Different Tendencies in Modes of Friendship and How to Think of Them

Scot McKnight generously published a comment that I left on a blog post a few days ago as a post of its own. I appended a few theological comments to it to provide a clearer impression of how I believe that we should approach the general (not universal) differences that it highlighted. Here are some of them:

In teaching the biblical doctrine that male and female are one in Christ (e.g. Galatians 3:28), the emphasis is often overwhelmingly placed upon each person, irrespective of their background or identity, standing on the same level ground before God. And this is wonderfully true. Yet our tendency to frame this doctrine in individualistic terms can misguide us here. The oneness of which Paul speaks does not rest upon the fungibility of individuals, on the notion that the differences between detached individuals or the sexes more generally are matters of indifference and that we are largely interchangeable. Rather, it rests on the truth that, however deep and real the differences that may exist between Christians are, they are differences within and for the good of a single body in which all share. This is a body within which all members have a full and equal stake and in which all members belong to and work for the sake of each other. In this way, even pronounced differences cease to produce hierarchies of belonging or status or to establish barriers between people.

And this, I believe, teaches us how to think as Christians of the very real differences that will continue to exist between the sexes. Not as differences to be dismissed as irrelevant to fundamentally interchangeable individuals, but as differences that render us channels for a movement of divine grace in Christ that traverses all of the barriers that lie between us. Not as differences to place us over others, but as differences with which we can serve them. Less as differences from others than as differences for them. The one Gift of the Spirit is re-presented through many variegated gifts of the Spirit, in which God delights to give us a distinct part to play in his own giving to the others around us.

Read the whole post here. A number of people have expressed their strong objections to my position in the comments. Do read those too. I respond at considerably length to one of them here.

I believe that power is fundamentally a good thing and that we are mistaken simply to regard it in terms of force, coercion, and violence. Even despite all of their dysfunctions, power and authority can be incredibly liberating forces within our world. Power is gained as we develop in our dominion in the world. We gain power by building infrastructures, by founding institutions, by inventing new technologies, by discovering new scientific truths, by establishing trade routes, by developing social structures, by forging larger networks of cooperation and integrated activity, by unifying people around new ideas, by providing securer social order, by investing our labour and resources wisely and reaping rich returns, etc., etc. Even though many of us haven’t directly done these things ourselves, we are all beneficiaries of the power that others have developed. And this power need not be opposed to service. Companies like Google, for instance, are so powerful in large part because they have proved incredibly successful in creating things that empower others. Sergey Brin and Larry Page are immensely wealthy and powerful, but this power hasn’t come at our expense. Every time I search for something on Google, use Gmail, or check a route on Google Maps, I am thankful for their power, because it has proved immensely empowering to me. The more wealthy and powerful a company that provides effective service becomes, the more potential that it enjoys to empower us further (it also enjoys much more potential to dominate, mistreat, or enslave us).

We far too seldom consider the degree to which we have been empowered by the effective power of others. We don’t usually give much of a thought to the people who invented the technologies within our cars and designed the vehicles, who planned and built our roads, who manufactured the parts, who developed the necessary trade routes for the metals, the sailors, hauliers, and pilots who transport the materials, the people who mined them and invented the most efficient processes of their extraction, the politicians, police, and militaries that established the conditions of peace within which trade and infrastructure could be secure and innovation could flourish, etc., etc. This is what a lot of power looks like and we should all be thankful that it exists, rather than just focusing upon its fallen manifestations.

One of the observations that lie behind my remarks is that such power in our world is not distributed evenly. Some people have immensely more power than others. This isn’t necessarily because they are oppressing others or taking power from them. Power isn’t such a zero sum game. Rather, many people enjoy high levels of power because they are highly effective in creating power in the ways I described above.

In thinking about these questions, I have begun to wonder whether one of the most fundamental lines in the gender debates lies between those who adopt a logic of oneness and those who adopt a logic of twoness. I have recently been enjoying Roland De Vries’ book, Becoming Two in Love, especially his appreciative use of the French feminist thinker Luce Irigaray, in which some of these issues are helpfully explored.

Those who adopt a logic of oneness operate in terms of a single measure of humanity. This measure may be the nominally unisex or androgynous individual. Or it might be the man against which the woman is made to appear deficient and limited, primarily defined by a subtraction from or diminution of what he is, or placed under him in a hierarchy in which men are made to appear higher up the Great Chain of Being. Alternatively, it might be the woman, against whom men always seem to be dysfunctional in their habits and behaviours.

