Tuesday, July 05, 2011

The death of the masculine generic

I would have thought that "fellow" was a gender neutral term, a word that might have been used for males, but has come to be a masculine generic, a masculine term which could refer to women also. And as such, I would not complain. I have no specific problem with the use of masculine generics, as long as they are intended as such and used as such. I am not concerned with the use of masculine terms in the original languages.

However, the masculine generic is being suffocated, eradicated, slowly and surely. Michael Patton, in comments on his post, writes,
Yes, that is right Nate. The fellow could be egalitarian. I would certainly not have a problem with this.

But, again, there are certain things that the stand must be taken one way or the other when the rubber meets the road in establishing something like this. If we allowed to have women, for better or worse, we would be percieved as taking an egalitarian stand. If we don’t allow for women, then we are percieved as taking a complementarian stand. Either way, the perception of a stand is there no matter what. Therefore, since I am a complementarian (as are most of the board members), this is the side we have to fall on.
So, I understand that a "fellow" can be egalitarian, but a "fellow" can not be a woman. This means that there is a brotherhood between men, both complementarian and egalitarian, that does not extend to women. This is very hurtful and is displayed in the abysmal participation of women in the biblioblogosphere.

Later in the comments, Michael goes on to explain that a "fellow" is a fella, and a "monk" is a gal. That's fine, but how is a reader supposed to know this? This is a specialist language, known to only a few. Does Michael hand out a dictionary with his posts?

There is one rule for decoding this language that I could suggest. If the term refers to a position which entails authority, it is for men only and if it refers to being a support worker, then women can fill it. This is similar to the way that Bible translation decisions are made in some versions.

Michael then links back to his post on head pastors, where he wrote,
Now, let me give my short and sweet answer as to why Paul did not allow women to teach:

Paul did not let women teach due to the often aggressive and combative nature that teaching must entail concerning the confrontation of false doctrine. Men must be the teachers when combating false teaching. However, because the role of a teacher in the church is so often to combat false doctrine, and because false doctrine is always a problem, generally speaking, the principles are always applicable. The “exercising of authority” is inherently tied to teaching and its necessary condemnation of false doctrine.

The combative nature of teaching is particularly relevant to a broader understanding of the characteristics of men and women.

If you read the rest of Michael's post you will appreciate what I have to say here. Women my age do NOT dress in a Cinderella costume. Many to NOT have a man to turn to if they am burgled in the night. Some have been considered to be sufficiently aggressive and combative to combat false teaching.

I daresay that Michael might explain that he moderated me from his blog for being "aggressive and combative." I don't want to put words in his mouth, so I apologize to him if this is not the case. But, often enough women are told NOT to be agressive and combative, but here, Michael says that women cannot be head pastors because they do not have the characteristic of being aggressive and combative.


EricW said...

C. Michael Patton's argumentation and reasons for why women can't be head pastors fails every test - Biblical, logical, historical and philosophical, IMO - as many of the comments to that post (over 1300 at last count) demonstrate.

I have no interest in supporting a Credo House that continues and promotes the "Good Old Boy's" Club mentality of complementarianism.

The tide is turning, and those Evangelicals who want to retain the "men on top" church structure will be just as left behind as those colonists who felt this country should have stayed under English rule. It's not a matter of doing what's popular; it's a matter of getting the Gospel right - which is that in Christ "there is not male and female."

Just sayin'.

Iris Godfrey said...

I think Jesus sometimes cries, like I do over such. I do not see the role of any teacher primarily combative and aggressive. If it is for someone, then I questions whether or not they are really teachers or are they debaters in suits?

No race, no economic status, no gender distinction . . . Someone really important said so.

Also - Just sayin'.

roguephysicist said...

Well, lets assume you want comments, agreeable or not:

(1) "I would have thought that "fellow" was a gender neutral term,..."
Well, thats a mistake. "fellow" in the English usage as it has developed since 1790 is a Freemasonic term, which automatically precludes it from referring to women. Its no surprise that as a woman, you wouldn't have a clue about this and half the common English idiomatic expressions in use all around you. This isn't a put-down of women, but an observation about historical secret societies.

(2) "However, the masculine generic is being suffocated, eradicated, slowly and surely....

Not likely. The blowback from 'gender-neutral' translations sponsored by feminists and homosexuals has hardly started. Again, just an observation.

