Feminism is disgusting. Ugly. We saw it most recently with that whole Susan Komen Foundation debacle, and we hear about it frequently — and will keep hearing about it, such as when, say, evangelical translators start messing with pronouns in the NIV.
Really, we should expect feminism to get about in secular stories. Already in this series I’ve discussed one secular stereotype or negative icon: the whole “warrior princess” or shooting-up-heroine ideal. Yet unique to some evangelical “lore,” our teachings and our fiction, are at least two other feminine icons — not bad ones, altogether, but ones that should be combined, applying their Biblical ideas, and rejecting the wrong ones.
Do that in reality, and it will reflect in our stories. Do that in our fiction, and female characters will become stronger, better-rounded, more-realistic, and will glorify God.
So far, though, I’ve only talked about women. I’m thinking I’ll get to the negative icons and/or stereotypes about males, next week. I’m not sure, though, if I should be worried, because I’ve identified far more evangelical ideal sets for males than I have for females.
But first, a thought about the term icon, which here I’ve been using interchangeably with stereotype. Last week, Fred said he didn’t believe the term fit with my suggested examples. “They aren’t focused enough, and they seem more like stereotypes,” he wrote. Unlike icons, stereotypes distort truth, instead of summarizing it into a visual symbol that communicates truth, and which by itself is not harmful and can be positive, he said.
Fred and I have a series coming up soon about icons: the philosophy of them, Christian history with them, and their difference from characters. So it’s likely I learn more, then.
At this point, though, I do think the word icon can describe these kinds of stereotypes, mainly because of how evangelicals treat a supposed human who embodies these traits. Of course icons, by themselves, are not evil. (I have a few on my desktop. Rim shot!) The Proverbs 31 Woman™, as mentioned last week, is certainly not evil, and the closely related Domestic Doyenne icon has some good traits. On the male side, aspiring to some values of say, William Wallace, would also not be evil — unless our sermons, books, and ministries talked about Wallace too often and said all men should imitate him. (A-hem.)
Maybe we do need another term, something more personal and visual than the more-abstract-sounding term stereotype, a term that sounds more positive (though it isn’t), but which also doesn’t sully the idealism-connoting term icon.
My mental thesaurus is coming up short. So, I’ll be very creative and suggest caricature — a stylized picture of a specific person, or even general people group, that exaggerates many features. Caricatures are mainly for fun, or to make points, as in editorial cartoons or parody images of celebrities. But what happens when Christians take them seriously?
One result: caricature-icons of women, and men, infect our thinking. In our nonfiction or fiction, they settle in our minds and make us suspect anyone or anything that doesn’t conform to the caricature-icon. This can work for feminism, or its opposite: chauvinism.
Plenty of complaints have come up in this series about not one, but two sex-related evils of our age: feminism and chauvinism. I’ve been surprised and glad to see them equally railed against — not because I hold Spec-Faith readers in low regard, but because many well-meaning Christians seem stuck in the mindset of opposing only one at a time.
Which is the worst problem in the church: infecting feminism, or infecting chauvinism?
Yet if anyone, even subtly, presumes that Christians are only vulnerable to one error, they’ll overcorrect and end up buying into an equal-opposite caricature-icon.
1. ‘The Church is too feministic!’
Result in reality: Creeping chauvinism. We neglect Christ’s sacrifice for His Bride, the Church, and the Father’s nurturing care that is reflected in women who are created in His image. Among humans, we see women’s domain as only the home, and set men on higher spiritual pedestals. In the case of organized “Biblical patriarchy,” this leads even to viewing men as intercessor-priests of their houses, edging aside the only Mediator.
Result in fiction: Stories that treat women as silly and frivolous, while the men handle real spiritual struggles. I don’t see this in Christian novels, especially speculative stories, but if certain male-driven caricature-icons prevail (more on that later), it may happen.
2. ‘The Church is too chauvinistic!’
Result in reality: Creeping feminism. We neglect the Bible’s references to God with masculine pronouns, Jesus’s God-Manhood, and the wrath, holiness, and justice that God does exhibit. On a human level, men don’t have a clue what they’re supposed to do, only what they’re not; just as with women under the “too-feministic” paradigm, men’s lives become only a long series of antis. They don’t lead in their families or churches.
Result in fiction: Stories that treat men as weak or irrelevant, while the women handle real spiritual struggles. I haven’t seen this in speculative novels, but it does seem more common in female-centric Christian fiction. (Queue arguments we’ve all already heard.)
Though I’m by no means immune to either of these extremes, I do wonder sometimes how come people feel a need to elevate one sex while devaluing the other.
Can we not have God-honoring real lives and superior stories when all are considered humans created in God’s image, different but equal?
Particularly in fiction, don’t readers often dislike stories in which other heroes are made weaker so the favored character stands out? Wouldn’t he be an even better character if equally strong characters, with diverse abilities, surrounded him, even followed him?
Maybe you’ve recently read a novel, Christian or otherwise, that seemed to echo some of these caricature-icons — either feministic or chauvinistic. With your own beliefs and background, how did that make you feel? How could that story have been improved? And how do you believe these improvements could aid readers, Christian or otherwise?