Kathryn & Carl

November 25, 2009

Reading “The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn @ 12:33 pm

Just finished Mary Pride’s The Way Home: Beyond Feminism, Back to Reality, which my cuz was nice enough to lend. I’ve read enough antifeminist and neo-patriarchy blogs to make my eyes fall out and wanted to take a quick jaunt through some of the official books that got the movement really rolling in conservative circles. Just to see where things differed or might have changed in the last thirty years or so.

The style is definitely polemic. And, it’s easy to see that the book was conceived in the 70s with the feminist movement booming and written in the 80s (hello, backlash! Hello, USSR!). But, there are a lot of places where I think she was right on.

Particularly abortion and home education (no surprise, I know). I thought she did an excellent job highlighting what exactly abortion means, how it’s done, and where the profits are going. She gave a lot of information I didn’t know, and most of it was pretty hard to read. I have always been against abortion, and this chapter really convinced me again how important it is to outspokenly opposed to the torture (NOT hyperbole)  and murder of children.

Home education and private education also seem excellent to me. Although there are many good teachers in the public school system, study after study has shown that homeschooled kids do just fine academically.

Okay, but there are some significant problems—significant enough that, although I think there are some really good parts to this book, I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody who wasn’t comfortable thinking for herself and keeping her Bible open.

Here the top 6 points of the book that I find concerning, extra-biblical, or downright UNbiblical:

1. The purpose of marriage is to produce children

“The biblical reason for marriage is to produce fruit for God” (20).

“the attempt to turn a perfectly good marriage into an intimate marriage has led to many, many divorces…. Intimate marriage isn’t biblical” (18).

“The Bible teaches that childbearing is a wife’s basic role”  (41).

Although I would agree that childbearing is a key role of marriage, I do not see where in the Bible she can justly claim that it is the THE reason for marriage. Nor have I seen that teaching from other pastors or theological writers. I understand from the Bible that marriage was ordained first for the mutual help (including companionship) of men and women (Gen 2); for child-bearing (Gen 1:28); and also for the prevention of impurity (I Cor. 7:2). (By the way, these aren’t my ideas. This is pretty basic Christian teaching from the Westminster Confession of Faith in the 1600s).

Unfortunately, Pride’s argument is not only questionable from a biblical basis, but logically unsound as well. She argues against the intimacy, companionship, and social contract models of marriage by stating that those are dangerous because “If the need in question is not being met, or can be met better elsewhere, the whole reason for marriage disappears” (her italics, 19). Logically, her argument that marriages is for children doesn’t fair any better. According to her model, if a marriage doesn’t produce children, or once all the children have been raised, a couple no longer has any “need” to stay together.

For those of you saying “wait a minute! What about her teaching that it’s wrong to divorce?” I say THANK YOU. She dismissed the idea that one of the primary purposes for marriage is mutual help and companionship, even though many Christians believe that and also believe divorce is wrong. I’m glad if my argument feels unfair, not because my intention is to be unfair, but because I think it’s important to realize how extraordinarily unfair much of this book feels to those who have convictions that differ from Pride’s.

2. Evangelism is of minimal importance

“Missionaries go to foreign countries to beget new Christians; mothers get pregnant to beget new Christians” (57).

“Let’s say that Christians are 20 per cent of the U.S. population. If each Christian family had six children, and the humanists, feminists, and others kept on having an average of one… then in twenty years there would be sixty of us for every forty of them. In forty years, 90 per cent of America would be Christian!” (80).

“Scripture draws a fundamental distinction between the children of the righteous (of whom there are never enough) and the children of the wicked (of whom there are always too many)” (63).

This last quote shows a stunning lack of evangelistic, Christ-like love. Although the Bible does say negative things about the “children of the wicked,” I have always believed that this referred to those who were following in the footsteps of the wicked. The Bible frequently makes the point that spiritual offspring are the true sons, not simply the physical offspring (see Rom. 9:6-8).

I think we should be wary of any huge, lifestyle teaching that points Christians in a radically different direction than the one proposed by Jesus. The major thrust of the New Testament is not really about the Christian family, but about salvation and the importance of taking this good news throughout the world. Jesus and Paul both teach about and value the family, but “Pointing to his disciples, [Jesus] said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother'” (Matt. 12:49-50). And Paul, though he has many excellent and positive things to say about family living, doesn’t always commend it as the ideal state—certainly not the only good or holy state (I Cor. 7:8, 38).

