Sunday, December 23, 2007

A defense against Patriarchy (part 6)

In part5 of our series we dismissed once and for all the possibility the patriarchy was the teaching of the church through time. However having developed the background and the methodology in the previous sections it is worth raising one more argument against patriarchy in this section. The patriarchist argument is that patriarchy was the norm up until the last century, that this norm was accepted by the population and especially by the churches and it is only with the rise in feminism that people's opinions have changed and more importantly church doctrine become confused. Now, if that were true, that is if patriarchy or anything like it was the norm, then we would expect to see a patriarchal analysis of feminism when feminism first emerges. That is we would expect to see feminism rejected as a non Christian doctrine and only slowly infiltrating Christianity. So we turn to the time of the first generation of feminist both in Europe and in America and see what the reaction from the Christian leadership was.

Before examining the reaction however, it is worthwhile to set the scene. All of our previous sections had focused on Catholics. Here we can focus on Protestants. Luther and Calvin had changed the culture regarding sex and marriage for Protestants. Many of the themes we had explored in part5 continue. As concubinage decreases in popularity and unmarried men and woman are close to the same age prostitution explodes in popularity during the late 15th century. It continues to be seen as an institution which protects the virtue of woman in general by diverting men's sexual appetites away from virgins and married woman. Moreover it allows for priestly celibacy to continue to be practiced.

Luther and Calvin however are appalled by these practices and they responded by launching a major attack on prostitution. Luther primarily focused on changing the culture of tolerance especially with respect to priests. Rather than seeing virginity as a blessed state, being unmarried, especially for men who had been married, was seen as inadvisable and marriage became the norm. Calvin continued this trend and launched a major legal offensive against prostitution and adultery. Adultery became grounds for divorce (with remarriage) in practice, prostitution became a capital crime and men who frequented prostitutes were punished (see Adultery and Divorce in Calvin's Geneva by Robert M. Kingdon for a discussion of Calvin's reformation of Geneva's sexual and marrtal codes). In the counter reformation the Catholic church agreed that the problems that existed 800 years earlier (see part4) no longer exist and the Council of Trent eliminated concubinage (see catholic encyclopedia's entry on concubinage for details).

The effect of all of this is that by the late 18th century when our story starts, both Catholics and Protestant live in a society where men and woman fall in love and marry in their late teens with vows and intentions on engaging in a partnership involving sexual exclusivity, joint property, no dowry and raising children together. Woman do not work outside the home, while men often do, or they run a business from the home. This means that a woman's standard of living depending quite heavily on how effective she was in attracting a man with economic potential during her mid to late teen years. Consequently woman's education focused on the art of seduction. A man's standard of living, however, depended on his earning's potential and thus his education was practical focused on developing economic skills.

During the French revolution this situation began to be examined critically by political philosophers. In 1789 the Women's Petition to the National Assembly was written. This document outlined a series of steps the national assembly would need to take to create equality between men and woman. The list was:

The National Assembly, wishing to reform the greatest and most universal of abuses, and to repair the wrongs of a six-thousand-year long injustice, has decreed and decrees as follows:

  1. All the privileges of the male sex are entirely and irrevocably abolished throughout France;
  2. The feminine sex will always enjoy the same liberty, advantages, rights, and honors as does the masculine sex;
  3. The masculine gender (genre) will no longer be regarded, even grammatically, as the more noble genre, given that all genders, all sexes, and all beings should be and are equally noble;
  4. That no one will henceforth insert in acts, contracts, obligations, etc., this clause, so common but so insulting for women: That the wife is authorized by her husband before those present, because in the household both parties should enjoy the same power and authority;
  5. That wearing breeches will no longer be the exclusive prerogative of the male sex, but each sex will have the right to wear them in turn;
  6. When a soldier has, out of cowardice, compromised French honor, he will no longer be degraded as is the present custom, by making him wear women's clothing; but as the two sexes are and must be equally honorable in the eyes of humanity, he will henceforth be punished by declaring his gender to be neuter.
  7. All persons of the feminine sex must be admitted without exception to the district and departmental assemblies, elevated to municipal responsibilities and even as deputies to the National Assembly, when they fulfill the requirements set forth in the electoral laws. They will have both consultative and deliberative voices . . . ;
  8. They can also be appointed as Magistrates. There is no better way to reconcile the public with the courts of justice than to seat beauty and to see the graces presiding there;
  9. The same applies to all positions, compensations, and military dignities. In this way the French will be truly invincible, when their courage is inspired by the joint themes of glory and love; we do not even make exception for the staff of a marshal of France; so that justice can be rendered equally, we order this instrument to be passed alternatively between men and women;
  10. Nor do we hesitate to open the sanctuary to the feminine sex, which has so long rightly been referred to as the devoted sex. But since the piety of the faithful has noticeably diminished, said sex promises and obligates itself, when it mounts the chair of truth, to moderate its zeal and not make excessive demands on the attention of the audience.
In 1791 the Declaration of the Rights of Woman was written which was similar in content. By 1793 the French woman's movement tied itself to the "bread and constitution" wing of the revolution (see Graham, Loaves and Liberty for more on this). That is woman were challenging the revolutionary leadership's failure to end hunger, as this impacted poor woman the most. The net result was that the violence of the revolution was turned against the woman's political parties, they folded and thus by 1795 salon culture was reborn as a way to achieve some degree of woman's political activity without the threat of counter violence.

In 1805 the achievements of woman in the revolution were mostly eradicated, via. the Napoleonic code of law (see also wikipedia). However, in terms of our discussion the Napoleonic code provides very useful evidence and thus our first stopping off point. The Code represents the thinking of the conservative religious authorities towards woman, marriage and sexuality. That is we have an explicitly right wing religiously conservative document from over two centuries ago and this document does not support the patriarchal position in several crucial respects.

Firstly, it takes the position that consent to marry is mandatory and cannot be provided for by parents or guardians. It goes so far as to allow persons of sufficient legal age to contract marriage with or without parental consent; though it does require their notification and time for consideration of parent's ability to speak prior to 30. Finally, conception plus intent constitutes marriage regardless of parental opinion (Book I, Title V French legal code of 1803).

