Christian Gender Complementarians, Target Removing Gender Store Signs, Women and Motorcycles, Social Science Doesn’t Confirm that Men Are From Mars / Women From Venus
I discussed on an older post how, since girlhood, I have really liked motorcycles and still do. I was a tom boy when I was a kid.
I was not into most girly hobbies, but my mother, who was a traditional Christian, tried to pique my interest in girly things by buying me dolls when I was a little girl.
My mother later relented a bit and bought me Evel Knievel toys. I was a big fan of Evel Knievel back in the day, and I loved motorcycles.
I still maintain an interest in motorcycles but have never owned one. I was also into other people, things, or hobbies that were considered more boyish.
Should you wonder: I am a heterosexual woman who does not act or look “butch.” I can wear jeans with chucks and turn around and look damn stunning in short skirts and high heels the next. Men flirt with me and ask me out on dates.
Me being interested in motorcycles and things considered boyish since childhood did not result in me becoming terribly unfeminine or a lesbian.
I mention this because I think one reason some Christians assume if they can make little boys and girls adhere to narrow parameters of what they consider “manly” and “womanly” (which is almost always built on secular cultural stereotypes), that they can keep kids from becoming homosexual later in life.
I’ve written a little bit more about some of these subjects in an older post here:
- (Link): Southern Baptist’s New Sexist “Biblical Woman” Site – Attitudes in Total Face Palm of a Site One Reason Among Many This Unmarried and Childless Woman Is Saying Toodle-Oo to Christianity
I have discussed before how the conservative, gender Christian gender complementarian approach to gender has been a big turn-off to me, and how it’s one factor of many that makes it difficult to remain in the Christian faith.
I was raised as a gender complementarian – both my parents are Christians who are into traditional gender roles, and my mother encouraged me to be a typical girly girl. (My mother has since passed away.)
For years and years, I felt and believed that the Bible does endorse the Christian gender complementarian view, as is promoted by CBMW (Christians for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood organization. They have a web site. I hesitate to link to their site from my blog. I really hate linking to their site).
As I grew older, I began suspecting that GC (gender complementarianism) is not true, based upon a closer look at the biblical text itself, which has examples in both Old and New Testaments of women, with God’s stamp of approval, leading and teaching men and killing men. I later totally abandoned the GC perspective.
I still remain a right wing, socially conservative, Republican-voting individual who is, by and large, on board with traditional values. Therefore, and contrary to what GCs fear and promote, jettisoning their position on gender is not a slippery slope; it does not always or necessarily turn a person into a liberal, a Democrat, pro-choicer, or a militant secular feminist.
Several days ago, some writer at CBMW, Grant Castleberry, wrote a paper about how Target stores are removing signage that says “Boys” and “Girls” from their toy sections. Here is a link to that page, hosted on CBMW:
- (Link): Missing the Target (hosted on CBMW site)
There were several rebuttals to this CBMW post (most of these written by Christians), such as:
(Link): Target Is Not Trying to Destroy Gender by Laura Turner
(Link): Why is the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood Targeting My Kids? by Tim Fall
(I have disagreed with Tim Fall on a previous topic, but he’s a good egg, and I agree with him more often than not. I certainly agree with him on this Target story)
(Link): Bigots Lose It Over Target’s Boy Toy Policy by S. Allen
- Target’s move toward gender-neutral toy aisles has us celebrating. But some unhappy people are threatening to boycott the store.
- …And after (Link): Breitbart falsely reported that Target would be “getting rid of the words ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ on clothing” in addition to toys, many on Facebook are under the impression that the company will be removing all gender-based signs from its stores. The original post made it clear that keeping gender-based signage for apparel sections “makes sense” due to “fit and sizing differences.” Target has since (Link): reiterated to several customers: “We are not making any changes to our Men’s, Women’s, Boys’, Girls’, or Baby sections.”
- …“I have news for [Target] and for everyone else,” he wrote. “God created two different genders.”
- Fox & Friends found (Link): a psychotherapist who said that the decision went “overboard” and implied that children might “question what their gender is” if they were taken into a Target store without gender-based signage. The caption on the segment: “‘Sign’ of the Times.” Nothing like some light Second Coming humor to kick off your morning.
- (Link): Blaze contributor and self-declared “professional truth sayer” Mike Walsh blamed Target’s decision on “a few hypersensitive, hyperliberal parents” in a provocative post headlined, “Yes, Target, I Do Want My Daughter to Conform to Her Gender.”
- Wrote Walsh: “I won’t attempt to defend every gender stereotype or ‘gender norm,’ but I do subscribe to the radical theory that boys and girls are different and distinct from one another in complex, concrete, and important ways, and many of the dreaded ‘norms’ are, well, normal and biological.”
