Monday, October 31, 2011

Heads for Men and Hearts for Women?

This week, in partnership with the International Society of Women in Apologetics, Apologetics315 will be featuring a series of essays from women in apologetics. This following essay has been contributed by Mary Decker, entitled: Heads for Men and Hearts for Women?

The trend
If you like to potter around apologetics blogs on the internet (my guess, if you’re reading this, is that you do), or if you attend apologetics events, you’ll notice that the ratio of men to women is skewed somewhat towards there being a lot more men involved in such things than women.

Now before anyone thinks this is going to be a feminist diatribe about glass ceilings and male domination, hear me out. I have no problem with there being plenty of men in apologetics. I want every Christian I can get to take an interest in apologetics – male or female. Moreover, I’m a pretty traditional Christian woman who believes in male leadership in the home and church, so a radical feminist agenda is most definitely not my aim. My aim is not to discourage men from taking part in apologetics, or to advocate for any artificially imposed gender balance, but to encourage more women to get involved in apologetics.

To do that, we need to consider why this imbalance exists to the degree that it does.

The demands of motherhood

Not all reasons for an apparent imbalance in this area are inherently bad. More specifically, there are good reasons why there probably should be more men involved on a full-time, paid basis in apologetics work. The sort of work done by William Lane Craig, Greg Koukl, or Mike Licona is a full-time job. Many women will very reasonably realize that the job of being a mom (yes, it is a job!) is a demanding one that doesn’t allow them to put in the same amount of formal apologetics work as their male counterparts. This is not necessarily a bad thing and I will elaborate as to why I think so later.

False dichotomies and misunderstandings
However, there are some reasons for this imbalance that are not healthy. In particular, there is a perception in some circles that apologetics is for men, but not for women. This perception ¬has its roots in a false dichotomy between head and heart, or reason and emotion, as well as a misunderstanding of the nature of men and women. It manifests in an association of head and reason with the male and heart and emotion with the female which does neither sex much good because it denies male emotions and female reason.

The false head-heart dichotomy
The reason why the head-heart dichotomy is a false one is because there is nothing to stop head and heart working in unison. There is no reason why we need to stifle emotions to be able to reason, or why we need to ignore reason in order to feel emotions.

Of course what is really usually being referred to when we encourage reason to hold sway over emotions is to not abandon reason and let emotions drive us. But this doesn’t mean that emotions need to denied or not taken into account.

Conversely, when emotions are elevated over reason, this is usually a reaction to a “straw Vulcan” whose use of unadulterated reason somehow implies that he must be incapable of dealing with emotions and the valuable insights they provide.  The problem with the straw Vulcan is that denying the existence of emotions is not reasonable.

Misunderstanding male and female nature
Men and women differ in more than just physiology. Men and women think differently. In and of itself, this is a good thing. However, problems arise when we do not understand those differences and misinterpret them.

In the context of this discussion, the false head-heart dichotomy is frequently applied to men and women as an explanation of behavioural differences. According to this application of the dichotomy, men are the custodians of the head/intellect, while women are custodians of the heart. Men are said to have the task of thinking and women are said to have the task of feeling.

Negatively (and this is where the problems arise), men are often considered emotionally incompetent while women are considered irrational. This misunderstanding is fuelled by mistrust between the sexes in our broken world with men and women dismissing each other as inferior intellectually or emotionally.

The consequences of the misunderstanding
The result of this misunderstanding is disharmony in relations between the sexes as well as a tendency for members of each sex to accept this false description of their nature and live up to these expectations.

Men are then not encouraged to acknowledge emotion other than as an expression of their “feminine side”. This is hardly encouraging to the average guy who would prefer to be masculine all round, thank you very much.

Women are not encouraged to apply their minds to “male logic” other than as a form of feminist “progress” that lauds women becoming more like men. However, most women with healthy ideas of female identity (including many Christian women), would actually rather like to retain their femininity, so this masculinisation is unappealing to them.

Right thinking on differences
The thing is that both men and women have emotions. The difference is in what they do with them. Studies, such as this one on emotional processing, seem to indicate that men tend to dissociate from and suppress emotions more than women do, while women tend to avoid upsetting emotions more than men do.

So, what is commonly perceived as lack of emotional depth in men as compared to women seems really to be an indication that men are more likely to suppress or dissociate from emotions as a coping mechanism and therefore outwardly appear less emotionally “in touch”.