Secondly, the state reserved the right to freely intervene in family matters. To pick an important example, contracts were a family matter, that is the wife's signature bound the husband fully and the contract would remain in effect even after her death or a divorce. For this reason, the Napoleonic code did not grant married woman the freedom to contract directly (215), that is they needed to get the consent of either a judge or their husband to contract (218). Unmarried woman of legal age, widows, and divorces had full contractual rights. So while this is very unequal it falls short of patriarchy's position that only men should be entitled to legally contract. Moreover those restrictions that did exists were seen as deriving from the authority of the state and could be withdrawn modified or overruled by the state. That is the state had a relationship with all the individuals, there was no notion of "federal representation", woman were fully citizens.

Third, divorce was normalized in a way very similar to what amounts to the "fault" divorce system that existed in the United States prior to the 1960s. Divorce with right of remarriage, could occur for adultery, outrageous conduct, criminal act or mutual consent (Book I, Title VI). Either party had the right to separate during the time when their divorce was being tried (and the wife was entitled to alimony during this separation). Finally both parties needed to provide for the children (child support) and unless otherwise agreed, marital property was split evenly with the wife being entitled to alimony.

While these laws are more conservative than the ones today, they fall far short of what patriarchy prescribes. That is the conservative religious establishment of the late 18th and early 19th century agrees with the complementarians on their view of the proper legal and moral relationships between husband and wife. The views that the patriarchs argue for were not the norm up to a century ago, but rather died out during the dark ages (see part4 of this study for details on what marital policy looked like during the early-mid middle ages).

Finally it should be understood how much the code differs from modern ideas. The Napolianic code was focused on the preservation of property, and was a bold reassertion of the state's ultimate right to regulate marriage. That is the religious conservatives of the day were supporting the state not the church as the proper vehicle for arbitrating morality. The Jacobin marriage doctrine had been a reaction and rebellion against church marriage; the Napoleonic code was a rejection that the state had any need of a church to regulate marriage. And looking across the entirety of the code the Napoleonic code was a rejection that the state needed a church for anything. The Napoleonic system was mainstream, conservative and middle class in its protections of property. But its usurpation of religious and familial authority to the state is something that the patriarchs would reject at least as strongly as most Americans. They will find no support for their theology from the most influential conservative movement of the day.

In this it was seen, even at the time, as perhaps more insidious than the Jacobian laws had been. The idea of a state church with its coercive power was now thoroughly discredited, a state regulated system was one alternative as per the above. So at this point we turn to the English speaking world where an alternate idea emerged to state regulation. This ideas was that individuals should be entitled to a moral code free of civil regulation. The state should ensure that society was orderly but as much as possible individuals should be making moral choices for themselves. This doctrine was popular among a group of people who supported the right of all men to vote regardless of property ownership. They called themselves radicals in honor of a speech by Charles James Fox where he urged a radical reform of the electoral system. So radicalism became the name for English speakers that supported the goals of the French revolution, if not necessarily the means. William Goodwin (discussed more below) defined the beliefs as:
  • People should only be judged on their abilities.
  • War should only be allowed to protect a country's liberties or the liberties of another country.
  • Colonialism is immoral.
  • Democracy is more efficient than other forms of government, as it allows everyone to voice their opinion, rather than centralising power in a fallible monarch. However, majority rule places individual liberty of those in the minority in jeopardy.
  • Government close to the people is best.
  • Individuals should give to others in need.
  • Rehabilitation should be provided for criminals.
  • One should have a sphere of private judgment over issues that do not threaten the security of other people, as opposed to the legislated Christianity of his time.
  • Censorship prevents the truth from being recognized and should only be used when there is an immediate security risk.
With respect to our topic a specific application emerged, that marriage should be regulated by individuals and coercive marriage laws should be abolished. This doctrine was called "free love".

In 1792 a proponent of this doctrine, a woman by the name of Mary Wollstonecraft wrote a treatise on woman's education. The book was entitled A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, and in it Wollstonecraft noted that in educating woman to be effective in seduction they were being educated in a way which prepared them for the life of a mistress rather than the life of a wife:
The education of women has, of late, been more attended to than formerly; yet they are still reckoned a frivolous sex, and ridiculed or pitied by the writers who endeavour by satire or instruction to improve them. It is acknowledged that they spend many of the first years of their lives in acquiring a smattering of accomplishments: meanwhile, strength of body and mind are sacrificed to libertine notions of beauty, to the desire of establishing themselves, the only way women can rise in the world--by marriage. And this desire making mere animals of them, when they marry, they act as such children may be expected to act: they dress; they paint, and nickname God's creatures. Surely these weak beings are only fit for the seraglio! Can they govern a family, or take care of the poor babes whom they bring into the world?

If then it can be fairly deduced from the present conduct of the sex, from the prevalent fondness for pleasure, which takes place of ambition and those nobler passions that open and enlarge the soul; that the instruction which women have received has only tended, with the constitution of civil society, to render them insignificant objects of desire; mere propagators of fools! if it can be proved, that in aiming to accomplish them, without cultivating their understandings, they are taken out of their sphere of duties, and made ridiculous and useless when the short lived bloom of beauty is over*, I presume that RATIONAL men will excuse me for endeavoring to persuade them to become more masculine and respectable.