The logic of twoness, however, refuses this single measure of humanity. Humanity is irreducibly and inescapably two in character—male and female. This difference is a good and a beautiful thing, in which neither sex is to be held above or to be used as the measure for the other. Within such a model acknowledgement of the strengths of one sex isn’t an implied statement about the general weakness or deficiency of the other. Rather, it is an encouragement to ensure that persons of both sexes can thrive as what they are, distinguished from each other in their relation, without being forced into a single mould, or judged for their performance relative to the other.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Controversies, Culture, Ethics, Guest Post, Links, Sex and Sexuality, Society, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

56 Responses to Different Tendencies in Modes of Friendship and How to Think of Them

  1. joerigney says:

    G.K. Chesterton, Apostle of Twoness:

    If I set the sun beside the moon,
    And if I set the land beside the sea,
    And if I set the flower beside the fruit
    And if I set the town beside the country
    And if I set the man beside the woman
    I suppose some fool would talk
    About one being better.

  2. mnpetersen37 says:

    I believe this lecture is relevant. http://youtu.be/5vKCVDJiyDE

    St Paul’s claim in Galatians seems to be that, pace 1 Chronicles 17:21, Israel was not one people, rather, the Church is. (Or perhaps that all nations are in the One God, and so *all* nations must be one, worshiping at one temple, etc.) In Christ, all the nations are blessed in Abraham’s echad seed, worship the echad God, and so are echad.

    There’s also parallel between the many nations which are now echad in Christ, and the two of Genesis 2 who *become echad* flesh.

  3. mnpetersen37 says:

    To expand that a little: Perhaps we should read the “heis” in Galatians 3:28 through St Paul’s extensive meditations on the Shemah (e.g. Galatians 3, Ephesians 4:4-12, perhaps the arguments about Christ’s one sacrifice in Hebrews, I Corinthians 12, 1 Corinthians 10:17, etc.); and describe the two (a type of “many”) of male and female as gifts from the One Spirit to the many peoples of one blood, to the One flesh, and to the many persons in the One body. Thus, we could, with some warrant, say things like “We, being two, are one flesh…” or “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also, the two members are one flesh…for the flesh is not one member, but two. But now hath God set the members twain in the flesh, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where the body? But now, twain members, but yet one flesh.” And even, perhaps, we could articulate the different sexes as different gifts by the Spirit not only to the people of one blood, and not only to the one flesh which is the family, but to the One Church.

  4. quinnjones2 says:

    ‘…less as differences from others than as differences for them.’ Amen.
    I have just one comment for now about all-female group dynamics. I think the Spice Girls and ‘Girl Power’ have a lot to answer for 🙂 I remember ‘Girl Power’ completely hitting me between the eyes when I was on long-term supply at a (yes) Catholic school. In one class, a group of eight girls were very dominant and disruptive and I, a teacher, felt intimidated by them.
    I think of the women at the cross and the tomb. They were there and they waited and they loved. I don’t think any of them started a protest about the crucifixion of Christ. I don’t think Mary Magdalene said ‘I told you so’ to the disciples after they knew beyond doubt that Jesus had risen from the dead.

  5. quinnjones2 says:

    I realise that the Spice Girls (Girl Power) have no more power than they are given by their followers, and that this applies to all leaders, with the glorious exception of Jesus Christ, Name Above All Names.

  6. quinnjones2 says:

    ‘… have no power…’ should read ‘…had no power’. Yet, ideologically that power is still pervasive, I believe.

  7. quinnjones2 says:

    I’ve been looking at statistics about gang warfare and I’m not surprised to find that male gangs overwhelmingly outnumber female gangs. I wonder how many would dispute the gender difference in group dynamics in this context.
    Just a thought.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      My friend/acquaintance Jack Donovan has written a great book on why “the way of men is the way of the gang.”

      Here is a Steve Sailer penned satire on the lack of women in the drug trade.

      And here is an absolutely brilliant Youtube lecture on what gang culture and the Iliad have to say about each other.


      Speaking of Jack Donovan, he has a review of the new Jonathan Gottschall book on men and fighting.

      There is a good audio interview with Gottschall here.

      • Good stuff, thanks!