Finally, in Mark 16:15, Jesus told his disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” not “Go into all your bedrooms and raise up a new generation of believers.” Raising godly children is a valuable and wonderful part of the Christian life, but it does not replace our duty to evangelism, and it is never portrayed in the Bible as the primary means of building the church.

3. Parents are ultimately responsible for whether or not their children turn out to be believers.

“If it’s really true that a Christian mother or father can do everything right and have it turn out all wrong, then there’s no hope for rebellious children at all” (103).

“If [parents] are doing their job, their children will not grow up to be fools. God has promised” (105) (she believes that Proverbs 22:6 (“train up a child”) is a promise).

“If the parents are not to blame, who is? Society? God?” (103).

All of these statements are false dilemmas.

The first statement suggests that either parents do things right or there’s no hope for a rebellious child. Fact 1) parents have sin natures and cannot do everything right. Fact 2) God’s capacity for grace is unfathomably rich. NO child, no matter how rebellious, is ever beyond hope (not while she’s breathing, anyway).

The second statement is based on exactly the same reasoning. Here’s the crux of the problem—we can’t actually know if her hypothesis is true because all people are sinners and all people fail. She cites Absalom as a rotten child and then shows how this is because David was an adulterer and murderer—and “don’t you think you could beat those track records?” (103). Frankly, if I heard a man say that he thought it would be no problem to be more righteous than David, I would instantly suspect him of arrogance. Yes, David sinned and fell short of perfection, but if even David did, then God help us all.

The third statement is simply astonishing. Remember, we’re not just talking about whether or not a kid misbehaves. Obviously, good parenting has an effect on a child’s manners, ability to share, etc. But, Pride is not simply talking about a child’s manners, she’s including whether or not a child grows up to serve Christ wholeheartedly.

So, here’s your dilemma, Pride says: a kid grows up and leaves the faith/gets pregnant/turns to drugs. Who’s to blame: parents, society, or God?

What’s astonishing is that she doesn’t even mention the two most obvious answers: the child herself and a healthy sin nature. When you claim Proverbs 22:6 as a promise rather than a godly principle, you are effectively denying that children (remember, she’s talking about teenagers and adult children too) have any responsibility for their actions. She’s saying that children who turn out badly are simply victims of their parents’ faulty parenting.

Certainly, I believe a child can be victimized by his parents and face serious set-backs by having horrible role models. Does this mean the child isn’t responsible for his later problems with sin? Absolutely not.

4. Feminism is to blame for most of today’s social problems.

“What if our “harmless” embracing of feminist career goals… leads to moral, social, and economic collapse for our country? What would you say if the price of so-called Liberation turned out to be enslavement to a totalitarian regime?” (4)

“Feminists… want total control over everyone and everybody, including our children” (85).

“When the church came out in favor of family planning, it produced certain effects… outside careers…abortion…marital stress… epidemic divorce… child abuse, the popularity of homosexuality…infanticide, and so on” (75).

As the Russian wolfhound says in Lady and the Tramp, “it is like waving red flag in front of bull.” The truth, of course, is that defending feminism as a social movement isn’t really one of the great purposes of my life. The things feminism got right are the same things we could have found from reading the Bible more clearly…except we didn’t.

It’s to our shame that we had to have a secular group like the feminists remind us Christians of some pretty basic truths, but now that we’ve sorted through their ideas to figure out which ones are worth learning from and which are destined only for the trash bin, it might just be time to move on.

Either way, let’s not get so agitated about the movement that we reduce ourselves to foolishness and lies in our efforts to “disprove” the feminist position.

In the first place, if Pride’s really means to blame feminism for abortion and homosexuality—just to pick two from her list—she needs to be more specific in her claims about what exactly feminism is, because abortion and homosexuality have both been practiced throughout human history (and been legal in different cultures at different times). And, if she does in fact mean to be charging women throughout history with providing the fuel for these problems, she needs to give some factual evidence to support that (besides just a painful work-over of Rom. 1:26).

In fact, for being a book about getting “beyond feminism,” Pride uses remarkably few feminist sources, citing instead her own involvement with the movement before she became a Christian as evidence enough that she knows what she’s talking about. Out of 77 sources, I counted 5 who were feminist, and only 2 were women with any kind of respect or authority within the feminist movement. All of them were writing in the 1960s-80s.

