Is Feminism to Blame for Men’s Bad Behavior?

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This culture’s feminism is actually empowering men to be the worst versions of themselves. They get the sex without the commitment. They get the pregnancy without the baby. They get the date without picking up the check. They get the relationship without being a gentlemen.

No opening doors, no pulling out chairs, no providing, no protecting, and no male responsibility. Because hey… everything is equal. In other words, modern feminism is the perfect recipe for men to side-step God’s call for how to treat a woman. But a Godly man knows better. A Godly man knows he’s equal in value but different in role.

He knows that he can be a protector, a provider, and a lover without being “toxic” or “dangerous.” Men, it’s easy to support a movement that allows us to get lazy—it’s why so many men have already jumped on board. But don’t do what most men do. Do what Godly men do. Cherish women. Value women. Listen to women. But don’t ever escape your role in the process. // Dale Partridge

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I see variations of this anti-feminist sentiment all the time. Feminism is to blame for men’s bad behavior. Equality erodes male responsibility.

To the first claim, that feminism is at fault for men’s bad behavior: I actually agree that certain aspects of today’s liberal feminism encourage and sanctify men’s bad behavior.

For many liberal women, the litmus test for what’s feminist and empowering is anything a woman freely chooses to do. This may include porn, sex work, and other ways of sexually objectifying oneself. Sometimes this trivializes feminism: I wear high heels as a feminist statement that women can be whatever they want to be, including traditionally feminine! Sometimes this undermines feminism altogether: I’m going to objectify myself in the name of empowerment!

Feminism should not be just about celebrating each woman’s individual choice to do whatever she wants to do. It’s great that women have freedom and options. But at its core, feminism is about identifying and breaking down patriarchal values that even we as feminist women have internalized.

When we try to sanctify patriarchal values with feminism (like freely treating oneself as a sexual object or pursuing sex without commitment), we do give license to men to continue disempowering women, now with our consent and blessing. We do put ourselves in positions where men can easily harm, objectify, or disrespect us and other women, particularly women at risk of trafficking and abuse.

(I’m making a very important but tricky distinction here between a woman encouraging a man to view her as a sexual object and inviting unwanted sexual advances. I would argue that sex workers, for instance, encourage men to treat them and other women as sex objects, not only in the context of their work but elsewhere. Nonetheless, just because a woman gives consent to be objectified in a certain way doesn’t mean she gives consent to or desires other kinds of sexual attention or the same kind of sexual attention in a different context. A woman’s clothing, occupation, or behavior, however intentionally or unintentionally sexual, are not excuses for men to harass or assault her.)

There’s nothing feminist about women’s choices that harm and disrespect themselves and other women.

If we’re simply talking about that kind of free-for-all feminism, I completely agree that today’s feminism is bringing out the worst in men.

But if we’re talking about feminism at its most simplest definition — equality for women in all areas of life — this anti-feminist critique makes no sense. Equality cannot erode male responsibility.

Many anti-feminists erroneously think that feminism isn’t really about equality; it’s about ridding the world of men, doing everything without them, and replacing everything male with everything female.

While I’m sure you can find “feminist” sentiment of that nature, just as you can find anything online nowadays, that is not what equality means. Equality doesn’t mean men must stop being providers, protectors, and responsible human beings. It means that it’s not just men who can or must be providers, protectors, and responsible human beings as the situation arises. And it also means that men should be free to be nurturers and nurtured themselves.

Anti-feminists think of the world in terms of strictly gendered roles. There are limited Protector Roles, Provider Roles, and Responsible Human Beings Roles, and those roles encompass the whole purpose of a man’s life at all times, in every situation. It is impossible for a man to take on a Protected or Provided For role in any situation without ceasing to be a man.

According to this narrative, anti-feminists interpret women’s desire to be equal as women desiring to take those limited, all-encompassing, non-nuanced roles. Each time a woman takes a Provider, Protector, or Responsible Human Being role, she must bump a man into a Provided For or a Protected role, thus stripping him of all manly traits and responsibilities.

That’s not how the world works.

There are no all-encompassing roles in life, where one is only in every situation that particular role. The Bible and everyday life are full of godly men submitting to and seeking protection and provision from godly women, and vice versa.

In the same token, there is not a limited number of exclusive Responsible Human Being roles. There need not be a Door Holding Role limited to only one gender: “Oh, dear, that woman is holding the door open for me; therefore, I can never hold open a door for anybody else ever again.” Men can continue to hold open doors for women, and women can now hold open doors for men. Men are still free, able, and encouraged to be respectful and responsible in all areas of life now that women are free, recognized as, and encouraged to be respectful and responsible in all areas of life.

In getting rid of a one unilateral way men must treat women, feminism puts the onus of treating others respectfully onto the part of us that’s human. Men can hold doors, pay for the date, fight off the bad guy, and whatever else the Male Role requires because it’s the right thing to do as a human. It is a beautiful, good, human thing to do others a good turn, to show deference, to be generous, and to protect those weaker than oneself. It’s not about fulfilling a predetermine Male Role. It’s about being a moral human being.

When feminists want to hold open doors, pay for dates, and fight off the bad guy, they are not saying, “I want to be a man. I want to get rid of any opportunity for a man to do these things.” They are saying, “I want to be fully human too. I want to do others a good turn, show deference, be generous, and protect those weaker than oneself any time the situation arises, because these are human traits, human responsibilities.”