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Hi TMWW,
        Thank you for your reply – I look forward to checking out your links.
        It’s inevitably difficult for both genders to understand the group dynamics of groups consisting entirely if members of the opposite sex because we have no direct personal experience of these groups, so our perceptions of them are third-person perceptions and we are dependent on gleaning what we can by listening to the opposite sex and by reading around the subject.
        The ‘Girl Power’ group I mentioned in an earlier comment her was effectively a gang.

    • The Man Who Was . . . says:

      To the larger point, the spontaneous formation of gangs among specifically young men, without any encouragement from patriarchs, would be evidence in favour of Alastair’s account of male group dynamics.

      • In fact, often in the face of extensive discouragement from patriarchs. People seem to accord far too much power to social conditioning and construction. Despite all of our supposed conditioning into heterosexual masculinity, there are still many gay and transgender men. The messages just don’t seem to stick. Also, most of us can probably point to several personal examples of ways in which typical forms of masculinity to which we were intensively exposed just failed to resonate with us. For instance, my best friends were car fanatics and others of my friends were crazy about following football. I went to several car rallies during my childhood and drove around in cars in friends’ farms. Two of my close friends became rally drivers when they grew up. However, although I went along with their passion, I never came to share it. Even though I have a car, I probably haven’t driven much more than a couple of thousand miles in my life. Likewise, although football was a constant topic of conversation in my friendship groups, I never caught the bug, although I loved playing the game myself.

        All of this suggests to me that we should not think of ourselves as mere blank slates. Messages surrounding masculinity are powerful because they resonate with men and they resonate with different men to different degrees and in different ways. They answer to something that is already within us, rather than just imposing something upon us from without.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        IIRC, you see the same male gang formation among chimpanzees.

  8. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Alastair,
    ‘…often in the face of extensive discouragement from patriarchs’. Yes, and that also applies to matriarchs! I got the thumbs-down from some matriarchs in my family because I was never a ‘dolly-bird’ and because I didn’t dye my hair blonde. I even had a dream in which I stood in the city centre and announced to anyone who was listening; ‘I will not dye my hair blonde!’ So your last paragraph resonates with me very much, and it applies to messages about femininity, too.

  9. I just left an extremely extensive (over 2,000 words) response to Katelyn Beaty’s questions here.

  10. Andrew says:

    Slightly off-topic, but your reply and some other comments got me thinking:

    Despite clear “trends” between the sexes, exceptional individuals exist. One of the greatest transformations of modern Britain was led, and seemingly driven, by a woman – Margaret Thatcher. And I’ve seen no evidence that her presence was seen by anyone as a token figurehead.

    Which leads to an interesting consideration. If (some) men are suited to particular leadership roles, by tradition and design, what then of a women who demonstrates agency typically found in high-agency men? If high agency is descriptive and not normative, then a woman who demonstrates this can operate equivalently in traditionally male circles. But if it is in some way normative, then she may be excluded, limited, or channelled to particular roles despite talent.

    As a corollary, there’s an inherent and fundamental contradiction in the lobby that men and women are equal, so we want to see more women in high agency positions. If the categories of “men” and “women” are incidental, then it makes sense to object to restrictions that keep women out of such positions. But to want more women *in* such positions denies that the categories are incidental, as the desire only makes sense if men and women are meaningfully different categories. And if they are meaningfully different categories, we should then ask how that difference plays out in a particular role.

    It might be that for a given role there is “no difference”. But to then desire a quantisation or quota in that role immediately declares that the difference matters, even if it is just representational (much in the same way as there would be objections if house of representatives of the UK parliament was entirely composed of citizens of Wales and Northern Ireland).

    Now, there may well be some roles in which society or the church should desire more women precisely because they are women. However, to argue this from equality denies the non-uniqueness that the claim is built on.

    • A few interesting things about exceptional characters such as Margaret Thatcher, who definitely fits the highly agentic model:

      1. Perhaps counterintuitively, research (I’ll have to dig the paper up, but you can take my word for it for now) suggests that the highest achieving women often tend to be benefited by contexts tailored to men, because then they can play to the strengths of their high agency. Contexts more tailored to typical women tend to downplay agency with the result that the most agentic women are prevented from shining or truly excelling.
      2. The fact that high agency women—of whom I know a few—can comfortably succeed in male-dominated contexts suggests that the root issue may have a lot less to do with sexism than commonly supposed. See this, for instance. Men tend to have much higher agency than women on average, and the exceptional women give the lie to the notion that this trait is irrelevant to male success.
      3. High agency women often have to emulate male traits to rise to the top. For instance, Thatcher had to take speech lessons to make her voice more authority and less at risk of being considered shrill.
      4. High agency women and feminists often have very little time or sympathy for each other (Thatcher is a good example here). High agency women often regard feminists as entitled hypo-agentic whiners, who think that the universe owes them something, without exercising their agency to get it. The high agency women I know tend to find it very hard to relate to feminist arguments. On the other hand, feminists tend to react against high agency women’s suggestion that the potential for success lies primarily in one’s exercise of agency, as this calls into question so much of their theory. Such high agency women often also have little time for the notion that they owe special treatment to the ‘sisterhood’.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I find that high agency women can go either way on feminism: Sheryl Sandberg vs. Margaret Thatcher. But even the former may have an ambivalent relationship with other feminists.

  11. Sheila says:

    In case any of you haven’t already read this, it’s a delightful essay by a friend of mine, on raising sons. It fits well with some of the themes of this thread. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2010/01/the-killer-instinct

    • Fascinating piece. That really resonates very strongly with me. I hadn’t read it before, but I have written similar things on several occasions. Agency is such an important feature of a boy’s identity and, as a boy, one is constantly confronted with overwhelmingly female adults telling one to ‘play nicely’, to tone down the level of your behaviour to something that is more familiar to girls.

      After our recent podcast on free range parenting, I e-mailed the other guys making the following observations:

      The sort of childhood that we fear losing was most powerfully associated with boyhood (although clearly girls enjoyed aspects of it too). And understanding why boyhood and the practices associated with it are under threat is related to the ways in which manhood is also under threat. A central feature of socialization into masculinity is socialization into agency. As males, our gendered identities tend to be more closely related to and rooted in our agency than women’s (while their identities have a strength of relationship to their bodies that ours seldom have). This isn’t only true of masculinity at the individual level, but masculinity at the group level: male groups tend to be more assertive, rougher, and more confrontational. We engage in verbal sparring, we push each other around a little, we make fun of each other, we expect our male friends to be able to stick up for themselves, and we become closer through it. We bond through recognition and development of robust agency together. Boys’ toys and games often gravitate to this. Guns, swords, sticks, balls, cars, etc. all hold the promise of heightening or expressing agency. Girls, of course, play with these things too, but seldom to the same degree, in the same ways, or with the same critical importance for their sense of self.

      High agency masculinity is, however, increasingly regarded as dysfunctional or a threat in our society. The hyperactive boy must be rendered sedentary, quiescent, and compliant. Naturally higher levels of male confidence are a problem and we must find ways of preventing these from advantaging men. We need an increasingly ‘supervised’ society to prevent high agency males from dominating, keeping their agency in a restricted place. We need to replace the rougher environments that men tend to create with ‘safe spaces’. We need to move away from confrontational and combative forms of male interaction to more affirming, egalitarian, and inclusive ones. Noticing that girls and women often struggle within them, we need to change the educational environment at all levels to downplay the need for strong agency and agentic forms of thought. Disputation, for instance, limits women, as does vigorous classroom debate. We need to engineer the play environment of kids—and boys most especially—to scour it of rougher forms of play, of self-formed hierarchy, of inequality, of strong forms of competition, independence from adult structures, etc. Male homosociality is more generally regarded as dysfunctional by many. We must either break it up, marginalize it to sites of social unimportance, conform it to more feminine modes of sociality, or place it within limiting and supervisory structures.

      In all of this there is a larger vision for what society ought to be that is at work. Traditional boyhood is increasingly pathologized because heaven forfend that we produce anything resembling traditional manhood. The egalitarian dream rests to a large extent upon repressing males’ naturally higher levels of and emphasis upon confidence and agency. The advantages that accrue to men on account of this are injustices to be rectified and the traits that give rise to these are pathological. In our debate about free range parenting we said a lot about fears of the threat posed to our kids by third parties. I think that we also need to recognize alongside this the presence of a concern that kids be socialized into appropriate forms of gender identity, a concern for which free range—and, hence, high agency/independence—childhood, and boyhood in particular, is a threat.

      A further aspect of this may be the loss of fatherhood. Fathers, far more than mothers, tend to inculcate agency and confidence in their kids. They engage in roughhousing, are more challenging to their kids, and less concerned with providing an entirely ‘safe space’. The ‘paternalism’ that was referred to in the podcast is closer to a nannying or maternalism. As unsupervised play is weeded out, boys spend most of their childhood in a realm run by women and geared towards their gendered impressions of what a healthy environment for thriving looks and feels like. The expectation to ‘play nicely’ more often than not will be voiced by a woman to a boy, but many boys will find this to be a stifling of their natural exploration and development of their agency.

