My friend The Alethiophile blogged On Egalitariansim and Feminism, and then did it again, and was kind enough to ask for my comments on his essay. It should be noted that his piece was two years in the writing, this response has been thought about for around a fortnight.
I’d like to have a think about power. However scared we are as Christians to admit it, in every relationship there is a sharing of power, whether that relationship is organisation to organisation or between individuals. The way the power is shared alters the relationship. If there is an imbalance, then somewhere there becomes a “boss” and a “servant” – one party is exercising more power than the other. To borrow from Transactional Analysis, in an Adult-Adult relationship the power is shared and used equally. Another way of thinking about power is the Victim Triangle where one is either a “Victim”, a “Persecutor” or a “Rescuer” – according to the theory we all have preferred positions, but we all slip from one to another quite naturally. It is only when we recognise the dynamic that we are able to step away from the roles.
One of The Alethiophile’s concerns was the praising of the suffragettes, women who banded together to try to right an obvious imbalance of power. Women couldn’t vote for their preferred government, they had to put up with whomever men elected. The Alethiophile is rightly concerned about the violence the suffragettes inflicted on others. The Suffragist movement began in the UK after the 1832 Reform Act specifically excluded women from voting. But it began to get militant in 1905, disrupting political meetings, and by 1910 the first hunger strikes had begun. However, there aren’t many well publicised incidents of violence (David Lloyd George’s house was burned down by suffragettes; Emily Davis threw herself in front of the King’s horse at the Derby at Epsom) although there are doubtless very many incidences of bloody noses and personal injury to police officers trying to enforce the law. The violence mainly happened 1910-1914, and much of it was perpetrated upon women who were hunger striking, force feeding them. Hostilities were suspended for the duration of the First World War. It might be argued that women got the vote because of their patriotic actions during that war.
But in effect, the First World War removed so many men from the Home Font that the balance of power shifted. The suffragettes had named that imbalance and some of them literally fought against it – but what they sought was publicity for a cause they believed to be just. By articulating the injustice, the way was opened for it to be righted. but it was the power shift that meant it was able to be righted. People do not willingly give up power, however altruistic they may be (think of all those legacies left to churches which have to be used in very specific ways). It is notable that in spite of campaigning non violently from 1832-1910, nothing changed. The women simply did not have enough power for their voices to be heard, to articulate the wrong, let along the ability to force its correction.
I would love to be an Egalitarian. I really would. After working in a male dominated industry for 20 years, I know that women can survive, and thrive, in a largely male environment, but at some cost to themselves. Someone who is different can either do their very very best to blend in, or can choose to stand out as outrageously as possible – both are ways of seeking acceptance. Blending in for me meant laughing off the gender jokes, turning them round, being as hard as nails, always biting back, always giving even better than I got, never ever relaxing. Because it is all about the power. Historically, and as a generalisation, women in the workplace have not had power. I note the comments on your post from a stay at home Dad, who talks about power over children – well, yes. But between adults, generally, society assumes, and acts as if, power lies with the man. My experience at work tells me how hard it is to get that balance shifted to a point where people assume the power is distributed equally. I have heard it said that Christians should not seek power. I think that misses the point. There is always a distribution of power within any relationship, and that power can be shared, abused, constructive or destructive. Pretending the power is not there is an abdication of responsibility – for Christians just as much as anyone else. Power is implicit within the second great commandment – “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Not more than yourself, or less than yourself, but equally.
I’m not for a moment advocating violence against property or against people. The fight for legal equality is won in the UK (except of course in the good ol’ Church of England). But, and it’s a big but, my experience is that the power still lies with men. Once the power has shifted, then I’ll be a loud and proud and happy Egalitarian. Until then, I’ll stick with Feminism. Sadly, it’s going to take a while.