- Walsh conveniently lays bare the fundamental internal contradiction in the anti-Target outcry: If gender is a universal, biological, and God-ordained constant, then why do children need cultural reinforcement from a retail chain to figure it out? In the bizarro world of far-right logic, gender is at once the strongest force on the planet and the most fragile.
- The God of Genesis may have created male and female but unless Target puts these words on signs for action figures and Barbie dolls, all of His hard work will be undone.
- The protests seem to be motivated by the paradoxical fear that children will grow up genderless without Target’s help even though their biology should supposedly guide them into pink and blue aisles without any intervention.
- But Target is not attacking gender itself, only the outdated idea that girls and boys should play with certain shapes and colors of molded plastic and not others.
(Link): 10 Questions for Target Critics Regarding “Boys’ Toys” and “Girls’ Toys” by Rachel Held Evans
A few excerpts from that page:
- 5. Is it possible that Sarah, Rachel, Ruth, Deborah, Jael, Esther, Martha, Mary Magdalene, Mary of Nazareth, Lydia, Priscilla, and other biblical women who exhibited initiative, leadership, and valor were corrupted by the gender neutral toy aisles of ancient Near Eastern markets? Might their parents have painted their nurseries an unbiblical shade of blue?
- 6. I am a good leader and also a woman. And I enjoy football. Do you know of a place where I can get my faulty “wiring” checked? (Note: My father and I loved to play with blocks and toy cars/trucks together when I was little. Might this be his fault?) Similarly, my husband is incredibly nurturing, especially with animals and children. Do you know a place where he can get his faulty “wiring” checked?
- 9. How can Christian families avoid “cultural capitulation” by ensuring that our boys are aggressive, violent, and unemotional and our girls are quiet, unobtrusive, and bad at math?
Not only did the writer at CBMW have a fit about this Target development, but so too did Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham.
A side note about Franklin Graham: I really feel at this point he’s in this for the money. Maybe he is partially motivated by altruism or reaching the world for Christ, but he strikes me more as a marketer.
I may agree with some of his positions on some issues, but the way he chooses to deliver his views on social media or the nightly news makes me cringe.
Anyway, I get the feeling he’s cashing in on his father’s name to make money. Some news sources cited his salary. Here are various links about these subjects:
- Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, is rallying his supporters to push back following Target’s announcement that it would remove gender-specific signage specifying boys’ and girls’ items.
- by Greg Garrison
- Evangelist Franklin Graham, who will be in Birmingham this weekend to lead the Festival of Hope at Bartow Arena, makes $880,000 as a chief executive officer for two non-profit agencies, reports The Charlotte Observer.
- Graham receives annual compensation of $620,000 from the Samaritan’s Purse international relief agency he founded, and $258,667 from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association founded by his father.
- In 2008, he was paid $1.2 million by those organizations. In 2009, after the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s revenues dropped by 18 percent and it laid off 10 percent of the staff, Graham volunteered to not receive pay from the BGEA after complaints by some that he was overpaid as the U.S. economy went into a recession.
MOTORCYLES AND WOMEN
As I was saying at the outset, I’ve been interested in motorcycles since girlhood, which doesn’t fit the Christian gender complementarian framework, I don’t think. I would guess that most Christian GCs regard motorcycles as being for men.
I saw this today and was interested:
(Link): Women shift gears in motorcycle culture: ‘It’s about being on the front of the bike’ by J. Glenza
- Motorcycle collectives such as the Litas in Utah and New York’s Miss-Fires are spreading the message of gender equality on the open road via social media – and finding fellow riders both plentiful and enthusiastic about sharing
- Riding motorcycles and the culture around it, with the talk of “bitch seats” and women as “property”, has seldom seemed very conducive to the empowerment of women.
- But, organically and spontaneously through social media – especially Instagram – a new generation of female bikers are finding and inspiring each other with a shared set of ideals: adventure, companionship and the freedom of the road.
- “I think we’re seeing a kind of onset of a kind of powerful women being trendy,” said Lanakila “Lana” MacNaughton. She and four more female riders were handpicked by Harley-Davidson and given motorcycles to ride 9,000 miles across the country, re-creating a 1915 ride pioneered by the mother and daughter team Avis and Effie Hotchkiss.
- “I don’t think that’s really ever been seen,” said MacNaughton. “For us it’s about, for us – being on the front of the bike rather than being on the back of the bike, and establishing ourselves as strong women instead of in the background.”