  12. mnpetersen37 says:

    We should probably speak of the Cross as taking up agency. As the Proper for Easter says Mors et vita duello / conflixere mirando: / dux vitae mortuus, / regnat vivus “death and life battle–a miraculous conflict!” And this martial theme is relatively common appearing also in the liturgy for Good Friday in the following poems from Fortunatus Pange, lingua, gloriosi proelium certaminis / et super crucis trophaeo dic triumphum nobilem, / qualiter redemptor orbis immolatus vicerit. and Vexilla regis prodeunt: / Fulget crucis mysterium, and, I believe, in the Orthodox Holy Friday (or Holy Thursday) liturgies in lengthy meditations on his courage to not summon his angels to fight. Christ did not suffer death, rather, death suffered Christ. He laid a hold of it, wrestled with it, and slew it. “Death, thou shalt die!” as Donne says. And I believe Monasticism was similarly seen as martial. (Indeed, some have said that Orthodoxy is resurgent because it gives space to these martial virtues, albeit, against the world the flesh and the devil, not against THE ENEMY.)

    (I’m not sure if any meditations on the Mother of God at the Cross have taken such a martial hue, but I tend to doubt it: The Stabat Mater does not, though perhaps images of Mary crushing the Serpent’s head do–though those don’t refer to her at the Cross, but to her at the Annunciation–Ave undid Eva’s wound.)

    So the Christian answer to the destructiveness of agency is not, it seems to deny agency, but to direct it toward the Cross: We must take up our Cross. A description of agency, not a call for a lack of agency. (One could even, in a sense, say that the Logos took up agency, and empowering her to have agency over Him–as all mothers have agency over their children.)

    • Yes, this is important. Throughout the New Testament we see the cross represented as a matter of Christ’s determined action, not merely something that happened to him. He does battle with the ruler of this world and martial themes are very much in evidence. The bond established by Christ is related to one of brotherhood, the deep bond that can be forged between people who fight and die alongside each other.

  13. quinnjones2 says:

    Interesting comments and I especially like mjpeterson’s comment about how ‘agency’ is directed.
    One of the most ‘high-agency’ members of our family, a former director of an engineering company was not pro-war and never had interest in war toys as a child ( We spent a lot of time together in our childhood) One of the most ‘high-agency’ women I know had a high position with the Red Cross, and now helps to organise training sessions for volunteers. I have never heard her describe ‘low-agency’ women as ‘whiners’ – she offers encouragement, not criticism.

    • Just for the record, the characterization of ‘whiners’ is not my own, but my sense of how many of the high agency women of my acquaintance regard low agency feminists. Further, what makes them ‘whiners’ in such women’s perception is not the fact that they are low agency, but the fact that they combine this low agency with such a high sense of entitlement. It is that which is considered objectionable. None of this, however, means that we should view such women in this way.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you for your reply, Alastair, and for clarifying. I am probably thinking along similar lines but with different language – for instance I think of some people with a high sense of entitlement as protesters/campaigners. Those with a low sense of entitlement seem to focus more on appealing and persuading, and seem to be generally more appreciative of any help offered to them.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        On another matter – I just read your post to Kash on the Jesus Creed and tried to upvote it but can’t and need to sign in first apparently, but I haven’t worked out how to do that. I have (yesterday?) upvoted other posts. It’s not a problem for me – I just thought I’d mention it.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      Thanks to your posts, Alastair, and also the many comments in response to it, I’ve been paying more attention to modes of friendship, and also to modes of social interaction in general, including male-female, because inevitably I can’t be part of an all-male group in everyday life, though I can follow all-male conversations on Twitter.

      The scenario today: I played the keyboard at the 9.00 a.m.service and then stayed for coffee and chat, and left just as the 11 o’clockers were arriving. We were a pretty good mix of male and female.

      There were hugs and smiles aplenty, but from three males, along with the hugs came the banter – well, mild banter… daft things, really, that make me laugh. For instance, one retiring warden told me that he had only given me half-a-tick on the ‘register’ because he saw me leaving a weekday meeting a bit early. He and his ‘side-kick’ retiring warden also go through a ‘bouncer’ ritual of turfing us 9 o’clockers off the premises before the 11 o’clock service, and they told me today that they’ll miss that particular wind-up.
      One male gave me a moving account of the visit he and his wife recently paid to the River Kwai. Another male told me exactly what he thought about Ed Miliband!