Pleasure is the business of a woman's life, according to the present modification of society, and while it continues to be so, little can be expected from such weak beings. Inheriting, in a lineal descent from the first fair defect in nature, the sovereignty of beauty, they have, to maintain their power, resigned their natural rights, which the exercise of reason, might have procured them, and chosen rather to be short-lived queens than labour to attain the sober pleasures that arise from equality. Exalted by their inferiority (this sounds like a contradiction) they constantly demand homage as women, though experience should teach them that the men who pride themselves upon paying this arbitrary insolent respect to the sex, with the most scrupulous exactness, are most inclined to tyrannize over, and despise the very weakness they cherish. (chapter 4)
Wollstonecraft argued further that this style of woman's education distinct from a man's was crippling them both morally and intellectually:
I have turned over various books written on the subject of education, and patiently observed the conduct of parents and the management of schools; but what has been the result?--a profound conviction that the neglected education of my fellow-creatures is the grand source of the misery I deplore, and that women, in particular, are rendered weak and wretched by a variety of concurring causes, originating from one hasty conclusion. The conduct and manners of women, in fact, evidently prove that their minds are not in a healthy state; for, like the flowers which are planted in too rich a soil, strength and usefulness are sacrificed to beauty; and the flaunting leaves, after having pleased a fastidious eye, fade, disregarded on the stalk, long before the season when they ought to have arrived at maturity. One cause of this barren blooming I attribute to a false system of education, gathered from the books written on this subject by men who, considering females rather as women than human creatures, have been more anxious to make them alluring mistresses than affectionate wives and rational mothers; and the understanding of the sex has been so bubbled by this specious homage, that the civilised women of the present century, with a few exceptions, are only anxious to inspire love, when they ought to cherish a nobler ambition, and by their abilities and virtues exact respect. (Introduction)
That is teaching woman to be a sex toy and secondarily a mother led to a waste of a woman's talents. The woman thus skilled only in being appealing to men as a seductress would not even be able to be appealing as a wife. She went on to argue that a woman educated in practical matters and able to assist her husband in practical matters would lead to woman being valued for their virtues and not their physical beauty and seductive behavior. This was a moral argument which Christians of the day responded to and understood. The first edition sold out immediately, the book was rerun in England, released in the United States and then translated and published in French. It was reviewed in numerous magazines and to received strong praise. The most official source is the inquisition supervised Diaro de Madrid (September 6, 1792). The Diaro de Madrid article address the sexual politics of Vindication (the review does not discuss the republican political positions in the book). Julian de Valesco one of the two co-editors of the heavily distributed Diaro de Madrid writes the review, in it he upholds Wolstonecraft's position that virtue is more than a superficial attitude and that both sexes are capable of real virtue. Moreover de Valesco goes even further and argues that woman having no respect for themselves by lack of education are incapable of true love of men and of their children. (see Sally-Ann Kitts, Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman": A Judicious Response from Eighteenth-Century Spain Modern Language Review, 89:2 (1994:Apr.) p.351)

Wollstonecraft held woman to moral and rational standards demanding that they understand that the virtues of beauty and childlike behavior are unlikely to sustain a man's interest for a lifetime.
My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their FASCINATING graces, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone. I earnestly wish to point out in what true dignity and human happiness consists--I wish to persuade women to endeavor to acquire strength, both of mind and body, and to convince them, that the soft phrases, susceptibility of heart, delicacy of sentiment, and refinement of taste, are almost synonymous with epithets of weakness, and that those beings who are only the objects of pity and that kind of love, which has been termed its sister, will soon become objects of contempt. (Introduction)
To encourage a marriage based on a lifetime of shared values and common aims, Wollstonecraft argued for a doctrine she called "free love". And again she used the term to mean a belief that the state should cease regulating marriage and thus allow individual men and woman to decide on who they should marry that is to choose their own spouses. The book ends with a call on men to assist the woman in their lives into becoming help meets rather than playthings. The method for doing this is to extend to woman the rights of men so that the virtues of men would be theirs.
I then would fain convince reasonable men of the importance of some of my remarks; and prevail on them to weigh dispassionately the whole tenor of my observations. – I appeal to their understandings; and, as a fellow-creature, claim, in the name of my sex, some interest in their hearts. I entreat them to assist to emancipate their companion, to make her a help meet for them! Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers – in a word, better citizens... Asserting the rights which women in common with men ought to contend for, I have not attempted to extenuate their faults; but to prove them to be the natural consequence of their education and station in society. If so, it is reasonable to suppose, that they will change their character, and correct their vices and follies, when they are allowed to be free in a physical, moral, and civil sense. Let woman share the rights, and she will emulate the virtues of man; for she must grow more perfect when emancipated, or justify the authority that chains such a weak being to her duty. (conclusion )
And again this book received support at the time from the religious establishment, they agreed with Wollstonecraft's analysis; an analysis today that would be seen as complementarian (at least), that is the religious leadership supported what is arguably the first feminist book, in its claim that woman's oppression led to sin not virtue.

This is an absolutely key point in terms of refuting the patriarchal position regarding the reaction of the religious establishment towards woman's rights and feminism and so it bears repeating. A well known radical, the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Men, which was seen as the definitive radical response to Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France (the leading conservative book of the day) had written a political treatise on woman's rights and the conservative religious establishment of the day had seen this as acceptable and had endorsed it even though they profoundly disagreed with the author on her other political opinions and social opinions. That is to say they saw her moral arguments on the effects of woman's education as perverting the role of woman as being essentially conservative and read the book in a conservative light. And this book is arguably the first feminist book in the English language we are talking about, so the evidence in and of itself shows the exact opposite of what Bayly, Phillips, Wilson, et al. claim occurred. When confronted with complimentarian writings even from a source they otherwise would have despised conservatives of the late 18th century agreed with the viewpoints expressed.