- …The emerging collectives (Haggett says that the Litas, for example, do not comprise a club, but rather a way for female riders to find each other) is hardly confined to the US: up to 600 female motorcyclists are expected to converge at the Ace Cafe in London to attempt a world record for the most female motorcyclists in one place. The existing record was set only last year, according to the motorcycle-centric MotorbikeWriter, when 221 Australian women on 190 bikes set the female group ride record.
- Commercial interests are also beginning to take notice: the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, the largest provider of basic riding courses in the US, prominently features photographs of female instructors and riders, and Harley-Davidson has begun female-centric marketing campaigns.
- …Thompson said industry estimates are that roughly 10% to 12% of riders are women of all ages.
- Only in the 1990s did a substantive number of researchers even begin to look at how women spent their free time, a 2007 Journal of Leisure study found. At that time, academics attempted to look at “leisure” and “women” as specialties, before recognizing the vast diversity of half the population.
- (( click here to read the rest ))
Gender complementarians need to stop trying to put women in boxes. The Bible does not define “gender roles,” certainly not in any way that CBMW does.
The Bible doesn’t mention motorcycles one way or another, or teach that God frowns upon women riding motorcycles.
But I could just picture complementarians such as John Piper or Wayne Grudem or some other talking head from CBMW or another complementarian outfit declaring riding motorcycles an unfeminine and hence it being an unbiblical pursuit for ladies.
The following page, from CBE, is quite long but contains some very interesting information in parts, some of which I find are relevant to the topics discussed above and in older posts on my blog:
(Link): Social Science Studies Cannot Define Gender Differences by M. Stewart Van Leeuwen
- As unwitting children of the Enlightenment, we seem to have a Tower of Babel–like craving for absolute certainty.
- And so both sides in the debate recruit biologists and social scientists as latter-day natural theologians who are supposed to help close the theological gaps by telling us, from a “scientific” perspective, what gender complementarity “really is.”
- Thus, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (RBMW)1 has chapters on biology, psychology, and sociology, and Discovering Biblical Equality (DBE)2 has chapters written or cowritten by therapists, a sociologist, and an academic psychologist.3
- But as an academic psychologist and gender studies scholar who did not contribute to either volume, I am now going to try to explain (not for the first time)4 why this is a misguided exercise.
- My basic points are these:
- (1) Research in neither the biological nor the social sciences can resolve the nature-nurture debate regarding gendered psychological traits or behaviors in humans, let alone pronounce on whether any of these should be retained or rejected in a fallen world—however good it remains creationally. We cannot move from “is” to “ought” on the basis of science alone.
- (2) There are very few consistent sex differences in psychological traits and behaviors. When these are found, they are always average—not absolute—differences, and, for the vast majority of them, the small, average—and often decreasing—difference between the sexes is greatly exceeded by the amount of variability on that trait within members of each sex.
- Most of the “bell curves” for women and men (graphing the distribution of a given psychological trait or behavior) overlap almost completely.
- So it is naive at best, and deceptive at worst, to make essentialist (or even generalist) pronouncements about the psychology of either sex when there is much more variability within than between the sexes on most of the trait and behavior measures for which we have abundant data.
- (please visit their page to see the last point)
Additional excerpts from that page:
- The limitations of science
- Research in neither the biological nor the social sciences can resolve the nature-nurture controversy regarding gendered psychological traits and behavior in humans.
- …Overlap of distributions
- On almost all behavioral and psychological measures that have been studied, the distributions (“bell curves”) for women and men overlap almost completely.
- Ah, yes, some will say, but look how large and consistent those sex differences are—in aggression, nurturance, verbal skills, spatial abilities, and so on. Surely this strongly suggests (even if it cannot absolutely prove) that women and men have innately different talents—“beneficial differences” in the language of both CMBW and (some) CBE adherents. Everybody knows that men are from Mars and women are from Venus—at least on average.
- Really? Just how large and consistent are such differences after a century of measuring them in domains such as aggression, nurturance, verbal skills, and so on?
- In other words, just how much do (or do not) those “bell curves” overlap for women and men? Because there is so much bad science journalism floating around about these matters (written by people of every political and religious stripe), some more comments on social science methodology are in order.
- I begin with what is known among social scientists as the “file drawer effect.” Since psychology journals began publishing more than a century ago, there has been a heavy bias against accepting studies on males and females that find no statistically significant sex differences.
- In this kind of research, it appears that no news is bad news for your career, because studies finding no effect for sex are likely to remain unpublished (thus ending up in the author’s file drawer).
- …My second and more important point has to do with the misunderstanding that continues to surround the term statistically significant. Another basic methodological caveat is this: a research result that is statistically significant is not necessarily of practical significance.