What happens when we shatter these restrictive, predetermined, exclusive roles? Now we have two people willing to fight off the bad guys. Now we have two people committed to putting others first. Now we have two people making sure the bills get paid. Now we have two people “outdoing one another in showing honor” (Romans 12:10) — all expectations required of both sexes in the Christian tradition.

Equality doesn’t destroy men’s moral responsibility. Equality strengthens it.

It is not good that man should be alone. I shall make an ezer kenegdoa savior, a rescuer, a strong helper suitable for him.

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8 thoughts on “Is Feminism to Blame for Men’s Bad Behavior?

  1. Abigail

    I love this! When I saw that post go viral on Facebook, I was like, “Yes! But also no!” I appreciate how well you explained both its truth and its limited perspective. The way you articulated the alternate vision of human equality and morality is really beautiful. It bothers me when Christian culture emphasizes the labels of “godly man” and “godly woman,” because even though there are ways that those categories are distinct, so much of life is just about being a godly person.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. David

    Hi, Bailey!

    I think the key sentence in this piece is: “Many anti-feminists erroneously think that feminism isn’t really about equality; it’s about ridding the world of men, doing everything without them, and replacing everything male with everything female”

    This status anxiety, IMO, drives a lot of evangelical anti-feminism — heck, I might even say it drives a lot of evangelical /behavior/, period. But the thing is, someone who’s in the grip of that anxiety will have a very hard time engaging with real live feminists, right? Because clearly, feminism is the threat here; why would they listen to /bad, threatening people/ with their /bad, threatening ideas/? It’s tough to get through that armor, and easy to think you never will.

    But maybe the *second* most important sentence comes from your quote in the intro: “Listen to women.” *That* part gives me hope

    I think that, when religious conservatives listen to women, they won’t just hear survivor advocates like the Wartburg Watch; I think they’ll hear voices like *yours*. And to the extent that they shift away from patriarchy, away from victim blaming, away from purity culture — to the extent, in short, that women are treated like full, equal people — it’ll be because people like you and your readers have patiently said, over and over, “There’s a better, more loving way.” So keep on keepin’ on! Everyone in this little community is doin’ God’s work.:)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bailey Steger

      Feminism really is threatening to many different people (it used to scare the heck out of me). And it’s son encouraging now, because many feminist issues have now become sort of everyone’s issue, like the #metoo movement. Everyone has to grapple with them and care about them even if they’re not feminist, and women’s voices are coming from all kinds of different theological beliefs and shades of complementarian and egalitarian thought. It’s really great to see.

      P.S. It’s good to hear from you!

      Like

  3. Ali

    Breath of fresh air. Thank you. So fed up of reading about stilettos and implants being empowering. Wake up women!! I used to think we needed to celebrate the feminine and that we women were more nurturing, gentle, blah blah blah. My myth-busting gender stereotype-exploding daughter has taught me a lot.
    Thank you for raising this. We need to stop keeping ourselves in our boxes.

    Like

  4. Hollydays

    I enjoyed your article generally, especially as your argument developed and I completely agree with how you’ve explained feminism as men can fulfil the stereotypical position as the provider etc but so can women.
    However, as I was enjoying the latter part of your post I couldn’t stop thinking about your stance that self objectification is trivialising feminism?
    Wearing high heals in no way objectifies a women. And I can understand why you’d say sex work or porn objectifies a women, but if they are choosing that for themselves it actually in no way objectifies them as it is their choice so they are an equal to the man, as it is as much their choice than the man’s. For me, that is feminism, and it in my opinion doesn’t trivialise it in any way.

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    • Bailey Steger

      THIS is where the conversation gets good and complicated!

      I wouldn’t say that wearing high heels is necessarily self-objectifying, but I don’t see it as a feminist statement either. I don’t believe feminism is purely about the self-expression of one individual female; I believe feminism is about dismantling patriarchy. In that way, saying that my choice to wear high heels (and I do!) is a “feminist statement” trivializes feminism to just a celebration of whatever I want to do as a woman.

      I believe there are many things that women choose to do that are destructive to themselves and others. I am not pro-choice, for instance, and I am not pro-sex work, because even though a woman may freely consent to those things, I think they’re destructive to herself and to others. That is to say, a woman’s consent and choice are critical in many ways and in many things, and often define the morality and immorality or the healthiness or unhealthiness of actions, but choice and consent are not the be-all, end-all considerations to what is good for either an individual woman or society in general.

      With sex work, for example, I would argue that even if a woman freely consents to sex work, it’s *still* objectifying herself. She is consenting for men to use her and objectify her for their pleasure, and her willingness to allow them to do so encourages men to view other women that way.

      Patriarchy has COMPLETELY warped women’s desires to the point where we may indeed experience a strong desire to objectify and dehumanize ourselves for men’s pleasure; we may even feel empowered by it; but that still doesn’t make it good or a step towards dismantling patriarchy. It’s in the same vein as a child who’s been molested and now seeks sexual encounters at a young age or seeks sexually destructive activities as an older teen. It may feel empowering to be wanted sexually, but that desire and empowerment is still not healthy and does not dismantle patriarchal notions that women are to be used by men in whatever way they want.

      I come from a background where many women choose to believe destructive things about themselves (like women shouldn’t lead). Some are forced to believe or act as if they believe these things, but many women *do* genuinely believe that these negative and disempowering beliefs about women are God’s best. While I don’t support penalizing or shaming women for these beliefs (I don’t think abortion or sex workers should be criminalized, for instance), I don’t encourage those choices, and I certainly don’t call their voluntary adherence to patriarchal views of women “feminism.”

      Like

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