While vindication was written in 1792, somewhere between 1795 and 1797 Wollstonecraft began an affair with a leading radical who was arguably the inventor of political anarchy named William Godwin (mentioned above). In 1797 pregnant with Godwin's baby Wollstonecraft and Godwin married. The child, Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin was born the August the 30th, however the mother caught sepsis (an infection) from the birth and died on the 10th of September. Almost immediate after her death Godwin began writing a memoir in honor of his wife, Memoirs of the Author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. When Memoirs was published in 1798, because of its author and his sentiments, it tied Wollstonecraft's book much more closely to the radicals politically. Further the book was quite open about Godwin's feelings and about his wife's personal life: discussing her lesbian relationships, her dramatic mood swings, her earlier half marriage to Gilbert Imlay (American adventure, author of the Daniel Boone legends and US ambassador to France). The effect was that after 1798 Wollstonecraft and the emerging woman's rights movement was identified with the hard left in England and at least among conservatives Vindication of the Rights of Woman was all but forgotten. Richard Polwhele's The Unsex'd Females is typical of the attacks on Wollstonecraft's followers that came from Memoirs, attacking them for their pro-French views implying that support for French politics meant support for French sexual morality and irreligion:
15: I shudder at the new unpictur'd scene,
16: Where unsex'd woman vaunts the imperious mien;
17: Where girls, affecting to dismiss the heart,
18: Invoke the Proteus of petrific art;
19: With equal ease, in body or in mind,
20: To Gallic freaks or Gallic faith resign'd,
21: The crane-like neck, as Fashion bids, lay bare,
22: Or frizzle, bold in front, their borrow'd hair;
23: Scarce by a gossamery film carest,
24: Sport, in full view, the meretricious breast;
25: Loose the chaste cincture, where the graces shone,
26: And languish'd all the Loves, the ambrosial zone;
In 1814 the sixth coalition fell in 1814 and thus English radicalism as a political philosophy died. And in reaction against the revolutionary philosophies of the day conservatives spread the Napoleonic code throughout the world, creating a the modern western legal codes we have today. Property was paramount and families were ruled by husbands, but woman had rights assured by the state and moreover those rights that existed for men should be granted to woman providing they were not too disruptive to property. Napoleon himself near the end of his life realized it was the code not the first French republic that would be his legacy. The following quote of Napoleon's is a freeze etched into the walls of the USA's Supreme Court, "My true glory is not to have won 40 battles . . . . Waterloo will erase the memory of so many victories . . . . But what nothing will destroy, what will live forever, is my Civil Code." The debate between left and right would now center on which rights and the proper balance of rights between individual liberty (in particular woman's) and preservation of family property.

Daughters of Albion, pictureIf the Civil Code represented the conservative position one might ask what was the liberal position? This was represented by the romantics who inherited Wollstonecraft after the 1798 expose. The image opposite is from Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion (see also wikipedia entry), where he translates into poetry and literature Wollstonecraft's political ideology. What Blake was expressing in this image is how convention leads to bondage and misery.

Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin had by virtue of her parentage been exposed to Godwin's circle and the birth of romanticism however she earned her seat at the table, in addition to taking her mother's name she had also taken her literary talent, she would later invent the horror novel. Moreover, she shared her Mother's taste in brilliant radical husbands so in 1814, at the age of 16 Mary eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley (one of the great lyrical poets, of that or any age). Percy Shelly was part of Godwin's circle and brought Mary (now Mary Shelley) into the circle as an adult member rather than the daughter of two of its founders. Free love moved away from being a philosophy regarding the right for a marriage free of state interference, since The Civil Code provided for that and thus it was no longer an issue. Instead the second generation of the free love movement focused on the right of individuals to organize their personal lives however they saw fit, in particular with regard to sex. So for example, the Shelley's engaged in swinging, and their sexual experimentation went so far that Mary's step sister Claire Clairmont shared their bed for a time, and questionably was the birth mother of one of their daughters, Elena Adelaide Shelley. The romantics also continued the Jacobin tradition of concern for the oppressed, embracing advocacy for state support charities (the welfare state) and ethical vegetarianism. While the circle revered Wollstonecraft the liberal position's emphasis was on sexual experimentation and atheism, a focus woman's political and educational rights was seen as stodgy. That is they essentially justified the attacks in The Unsex'd Females.

That is debate was between romanticism with its vision for a new society with heroic individualism as its guiding principle, and a conservatism that embraced woman's education and sought to constrain woman only in so far as their advancement undermined the family. The position the patriarchs take, not only was not the norm but in fact was not even represented by either group. Or to put this another way, the core ideas of complimentarianism had been accepted almost immediately and universally as soon as they were introduced and the debate centered on how best to resolve conflicts between individual liberty and family responsibility. Since romanticism was arguing through the arts the debate was held within literature and the conservative response to Shelley, Blake and Bryon was Jane Austen and Maria Edgeworth. Austen's books had their focus was on how best to balance financial concerns against love, honor and self respect. There was no denial that these were the choices woman faced in Austen, nor was there any attempt to argue that woman should be joyful about having to sacrifice the one for the other. While Edgeworth focused much more on relationships between classes, she explicitly identified her writing with Wollstonecraft in expecting rationality and education from woman (see The Victorians and the Eighteenth Century: Reassessing the Tradition By Katherine Turner, Frank O'Gorman).

In 1837 Fourier coins the term féminisme for woman's liberation utopian socialist movements. He argued that the habit of oppression is developed in the home from family relations, and children taught to oppress woman would have no compunction about oppressing the lower classes when they became adults. In England the term was immediate applied to the romantics and other left groups that were opposing the use of mass starvation as part of maintaining control over Ireland, which led to the Potato Famine. The right often referred to the left with the term radical since these left movements had evolved out of the radical parties of 40 years earlier. Hence the original meaning of "radical feminist" were people that lived in socialist communes that focused heavily on woman's right in the Europe of the 1830s and 40s. The term then spread to anti-imperialists that supported woman's rights.

And now we can after five and a half parts cross the Atlantic and look at the first generation of American "feminism". Swedenborgianism, a form of Christianity which held to racial and sexual equality explodeded in popularity and migrated to America in 1817. The free love movement (right of woman to choose their own spouses) becomes popular in 1825 (see Free Love: Marriage and Middle-Class Radicalism in America, 1825-1860 by John C. Spurlock for a discussion of Free Love in pre civil-war America). The core support for the Free Love movement among conservatives came from the following chain of reasoning: The sins that most men conducted: drinking, whoring, gambling, fighting... occurred in evenings spent outside the house. Men fled there homes generally because their marriages were stale or hostile. Loving marriages with supportive families would vastly diminish sin. And thus American Christianity began to focus on how to build good quality marriages. And what they found time and time again as the root cause of the problems in a marriage was that the woman had been coerced by her parents into marrying a man whose personality was incompatible. George Henry, "If the wife did not make the home pleasant the husband will tend to stay away. When when the love of home is gone, the man is lost. Lost, that is in vice."

