Friday, January 29, 2010

Are We Sexist?

According to Nicholas D. Kristof, the church is sexist and must repent:

“When religious institutions exclude women form their hierarchies and rituals, the inevitable implication is that females are inferior…Religious groups should stand up for a simple ethical principle: any human rights should be sacred, and not depend on something as earthly as genitals” (NYT, 1/9/10 – quoted from Time Magazine, 1/20/10).

What then should role distinctions depend upon? Normally, it’s a matter of “achievements.” If Kristof is rejecting sex-related role distinctions, why not also all role distinctions? Don’t they also imply “inferiority?” Kristof is a NYT editor, a very prestigious and influential position. By comparison, I would think that his position might make others feel inferior? Perhaps it would be best if society would rotate these “superior” positions so as to prevent the formation of an “inferior” underclass?

I would guess that Kristof might answer this way: “I worked hard to get to where I now am.” He might even be correct about this, but didn’t he come from a position of privilege, which enabled him to attain his lofty status? Perhaps he had more nurturing parents than others? Why then should he benefit from these incidentals if they serve to reinforce the “inferiority” of others?

Of course, I’m being absurd, but if Kristof is concerned about the status of women in religious institutions, shouldn’t he also be concerned about the question of status in general?

In addition to this, there is also his notion of “superiority and inferiority” itself which he is prejudicially wielding against the religious. Isn’t he uncritically imposing his Western status-laden values? Why does he assume that the pastor’s role is superior, while the church secretary’s role is inferior? Or that the breadwinner’s role is superior to the child-raiser’s role?

I choose to believe that Kristof’s intentions are pure, and that he genuinely believes that he is championing the cause of women. Instead, however, the implications of his charge are both insulting and dismissive of the very vital roles traditionally performed by women, roles in no way inferior to those of men, as he implies.

Perhaps, because of his Western bias, Kristof fails to perceive the way that he is demeaning the very roles where women have performed best and in which they experienced the greatest sense of fulfillment. The other side of the story needs to be told. Western propaganda has deprived many women of motherhood by luring them into careers which promised to rescue them from their “inferior” status. In general, it has been contemptuous of the traditional role of the woman, causing her to loose face.

Shouldn’t we have long left this naïve, radical egalitarianism behind? Haven’t the disciplines of neurology and physiology firmly established the profound differences between the sexes and therefore, their variant needs and abilities? If these have been scientifically established, why then does Western culture continue to insist on the elimination of any role distinctions? Doesn’t this insistence simply represent an attempt to exalt a secular religion over traditional religions?

I haven’t done any empirical studies on the subject, but I’d venture to say that countries that have been strongly influenced by the Bible demonstrate the best track record regarding their treatment of women. Yes, I’m aware that secular and communistic societies are good about talking the feminist talk, but I’d also like to observe their “walk,” especially over the long haul. Meanwhile, I think that it might behoove Mr. Kristof to reconsider his indictments while he reexamines his own religious commitments, along with their implications.

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