My irregular musings on city life, politics, baseball, roller derby, and whatever happens to be getting my goat today.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


I don't want to rant on about this, because I've been doing it all day, but I wanted to put something up because this was such a big deal . . . and fun! I love a good (polite) debate.

Today at Third Unitarian we had a guest speaker, The Reverend Myriam Renaud, who preached on the figure of Deborah in the Book of Judges, and the implications of holding her up as a role model for feminists.

First of all it was rather strange to hear someone reading the Bible from the Thomas Paine Memorial Pulpit - I don't think that's happened before in the two years I've been attending, and it certainly came as a surprise to many of the old leftist humanists in the pews. [I believe she used the Judaica Press Translation, which was possibly to soften the blow.--Trope.] More on that in a minute.

Rev. Renaud started by saying that the victors generally write history, which is why we don't learn enough about women in history - there have not been enough women victors. Then she used Deborah as an example of a "victor-woman," and explored what that was like.

Deborah was one of these prophet figures who led the Israelites to a military victory in which they slaughered their enemies to the last man. This is one of the reasons I stopped believing in the Bible all those years ago - I read it. In the book, these Israelites commit massacre after genocide after ethnic cleansing, all with the blessing of their God. It's horrible, self-justifying bullshit to my ears, and I don't admire these people or take much spiritual guidance from their travails. That may have been what the world was like then, but it's not much of an example for progressives.

[Renaud's argument was based on the idea that women are underrepresented in authority, and that because women tend to be self-effacing, meek, or more likely to share credit, this will continue. I would argue that there are currently several examples of strong female leaders worldwide, and that the way to get us into power is not to teach women to overcome their conditioning for collaboration and cooperation, but to call men on the fallacy that everything in this world can be accomplished with a big ego and a big sword. Women in power who act like men are not, of themselves, any different or better than men in power. It's not the women per se who are being devalued, it's the traits often thought of as "feminine": negotiation, compromise, power-sharing. Not every woman is good at that, and many women are shocked when a woman in power doesn't espouse those values. --Trope.]

Rev. Renaud's argument was that women should stand up for themselves, not be ashamed of success, and seek power unapologetically much like men do. [Though she suggested we display these tangible measures of our success in the living room of our homes, presumably to be admired by our husbands' friends. I think next time she should suggest writing letters to the editor, or possibly renting a billboard. --Trope.] She pointed out that even progressives tend to hold archaic ideas about gender roles, seeing women as the gentler, more peaceful, more conciliatory sex. [Yep. We bring the flowers. Y'all run the board.] Women shouldn't be expected to behave according to these roles, especially women in positions of power - a point that I agree with. She pointed out the silliness of the oft-repeated statement that "if women ran the world there wouldn't be wars," which I agree is ridiculous. Worldwide, we've had plenty of women as heads of state, who have been no less violent or authoritarian than an equal-sized sample of male leaders would be.

But she went on, and held up Margaret Thatcher as an example of a woman defying these expectations by going to war over the Falkland Islands. Then she said if Hillary Clinton became President and decided to go to war, she hoped we'd all support her - this to a room full of peace activists!

So after the service we had an interesting conversation. I said that when we say history is written by the victors, it's not a compliment. We're calling them liars and implying that the losers had a story that deserved to be told as well. She pointed out that the people Deborah killed were "oppressors" and I said that of course the victors, who wrote history, would say that, but I wasn't going to take their word for it.

Basically, I don't care much whether more of the "victors" who dominate and control the rest of us are women and minorities. This is the worst kind of tokenism. I feel that most of the people who exercise power do so illegitimately, that they haven't earned and don't deserve their power over others. Rev. Renaud told me she disagrees, that she feels that people in power more or less come by it legitimately. [Again: I don't think that being male or female lends any more or less legitimacy to an authority figure, or the wars they start. I'd love to see a woman President, but I would move to Canada before I voted for Condi. --Trope.] I guess this is the wrong period of history to appeal to my faith in authority figures!

At this point, what I want most from the next President is a weaker Presidency. Having one person making so many decisions in our name without hardly consulting us is just unacceptable. I would hope President Hillary Clinton or John McCain or Barack Obama or whoever would leave the business of declaring war to Congress, like the Constitution says. [For the business of avoiding war, I might be tempted to vote for a male candidate over a female one. Ask me why sometime.--T] And I don't much care about the gender or skin color of the people who are dominating and coercing others to conform to their beliefs or ideologies. I just want it to stop, and to the greatest extent practicable, to return power and control to the people themselves. [This is a goal that most folks at TUC can get on board with. It was a great sermon, and a great debate following. More Sunday feminism!--Trope.]


Elwood Grobnik said...

Okay, I'll bite. For avoiding war, why might you be tempted to vote for a male candidate over a female candidate?

Is this in general, or under specific circumstances (when the male candidate is a combat veteran)?

Trope said...

No fair, you got to discuss with me already!

You were the one to solidify this bias for me. I'd previously said that all other things being equal, I'd prefer a President who had fought in a war, under the assumption that he might be more thoughtful about starting a war while in power. Then you started thinking back and trying to name a President who was a combat veteran and went on to start a war... how far back did you have to go?

And since there are few female combat veterans old enough to run for President yet, I'm biased towards the menfolk at the moment. (I'm also concerned that some women--cough, Condi, cough--might present themselves as more hawkish to make up for the fact that they're female. That might not be a fair assumption.)