Readers: in a recent thread on robhu‘s journal, Rob said I had misrepresented complementarians (of which he is one). I’m not sure how many of you click the links in my postings and have noticed that I occasionally have a joke with them, but to be clear, on the occasions where I have linked the word complementarian to Houseplants of Gor, I did not mean to imply that complementarians are the same as Goreans. Unlike Goreans, complementarians do not believe that women are intrinsically inferior to men and should naturally be their slaves. They believe that men and women are equal in status and dignity, but should occupy different roles in relationships like marriage, with women submitting to men’s loving, self-sacrificial leadership. You can find a summary of complementarian beliefs in the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.
Despite the complementarian assertion that men and women are of equal status, I find complementarianism problematic because it seeks to perpetuate a hierarchy with men in a position of power over women, and claims that this sort of hierarchy is normative. While I should probably be cautious about comparing historically oppressed classes for fear of being called problematic myself (this being one of the worst things that can happen to you on LJ, as some of you will know, second only to being accused of “fail”), I’d note that replacing “men” with “white people” and “women” with “black people” in complementarian statements would not result in something many of us were happy to sign up to (with the possible exception of Rudyard Kipling, who was big on loving, self-sacrificial leadership). To be clear, I am not saying the complementarianism is racist (I’m saying it’s sexist), but I believe the analogy is appropriate as members of both classes were and are oppressed as a result of being born into a particular group.
While there are important differences between them, complementarians and Goreans are similar in that both advocate a male-led hierarchy and claim it is the correct and fulfilling state of all male/female relationships. As such, the two philosophies are, shall we say, equal in status and dignity, with complementarianism certainly not deserving more respect merely because it originates in a religion.
Hope that’s cleared things up. Must go, scribb1e‘s just finished cooking my dinner.
Edited to add: So, Rob didn’t like my analogy and banned me from commenting on his blog.
Of course, I didn’t chose the analogy at random. The question at hand was whether complementarianism should be considered sexist. I think it should. If similar statements to those complementarians make about women were made about another historically disadvantaged group, like black people, we would rightly consider them discriminatory against that group. Likewise, there have been times when sentiments we’d now consider discriminatory have been couched in terms of self-sacrifice and serving the disadvantaged group, as Kipling’s poem illustrates.
Is complementarianism as bad as racism or sexism at its most horrible? No. It is patronising rather than hateful, and I’m not sure how much harm it does. There are much worse examples discrimination around today. I suppose what irks me about complementarianism is that it pretends to righteousness (that, and the fact that I was once taken in by it). Were the early Christians ahead of their time in their attitude to women? Quite possibly, but complementarians are behind theirs.
If anyone feels the analogy was taking things too far, I’d be interested to discuss it.
Update again: Censored!
And now the post has gone. I never appreciate people playing the “unpublishing” game: here’s my copy so you can see what I actually said.