- ..It gets worse. Meta-analysis is full of embarrassments for gender essentialists, but also for “gender influentialists” who think that even small average sex differences are pregnant with interpersonal, ecclesiastical, and policy implications
- …Attempts to evade these findings
- What do convinced gender essentialists (along with careless science journalists and trendy Mars-Venus advice book writers) do with such findings?
- The most common strategy is simply to ignore or distort them: to pretend that small, shifting tendencies are absolute gender dichotomies, or something close to it, or to assume that statistical significance is always the same as practical significance.
- All too many people yearn for simple black-and-white explanations of complex relations, including those involving men and women. (As one of my students memorably observed, “Tendencies don’t sell books.”)
- A less common strategy nowadays is to pathologize the findings: to claim that, however much those gendered bell curves do—or can—overlap, we have to pull them apart as far as possible in order to approximate God’s (or nature’s, or optimal society’s) “true” purposes for males and females.
- …It is not unheard of for theologians to have taken a similar stance. Abraham Kuyper did so in the early twentieth century, claiming (quite ahistorically and with no clear exegetical warrant) that, however much men’s and women’s capacities “naturally” overlapped, God had ordained, once and for all, that women’s activities be limited almost completely to the domestic sphere and men’s to the public arenas of the academy, the church, the marketplace, and the political forum.
- …So far, the doctrine of separate spheres is not an official affirmation of CBMW’s gender hierarchists, aside from its application to certain church offices. But to the extent that gender-hierarchist rhetoric overlaps with romantic Mars-Venus rhetoric, as it does on the shelves of many Christian bookstores, it is a force to be reckoned with in many evangelical churches.25
- And, to the extent that the doctrine of separate spheres, combined with the doctrine of male headship, results in the social and economic disempowerment of women (as it has in both preindustrial and industrialized cultures), it does not comport well with biblical notions of justice.26
- This points to a third strategy, one more frequently invoked in the recent past. Some gender essentialists have reluctantly recognized that neither the Bible nor the natural or social sciences can come definitively to their rescue.
- Consequently, they take refuge in biblically and empirically questionable Jungian gender archetypes and their precursors in Greek mythology and Eastern religions.27
- For example, the 1982 book Let Me Be a Woman warned female Christians readers that Eve, in taking the initiative to eat the fruit, was trying to be like the “ultimately masculine” God—as if God were somehow metaphysically gendered.
- The author also appealed to the ancient Chinese concept of yin and yang to buttress her “Christian” argument for gender essentialism and gender hierarchy.28
- The author’s brother in a 1978 article frankly acknowledged that the Bible does not supply enough resources to justify talking about God or humans in terms of metaphysical, eternal gender archetypes.
- Undeterred by this, he invited his readers to consider the abundance of sexual imagery in pagan myths and came to the conclusion that “a Christian would tend to attach some weight to this.”29 Really? Why?
- Joan Burgess Winfrey is thus right to express concern that ‘‘the church may once again opt for Venus-Mars gender rubbish in the interest of cementing roles and putting up divider walls.”30
- Even if Mars-Venus rhetoric is used only to cement different gender styles rather than roles,31 it receives virtually no support from the meta-analytic literature which, as we have seen, shows almost complete overlap in the gendered distribution of traits, such as nurturance, empathy, verbal skills, spatial skills, and aggressiveness.
- The romanticizing and/or rank-ordering of gender archetypes is biblically questionable whether it is done by gender-role traditionalists, by cultural feminists who reverse the hierarchy by valorizing the stereotypically feminine, or by evangelical writers who baptize the trendy Mars-Venus rhetoric with a thin, Christian-sounding veneer.
- More in keeping with both the biblical creation accounts of humankind and the overall findings of the social sciences is the bumper sticker that reads, “Men are from Earth, Women are from Earth: Get used to it!”
- … We cannot assume that anatomy is destiny until we have controlled for opportunity In a final attempt to rescue gender essentialism, some scholars claim that, if a certain gender difference holds up cross-culturally
—that is, across many different learning environments—we can more safely conclude that it is “natural” and “fixed.” But this conclusion is also too simple.
- For example, in chapter 27 of DBE, the author cites (and seems to accept as accurate) cross-cultural studies showing that men “are more oriented toward promiscuity and finding a younger and attractive female partner,” while women are “more concerned with finding older men who have attained financial resources and social status.”33
- Although she does not reference any of the relevant research, the most-quoted study of this sort is a thirty-seven-nation survey of mate-selection standards by Texas psychologist David Buss. Buss suggested his findings meant that men everywhere are genetically predisposed for reproductive reasons to look for youth and beauty in a prospective mate, while women are more predisposed to look for ambition and wealth in the men they seek to marry.34
- But his study made no attempt to control for the differing opportunities that face women and men in many cultures. That powerful, older men marry gorgeous younger women more than the opposite scenario is certainly the case.
