Thursday, September 04, 2008

Contradictory Ideas

Church doctrines which prohibit woman from assuming authority in church affairs has a long and nuanced history. I can't claim any expertise about this history. But I've made the observation that one of the things which sets Pentecostalism apart from other manifestations of Evangelical Christianity in the USA and elsewhere, as well of course many mainline denominations, especially the Roman Catholic Church, is a willingness to allow women to lead.

Evangelicals in the USA often align themselves with cultural conservatism, and “traditional values.” The virtues of the the 19th Century “cult of true womanhood” were listed as: piety, purity, submission and domesticity. Back in the 1980's a long effort to enshrine equal protection for women in the USA Constitution was rebuffed. Many women opposed the Equal Rights Amendment because they believed that equality was a diminution of their special rights. There is so much data confirming inequality of women in almost every aspect of our lives in the USA, it's hard to imagine the opposition to equal rights. The ideology which dictated separate spheres which Barbara Welter and other historians have documented provides a way to understand this view.

Ivan Illich wrote a controversial book called Gender. In it Illich argued that industrial society imposes certain unisex assumptions. Labor is seen as a commodity, for example it can be “off-shored” in a global economy. In some sense one worker is as good as another and both women and men are made for the same work. Colleagues cautioned him early on in his study that “in the present crisis of feminism, talk about women is not for men.” I feel trepidation about this discussion for that reason. But it seems useful to state another reason colleagues sought to dissuade him in his study. Illich writes:
I came to see that most of my interlocutors felt uneasy because my reasoning interfered with their dreams: with the feminist dream of a genderless economy without compulsory sex roles; with the leftist dream of a political economy whose subjects would be equally human.
Illich's book provides a critique of industrial society, putting that aside, the idea of a genderless society with equality for all is a powerful and pervasive metaphor. Speaker after speaker at the Democratic National Convention spoke about the demand for women's equality and in particular called for “equal pay for equal work.”

Illich observes:
Up to now, no goodwill and no struggle, no legislation and no technique, have reduced the sexist exploitation characteristic of industrial society.
Whether conservative or liberal, who could miss this? I temperamentally prejudiced against Sarah Palin's politics. But my impulse to cry "Hypocrite!" at her uneasy synthesis of reactionary calls to a mythic past with the demands of industrial labor where work is neither women's or men's work, is tempered by questions whether a genderless society can ever be truly non-sexist.

After listening to Palin's acceptance speech last night, it seems to me that she is primarily reactionary. The distance she places between her Pentecostal upbringing and then placing herself within the Evangelical non-denominational camp of American Christianity points to a contradiction in the systems of metaphors she uses to navigate through life. But the question remains whether Mike Davis is right about Pentecostalism not being a reactionary movement? So I want to explore that question further.

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