Friday 29 August 2014

Patriarchy, Feminism and Complementarianism defined - the ultimate nature of the relationship between men and women

1. Patriarchy: Men lead. In all situations in private and public life, it is right and necessary that men take leadership. The male sex is primary; therefore, in an ultimate sense, society and reality should be, and will be, organized around the needs of men.

2. Feminism: Women should be privileged. In all situations and circumstances in private and public life, it is right and necessary that women are privileged. The female sex is primary; therefore, in an ultimate sense, society and reality should be, and will be, organized around the needs of women.

3. Complementarianism: Men and women have distinct roles and responsibilities. In some situations it is right and proper that men lead and are privileged, in some situations that women lead and are privileged.


Due to its unfamiliarity, complementarianism requires further explanation:

The sexes are complementary, two different parts of a single whole. But not two 'halves' whatever that might mean - rather, two different but necessary elements.

Complementarianism entails that each sex alone (and therefore, each individual person) - while it can survive (for a while), is in some ultimate (metaphysical) spiritual sense incomplete; and the fullness of spiritual development therefore requires both sexes (and therefore at least two persons - one man and one woman) in a dyadic fashion.


Note that I utterly reject the meaningfulness and possibility of Equality of the sexes - because Equality just-does mean Sameness - and the sexes just-are Different (or else we would not be having this discussion).

(In fact, not just sexes but people are different. And people who are different deserve and require different treatment. 'Sameness' is never more than expedient, contextual and approximate.)

I know that sameness is not what Equality is 'supposed to' mean; but I am saying that this sameness is, in fact, what Equality does mean - or else sometimes Equality is just an alternative word for Feminism.


Other (more subtle, more nuanced) meanings of Equality cannot be held - the other-meanings will be too slippery, they will inevitably slide-into the meaning 'sameness'.

Equality is a falsehood, a fake abstraction, and to impose Equality is impossible - therefore Equality is evil in practice, because it is false, and to impose falsehood is impossible, and to try and impose an impossibility is necessarily to do evil.


Both Patriarchy and Feminism are ultimately accepting that one or other sex will dominate overall; and the disagreement is over which sex will dominate; and which will be (therefore) subordinate.

History tells us that (like it or not) Patriarchy is socially-sustainable, for many dozens of generations, for many thousands of years.

Feminism is, by contrast, very recent, with only a few generations track record. But objective social analysis over the past century or two shows us that Feminism is parasitic, uncreative, self-destroying as a general policy - hence it is unsustainable over the long term.


Therefore,  Patriarchy, Feminism and Complementarianism are, I think, the only actually possible relationships between the sexes - and, of these, only Patriarchy and Complementarianism are viable.

The question then is, of Patriarchy and Complementarianism , which is true and which is best?


If the relationship between the sexes is to be anything more than mere social expediency (something that can be wrangled-over and experimented-with indefinitely) then we need to look deeper into the justification for social arrangements - to ask 'why?' - and this leads back as far as the mind can reach. 

My argument here is that Complementarianism is true and right; and I can argue that this is backed up by historical evidence (but this depends on how it is interpreted) and also that it feels right (but others may feel differently). The only decisive kind of argument is one based on reality: are men and women really complementary, or not?


Until Mormonism, Complementarianism lacked an explicit metaphysics, theology and philosophy. Mormonism has thrived for eight generations and seems to be well set, but complementarianism does not have the long track record of sustainability which is seen for Patriarchy.

However, I suggest that Complementarianism does seem to be an unarticulated 'norm' towards which Patriarchy tends in actual practice.

I mean by this that the religion, the ideology, the law, may be Patriarchal - asserting male domination in every situation - but under stable conditions and with social development, tacitly but effectively women come to dominate some areas of life; and this can be seen as validating the reality of Complementarianism.


The most important question about Patriarchy and Complementarianism is: which is true? Is it that men are naturally leaders and naturally dominant in all situations; or are there domains in which women are naturally leaders and naturally dominant?

And - given that various social arrangements are possible - what is the Good, right, and proper form of social arrangement? Specifically, what is the best social arrangement from a Christian perspective?


Ultimately, this refers back to the ultimate purpose of human life, both to salvation and also to the possibility of what is variously termed spiritual progression, theosis, sanctification - which is the divinization of Humankind, to become Sons and Daughters of God.

For mainstream Christians, from this ultimate perspective, Men and Women are interchangeable; either a man or a woman considered in isolation can be saved, and either a man or woman can in isolation go through the fullest process of divinization.