Pride also likes to quote Naomi Goldenberg a lot, because Goldenberg is frickin’ crazy. Who wouldn’t want to quote her?  In case you’re not up on your femme trivia (I wasn’t. I’d never heard of her before), Goldenberg is a self-proclaimed witch who thinks women should have shrines to themselves and orgies of Goddess (self) worship. In other words, Naomi Goldenberg is to feminism what Jim Jones is to Christianity.

… To be honest, I don’t even know how to talk about Pride’s assertions about what feminism is and does, because they’re so broad, so general, and so unsubstantiated that it’s almost impossible to dig into any one of them. You could talk about the history of homosexuality, the history of abortion, the fact that China is nowhere near a feminist country and yet there is a One-Child law, that about 80% of the world’s abortions occur in developing countries (usually the most patriarchal), that blaming child abuse on men’s confusion about the purpose of sex is totally sidestepping the critical issue here (THAT CHILDREN ARE BEING ABUSED), and that criticizing modern society as though it was the product of feminism alone is ridiculous because I’ve never read any feminist on earth who categorically claimed that feminism has won and society has become enlightened.

5. Feminism of the 60s and 70s is directly responsible for dwindling family size

“With the advent of family planning in the fifties, motherhood began to be questioned” (36)

False. According to the sources I could find, family size in the west has been dropping for 200 years. In 1800, the average family had 7.0 children, by 1900, the average size was down to 3.5. By 1933, family size had declined to 2.3 children, so the actual anomaly here is the baby boom of the late 40s and early 50s, not the decline of the birthrate through the 70s and 80s to about 2 children per family. I don’t say this because I think small families are better (I don’t think size has anything to do with it), but because her argument that the radical feminism of the 60s and 70s drove the birthrate into alarming decline does not have historical evidence.

6. Feminists hate children and want a Big Brother totalitarian government that will take control of our children and remove them from our homes.

“Far from loving our children, feminists try to make us hate them as the chief obstacle to our total liberation” (68-69).

“It is a bit more difficult to convince people [she means unbelievers and feminists] that we should not worship our children” (37).

So… which is it? Do the feminist have only one or two children because they worship their children and want to pour out all their time and attention on them… or because they hate them and don’t want to be bothered with more than 2 little monsters?

It almost doesn’t matter, because the fact that she views both as problems serves as a strong suggestion that if feminists are falling into extremes on both sides of the spectrum, there’s a good chance that there are a whole bunch of feminists in the middle who do, in fact, love their children. Just a thought. (This argument, of course, has nothing to do with whether or not folks anywhere along the spectrum are believers. Belief in God and loving our children ought to have a high correlation, but they are not exactly one and the same issue. Though Pride would love to say they are).

“the modern childrens right movement is designed to get the child outof the family” (87).

Unfortunately, Pride was pretty much right on with this point… as of the original 1985 printing. Happily, this is no longer true since even the government has realized that, except in extreme cases or cases involving ongoing serious abuse/neglect, children do better in parental custody. The State of New York defines it’s policy this way: “Unless children are in imminent, immediate danger, the goal is to keep a family together.”

Does Child Protective Services make mistakes? Of course, and I’m glad there are dedicated organizations in place to fight for those parents who have been wrongfully accused. But, to assert that the children’s rights movement has “only one goal in mind” (ie total control of the child) is alarmist and unfounded (87).

Pride is quick to point out that “parents have been convicted for ridiculous things like forbidding their children to attend movies” and, finally, that “Abuse, in short, is raising your children in any way those in power dislike—such as raising them as Christians” (87), but what she fails to consider are the problems associated with the government taking no stand at all about children’s rights. Per a study done in 2003, the planet sees 57,000 children die of physical abuse every year. The study found greater chance of abuse among both poor families as well as large families. Boys were more likely to be physically abused, while girls were more likely to be sexually abused. In both cases, the chief victimizers were men. UNICEF estimates that over 200,000 African children are sold into slavery every year. The list goes on, and it’s mind-boggling.

Are governments responsible for fixing this? A whole lot of ideology and Bible verses get thrown around, but one thing’s for sure: if you’re going to criticize the government’s effort to stop the abuse and needless death of children, you’d better bereally sure you have a more useful solution to offer.

Mary Pride’s solution to child abuse is that families need to love their children more. This is doubtless true. Just as doubtless: our desire that other families love their children more is not likely to change anything. If people were nice because we asked them to be nice, we would have no war, no poverty, definitely no murder, and very few problems.

I respectfully contend that we need a better solution to keeping children safe.