Among mainstream protestants during the period 1800-1830 the Second Great Awakening was occurring. That is American protestantism was moving the population away from its Anglican / Episcopalian and Presbyterian roots to a Baptist and Methodist theology. So again our patriarchs are split. Wilson and Bayly's ancestors would have been those targeted in the 2nd great revival. Conversely Phillips' ancestors would have agreed with the attacks on extra congregational authorities (being a baptist) and Gothard explicitly identifies his ministry as a continuation of Charles Finney's (Finney's image is at the top of this article).

Finney is credited by both opponents and advocates as the man who made American Christianity distinctly American. He rejected the 5 points of Calvinism but moreover shifted the focus of his ministry from Christ to each individual overcoming their sins, "Separate from sin to achieve salvation whether drink or human bondage". Of particular concerns to our story was the sin of masturbation. For Finney, masturbation came from a habit of idleness, that is to seek gratification without labor. This habit, was born and cultivated by effects of usurpation of labor from blacks and women. So Finney's abolitionism and woman's rights support was not only in terms of social redemption but also in terms of individual redemption. A man was individually displeasing to God when he disenfranchised his wife, and moreover the sins of disenfranchisement would often lead to sexual sin. So while Free Love had been accepted a generation earlier as leading to virtue, the ties between abolitionism, woman's rights and Christianity formed under Finney. Finney also opposed drinking strongly, and the trio of abolitionism, woman's rights and temperance would characterize many of his followers.

At the same time presbyterian southern religious establishment came to see all three issues as part of the attack on Calvin. The quote below from Dabney, while 35 years after the period we are talking about makes these ties explicit:
The movement towards the preaching of women does not necessarily spring from a secular "woman's rights" movement. The preaching of women marked the early Wesleyan movement to some extent, and the Quaker assemblies. But neither of these had political aspirations for their women. At the present time, however, the preaching of women and the demand of all masculine political rights are so synchronous, and are so often seen in the same persons, that their affinity cannot be disguised. They are two parts of one common impulse. If we understand the claim of rights made by these agitators, it includes in substance two things: that the legislation at least of society shall disregard all distinctions of sex and award all the same specific rights and franchises to women and men in every respect; and that women, while in the married state, shall be released from every form of conjugal subordination and retain independent control of their property. These pretensions are indeed the proper logical consequences of that radical theory of human right which is now dominant in the country. According to that doctrine, every human being is naturally independent, owes no duties to civil or ecclesiastical society save those freely conceded in the "social contract"; is the natural equal of every other human except as he or she has forfeited liberty by crime. Legislation and taxation are unjust unless based on representation, which means the privilege of each man under government to vote for his governors. If these propositions were true, then, indeed, their application to women would be indisputable. And it would be hard for the radical politician to explain why it was right to apply them in favor of ignorant negroes and deny their application to intelligent ladies. We here see the great danger attending the present misguided woman's movement. (The Public Preaching of Women, Southern Presbyterian Review October, 1879).
Finney encouraged the priesthood of the believer to become for each believer a quest within scripture to find the truth. And this created an establishment in which woman could write of their own biblical interpretations in which woman's oppression was not part of Christianity. Finney allowed for female revivalists, that is woman preaching. Those woman interpreted scripture in ways that didn't support male headship:
Let us next examine the conduct of this fallen pair, when Jehovah interrogated them respecting their fault. they both frankly confessed their guilt. "The man said, the woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree and I did eat. And the woman said, the serpent beguiled me and I did eat." [Gen. 3:12]. And the Lord God said unto the woman, "Thou wilt be subject unto thy husband, he will rule over thee" [Gen 3:16]. That this is not allude to the subjection of woman to man is manifest, because the same mode of expression is used in speaking to Cain of Abel [Gen. 4:10-12]. The truth is that the curse, as it is termed, which was pronounced by Jehovah upon woman, is a simple prophecy. The Hebrew, like the French language, uses the same word to express shall and will. Our translators having been accustomed to exercise lordship over their wives, and seeing only through the medium of a perverted judgment, very naturally, though I think not very learnedly or very kindly, translated it shall instead of will, and thus converted a prediction to Eve into a command to Adam; for observe, it is addressed to the woman and not to the man. The consequence of the fall was an immediate struggle for dominion, and Jehovah foretold which would gain the ascendancy; but as he created them in his image, as that image manifestly was not lost by the fall, because it is urged in Gen. 9:6, as an argument why the life of man should not be taken by his fellow man, there is no reason to suppose that sin produced any distinction between them as moral, intellectual and responsible beings. Man might just as well have endeavored by hard labor to fulfil [sic] the prophecy, thorns and thistles will the earth bring forth to thee, as to pretend to accomplish the other, "be will rule over thee," by asserting dominion over his wife. (Sarah Grimké, Letters on the Equality of the Sexes, Letter I: The Original Equality of Woman, 1837)
The traditionalists countered with opinions which limited the scope of the Golden Rule:
It is clear, then, that our Saviour, by His Golden Rule, never intended to establish so absurd a law. The rule of our conduct to our neighbour is not any desire which we might have, were we to change places; but it is that desire which we should, in that case, be morally entitled to have. To whatsoever treatment we should conscientiously think ourselves morally entitled, were we slaves instead of masters, all that treatment we as masters are -morally bound to give our servants, so far as ability and a just regard for other duties enables us. (Dabney, Defense of Virginia p197).
So to repeat, far from rejecting woman's rights the Christian community split on denominational grounds and the membership by and large embraced them and advanced them in the first generation. They like their European counterparts saw in the woman's rights movement a moral cause. For American Christians of the early 19th century the promises of the declaration of independence should apply to all people and they divided on how best to accomplish that given a society with classism, sexual discrimination and slavery.

In 1831 the Unitarians form institutions explicitly to advance woman's rights (see The Early Feminists: Radical Unitarians and the Emergence of the Women's Rights Movement, 1831-51 by Kathryn Gleadle).