More exactly, for (most) mainstream Christians, there is no pre-mortal life, so sexuality is only an attribute of mortal life - people are born either a man or a woman; but in eternal life sexuality is stripped away and people are neither men nor women.


So, for mainstream Christians, sexuality is a temporary expediency, not fundamental, not structural to our divine natures - indeed sexuality and sexual difference is a rather negative, earthly hence not-Heavenly thing. This ultimately accounts for the chronic negativity Christianity has displayed towards the body, sexuality, marriage and family - so powerfully documented for me in the works of Charles Williams - and the tendency to give highest status to the solitary celibate ascetic.

For mainstream Christians, social sexual arrangments are merely a matter of expediency - and considerations of expediency lead to Patriarchy.

It is NOT that the social structures of Patriarchy are actually based-upon and built-upon the ultimate structure of the mainstream understanding of the Christian religion - but rather it is that Patriarchy is socially expedient compared with Feminism, and mainstream Christianity does not conflict with this.


But for Mormons the situation is different. Men and women can be saved individually to eternal life and can undergo very considerable spiritual progression; but to attain the very highest level of divinization requires the dyad of a man and woman together in a celestial marriage.

Thus, for Mormonism, sex is is not so much biological as metaphysical: part of the very structure of reality. Sex goes back to pre-mortal life, to pre-existence. Indeed, it (probably) goes back to before we were made spiritual children of God. So the eternal seeds or potentialities which were 'pre-spirit-human' were either male or female.

The implication is that Mormonism does conflict with Patriarchy, and does imply by contrast a system which treats the sexes as complementary.

Mormonism fundamentally contradicts the kind of Patriarchy which has been seen in human history (and including sometimes in Christian history) and which is argued-for by some modern Christians where all men dominate all women, and all women are submissive to all men, in all circumstances.


The situation envisaged by Mormonism is complex and contextual - but the basic complementarity is between (male) Priesthood and (female) Motherhood.

In practice, on earth and during mortal life - not all men are priesthood holders, not all women are mothers; and it is conceivable that men might be called mothers or be made to function biologically as mothers, and women might be called priests and enact priestly roles; but in reality and in principle and ultimately and over eternity - these are the proper and sexually differentiated roles of men and women.

Social organization ought-to reflect the difference; and men ought-to dominate those aspects of life pertaining to priesthood functions, while women ought-to dominate those areas of life pertaining to motherhood.

The precise definitions and details of what this complementarity of Priesthood and Motherhood means in practice and how it may be implemented are not important, and indeed are not prescribed - what I want to clarify now is that this is an example - it is the primary example - of complementarity.

No doubt there are others.



Adam G. said...

*I mean by this that the religion, the ideology, the law, may be Patriarchal - asserting male domination in every situation - but under stable conditions and with social development, tacitly but effectively women come to dominate some areas of life; and this can be seen as validating the reality of Complementarianism.*

My tentative thought: the realm of the formal and theoretical is probably a male realm, so ideology, law, and public religion will tend to be male dominant. I don't think there is much of a distinction between formally asserting that men are dominant everywhere, but in practice having informally marked spheres where women are the actors, and formally recognizing the different spheres. It may also be that when people talk about men always leading or being dominant, they are thinking of leadership and dominance as intrinsically male roles, so by definition not applicable to spheres where women have a principal role.

In short, while the distinction you make is robust theoretically, I'm not sure there is much of a real world distinction between patriarchy in many of its iterations and complementarianism.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

"The question then is, of Patriarchy and Complementarianism , which is true and which is best?"

The best is the is least likely to collapse to Feminism. (With the weight of experience to decide which that is.) Because feminism is not only unsustainable in the long run but massively corrupting, destructive and potentially fatal for the peoples / "nations" that succumb to it.

Experience shows that Feminism thrives under the protection of a counter-majoritarian ethnic strategy imposed and sustained by deceit - indeed by such extreme and pervasive deceit that only advanced technological means of mass-produced lying will do. And Feminism adds many terrible lies of its own.

Given that, I don't see room for the better position to be the one that on balance is less productive of truth. Whichever position less often leads to feminism (and even more importantly, whichever one less often succumbs to the counter-majoritarian strategy of mass deceit that underpins the success of Feminism) will eventually produce more truth.

It doesn't seem likely either that the worse, riskier position, the one that is likelier to slide into a reign of liars and into cultural and genetic disaster, will be true.

It might be. There's no reason to think that the universe is the sort of thing of which a true and complete account could be written, no reason to think that there is any harmony in its parts. But there also doesn't seem to be any special reason why in this case the doctrine that leads to an increased chance that its believers will go over a social and moral cliff and be destroyed would be the true one.