(3) Michael's nonsense:

He may be trying to maintain a permanent cultural/social distinction in function between genders in various positions. He may believe it is based on 'nature' not 'nuture'. He may base it on Biblical theology. But his concern is irrelevant. The basic roles and distinctions between men and women is not likely to shift much further, no matter how loud special interest groups get. All complex societies result in specialization, and men and women in large quantities will always feel more comfortable in different roles.

(4) Your complaint about decoding special jargon is legitimate. That kind of masonic gameplay is lame.

(5) Michael's argument on 'combative' roles being more suitable for men is problematic and you have correctly exposed the non-sequitous and backwards logic. But men are still more aggressive than women generally, in spite of efforts by over-masculinized dykes and hormone therapies. Problem is, 90% of the jobs in an army don't require soldiers, but support staff.

(6) Your observations are accurate. Most women aren't protected by men, except in the absurd "oh, somebody's beatin up a lady, I better butt into a private domestic dispute, cause its in public" sense.

(7) The mixed messages to and hypocritical rules imposed on women remain absurd. There is no solution.
But as usual, its nothing special: you can substitute any other ethnic minority, special interest group, or religious/political party for "women" and make the same observations.

Suzanne said...


1) When I wrote, "a word that might have been used for males, but has come to be a masculine generic," - I meant, of course, it used to refer to males. However, now it refers to women as well, in university positions, or fellowships.

2) I am not sure what you argument is here

3) Roles have already shifted. Many of my women friends support their families.

And to the rest - yup!

J. K. Gayle said...

I daresay that Michael might explain that he moderated me from his blog for being "aggressive and combative."

And [this aggressive and combative fellow] Deborah said to Barak [this fellow submitting himself under her], "Up! For this is the day in which the LORD has given Sisera into your hand. Does not the LORD go out before you?" So [listening to the authority, the head, the woman over him,] Barak went down from Mount Tabor with 10,000 men following him. And the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army before Barak by the edge of the sword. And Sisera [a different fellow disregarding the aggression and combativeness ordered by this fellow Deborah] got down from his chariot and fled away on foot. And Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-hagoyim, and all the army of Sisera fell by the edge of the sword; not a man was left.
- The Bible (Judges)

And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
- The Bible (Judges)

I am your wife, if you will marry me ... to be your fellow, You may deny me; but I'll be your servant.
- The Tempest (Shakespeare)

Peter Kirk said...

Suzanne, I think you are personally all that is needed to falsify any hypothesis that women cannot be combative (I don't say "aggressive") enough to confront false teaching. But of course people like Patton don't look at the evidence for or against their theories, only at what they think the Bible says.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

I think that complementarians would say that it is completely wrong for women to be combative at all. But then they will also say that because it is wrong for women to be combative, women cannot be head pastors.

So, where in the Bible does it say that it is wrong for a woman to be combative?

A woman can be "strong" and "mighty/chayel."

Kristen said...

The reasoning is rather odd, when you think about it. Women cannot be head pastors because head pastors sometimes need to be "combative," and women are not naturally "combative."

But if a woman does show herself to be capable of the kind of "combativeness" that can contend for the truths of the faith, then the idea changes-- it is not that a woman cannot be naturally combative, but that it is improper for her to be so.

So really, the reason that women cannot be head pastors is that it is improper for them to be so, and nothing more. In the long run it has nothing to do with their natural abilities-- for one a woman proves herself able to be "combative, she is told, not that she is failing at this skill, but that she is being unwomanly.

Circular reasoning, really. A woman should not be a head pastor because a woman should not do what head pastors do. And a woman should not do what head pastors do because women are not to do these things.

The fact that the Bible actually describes no such position as "head pastor" is beside the point. Apparently, so is the fact that many men are not personally capable of the type of "combativeness" required-- but since this is not supposed to be because of their sex, it doesn't matter; whereas if a woman is personally capable, since she is not supposed to be (because of her sex), this does preclude her.

Do you know what? It sounds just like prejudice. If these things were said about a black person not possessing the necessary capabilities, or if he did possess them, it would be being unbecoming to his race for him to exercise them-- it would be called prejudice. So what, exactly, is the difference?

Suzanne said...

It gets really bad if someone says that men should be head pastors because men are more logical. is any of this logical?

J. K. Gayle said...

The reasoning is rather odd, when you think about it. Women cannot be head pastors because head pastors sometimes need to be "combative," and women are not naturally "combative."

This reminds me of the problem some have with, the odd praise others have for, Michele Bachmann:

"From the perspective of her religion, Republican candidate-to-be Michele Bachmann is something of a conundrum. Although she draws much of her strength from her evangelical Christian roots, the strict gender roles that accompany these same roots would seem to preclude her serving as the United States’ commander-in-chief."

