Recent feminist reasons for traditional gender roles?

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Having taught this semester on feminist ethical theory for the first time, I've been thinking about the various kinds and motivations for feminisms. My recent venture into Ken Wilber's world of color-terms for waves of value change over time has given me some categories for thinking about these (see my Dec 5 posting on Wilber for more on the color terms).

Pre-Gilligan feminisms were generally motivated by orange concerns. Orange involves such Enlightenment ideas as equality, progress, and achievement. This led to treating men and women as if there's no real difference, expecting women to do everything men do and encouraging women to break out of traditional roles. Ifeminism is a good example of the only really consistent feminism based on pure orange principles. It insists on equality for women but not to the point of being unfair to men (and thus, interestingly, opposes affirmative action for women). If you're going to stick with pure orange motivations, the ifeminists (who also call themselves libertarian feminists) are the way to go. I've found many worthwhile commentaries and insightful perceptions coming from this crowd.

Finally, green allows real sensitivity to women's values, lives, ways of developing knowledge, ways of arriving at moral choices, etc. Green is the multicultural, pluralistic value of seeking and accepting the other. This allowed people like Carol Gilligan to say that women don't need to be forced into male molds but should be allowed to be women.

What interests me most about the green motivation is that it allows back in some traditional (i.e. blue) views about gender roles but from a green motivation, which according to Wilber is two colors more mature than blue. Unfortunately, it also allows some really dangerous attitudes when combined with red (egocentric and power-motivated values). When the red values lead to a reaction against those who wrongly or ignorantly mistreat women, anger results and fuels a reaction against such people. The green values led to the original perception, but the red fuels the reaction, and men or some group in power is seen as the enemy. This actually leads to abandoning the general green outlook, since now we have a group that isn't welcomed into the pluralistic, multicultural, just-try-to-understand-people community of love. So we don't want let the red hate full us away from the originally good insight from green, even if the initial anger of the red element is justified.

How do we see the different motivations, then? The orange equality principle (at least as the only consideration) seems to me to ignore something fundamental -- men and women, though equal in value, are not the same. We tend to think in somewhat different ways, including how we approach moral questions and how we come to understand the world. This isn't as radical a difference as some might suggest, and it's worth thinking about what men and women can learn from trying to understand these differences better, but my point is that the differences are there and sometimes will justify differences in behavior.

I'm not going to detail what I think these are. I just want to make the point that Gilligan has opened the door for this. It's interesting that green has now supported a largely blue tendency, though it won't support many of the ways it's been carried out. Orange on its own won't recognize women as women. Green is necessary, but that welcomes blue back in if red doesn't intercede and prevent it. This seems to me to be the sort of thing that will move us toward Wilber's yellow (integrating the various color-values into a system that allows more balance and recognizes the good in each wave).

The way this needs to be done is to recognize that women are valuable for who they are and what they do contribute to society. The orange insistence that being a wife and mother is no contribution to society undermines the best sort of feminism we can have, as green values reveal. Raising children, the next generation of humanity, is about as momentous a taks as you could have. When I people wonder why my wife would want to be a stay-home mom, I lament the influence of pure orange feminism. So this blue traditionalist value leads to the right result but just didn't have a reason behind it other than tradition (even if that tradition came from God, which should be a good enough reason if it really is from God). Now feminism has reached a point where it has given a reason for this sort of thing in terms even an atheist can appreciate.

The moral of the story? The orange opposition to gender roles simply on principle actually ignores the more mature green values that blue traditionalists don't necessarily have but was inherent in the basic idea that blue values would have supported. A Christian who believes the biblical views about male and female as wholly different expressions of the divine image and as a living representation of the difference of roles but equality of essence within the Trinity should only feel confirmed by this. Many reasons traditionally given for this sort of view wouldn't necessarily be the right ones (e.g. that women aren't as smart and therefore shouldn't be in the college-educated workforce), but who ever said our reasons were God's?

If this line of thought intrigues you, I suggest you investigate the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I don't agree with these people on some important things. I think their stance on gender-inclusive translation is too extreme, I wish they had more philosophical nuance and understanding of the basic issues with their treatment of homosexuality (on which see my thoughts), and I don't agree with all the specifics of which gender differences in society are biblically-endorsed. However, I think they're moving people in the right direction on this issue (i.e. from pure orange to a more balanced blue-orange-green) in a time when almost no one, even among blue-traditionalist evangelical Christians, is willing to move beyond the pure orange brands of feminism. Some of their stuff on the biblical issues is far more responsible than any of the mainstream egalitarian stuff I've seen.

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