      And now the ladies: a compliment about my top, which I inherited from my Mum, followed by a bubbly chat about the fantastic designer bargains in Boundary Mills factory outlet; a comment about the music, and how one lady, who described herself as a ‘born and bred Anglican’, loved ‘Laudate Dominum’ ; a friend eager to explain that she was wearing a pink jacket to mark the arrival of the beautiful royal princess, and how she would love to be a grandmother but knows that her son and his new wife will make their own decisions in their own time 🙂 ; my own discreet and embarrassed enquiry about the identity of a dear lady who’d already told me her name three or four times (I used to be good at remembering names) ; a lady who asked how I was going to spend the rest of the day, given that I have a streaming cold.

      One man actually commented ( I didn’t raise the subject: not guilty ;-)) about interest groups in the church including gender-specific groups, and he cited (apparently without irony) a flying group for men and a sewing group for women. So I smiled…
      Our God created a rich and wonderful community. Vive la difference!

  14. Katelyn Beaty has responded to my reflections here. Unfortunately, as is typical in such discussions, I think that she generally talks past my position, rather than really engaging with it. I’d be interested to hear everyone’s thoughts, though.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      I’ll just comment about ‘work’ and about ‘societal power’.
      Of course Christian women are called to work, and in my experience we women work as much and as well as we can, depending on our age and stage, family circumstances, attributes, skills, health, and so on. Some of us are not in paid employment, but we still work (for instance, I think ‘labour’ is a good word for preparing to give birth to a child!). For some of us, paid employment (full- or part-time) is more about wanting to make ends meet than about having any wish to ‘wield societal power’.
      Katelyn’s account of the amazing work of Alice is inspiring. I also feel inspired by other women such as Mother Theresa and Corrie ten Boom. However, the lives of these women were extraordinary, and most women have more ordinary lives (as do many men).
      Overall, I don’t think Katelyn’s post really addresses the fundamental God-given differences between men and women.

      • I left a comment in response to the post here.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you. I’ve just read your comment – well said!

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I endorse all the comments already made on this page about Katelyn’s post.
        My comment here is based on my own experience and observations as I am neither a historian nor a sociologist. I will focus here on the most fundamental difference between men and women, childbearing, and the gender roles that emerge from this.
        I am aware that, during the last century, considerable changes have taken place in gender roles and in the division of labour in many families. At the end of the 19th century (when my grandparents were born), gender roles were more clearly defined in most families than they are now. As I’m sure you already know, in the UK in 1900 average life expectancy was 50 for women and 47 for men, though these figures are somewhat skewed because of the high death rate amongst children. Because of this, and because contraceptive devices were a bit hit-and-miss, many women spent their entire adult lives having babies and raising them, with their husbands as breadwinners. Few had cars, and they and their large families lived most of their lives out in the local community. My paternal grandmother had 14 children, my maternal grandmother 7.
        My mother was born in 1921, the same year as Betty Frieden (cited by Katelyn on her Twitter profile page). When Betty Friedan’s book ‘ The Feminine Mystique’ came on the market in 1962, I was at Uni. My generation was in a state of flux, some going with the flow of feminism, others resisting it. Old habits die hard. There were husbands who liked the old divisions of labour, and some wives rebelling a bit and wishing that these fully grown men would wash their own socks occasionally!There were woman who realised that, with the advent of the contraceptive pill and increased life expectancy, they could afford to postpone motherhood and venture into a world of paid employment unknown to many of their mothers and grandmothers. Many could no longer look on their own mothers and grandmothers as role models and started defining their own roles. Some men adapted to these ‘New Women’ by becoming ‘New Men’, and some became brilliant ‘househusbands’! Others didn’t. There were changes in the divorce laws and divorce rates increased.
        The re-defining of gender roles continues, and I am not surprised that there is so much debate about it. I think we need to take into account increased life expectancy and the fact that many women are active and employable after their childbearing years are over, and that many women want to combine motherhood with paid employment and to have a role in ‘the world’, in addition to their roles in the family and the local community.
        In my experience, many mothers want to spend as much time as possible with their children, especially in their pre-school years, and many who do work while their children are growing up often do so because of financial pressures – though I also know some women who say than being in a responsible position at work is easier than looking after young children all day!
        I know many committed Christians who seek God’s will in every situation and in all their decision-making. As we know, there are an amazing number of different claims about God’s will in this situation or that, and I despair over some of the things I hear about what God supposedly wants.
        I feel sad when conversations are closed down by people so locked into their own agendas that their are unable to to consider the different perspectives of others.
        Thank you for this discussion. The discussion is ongoing in my everyday life, and no doubt in yours too.

