Thursday, October 25, 2012

Margaret Farley's Just Love: More on Theories of Gender Complementarity

More from Margaret Farley on the notion of gender complementarity that has come to play such a central role in the theologies of male-dominant religious traditions since the latter half of the 20th century: the following are two passages from Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics (NY: Continuum, 2006), that, to my mind, make very important points:

The majority of contemporary theologies eschew the kinds of gendered hierarchies of the Christian past.  Few if any theologians today argue that women are intellectually inferior to men.  Not many argue that a binary division of gender characteristics (men are strong, women weak; men are active, women passive; men appeal to requirements of justice, women to compassion; men prefer principles, women focus on relationships) applies absolutely.  So theological claims for gender hierarchy are to some extent removed or moderated, the most contestable attributions of gender characteristics have faded, and in some theologies gender plays a completely new and transforming role.  There is, however, no serious or widespread move to eliminate the binary construction of gender as such.  Yet within Christianity there is some basis for doing just this, at least in the context of relationships among Christians (p. 140).


The solution to the gender divide, however, does not lie in an uncritical notion of "complementarity."  No one of us is complete as a person, and maybe not as a gendered person.  Yet when all determinations of, for example, masculine and feminine "traits" prove nonuniversal; when these characterizations of what is normatively a woman or a man prove deeply culturally constructed; when someone, for example, do not find themselves in the descriptions of the traits they are supposed to represent; then we must see these characterizations as what they are: social and cultural stereotypes that promote hierarchical relations, and that do not, in the end, succeed in making us complements cross a gender divide (pp. 156-7).

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