Saturday, June 26, 2010

Valerie Saiving on Hypermasculinity of Modernity: The Challenge of Postmodernity

If I have read Valerie Saiving’s ground-breaking essay on feminist theology “The Human Situation: A Feminine View,” I did so years ago and have forgotten it.  Now that I’ve been introduced (or perhaps reintroduced) to her, I intend to read anything I can find by her.

In Susan Henking’s summary of Saiving’s essay to which I have just linked, I’m struck by Saiving’s claim that modernity is a “hypermasculine culture,” and the feminized society that critics of that culture often seek to build in reaction to it runs the risk of accentuating some of the negative effects of hypermasculine culture itself, when it comes to the feminine.  As it reacts to the hypermasculine culture of modernity, critique of this culture risks, Saiving argues, affirming the loss of self that is one of the chief effects of hypermasculine culture on the feminine.

In my analysis of Eve Tushnet’s neoconservative Catholic theology yesterday, I noted that many communities of faith today—including the Catholic church—have invested heavily in maintaining patriarchy at all costs, as the surrounding secular culture shifts radically from modernity to postmodernity at a global level.

Many communities of faith around the world today are in deeply entrenched reaction to the cultural shift from modernity to postmodernity, and to the renegotiation of gender roles that this shift entails.  If modernity was a hypermasculine culture, as Saiving argues (and I think she’s right), postmodernity must move in some other direction, as a critique of that culture.  It must do so because modernity has had its day in the sun, and because some of the effects of modernity have been so deleterious for the planet and for the global human community that we have no choice except to look at new cultural paradigms for the future.

It must move in a direction that more effectively balances male and female lives and male and female principles.  It must move in that direction if we expect the planet to survive, because one of the most serious prices we’ve paid for the hypermasculine culture of modernity is the destruction of our global ecosystem, with its checks and balances necessary to sustain life on this planet.

My generation, the generation that occupied the tail-end of modernity, has bequeathed both a mess and a challenge to subsequent generations.  If younger readers are following this blog, I hope that some of you will hear and accept the challenge implicit in Saiving’s essay.

We desperately need a new way of thinking about and balancing male and female roles.  And, for all the security they appear to offer, paths like that sketched in Eve Tushnet’s work—the “Catholic” path, which sets gender roles in stone and continues male privilege—are simply not viable paths to a bright and productive future for our planet, or for the human community.