The reasonable default assumption would be that the doctrine that more often leads to ruin is in some important way untrue, even if its parts can be presented in a way that makes them all sound like indisputable common sense.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

There is also the question of which doctrine is best for the present and the coming age, bearing in mind the Great Simplification, or Idiocracy.

Titus Didius Tacitus said...

A simple implication of Complementarianism is that while the effect of Feminism might be bad overall it might be good in areas where women actually ought to dominate, such as in issues touching on motherhood. Like abortion, for instance. The prevailing argument that if you're not a woman, shut up! should be producing good and moral results on abortion (and related issues).

John Goes said...

In your presentation, Bruce, fatherhood becomes subsumed by priesthood - or else you have to complicate your presentation substantially.

I am aware of some families in which father knows best (over various issues) and others in which mother knows best. Different families seem to have different ideals natural to their natures in this respect. However, in my observations I would say that mothers tend to have more natural leadership over children (and general childraising issues) < 7 years old and men when children are getting older.

If you agree more or less with this, how does priesthood fit in?

My understanding of patriarchy (as interpreted by Catholicism and Orthodoxy, for instance) is that complementarity is "built in", with men and women having the relationship between Christ and Church. Though the law (and perhaps the last word) is from the man, men should rule wisely and as Christians. And this means that wives should be given their due voice - particularly over such matters in which they have natural power and insight.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Adam - Well, I disagree, or else I would not have written this. In particular, Patriarchy can be taken a very long way indeed, and into serf-like exploitation and denial of humanity and agency - IF there is no complementarian strand to the regulatory ideal/ideology (as, for instance, half a billion monotheistic women could perhaps confirm - if they were permitted to speak on the subject without harsh reprisals).

@TDT - I'm afraid I can't follow your argument today.

@JG - No - the situation is precisely not symmetrical.

Motherhood and Fatherhood are not symmetrical, nor opposite equivalents.

Nor are they the most relevant complements.

MC said...


If Complementarianism really led to acceptance of feminist abortion dogma, then Mormons ought to accept abortion, but in fact they oppose it intensely.

Since complementarianism requires women to follow the (male) priesthood's explication of God's will regarding abortion, or any other wicked feminist principle, then the infiltration of feminist extremism is effectively cut off.

MC said...

I had a local LDS leader tell me once (by way of advice, not commandment), that, while every important decision of a married couple should be made together, there are some decisions on which one spouse ought to have final say. He gave three examples:

1. The husband should have final say on what city you live in, since that is usually determined by his employment.

2. The wife should have final say on what house to live in within that city, since that is her principal domain (and she's there much more of the day).

3. The wife should have final say on how many children you have, since that burden falls primarily on her.

He wouldn't have deigned to give his advice a fancy name like Complementarianism, but it seems to have the same philosophical basis.

Bruce Charlton said...

@MC - Good example. Complementarianism is a horrible word - but there is already a Conservative Protestant/ Evangelical discourse 'ongoing' using that term, so I adopted it for that reason.

John Rockwell said...

The bible appears to learn more towards patriarchy than complementarism. Though there are elements of completarianism:

That is in any context involving men and women. Women must not rule over men. Else such inverts the natural order and is a sin. Men howeved may rule over women.

ajb said...


Bruce Charlton said...

@Jr - "Women must not rule over men. Else such inverts the natural order and is a sin. Men however may rule over women."

No, I don't see *that* clearly stated in the Bible - but neither do I suggest complementarianism is in the Bible, nor indeed the Book of Mormon.

It is mostly a summary of ideas in D&C and clarified in later LDS prophetic teachings.

MC said...

I wasn't mocking the word "complementarianism," just alluding to how what seems like simple homespun wisdom often has a rather deep philosophical background.

Is "dyadism" taken?

John Goes said...

Bruce, I did not claim that fatherhood and motherhood were symmetrical. I asked how fatherhood fit into your schema.

Fatherhood is surely very important, particularly given the analogy between earthly fatherhood and our relationship to our Divine Father.

Bruce Charlton said...

@JG - OK, sorry to have misunderstood.

I would agree that Fatherhood is a distinctive quality of Men in a profound and metaphysical sense. But There is not really a 'schema' in the sense that the male-female qualities are not paired, nor are male-female qualities equal in number.

It *could* be, for example, that (ultimately, if this could be known) there are several distinctive male qualities but one distinctive female quality - the point is that both are needed for the highest spiritual development; not that there is any kind of numerical or quantitative symmetry or equality.

SO, the picture in the mind should not be two halves of a sphere or the interlocking yin and yan sign - but it *could* be symbolized more like an orange missing a segment.