      • Andrew says:

        I apologise if this comes across as foolish, but it appears to me as if Katelyn has done the equivalent of arguing that the presence of female Olympic sprinters disproves the generality that men are faster and stronger than women. Or have I fundamentally misunderstood her argument?

      • No, I think that there is definitely an element of that to her argument. My suspicion, however, is that she (very seriously) misreads me as setting up some hard and fast rules or making universal claims, rather than making some descriptive points about general patterns that nonetheless have numerous exceptions. If I were doing either of these things, cases like Alice Seeley Harris would arguably puncture my theory. Of course, as I’m not doing either of those things, her challenge whistles well wide of the mark and the fact that she actually thinks that she has scored a hit is both bewildering and insulting in its very uncharitable representation of my position.

        If Beaty had read my post more carefully, she would actually have seen that Alice Seeley Harris is a great example of the dynamics that I identified when I wrote:

        Although many women are more purposefully networking nowadays as a means of getting ahead, women’s groups are not so effective at direct power creation. The power of women’s groups tends to reside more in their moral authority and effectiveness in getting others to act on their behalf. They can exert considerable social pressure in such a manner, even without direct power. However, although they lack the capacity to create power so effectively, women understandably want to experience power’s benefits, which is why it is important for them to get male groups to include and empower them, or to exercise power on their behalf.

        Harris’ praiseworthy actions are a great example of indirect or soft power in action, the power to move more powerful parties to act or to work on your behalf. It is not, however, an example of the sort of direct power creation that I was discussing. Women like Harris used the empowerment established by more direct and primarily male power (e.g. the invention of the camera) to appeal to primarily male powers to change their actions.

  15. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Alastair, I’ve scan-read Katelyn’s post and the comments. My first impression is that Katelyn is mainly focused on her own book, and that what she has written in this post does not seem to have much bearing on the title of your post. I will re-read her post and reflect on it later.

  16. quinnjones2 says:

    Just two factors on my mind that have made a difference to both men and women in a relatively short space of time in the grand scheme of things – increased life expectancy and more sophisticated contraception. I’ve made a few attempts to write more about this, but I’m not getting there yet so I’ll leave it at this for now.
    I’m not surprised that there is so much debate about gender roles!

    • Yes, those developments are significant. I suspect that the most significant developments have to do with the shape of contemporary capitalism and the state.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I just want to add that my older daughter studied psychology as a mature student, and as part of her studies she did a survey on the implications for women of having children in their twenties and/or of leaving childbearing to their late thirties/early forties. She also looked into the implications of the work/family balance for working women. She and her husband have three children aged 21,17 and 9 – the youngest was born while she was studying.
        On a personal note, I was retired at that time and I loved helping out with my grandchildren 🙂

  17. bethyada says:

    Interesting read.

    You are talking generalities here, or, in your words: discussing ideas and arguments. I note with some irony that some of your female interlocutors are dismissive of your comments as being too broad, or they try to disprove your thesis by appealing to individual exceptions; ie they want to talk about specific persons and preference that over your general concept. Thus, inadvertently supporting your claims.

    • Yes, I am left somewhat baffled by their inability to understand and engage with what I have actually written.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        I think the most frustrating sort of response I receive online is when I tell someone they have misread me and they respond in a way that dismisses my concerns, claims (without argument) to have read me correctly, and implicitly blames me. It seems to me that if someone attributes a position to me that I explicitly denied, they should at least back away from claiming I hold it.

      • I receive such responses on this particular subject more than any other. I suspect that a hermeneutic of suspicion is part of it: people seem to suspect that you are dissembling the true ugliness of your position, but they can see through you.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        ‘Honi soit qui mal y pense.’

  18. Pingback: Morning coffee 2015-05-06 – Marriage and the logic of one or two | Mangy Dog

  19. I have left a further response to Katelyn’s comments here.

  20. quinnjones2 says:

    Hi Alastair,
    I have just read your comment, which I think is thorough, well-written, and well-illustrated with examples. As I have commented before, I don’t think that Katelyn has addressed the points you made in your original comment, or the points you made in subsequent comments.