- But, as New York Times science journalist Natalie Angier wryly observed, “If some women continue to worry that they need a man’s money because the playing field remains about as level as Mars—or Venus if you prefer—then we can’t conclude anything about innate preferences.”35
- More recently, social psychologists Alice Eagly and Wendy Wood did control for changing opportunities by sex.36 They took the thirty-seven countries of Buss’s study and rank-ordered them according to two indices of gender equality devised by the United Nations Development Program.
- One is the Gender-Related Development Index (GDI), which rates each nation on the degree to which its female citizens do not equal their male counterparts in lifespan, education, and basic income (which is still the case, though to varying degrees, in all nations).
- The other is the Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM), which rates nations on the degree to which women, in comparison to men, have entered the public arena as local and national politicians, and as technicians, professionals, and managers.37
- Using these two measures, they found that, as gender equality in Buss’s thirty-seven-nation list increased, the tendency for either sex to choose mates according to Buss’s so-called evolutionary sex-selection criteria decreased.
- Eagly and Wood concluded from this that sex differences in mate-selection criteria are less the result of evolved biological strategies than of the historically constructed sexual division of labor, which makes women dependent on men’s material wealth and men dependent on women’s domestic skills.
- As this wall of separation breaks down—a process nicely traced by the two UN measures—both sexes revert to more generically human (and might we add, biblical?) criteria to judge potential mates, such as kindness, dependability, and a pleasant personality.38
This post of mine has not been very well put together, as it’s sort of jumping around all over the place in a way, so I apologize.
But I saw a few common threads among these stories – the social science paper above, the lady bikers article, and the Target store kerfuffle.
My blog is fairly casual. I blog mostly for me, to write through things I’m thinking about, so it’s not going to be on the level of professional blogs.
I get tired of the gender complementarians always putting limits on women. They kept lecturing women that the Bible says women are restricted to doing only “thus and so.”
This grates on my nerves for different reasons.
First of all, as much as they bray that they get their views from the Bible, they really do not – they read a lot of their prejudices and assumptions from their own views and secular culture and impose them on the biblical text.
In the CBMW paper about Target I cited above, for example, the author proclaimed that “the Bible” teaches that men are “wired to pursue” and that women are “wired to nurture,” in spite of the fact that the Bible says no such thing!
That CMBW author just pulled those views out of his own biased ass and attributes them to the God of the Bible. If God exists, I bet he’s just thrilled to have CBMW writers put words in his mouth.
On another level, I come from a very unsupportive, critical family.
I was either told, or it was implied constantly by my family of origin, that I am too stupid, incompetent (or fill in the blank with some other negative quality) to ever accomplish this, that, or the other (and I still get these comments from my family, in particular from one of my siblings. I should maybe post about her one of these days, you would not believe her).
My parents also had a low-level sexist attitude that conveyed to me that girls and women cannot or should not do certain things.
My mother did not believe that women should hold political office, for instance, and she told me several times that my father told her a time or two that he does not believe that women are as intelligent as men. That’s the family I grew up in.
I see gender complementarians doing the same thing: telling girls and women what they cannot or should not do, and at that, because girls and women are not as good or smart as men at whatever.
This sort of thinking is unnecessarily discouraging and limiting.
Why not tell girls and women that they can do or be whatever they want to or felt led to?
Why shame them for being interested in motorcycles, being political candidates, or what have you?
About the only thing gender complementarians will tell women they are free to pursue are working in a nursery, babysitting, or marrying and having children. They don’t encourage or really want girls or women doing anything else.
I have never been terribly interested in stereotypical feminine pursuits such as making muffins in the church kitchen, having children of my own (I was “meh” about having kids thing, neither terribly for or against), nor do I want to baby sit other people’s kids.
Women like me who are not interested in the stereotypical womanly pursuits have nothing to do and no place to go in most conservative Christian churches or culture. Then, if we have hobbies or traits that are not considered womanly enough, we get shamed for that.
One consequence of all this is that churches are losing more and more women. I’ve seen research, interviews – more and more women are leaving churches and maybe even the faith itself, because there is no room for them in the church.
Women are stigmatized for being female in the first place, they are not allowed to go after their interests – if they do, they are shamed for it. If conservative Christians don’t start correcting this sexism, and backtrack on this strong insistence on women acting or living a certain way, I don’t think the situation is going to improve.
Edit. For more commentary on this:
(Link): Targeting Gender – post at Jesus creed blog