November 12, 2003
Promise Keepers

Allen's passing mention of the Promise Keepers reminded me of a remarkable piece I read a few years back, by a radical lesbian who attended one of their rallies disguised as a teenage boy. No, seriously. The piece isn't online, unfortunately, but there's a brief summary of her impressions here:

The Promise Keepers, in all their contradictory splendor, turned out to be something I had never expected to find, a right-wing Christian group that was sort of feminist - and was doing some good. They weren't all good. They do oppose abortion rights and gay rights, they're quite suspicious of sex generally, and about a fifth of their messages are poisonous platitudes about women needing to submit to their husbands and men needing to take authority back. But the other four fifths of the messages totally contradict this one. Most of the speeches from the podium were how men need to stop being men as this culture defines them-violent, selfish, emotionless, uncaring, and dominating. By and large, what men were being told to do was stop abusing and stranding their friends, wives and children and learn how to nurture themselves and the people in their lives.

It was a startlingly feminist message. And in some ways, it was a message that really spoke to me, because there's a part of me that's a lot like a man. Many lesbians - and lots of straight women, for that matter - have grown up terrified of not being tough enough, fearful of weakness and effeminacy. I knew how much it had hurt me to feel this fear that is part of every masculine being, and I was beginning to understand how much it hurt men. In the Thunderdome, clutching weeping men who thought I was a boy, I finally knew for sure that men were hurt by gender just as much as women were.

Posted by Camassia at November 12, 2003 01:14 PM | TrackBack

Aside from the gay rights issue, the things you mention that they oppose fit well within the standards of "choice". If they want to consider these things as a sin, then they are free to do so and live their lives accordingly.

Which, in my opinion, does make them feminist as long as they do not try to enact every sin into law.

Posted by: Joel on November 12, 2003 03:13 PM

Short comment: I'm with Joel.

Unfurling the banner: it's long past time that feminists looked past the superficial images that religious (not "spiritual") groups project about gender and sex. Feminism has an unfortunate knee-jerk reaction--one I am guilty of--to anything that has strong foundations in an institution (here Christianity and a somewhat fundamentalist Protestant congregation) that was at some point in feminist thought labeled as "anti-feminist." In order for social, political, and *religious* progress to continue, then old paradigms must be exploded. By this I mean not only stereotypes of gender, but also the antipathetic stance feminism has taken toward mainstream Christianity.

By the same token, critical thinking is still necessary, especially if (to follow Joel's lead) we come to issues of "choice" in a supposedly secular political system. Enacting sin into law is not the answer, especially in a country where sin and society can be extraordinarily relative.

Posted by: andi on November 13, 2003 09:00 AM

From what I recall of the article, which admittedly I read a while ago, there wasn't any discussion of legislation at the event she attended. It was just exhortations about personal behavior and criticisms of popular culture. However, that was in the early days of the movement, and I wouldn't be surprised if some 'mission creep' set in since then, especially since the group is supported by some overtly political groups. But I really don't know, since I haven't tracked what they've been up to. And in case it wasn't clear, I'm personally opposed to legislating those sorts of things.

Andi, I agree with you totally. I think the point Minkowitz was trying to make was that even a conservative group like PK is dealing with many of the same social problems feminists are, and there is some common ground. The differences are real and serious, but it may not be totally hopeless.

It would be kind of cool if there were a more liberal version of PK, wouldn't it? Maybe that would help the churches' man problem...

Posted by: Camassia on November 13, 2003 10:06 AM

The liberal segments of America's political world seem resistent to doing anything that would seem to support "tradition" (in a pejoritive, i.e. racists, classist, or sexist sense). It's a subtle resistance, but it keeps liberals, like feminists, from learning how to change the system they spend so much energy argueing about.
In short, again: I'm with Camassia!

Posted by: Andi on November 13, 2003 07:23 PM

I spent about a year in a PK group that met during lunch at work. I didn't really fit in. They were Evangelicals. I was Lutheran. They were southerners. I was a northerner. They were Republicans. I was a Democrat. But they were very decent guys trying hard to do the right thing.

Your source's description fits well. What I would say is that PK pushes a particular theology but more importantly, a kind of soft patriarchalism. It's bad to beat your woman or cheat on her. On the other hand, she should stay home, raise the kids and let you make the household decisions. Who could disagree with former, but is the latter really connected? In their ideology, it is. Women must give up independence in order to receive the gift of decent treatment from men.

There are other ways. I'm a middle-of-the-road kind of person. More radical expressions of feminism that are ready to jettison the male role in raising children do not strike me as reasonable, if for no other reason than what is going to be the "civilizing" force on men. Patriarchy is no longer acceptable in western culture nor should it be. Browning suggests mining the Hebrew Bible and the Greek Testament for its texts pointing toward a "covenant of equal regard" that gives both parents responsibility for child rearing and grants both opportunities for personal development.

The problem, of course, is that our political economy is not geared to such an approach. We have "liberated" women but not adjusted to allow and encourage men to participate in family care. The result is a lot of stress on families and especially women. As long as our country worships nothing but maximizing some abstract concepts of "free markets" and "profit," we're not likely to make much progress in that direction.

Posted by: Allen Brill on November 14, 2003 04:36 PM
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