Thursday, July 13, 2017

“Gender Apartheid” And “Toxic Masculinity” In NAPARC? (1)

Every NAPARC congregation consists of sinners. Consider, however, the rhetoric used by the podcasters: “gender apartheid” and “toxic masculinity.” These are very strong words. The dictionary (ibid) defines the noun apartheid thus: “(in South Africa) a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.” It now includes “segregation on grounds other than race: sexual apartheid.” Again, one suspects that the young people bandying about the noun apartheid have little sense of how horrible it actually was.

 

Perhaps a month ago during a podcast hosted by a few women in the PCA and one woman from the OPC complaints were lodged by the hosts against what they describe as “gender apartheid” in the conservative Presbyterian and Reformed (P&R) churches. Those denominations are mainly represented in the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council (NAPARC). Now those podcasts have been featured in a story in The Atlantic. In the article some of the same charges rehearsed that were raised in the podcast. In this essay I wish to think about and reply to the charge of “toxic patriarchy” and “gender apartheid” in the NAPARC denominations.

What is sexism and does it exist in NAPARC denominations? I doubt that there is an agreed definition today but the Oxford American Dictionary defines it thus: “prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.” This seems like a reasonable place to begin. I am old enough to remember earlier generations of feminism (e.g., the struggle for females to get work beyond secretarial positions) and my sense of what sexism is shaped by that experience. Today, however, despite the frequent complaints about inequity in pay, the reality is more complicated. Even those who want to argue for the existence of a “pay gap” admit that. When we factor in job choices, pregnancy, career paths influenced by family choices, and family obligations, the growing education gap (the rising numbers of females in universities and the declining numbers of males), the story is not as clear. In short, when we compare apples with apples, this is not 1917. When I was a boy, the idea of female firefighters and female police officers, let alone female CEOs or a female president were considered laughable. Today, the only ones laughing at such ideas are in an isolation room somewhere. This is not to say that females do not face discrimination but the playing field has been changed radically. In response to this changing reality, the goal posts have been moved and the rhetoric has been ratcheted up, particularly among millennial females, for whom MS Magazine and the King-Riggs tennis match is not even a memory.

Is there sexism in NAPARC congregations? Certainly. There is also racism, adultery, covetousness, idolatry, theft, murder (at least in the heart), and almost every other sin and failure that one might list. Every NAPARC congregation consists of sinners. Consider, however, the rhetoric used by the podcasters: “gender apartheid” and “toxic masculinity.” These are very strong words. The dictionary (ibid) defines the noun apartheid thus: “(in South Africa) a policy or system of segregation or discrimination on grounds of race.” It now includes “segregation on grounds other than race: sexual apartheid.” Again, one suspects that the young people bandying about the noun apartheid have little sense of how horrible it actually was. After all, in their memory, Nelson Mandella (1918–2013) was not in jail but the president of South Africa and honored across the globe for his leadership of the civil rights movement in South Africa. 

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