Feminism, Trans Visibility, and Gender Politics in Theology

Just yesterday Women in Theology announced a cohort of new contributors to their blog. Reading through the biographies I was very excited to see women from a variety of disciplines speaking into theology, including a colleague of mine! When Women in Theology started a number of years ago, I was still active in the theo-blogging world, and it was like a breath of fresh air in a virtual space that tended to extend the old-boys-club atmosphere of theology rather than make space for other voices.  Over the years, the exceptional thinkers at Women in Theology have addressed concerns of racism, violence against women, Islamophobia, and many other forms of oppression that continue to operate both explicitly and covertly in theologies, church institutions/schools, and worshiping communities. I commend them for this.

When the call for contributors was posted a few months ago, I considered sending in an application and encouraged friends to apply. The first person I thought would be a perfect contributor on the blog was a friend and fellow academic in theology. The call specified the following: “In order to qualify, you must be a woman with experience in the academic study of Christian theology-either as a graduate student or as a professor-and committed to the liberation of human persons, particularly women, from all forms of oppression. […] Women of color, international scholars, non-Catholic Christian women, and those who do comparative theology are especially encouraged to apply.” Unfortunately, my colleague did not qualify as a contributor – because my colleague, while they would identify as many of the above, does not identify as a woman. My colleague identifies as genderqueer. Read the rest of this entry »

Higher ed and masculinity

It is well known that when straight adolescent males are put into a gender-segregated setting, a vicious cycle begins wherein they will egg each other on to ever more extreme performances of masculinity. These performances necessarily entail the objectification and degradation of women. We can see these dynamics even in gender-segregated “nerd” subcultures such as science fiction or video game fandom, where women routinely complain of harrassment. Yet it is above all the case where the purpose of the group is directly and explicitly to bond over displays of masculinity — such as sports teams and fraternities. These types of groups are proverbially given to destructive behavior, and when women are added to the mix in a setting where the male group sets the agenda (i.e., a frat party as opposed to a classroom), the situation can easily become very dangerous for the women involved. It’s not by accident that horrific stories of gang rape in the United States are almost always tied to frat parties and althletic teams.

It’s also not by accident that colleges and universities are such breeding grounds for rape, because colleges and universities strongly promote the formation of such groups and stake much of their identity on them. Fraternities remain the primary site for the type of social networking that is the real purpose of college for upper-class and self-consciously upwardly-mobile students, whereas athletic teams provide an ongoing bond with alumni and the broader community. Hence colleges and universities grant considerable leeway to fraternities, and they spend millions of dollars on athletics, to the extent that one can say that athletics are objectively much more important on many campuses than the academic program.

Many critics of higher ed rightly point out the waste of resources on athletics as compared to academics, but the problem is even worse: by promoting such groups, universities are virtually guaranteeing that rape will be a routine part of campus life. They are not merely letting themselves be distracted from their primary academic mission — they are creating a situation where women, who now form the majority of the student body on most campuses, are put in serious danger. The fact that administrators so routinely cover up rape cases or try to convince the victim not to press charges is a kind of backhanded admission of complicity, of awareness that taking the problem seriously would mean calling into question the primary forms of social bonding and solidarity that have formed the university community and guarantee continued loyalty across generations.

Zizek and “sexual difference”

I’ve long found Zizek’s development of the Lacanian opposition between the logic of the master signifier or constitutive exception and the logic of the non-all (or non-whole, as I wish he would translate the Lacanian pas-tout) to be a compelling and useful schema. At the same time, I’ve never really understood why he is so insistent on referring to this opposition as “sexual difference” or why it is necessary to refer to the master signifier and non-all as masculine and feminine, respectively. He uses many other examples that follow the same logic — in Less Than Nothing, the relationship between bourgeoisie and proletariat is explained in these same terms — and it’s not clear to me why the gendered language should be privileged.

The best explanation I can come up with is his loyalty to the psychoanalytic tradition, where “sexuality” comes to name the fundamental derangement of the human animal (as opposed to any notion of a “natural” procedure of reproduction, etc.). And it’s possible that I’m being an overly squeamish feminist and not following my own rule that generalizations refer fundamentally to social forces rather than to the idea that “they’re all like that.” But still.

Any thoughts?

Wovon man nicht sprechen kann…

A colleague of mine once said that among white students, discussions of race tend toward silence, while discussions of gender tend toward anger. This sounds right to me, and certainly these reactions are not limited to white students. It seems to me that both phenomena share a common root: discomfort with any kind of generalization. Read the rest of this entry »

Anger’s Nonidentity / Occasion Against Universality

I recently looked back at Judith Butler’s response to her having been awarded a “prize” for writing in an especially non-commonsensical style. She observes that the recipients—or “targets,” as she aptly redescribes—of such a prize “have been restricted to scholars on the left whose work focuses on topics like sexuality, race, nationalism and the workings of capitalism.” This then raises “a serious question about the relation of language and politics: why are some of the most trenchant social criticisms often expressed through difficult and demanding language?” Read the rest of this entry »

Gender and the Nephilim

Tony Baker writes the following in his ill-considered post on gender:

Let me attempt to bring my gender constructions out of the subflooring of the argument and into the proper living space. The fall narratives, from Eden to Babel to the origin of the Nephilim, are about the disorder than comes of too much taking. In the latter case, the Sons of God find the daughters of men desirable, and “take” them as wives (Gen 6). The “Sons” are pure activity here, and the “daughters” are so passive that the text implies a Sabine-like rape.

There is here, as in my Prometheus reading, an association of boundary transgression and gender. Masculinity is associated with active violating of “kinds,” and the feminine is a pure receiving. The important thing to notice, though, is that this is precisely what invokes God’s displeasure, and becomes the set-up for the flood cycle. Archetypal gender bifurcation (though not gender itself) belongs only to the fallen form, for Christianity, not to our proto- and eschatological versions. If both woman and creation are “feminized” in the narrative while the earthly and heavenly “sons” are masculinized (Cain, Nimrod, David’s “taking” of Bathsheba), this is a split archetype that belongs to our broken form.

I have written frequently in comments that I find it disturbing that he uses what he regards as a rape scene as the paradigm for masculinity and femininity, which supposedly contains a grain of truth that is revealed through the parallels with the consensual passivity of the Virgin Mary (immediately after the passage I quote). That is a core point that I simply cannot let go — if your account of the meaning of masculinity and femininity is derived from a rape scene, something has gone badly wrong, something that requires not “clarification,” but repentance and conversion.

Yet there are a lot more questions to ask about his use of this passage. Read the rest of this entry »

Forsaking Futurity and a Call for Feminist Theologies: A Response to Gender & the Studio, Part Three

Abstract: Rather than delve into the potential theo-logic of a Butlerian “constructivist” account of gender, this blog post proposes that we pause, and instead question the discursive operations undergirding the very idea of “the future of systematic theology.” The effort to secure the existence of systematic theology, I suggest, is idolatrous—rather, systematic theology needs to lose its own life in order to potentially save it, and can begin to move in that direction by attending to the concrete, historic, material, discursive realities of people’s lives, especially those on the underside. This “losing” is both practical and apophatic, in that it acknowledges that the task demands constant attention to the material realities of people’s lives and the discursive regimes that produce those realities, and that we cannot seek to grasp or claim or secure a telos or overarching discourse. I end, then, by turning briefly to the potentialities within a constructivist frame, and offering some suggestions for possibilities for Christian feminist theologies.

  Read the rest of this entry »

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