1848 is a good place to mark the end of the first generation of the woman's rights movement. No one after 1848 considers themselves to be in the first generation, which was our original question. What the evidence has shown so far is that the woman's rights movement not only was not attacked by Christianity in America, rather arguably it was key to America developing its own flavor of Christianity. While it most certainly the case that Christianity community was divided on the issue, the division was primarily on denominational grounds not a left right axis. Socialism became a potent political force after the 1848 revolutions, revolution of the petite bourgeoisie (the owners of small properties, merchants, shopkeepers, etc.) while in the United States it never achieved much support. However for many historians Seneca Falls (see also Declaration of Sentiments) is part of the American reaction to 1848 (see Bonnie Anderson NWSA Journal article). And at this point the American woman's movement is explicit in its demands for legal equality, in particular suffrage. Then in August 1848 members of the Liberty Party joined with anti-slavery members of the Whig Party to form the Free-Soil Party (in 1854 the Free-Soil Party renames itself the Republican Party). Which to say by the mid 1850s Finneyism was becoming mainstream enough to become governing philosophy of the United States.

In 1850 Finney became President of Oberlin College. Oberlin was active in the second great revival spirit and became the first college to admit blacks (1835) and woman (1837). He writes a systematic theology. 1850 sees the passage of the Fugitive slave act (see article). This act is passed to avoid disunion after Prigg v. Pennsylvania, and the effect of the law is to require northern government officials to help act as slavers, it also effectively eliminated most civil rights for free blacks. As a result support for abolition explodes across the North, a majority of the northern population no longer is willing tolerate slavery. So during the early 1850s the Finney revivalist religion is rapidly becoming the mainstream religion of the North. With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 (which expanded the territory of slavery) a majority of northerners were willing to start contemplating war to put an end to the horrors of slavery.

Under Finney in 1853 Oberlin allowed Antoinette Louisa Brown, to complete the full course of study for ordination. Though they denied ordination, she became a Unitarian and became the first woman pastor in 1853. In 1863 the Unitarian denomination officially ordained Olympia Brown.

The Unitarians were active in other fronts as well. In 1855 the Lucy Stone / Henry Blackwell marriage occurs. A statement signed by Lucy Stone (first woman in Massachusetts to receive a college degree) and Henry Blackwell prior to their marriage. The Rev. Thomas Wentworth Higginson read the statement at the ceremony, and also distributed it to other ministers, making this a public declaration which moves public opinion further against a sexually biased legal code. Again it should be noted this is Christian religious leadership (though in this case the liberal Unitarian / abolitionist wing) that is promoting the idea:
While acknowledging our mutual affection by publicly assuming the relationship of husband and wife, yet in justice to ourselves and a great principle, we deem it a duty to declare that this act on our part implies no sanction of, nor promise of voluntary obedience to such of the present laws of marriage, as refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal powers which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess.
We believe that personal independence and equal human rights can never be forfeited, except for crime; that marriage should be an equal and permanent partnership, and so recognized by law; that until it is so recognized, married partners should provide against the radical injustice of present laws, by every means in their power (1855 marriage protest)
By 1861 Southern and Northern Presbyterians split on slavery, which is to say in one generation Finney's position had moved from an external attack on Presbyterianism to an internal debate within Presbyterianism (see American Presbyterian website for a good summary). This is typical across all of American Christianity. 1850-1900 will be characterized by a desire to reform America to make it a pietistic country (see Third Great Awakening). Finney's influence extends even beyond mainstream Christianity and arguably his greatest influences are on those groups that will eventually become the Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists and Jehovah's Witnesses, as those groups remain theologically Finneyist to this day.

After the civil war the woman's rights movement split into three groups.
  1. The American Woman Suffrage Association (AWSA) was a purely a suffrage organization, and considered politically conservative. It supported the 14th and 15th amendments passing even without inclusion of the right to vote for woman, since otherwise it they might fail to pass at all. and felt that woman should focus on suffrage and thus opposed divorce liberalization (the suffragist wing)
  2. The National Woman's Suffrage Association (NWSA) was classic first wave feminism. Focusing on full legal equality, in particular divorce and work discrimination (the woman's rights wing).
  3. The radicals supported a Free love doctrines and spiritualism broke off from both Christian groups and ran Victoria Woodhull for president (feminist wing).
By 1873 the Woman's Christian Temperancy Union formed, that is an explicitly conservative (that is even further to the right of the AWSA) Christian feminist organization. The AWSA and the NWSA merge to form the NAWSA. Woodhull was attacked relentlessly by Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and by by the 1880s woman's rights had a conservative (WCTU) and moderate (NAWSA) political wing. The radicals were expelled and the moderates and the conservatives worked together. This is a key point in the defense against patriarchy, because here we see that the mainstream "feminist" leadership sought and achieved support from the Christian establishment and felt they had to attack their own ally (Woodhull and her party) to maintain that support.

So to summarize what we have shown. It is fair to say that reformed Christianity rejected woman's rights movement by slim margins. It is not accurate to say American Christianity did. Christianity in America became Armenian, and baptist primarily because of the immorality of major denominations to refuse to attack slavery, and in the case of reformed Christian establishment arguably its support for slavery. The attitude that men who would oppress woman would also oppress blacks was present in the 1830s as much as it is today. Just as Dabney argues that slavery is God's means of dealing with the moral degradation of the black race, it was understood that female servitude was God's means of dealing with the moral degradation of the female sex. Both arguments were utterly rejected by the vast majority of Christians, and those denominations that stood by them fell out of favor as a result.