    I would like to explore one thing that occurred to me as I read your most recent comment: you mentioned personality differences. I have thought a lot about this and also read a lot, but I’ve reached no hard and fast conclusions other than that there seem to be personality differences which are not gender-specific. I think that, in some ways, the ways in which you and Katelyn responded to each others’ posts may arise from personality differences between you, in addition to differences to your attitudes to gender differences. I don’t propose to make an analysis of your different writing styles, but I might try paraphrasing and summarizing what you wrote in my own dominant style of communicating, just to see what it looks like!

    I’ve been thinking of a conversation some of us once had with a highly successful male family member about individual differences of family members within a broader context of shared family values. His wife became quite cross and said to me (and to my sister), ‘ You are too aca-bloody-demic!’ I felt a mixture of surprise and amusement because although I am intelligent, I don’t think of myself as ‘intellectual’, and I didn’t think that my contribution to this particular discussion was based on anything I’d studied – rather it was based on my experience and observations. What I had actually done was to challenge her husband’s view of family life, something she had never done, it seemed. So I don’t think that the difference between her and me was a gender difference. I will add that we all loved her lots, and none of us objected to her outburst.

    I am not suggesting that your approach is ‘too aca-boody-demic’ , Alastair, but I do think it is more ‘intellectual’ than mine, for instance, and I’m not convinced that this difference is entirely gender-specific, because I have some female friends I secretly think of as ‘too aca-bloody-demic’ :-), though I see that just as a difference, and I’m not criticizing it.

    I don’t know if I’ll make much progress in paraphrasing your comment in ‘Christine-talk’, but I do feel inclined to give it a try.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      Correction: ‘aca-bloody-demic’. One of these days, my proof-reading will improve, I hope!

    • I think that there are many personality differences and tendencies that aren’t clearly gendered at all. There are many scenarios where, in terms of the relevant personality traits, I will have far more in common with many women than with other men. Let me give an example that will illustrate some of what is going on here and which will help to explain the article that I linked.

      Imagine that you were handed several handfuls of photos and told to look at them in turn. You were told that each handful of photos contained pictures of people belonging to two different families and it was your task to divide each set into two separate groups. Looking at the first set, you see twenty pictures of eyes. Perhaps about four or five of them share recognizable traits in common with other pictures and can tentatively be placed into two groups but, for the most part, the eyes really do not fall naturally into two distinct groups. In the next handful of photos you are told to do the same with some pictures of noses, in the next with some pictures of mouths, in the next with some pictures of hair, and so on. With each set, the significant majority do not fall distinctly into one group or another. Finally, you are handed the last set of photos. This last set of photos contains highly detailed photos from all perspectives of the whole face and body. Although, looking at any single feature, the sets do not fall into distinct sets, what you would probably notice is that, as you started to look at all of the features together, it would be considerably easier to divide the handful of photos into two families. While many members of a family will not have a particular family resemblance and may even, when you focus upon just one particular feature, look more like members of the other family than their own, most will have some family resemblance or other.

      It is much the same with personality traits between men and women. Looking at any particular personality trait, it wouldn’t be easy to divide us into distinct groups. However, looking at all personality traits together we tend to divide into two groups relatively naturally.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you! Yes, it is so important to look at the whole ‘Gestalt’. I especially like the analogy of family photos because in our family, as no doubt in others, people love to look at new babies and decide whose nose, hair and so on the baby has. Yet many physical resemblances become apparent only in adulthood, significantly with build and height ( not to mention gender differences in bodily development!) For instance, my eldest grandson has the same fair skin, blue eyes and light-brown hair as his mother and when he was growing up many people thought he ‘took after’ her. Now he is 21 and his build, height (and voice) are so similar to his Dad’s that ( when I’m not wearing my specs!) I sometimes need to look twice to work out which of them has just walked into the room!
        With gender differences, I think men and women do ‘tend to divide into two groups relatively naturally’ but I think the addition of personality differences can exacerbate or enhance gender differences, depending on our attitudes to these differences.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        I’ve just posted a reply to Katelyn’s most recent post on the Jesus Creed, and I’ve also upvoted the most recent posts from you and Micah.

  21. quinnjones2 says:

    I’ve re-read my final sentence and I think it sounds a bit vague, but I have yet to come up with anything clearer :-/

  22. I’ve left another response in the ongoing discussion.

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