons of feminism—as with all movements, there are both—it is worth rehearsing that Christian men in particular should show love and admiration to their wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, and sisters in Christ.

As Facebook lit up with various memes and quotes about women’s rights, my thoughts hearkened to one important woman of the relatively recent Christian past: the poetess Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). Rossetti is well-known for her poem that became the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter,” where she writes of the Christ-child’s entrance into the world and concludes with the lines, “What can I give him? I give him my heart.” Beyond her wonderful poetry, she wrote a number of short stories, studies of Dante (not surprising, considering her Italian parentage), and some works of spiritual reflection. Rossetti should justly sit at the table of eminent women like Mary Anne Evans, Jane Austen, and Mary Shelley. She is a woman who, on a day like this, the church should celebrate. But what is interesting about Rossetti is that she would likely decry most of this day’s celebrations, because she was surprisingly against women’s suffrage.

An example of her stance against this form of feminism is her letter to Augusta Webster, a poetess who wrote strongly in favour of women’s rights. In the letter, Rossetti roots her understanding of the relationship between genders in the Bible, saying that there is an “unalterable distinction” between them. She also takes exception with the suffrage movement’s exclusion of married women and mothers: “[F]or who so apt as Mothers…to protect the interests of themselves and of their offspring? I do think if anything ever does sweep away the barrier of sex, and make the female not a giantess or a heroine but at once and full grown a hero and giant, it is that mighty maternal love which makes little birds and little beasts as well as little women matches for very big adversaries.”

One might come away from quotes like this thinking that Rossetti was stuck in some conservative hinterland, unwilling to get with the times. But this was not the case. Though not a Nonconformist (she was affiliated with the Tractarians), she was opposed to militarism. She also spoke strongly against the slave trade and animal abuse. Even when it came to her views of women, Rossetti was in favour of what we today might call “social justice,” particularly with her service at St. Mary Magdalene House of Charity in London, where she taught the uneducated how to read and write. This house was a place where single mothers, prostitutes and street people found help.

Nor did Rossetti’s writing ignore the role of women in society. She often explored themes specific to women, so much so that recent scholars have noted that her work was at odds with her patriarchal culture, though not going so far as to endorse the aims of the outright feminism. Rossetti’s overriding concern with the suffragettes—and here we can think of the great feminists like Susan B. Anthony, and Elizabeth Stanton—is their lack of Christian orthodoxy or religious belief altogether. Again, in her letter to Webster, Rossetti puts it plainly: “I do not think the present social movements tend on the whole to uphold Xtianity, or that the influence of some of our most prominent and gifted women is exerted in that direction: and thus thinking I cannot aim at ‘women’s rights.’”[1]

Rossetti thus serves as a model, for Christian women and men, of how to maintain orthodox Christian conviction, while also working for social causes. Neither need be abandoned as we serve others in the name of the risen Christ, on International Women’s Day or otherwise.


[1] All quotes come from Christina Rossetti and Jan Marsh, Christina Rossetti (New York: Haskell House Publishers, 1898), 11-112.

Sed Contra

Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real condition of life and his relations with his kind. ~ Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto

What I most fear is the reply that I am ‘only one more’ obscurantist, that this barrier, like all previous barriers set up against the advance of science, can be safely passed. Such a reply springs from the fatal serialism of the modern imagination–the image of infinite unilinear progression which so haunts our minds. Because we have to use numbers so much we tend to think of every process as if it must be like the numeral series, where every step, to all eternity, is the same kind of step as the one before. I implore you to remember the Irishman and his two stoves. There are progressions in which the last step is sui generis–incommensurable with the others–and in which to go the whole way is to undo all the labour of your previous journey. To reduce the Tao to a mere natural product is a step of that kind. Up to that point, the kind of explanation which explains things away may give us something, though at a heavy cost. But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to ‘see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To ‘see through’ all things is the same thing as not to see. ~ CS Lewis, The Abolition of Man [80-81]

The Laws of Nature And Of Nature’s God

One of the characteristic vices of the modern (postmodern?) world is ignorance. This may seem counterintuitive: aren’t we the smart ones? Didn’t we land someone on the moon, build the Internet, develop industrial agriculture? But intelligence in one area does not preclude ignorance in another, as anyone who has met a dumb-smart-person can testify.

And one area where the modern world is woefully ignorant is in the area of ethics. What I mean to say by this is: the modern world is living on the borrowed capital of its premodern predecessors. When it issues moral condemnations, it is presuming a metaphysical foundation that, in every other way (religion, philosophy, science, etc.) it has willfully discarded.

Let me attempt to provide an illustration. If there’s anything that modern activists don’t like, it’s violence. Well, what is violence, exactly? Let’s do a little detective work. (more…)