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4 November 2009

Apparently, this semester is one where the issue of women keeps coming up in all of my courses. And while I consider myself to be more-or-less feminist in mindset–women and men should have equal liberties, just as everyone should have equal liberties–I’m beginning to doubt the basic starting point that all feminist theory begins on: a concept of “woman” different from “man”. And from that basic assumption, it only looks at women insofar as they are women, and not as they represent 50% of the human race.

Whenever a woman comes up in literature, we pose questions about the character’s womanhood or her character based upon the fact that she is biologically female/identifies with the female gender. We would almost never think the same thing about a male character. We see a male soldier and ask about how he manifests his own ideas about heroism, how he thinks about war, how his emotions might come into his decisions, etc. We see a female character of any sort and the first thing (and almost only thing) we ask is, “Is she sincere?”

In Church history, when we look for female leadership, we are looking for leaders insofar as they are women. When it’s a question of a male leader, we ask about his position in the church, his theology, his geographical situation, etc. When it’s a woman, we ask about whether or not she should be allowed to speak, whether or not her status as a woman subtracts something from her leadership potential. Even with the best intentions, women leaders are important for Church historians only because they are women, and not because of any contribution they made to the theological or cultural climate of Christendom.

As long as we understand women as equal to men, we are positing that there is such as thing as “woman” different from “man”. Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

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