Robert Lewis Dabney the great reformed theologian of his day makes this connection explicit:
It appears almost impossible for anti-slavery men to be made to apprehend the nature of the institution, as described in the words, 'domestic slavery.' Their minds, perverted with vain dreams of the powers and perfectibility of the State, cannot be made to apprehend that God has made other parties than the commonwealth and the civil magistrate, depositories of ruling power; and that this arrangement is right and benevolent. Now, it is the genius of slavery, to make the family the slave's commonwealth. The family is his State. The master is his magistrate and legislator, in all save certain of the graver criminal relations, in which the commonwealth deals directly and personally with him. He is a member of municipal society only through his master, who represents him. The commonwealth knows him as only a life-long minor under the master's tutelage. The integers of which the commonwealth aggregate is made up, are not single human beings, but single families, authoritatively represented in the father and master. And this is the fundamental difference between the theory of the Bible, and that of radical democracy. (Dabney, A Defense of Virginia, p228)
With that I think we should conclude. We have proven our point that the reactions to the woman's rights movements were split among conservatives and among Christians their responses was nuanced and situational, not blanked condemnation. Further the movement is much older than they claim.

See also:
Back to Introduction, Part 1 of Defense

10 comments:

Cindy said...

Hi Host.

Glad to see you back. This treatise is beautiful and I've got a zillion questions after only a first glance at only the first quarter of the post.

So I'll start out with a blatantly superficial question that bugs me like a fly in the ointment, though it really has little to do with the discussion.

Who is pictured in that first graphic at the beginning of the post? Is that Calvin? I didn't think that it looked like him and my husband didn't either, but that could mean absolutely nothing. We then laughed ourselves silly this morning, considering that it might just be a prototypical looking "patriarchal-type guy."

With some productive sleep, I have a few more questions about how Burke, Dabney and neo-Confederates, considering how patriarchy views these views these interrelated people of the past. I'm still trying to process why Dabney (a prophet to many in the modern patriarchy movement) penned so many vitriolic statements about Burke in his "A Defense of Virginia and the South." In general, Burke was supportive of the American Revolution and highly critical of the French Revolution. I found this highly shocking when I obtained a copy of the Dabney book and read it myself. One can't read more than a few pages in some sections of the book without noting some disparaging comment about Burke or Locke. It was my (perhaps peculiar) experience that Christian Reconstructionists, though they took caution with Burke and Jefferson because of deism as opposed to an orthodox Christianity, that they looked favorably on the contributions of these men.

I have to re-read that section about the conservative reaction to Wollstonecraft's writing, something you identify as a "key point in terms of refuting the patriarchal position" and the church's reaction to women's rights. I'm new to the thought of looking back that far as a root to some of the patriarchal thought.

.....

In an attempt to get a larger perspective of things, I've started reading a book most in the Christian Right would consider scandalous: "Right Wing Populism in America" by Berlet and Lyons.

In there, the authors write the following, and I wonder how this also plays into what you're stating in the section of your "Part 6." Those who are masticating on the modern concept of how men could view women as ontologically subordinate beings to whom "huiothesian" (adoption as sons - a singular accusative feminine term in Greek) does NOT apply as found in Ephesians 1:5. As Eph 5 is not divorced from the first chapter, Russell Moore argues that Eph 5:25-27 represents something more mysterious -- a statement that I find to suggest an argument for a male demigod. It's all like some gnostic hidden knowledge that no one has been able to figure out until now, something Moore actually says in the talk. (Statement of Russell Moore, dean of theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in CBMW "Different by Design" conference, MN in Feb07.)

Anyway, here is something also reflective of the patriarchal argument that troubles the living daylights out of me (from Berlet and Lyons). I have not decided whether I want to believe it.:

pg 24-25:

Today it is widely acknowledged that the leaders of teh American Revolution excluded women, Black people and the American Indians when they declared that "all men are created equal." Many patriots at the time embraced this contradiction, treating human rights as a limited commodity that only be enjoyed by a select group if others were excluded and subordinated. In this view, as Joan Gunderson has commented, "Independence was a condition arrived at by exclusion....by not being dependent or enslaved." Thus a male head of the household was independent by contrast with his dependent wife and children, thus White patriot writers expressed outrage that Britain had reduced them to "slavery" -- on the grounds that slavery was only intended for Blacks.

Our description of the Revolution as a repressive populist movement focuses on two points. First, by equating tyranny with the British crown, the struggle for US independence promoted a form of antielite scapegoating that delflected discontent away from inequities within colonial society. Second, the drive for independence was also a drive to expand and intensify the system of White supremacy. People of color were not simply "left out" of the Revolution -- they were among its major targets.


Is this accurate, I ask myself, wondering how the modern, patriarchalists and "Christian Nationalists" would respond?

I've got all kinds of bells and whistles going off because of recent events and posts on my blog about this, but I am considering, for the very first time, that our founding fathers argued that equality did not extend to women at all. I've never believed this, nor have I been taught by anyone who did believe this.

I find this sickening. The CBMW crowd would say that I am sick because I'm convicted by my own "feminist sin" and that God is greater than my heart (quote from I John 1), subjective proof of my own fallenness. I disagree! I'm sickened by the INAPPROPRIATE intermingling of patriotism and religion (not that all or a great deal is an evil). I claim the postion of Mark Noll who sites also that the American Revolution was not an ethically innocent enterprise that, at times, wrongfully misrepresented Christian religious fervor with patriotic fervor, all wrapped up in what was then a conveinent bundle. Today, that is not the case and is the source of many woes in both the Church and in America. (Again, I am not arguing for "separation of church and state" but against the logical fallacy of confusing one for the other.)

So, as I try to understand the global picture of this dilemma -- a major motivator is my understanding of the TRUTH for my own personal Christian conduct --

I can't help wondering how all these different threads interweave, considering that they all occured in the belly of history at about the same general time. ....The common theme being "Who is woman?" in light of Scripture, according to the Church and - now for me - according to our founding fathers in the US at the time of the American Revolution. The question to next consider is "Who is right?"

You may get to that, but I just couldn't process anymore because of all the different players and implications here. For me, it is suddenly like a ball of thread to untangle before I can knit it all into something meaningful.

CD-Host said...

Who is pictured in that first graphic at the beginning of the post?

Its Finney. He plays the major role in the American Christian response to the woman's rights movement. Also interestingly enough, given that they disagree on most issues Gothard considers himself to be continuing Finney's work.

