Opinions on faith and life

Slavery and Misogyny: A Call to Action

2012-03-28

One of my primary interests as a Christian and a blogger has been the plight of women in Christianity, and to a slightly lesser extent, general society. I’ve noted the parallel between slavery and misogyny in articles here and here which focused on the intellectual arguments. But then it occurred to me that we have a much bigger lesson to learn in our efforts to uproot this longest-lived form of slavery. How exactly did the abolitionist movement change the hearts as well as the minds of the general population, to an extent that still remains to this day? To answer that question about skin-based slavery is to answer it about gender-based slavery:

Whereas Pennsylvanians sought politicians’ support for gradual abolition, modern abolitionists roused the masses— including blacks and women— to end slavery immediately. Instead of Pennsylvanians’ specialized legal tactics designed to persuade jurists to end bondage, Bay Staters dispatched traveling agents to organize local antislavery societies; instead of learned legal briefs, they crafted emotional appeals emphasizing the horrors of slavery. Profound changes in American political culture and social life influenced abolition’s transformation in the 1820s and early 1830s, from the advent of revivalism and egalitarian political theories to the rising prominence of free black and female activists. Massachusetts agitators seized these cultural developments to turn the abolitionist movement itself into a revolutionary force over and against Pennsylvanians’ conservative tradition of reform.

(source, emphasis mine)

Some steps have been taken in this direction with blogs and books exposing the horrors of the patriarchy movement. But as with slavery by skin color, we must make these horrors known to the whole of society, not just the church. And we already have an advantage over what the abolitionists faced, in that our society for the most part holds that women are in no way to be held behind men simply because they are women. But we are running out of time, because misogyny in society is returning. Through porn and prostitution, the attitude beneath the surface has never changed in women’s favor; they are still seen as playthings, possessions, property, subhuman. And because society has never outlawed such things (for all practical purposes), we are now seeing even pedophilia on the rise in the west. And with the west’s current suicide by tolerance attitude toward Islam, such things will not only be accepted but enshrined.

If our society really has (or had) achieved equality for women, why is it that we still need women’s shelters? Isn’t it at least partially because we still promote as role models scantily-clad cheerleaders and entertainers, saturate our girls in an obsession with beauty, and perpetuate the old stereotypes of what it means to be ladylike, and punish any who criticize such things? And what is the motivation for using sex appeal as the benchmark of womanhood? To catch men. So is it any wonder that men view us as marks or prizes rather than people? While advertising for men typically appeals to power or athleticism as well as sex appeal, for women it’s almost exclusively one-dimensional. TV drama and movies at times also promote women as strong and capable, but this is almost always paired with morally repugnant characteristics such as ruthlessness or treachery.

By trying to take the irenic route, we too commit suicide by tolerance. Time after time in various venues, I’ve seen too many women try to snuff out the very flame of change they say they want by silencing any women who take up the necessary weapons to fight this war; it is no different that if enslaved blacks were policing each other so that none of them could go beyond the academic debate and take action. Yet though white Christian women stood beside blacks to end their slavery, not many blacks are standing beside women in our society today to end their slavery. Misogyny is found even among people who are the descendents of slaves! Yet women, either in society or the church, are not learning anything from the ways in which societal wrongs of the past are still being leveraged for the present.

And part of the reason for our failure to learn these lessons is that we have allowed ourselves to be placed between a rock and a hard place; we have allowed the debate to be framed as that we either support reproductive rights (a euphemism for sanctified murder of the most innocent members of society) or male supremacy. By making abortion a necessary component of women’s equality, such equality will never be realized. Perhaps this has been the plan from the start; not to elevate women but to keep us divided so that we can never win the hearts and minds of society at large. It seems that any who would choose door number three are hated by both sides.

But while changes such as abortion rights only happened due to lies and deceit (the poster child woman admitted later to making up the whole rape story, and has since turned against abortion), Christian women must sustain at all costs their moral integrity. Same for the occupy movement; their downfall was/is/will be their debauchery and hypocrisy. The Tea Party movement has avoided the moral traps but has fallen prey to subtle infiltration in the name of survival; they have shown signs of compromise with mainstream conservatives from the idea that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. We must learn from all these examples.

We are currently in a very favorable moment on this topic, with rhetoric about the war on women (regardless of the purpose of the phrase, largely used not because they care about women but because it’s a great rallying point), and we need to take advantage of it. We are even seeing a few very brave Muslim women standing up against their mistreatment. People are galvanized not by erudite arguments and intellectual rigor, but by primary emotions of pity and identification with a group. As for tactics, witness the occupy movement or any other sustained protest: slogans, chants, images, and a very simple (if too simple) platform. As long as Christian egalitarians remain content with academics, that’s where our emancipation will remain: on paper.

But not everyone is gifted to conduct this underground railroad; not every Christian is gifted to lead. But for those who are, who demonstrate an ability to galvanize others into action, I appeal to you to take the lessons of the past and apply them today. If you have skill in political activism, apply it also to the moral activism that will change the hearts and minds of society to more than equal pay for equal work, more than affirmative action, more than all the other surface-level concessions. We need you to fashion the infrastructure of lasting change. It is only when society genuinely accepts as a conviction the full and functional equality of women that we have any chance of making the Body of Christ a place of refuge for women, rather than a place of humiliation, shame, and oppression.

If any slavery can be eradicated, then all slavery can be eradicated. Learn from the successes and failures of the past, but do it quickly.

3 Comments

Luthien

True I cannot believe the attitudes of some women, it leaves me spechless or how young gilrs act today, forgetting alll that the women did for them to get equal rights and throing that away by being naked on frat parties...so disappointing and not only that , black pastors ensalving their women and to know ttheir ancestors were once enslaved for their skin color and they ensalve their women because of their gender....it is true we must act in trutha nd in love, but to do something to protect women specially in the Body of Christ.

SaberTruth

Another good article about slavery and double standards

Truthseeker

Paula, this is a very interesting article.  I, too, have wondered why anti-slavery took hold but women’s rights didn’t.  I think you have hit it on the head in saying that the mistake has been making the battle an academic one instead of an emotional one.  An emotional one doesn’t have to deny academic truth, but it needs to not focus there.