Conclusion:

There’s a whole lot more to say, but this is already too long. I guess the only real conclusion is that I feel badly critiquing the arguments when I truly believe in most of the end results she’s talking about. On the other hand, her logic is repeatedly shaky and she often reads WAY more into a verse than I’m comfortable with (building such extreme doctrines around 3 brief passages is tough for me to swallow).

But, it’s been an interesting read. And, if it’s truly helping some women to live a more godly life, then more power to her.

I just don’t think I’m one of those people.

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3 Comments »

  1. Yeah, I’d say that’s a pretty fair assessment of the problems with this book. I noticed some of the same stuff when I first read it, myself.

    So, WHY, you ask, would I say that it changed my life? Because so often, the big vision, the “end result” as you called it, was something I had never heard before. Someone who’s been eating canned tuna her whole life is going to get excited about fresh salmon in spite of the bones.

    A lot of Pride’s trouble is overstatement of ideas. Take the idea that producing children is one major function of marriage. Saying that it’s the ONLY purpose of marriage goes way too far and becomes unbiblical. But up until I read that book, I had mostly heard that marriage was for sex and/or companionship. If you wanted to have kids, if they fulfilled you, if they were part of your self-actualization scheme, then fine, you could feel free to have them, or not, no matter. The idea that raising up godly seed was actually one of God’s plans for marriage was totally revolutionary. It didn’t matter to me that she overstated it. I already knew about the sex and companionship parts, so I wasn’t remotely shaken in my understanding that they were good and important, too.

    I agree she’s a bit ridiculous in blaming feminism for things that don’t always have anything to do with feminism (like child abuse). That didn’t bother me because I already disliked feminism for my own reasons when I came to the book. I didn’t need her reasons, so the fact that they were often far-fetched was a bone that was easily discarded. I didn’t read the book and get cured of feminism. I came to the book, myself a product of a feminist world, who had rejected feminism, but had very little to replace it with. This was my first taste of an exciting, fulfilling, challenging vision outside of feminism. Before I read this book I felt totally useless. After I read it, I suddenly felt like I knew what I could pour myself into.

    Comment by Andrea — November 30, 2009 @ 12:05 am | Reply

  2. Interesting!

    Again, I think it’s great if this book sparks some women to find a godly vision of what it means to be a woman… and yet… I dunno. I’m used to picking the bones out of the feminist literature I read. It’s written from a secular point of view, so I expect it to have its fair share of overstatements (I don’t even both with the liberal feminist theologians. I’m pretty sure that’s a bunch of who-hash). But, I become much more nervous about a book that claims to be teaching the Word of God… and still requires a big saltshaker and some serious de-boning.

    I really appreciated what you said earlier about being cautious of taking on labels. Feminism could never be more important to me than Christianity, yet I DO believe a more perfect understanding of Christianity ought to lead people to better treatment of women and a more reasonable view of what marriage and being female means.

    When I was discussing this book recently in a mixed, conservative group I was:

    1) later pulled aside and chided for building a “straw woman argument” (this from someone who had never read the book and had no interest in enlightening me about where, exactly, I’d been wrong)

    2) told that my discussion of neo-patriarchy on my blog is really nothing more than “shadow-boxing” and ultimately pointless.

    3) told jokingly by another guy that he’s a misogynist and how did I feel about the fact that female brains are much smaller than male brains?

    Anyway, I’m tired out with all the hating. I think if I read another statement about how all social, national, and marital problems would cease if WE WOMEN would just shape up…. yeah, I’m probably going to lose my sad, infinitesimal brain.

    All I’m saying is that the church is sick, people.

    And pretty sure we’re not making it better by ignoring the probs.

    Comment by Jane — November 30, 2009 @ 10:36 pm | Reply

  3. (My Internet is up! Yay! Here’s a comment I wrote last week but couldn’t post.)

    The only thing out there that doesn’t require a salt shaker an de-boning is God’s word itself. When Christians try to say things, they usually fall victim to their own blind areas and pet issues. EVERYTHING needs to be examined carefully. We should be like the Bereans who “searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).

    That’s exactly what the people you were talking to recently were failing to do with what you were saying. They didn’t like some things, so they wrote off everything.

    Anyway, for what it’s worth, I’ve found your discussion of neo-patriarchy to be totally enlightening, and I’m learning a lot.

    Comment by Andrea — December 9, 2009 @ 3:55 pm | Reply


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