"Bachmann is seldom described in those terms; the conservative Minnesota congresswoman and Tea Party darling might cringe at the feminist label.... she exemplifies an evangelical feminism that is producing more female leaders in ... politics, even as more traditional gender roles prevail in evangelical homes and churches. 'It’s not that evangelical feminism is entirely new,' says R. Marie Griffith, ... 'But this lack of fear going into top positions of power is new and astonishing and exciting for this segment of the population.' ... Even as more evangelical women pursue top jobs in politics, there is little sign that they will be invited into similar roles in evangelical churches, which continue to be led by men, with some exceptions. Some evangelical denominations, including Southern Baptists, have recently moved to put more restrictions on women serving as pastors."

"While evangelical feminism has taken a number of different directions since then, it typically leans moderately left on most political issues, which is one reason why it has captured the wrath of hardline complementarians like Wayne Grudem and John Piper. ('Complementarianism' is the view that God designed men and women not to be equal but to be complementary, with men as the leaders and women as helpmeets.)

Palin and Bachmann decidedly do not lean left. What is 'feminist' about them, for those who want to use that descriptive, is their belief that God calls women no less than men to fight His battles against Satan on earth. Women hold awesome power as spiritual warriors, in this worldview; they're not doormats, nor should their godly duties be confined to the domestic sphere. This is its own sort of egalitarianism, to be sure, but it is one far more compatible with the complementarian theology of arch-conservative Protestantism than with the feminism of liberal religion. After all, Bachmann and Palin have both made much of their roles as wives, mothers and churchgoers in a way meant to show that their political leadership will not upend the gender hierarchy so crucial in the conservative evangelical home and church sanctuary."

Theophrastus said...

I think you will enjoy reading this:


Gary said...

This Michael person is really reaching for answers that do not exist when he said, "Paul did not let women teach due to the often aggressive and combative nature that teaching must entail concerning the confrontation of false doctrine". 1 Cor 14:34-35 "the women should keep silence in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate...If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home". Maybe it is the English translation, but it is clearly not a benign statement about women and teaching (as in a Rabbi position). It is a statement of dismissal, as in women are property, slave, etc. You have to try and recognize the human bias and motivation in the writings of the bible. Paul is clearly a bigot on this particular subject. If you are a believer, you have to ask if that particular statement was inspired by God, or by Paul. I think it was inspired by Paul.

Gary said...

So I looked at Michael's web site, and his resume includes "Dallas Theological Seminary", as in premillennial dispensationalist. So that explains it all. Waiting for Jesus to preside over the sacrifice of animals in a rebuilt temple, red hefer and all. Don't need advice from them.

Peter Kirk said...

Gary, there a quite a few people who don't believe those verses were written by Paul at all, including Gordon Fee. There is some quite strong evidence that they are a later interpolation into Paul's letter.

Gary said...

Peter,..I don't know who Gordon Fee is, but according to wikipedia, "He is a strong opponent of the prosperity gospel and published a 1985 book entitled The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels"...anyone that is a strong opponent of the prosperity gospel is OK with me.

Donald Johnson said...

Fee and most recently Payne see 1 Cor 14:34-35 as an editorial addition.

Others, including myself, see it as a quote from some at Corinth that is repudiated by 1 Cor 14:36ff. In 1 Cor 14:36 are 2 Greek etas which can be understood to be expletives of repudiation (which Paul uses throughout 1 Cor, BTW).

EricW said...


Gordon Fee is a major NT and Textual and Pauline scholar, as well as a professing Pentecostal. He is the General Editor of Eerdmans New International Commentary on the New Testament.

Gary said...

Interesting...I'm not a bible scholar. But I also do not think a person needs a bible scholar to define their belief system and theology. Common sense rules. I wonder what made people think Paul didn't write 1 Cor 14:34-35? It's OK with me either way. But I find it easy to believe that Paul might not have been 100% inspired by God 100% of the time. Just as a simple example, was David inspired by God 100% of the time? Apparently not when he went after Bathsheba, and had Uriah killed to cover the misdeed. So I think it would be reasonable to expect Paul to be inspired by God some times, but not100% of the time, either in his writings or his oral statements. I do not believe God was a filter in the text of the bible, to make sure only inspired writings made it into the text, and had discarded the uninspired text. Man made the decisions in both the authorship, and the selection of the texts. If the bible is 100% inspired, then a redactor should have been struck by lightning if he added anything contrary to God's inspiration :-) I don't think there are any records of lightning strikes on scribes.