I'm still trying to process why Dabne penned so many vitriolic statements about Burke in his "A Defense of Virginia and the South."

Not sure if I understand the question. There are two references to Burke in Virginia:
1) The intelligent reader, and especially the intelligent Englishman, will remember how triumphantly this shallow sophism of arguing against a thing from its abuses, is exposed by Burke, in his reply to Bolingbroke's posthumous assault on Christianity, the ironical "Defence of Natural Society."
2) This was asserted of the slaveholders of Virginia and the Caxolinas by the sagacious Burke.

Both of which read to me like complements.

but I am considering, for the very first time, that our founding fathers argued that equality did not extend to women at all. I've never believed this, nor have I been taught by anyone who did believe this.

Well its pretty much true. One of the effects of the reformation was to move legal rights away from being granted to people on the basis of their humanity and instead grant it to them on the basis of their property. Its with the adoption of the Napoleonic code that a Catholic idea of rights moves back into protestantism.
Conversely other types of rights, like freedom from censorship are consequences of the reformation. The founders don't have a well developed theology of woman but what they do have is certainly not equal.

Hope that helps

Cindy said...

Ah, Finney. Mr. "revival is as sure as raising wheat properly I will do anything to sell a man hell insurance" Finney.

Thanks for correcting me about Dabney on Burke. I guess I have Burke wrongfully filed away in my brain along with references in Virginia to Locke. (Now what I am wondering is how you were able to produce those references so quickly....) I'm glad that I asked, since I had that completely fouled up. No wonder it made no sense.

I expected to find Virginia quite misrepresented by its critics on the race issue, but such was not the case. It was pretty inflammatory and my dh told me that I had to stop reading it. (Or rather read it when no one was home to hear me rant.) Read through my late 20th century understanding, I could not tolerate it very well.

I'd rather you told me that I had my info right on Dabney and was way off base on that quote from Berlet and Lyons! That is so depressing!

Cindy said...

Also, let me qualify my opinion about that Berlet and Lyons book --There are a few redeeming features in it, but they are more often as reactionary in their own right as they accuse the "Right Wing Populists." And techincally, the term does not make all that much sense since the right argues representative government which would be non-populist in some sense.

Enough about that and back to regular programming...

CD-Host said...

Cindy --

Defense is available online (see later in the article I refer to it). I just did a keyword search on Burke. As for the founders, many ideas develop over centuries, the founders established the moral principles, laid the groundwork for woman's rights even if they themselves didn't see the connection.

Cindy said...

I went back and read how many wives of founding fathers were against slavery and for suffrage, I seem to have recovered and started back in here...

Richard Polwhele's The Unsex'd Females is typical of the attacks on Wollstonecraft's followers that came from Memoirs, attacking them for their pro-French views implying that support for French politics meant support for French sexual morality and irreligion:

This is great! Some things never change, do they? Subtitute the names and topics appropriately, and you could have an article from any leading political commentary of today. No? Or at least a commentary from any copy of the CBMW journal!

Cindy said...

This Finney stuff is great. Having just read "The Civil War as a Theological Crisis," with that fresh in my mind, it seems that the patriarchalists have actually recreated aspects of this same theological war.

I make the mistake of placing Finney as a later figure in revivalism, and I didn't think of conrasting him against Dabney, but this is astute.

I see many paralells then between this struggle (btwn Finney's view and Dabney's view) as very similar to the emergence of Federal Vision. A major declared purpose for FV was to counter revivalism. Finney was quite the revivalist, so in some ways, this is just the same old story with different players.

We're still fighting the same battles -- and through this neo-Victorian/neo-Confederate revival through so-called "Biblical patriarchy" == we're right back between Finney and Dabney in that respect. Weird.

CD-Host said...

CBWM = ?



This Finney stuff is great. Having just read "The Civil War as a Theological Crisis," with that fresh in my mind, it seems that the patriarchalists have actually recreated aspects of this same theological war.

That book does sound interesting.
As a followup the American Presbyterian church's discussion of 1837 and 1861 I think covers this well as it pertains to the Presbyterian splits.

Cindy said...

CBMW = Counsel on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

Big names associated with them:

John Piper
One of the Bayly Boys (don't remember which one)
Bruce Ware
Russell Moore
more peripherally, Roy Moore (former AL Supreme Court Justice)

Doug Phillips has quoted both Moores on his blog...

They are declaring the truth of "complementarianism" to all who will hear and obey!

CD-Host said...

I haven't read the CBWM and while I don't know John Piper personally on the issue of discipline I think he's quite good. He 20 years ago took on the issue head first of what to do about something he felt was sinful but his congregation would not uphold and held that such an act cannot be grounds for excommunication (see Piper on Divorce and Remarriage)

Church discipline cannot be based on the convictions of a pastor or of a small group of leaders. The Bible says that a matter of discipline is to be taken "to the church" (Matthew 18:17). This means that under the Lord the church is the final court of appeal in all church discipline. This is only possible if the leadership and the church are largely in agreement on the matter at hand.

No one in leadership can be asked to act against his conscience (Romans 14). Therefore each pastor will teach and counsel and perform marriages according to his personal conviction within the parameters of this statement. But when it comes to church membership and church discipline we must find a level of expectation for marital relations that we can agree no member of Bethlehem may violate while remaining a member in good standing.

In other words what we need is a statement of the kind of divorce and remarriage which the church, as a concerned and responsible body, will regard as clearly outside the Biblical limits of what is acceptable....

Recognizing the honest and devout differences of conviction in the church, those of us with more limiting standards for remarriage consent at this point not to make them normative for the whole body. Others of us, who regard this fourth statement as fully Biblical, respect those among us with a more limiting interpretation and do not require or expect them to act in any way against their consciences in attending, supporting or performing enactments of marriage they regard as contrary to Scripture.


I have to give Piper serious credit for that stand. It shows an awareness of the complexity of moral issues and a desire to avoid to schism which is mostly lacking on the protestant right.

Sorry I like the guy. As for the CBWM I haven't critiqued them, and I'm sure their attitudes towards woman such; but what specifically have they said?