Moreover, the trend among women to avoid upsetting emotions may be why fewer women get involved in overt, debating-style reasoning– such as apologetics – which can be emotionally draining.

The implications for men and women
With this healthier understanding of the differences between men and women when it comes to processing reason and emotions, we can leverage the differences for good rather than setting up false and damaging dichotomies.

For example, if we can help others to see that experiencing emotions is not exclusively a female thing at all, this can allow men to feel more at ease expressing their emotions, should they wish to do so. The Biblical David (warrior, king, and no wimp) felt perfectly at ease expressing his emotions. We should allow men of the 21st century the same freedom to express emotions and still be considered manly.

Likewise, if we see that reason is not the sole province of the “patriarchy” or of radical feminists and that it doesn’t require us to be cold and emotionless creatures that are incapable of love for husband or children (yes, that is the stereotype in some circles), then women can feel free to use the equally capable brains that God has given them in feminine ways.

Feminine apologetics
It may well be that there will still be fewer women taking part in debates because of women’s avoidance of emotionally upsetting situations. However, if a woman feels she can deal with such situations, all strength to her! Particularly when radical feminism lashes out at the Christian worldview as it applies to women there is a real opportunity for women to demonstrate that they can be strong in the way God intended without having to compromise their commitment to Christ or His plan for women.

Organized debates are also not the only platform to exercise apologetics. We’re not all able to be William Lane Craig, but we are all able to “(a)lways be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks [us] to give the reason for the hope that [we] have” (1 Peter 3:15). Moreover, Peter goes on to make clear that this should be done “with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against [our] good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander”. This is quite the opposite of cold and being hard. Yes, it is always a challenge (for men and for women) to be gentle and respectful while being uncompromising on the truth. But it’s certainly not a cold, unfeminine way to do things.

In fact, women’s greater tendency to connect with and express their emotions may actually help them to keep Peter’s suggested manner of apologetic practice in mind. It may also help them to strike up one-to-one connections with others which lead very naturally to discussions in which apologetics are useful in presenting the Christian faith.

Within the family too, every Christian wife and mother can play a vital role by using apologetics to encourage and support her husband and to instruct and bring up her children with a good, solid basis for Christian faith. We are so much stronger in a team than on our own and marriage is the best human team, designed by God, for navigating the world together for Him. One’s children too will be faced with a variety of arguments as to why they shouldn’t follow the faith of their parents. Thankfully there are good, logical reasons why they can make the Christian faith their own. It is an important parental responsibility to convey these reasons to one’s children and to help them grapple with the questions that will arise as they grow up. While this is important for both men and women to do, women usually spend more time with their children than men do, and they need to be prepared for the particular opportunities that this presents. Women have immense power as mothers to affect future generations. William Ross Wallace was right when he said that “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.” Mothers and those who would be mothers need to equip themselves so that they may equip their children for godly influence in all spheres of life, not least of all in Christian apologetics.

In summary, practicing apologetics is not unfeminine and it doesn’t have to be artificially placed in opposition to emotion. There are even advantages that women may have in some areas of apologetics and a myriad of apologetic opportunities and responsibilities for women with their friends, husbands and children.

Mary Decker lives in Cape Town, South Africa. She works as a technical writer for a software company – which means that she produces written material, such as user guides and installation manuals, to help end users understand how to set up and use software. In addition to having a keen interest in apologetics, Mary enjoys dancing, wordplay, and beautiful old hymns.


Daren Redekopp said...

What an insightful, unique post! I myself have been so thankful that my wife's faith is strong enough to walk me through my year of darkest despair and doubt. Now, when I go to pastor at church each day, I am comforted knowing that our three sons are being raised by such a woman.

Wessel Venter said...

Thank you for your article, Mary! I have a question: do you think that some women feel deterred from apologetics because of passages like 1 Timothy 2:11-12? While practicing apologetics is not the same as pastoring a church, equipping oneself for apologetics often takes one down a road similar to that of becoming a pastor. I have been in Bible studies with women whom I know have been better equipped for teaching the Bible than the men in attendance, but they reserved themselves from speaking too much. I find this a shame, because even with training they did not feel that it was their place to share, even though I felt like I could learn from them.

Neil said...

Great article, Mary! Looking forward to sharing that with my daughter who enjoys apologetics.

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