Thursday, October 16, 2008

Gender Matters

For the past twenty-five hundred years in Western culture, the ideal woman has been disciplined by cultural codes that require a closed mouth (silence), a closed body (chastity), and an enclosed life (domestic confinement).
--Cheryl Glenn

Shelly Mandell, president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women, introduced Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at a rally recently by saying - in an echo of Gloria Steinem a generation ago - "This is what a feminist looks like." As a women's historian, I would have to disagree. Mrs. Palin, despite her membership in the organization Feminists for Life, is not really a feminist. She is, rather, a "maternalist"- a woman who accepts the gendered division of labor but uses her assignment to home and family to claim the right to public participation.
--Sonya Michel

The effort to create new metaphors for God bespeaks an understanding of monotheism that rejects the worship of a single image of God in favor of a new and inclusive notion of unity. Many Jewish feminists have pointed out that the inability of most Jews to imagine God as anything but male is a form of idolatry in that it identifies a finite image with the reality of God. Jews are used to thinking of idols as stones and carved figures, but verbal images can be equally idolatrous in their fixedness--indeed, can actually be more dangerous for being invisible. Underlying feminist metaphors, by way of contrast, is a conception of monotheism, not as a single image of God, but, in Falk's phrase, as "an embracing unity of a multiplicity of images." . . . God is not male. God is not a lord and king. God is not a being outside us, over against us, who manipulates and controls us and raises some people over others. God is not the dualistic Other who authorizes all other dualisms. God is the source and wellspring of life in its infinite diversity. God--as our foremothers seem to have known--is present in all aspects of life, but present not just as father and protector but as one who empowers us to act creatively ourselves. . . . God is known in community, encountered by the Jewish people at Sinai at the same time they became a community. But God embraces the inexhaustible particularities of all communities and is named fully by none.
--Judith Plaskow

he decisively broke with the conventions of his day that excluded women from receiving instruction on the Law and taught them openly and individually on the same profound matters he taught his male disciples.
When Jesus taught the multitudes, he employed metaphors from a woman's experience to draw their interest. He visited places where women commonly gathered. Beside a well, he engaged the Samaritan woman in serious theological conversation about living water. And here, in the house at Bethany, he spoke at length with Mary, despite her unfinished domestic duties and pressure from her sister.
--Carolyn Custis James

With the blessings of God, this [translation of mine] is the first complete English translation of the Quran that uses [an alternative to] the original [and male-traditional] meaning of "to beat" [a wife] in 4:34 which was [in my translation] "to go away." The translator gives three arguments for why this is so: . . . .
1. The word "beat" is a command which the Prophet chose not to carry out; and 2. The Arabic word "beat" has 25 meanings so why chose a meaning that does not follow the legal and moral principles of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet? 3. Interpreting the word as "beat" contradicts 2:231 and fosters divorce rather than marriage, commands to immorality and prohibits morality which is one of the definitions of a hypocrite in the Quran (see 9:67).
--Laleh Bakhtiar

According to Aristotle’s aesthetics, a narrative must be arranged according to some organizing principle. . . . Aristotle also offers us the classificatory system of binaries to help us order our stories, to order our experiences, to order ourselves. . . . But perhaps Woman can (un)speak in the unthought, not-yet-thought, non-spaces produced by alternative paradigms, by new idioms, by paralogical and paratactical and, thus, illegitimate discourses. What . . . if our narrative had no syllogistic, metonymic, linear or triangular structure? . . . . What if Truth were a Woman . . . what then?
Cixous replies,
Then all stories would have to be told differently. . . .
--Michelle Baliff

Females blurt out a direct translation of what should be formulated indirectly. . . . since woman does not bound herself, she must be bounded. The celebrated Greek virtue of self-control (sophrosyne) has to be defined differently for men and for women, Aristotle maintains. Masculine sophrosyne is rational self-control and resistance to excess, but for the woman [according to Aristotle] sophrosyne means obedience and consists in submitting herself to the control of others.
--Anne Carson

And I finally realized the irony of my reasoning: by enthymemically arguing my case from existing commonsense assumptions . . . , I was retreating into an Aristotelian rhetoric of common sense (i.e., the sense we hold in common), which was the very rhetoric that my manuscript challenged. Now I grant you, Aristotelian rhetoric is a very powerful, very useful way to reason. But as I argued . . . , it can be gender blind, that is, naïvely blind to concerns of gender. What I was realizing in my own life was that it can also be race blind. . . . When asking myself whether my defense of Woolf, Daly, and Rich was as race blind as Aristotle’s treatise of rhetoric was gender blind, I answered myself with a well-intentioned, “Of course it is.”
--Krista Ratcliffe

Western rhetorics, at least the legacies of them that we have inherited through scholarship, are demonstrably dominated by elite male viewpoints and experiences.
--Jacqueline Jones Royster

We must risk, then, getting the story crooked. We must look crookedly, a bit out of focus, into the various strands of meaning in a text in such a way as to make the categories, trends, and reliable identities of history a little less inevitable, less familiar. In short, we need to see beyond the familiar to the unfamiliar, to the unseen.
--Cheryl Glenn

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