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Patriarchy/Androcentrism - Definitions

Soldier of the One

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Buzzard kindly requested me to start this thread with a definition of terms. Now, I don't know if I am fully equipped to provide those definitions so I welcome peer review!

Androcentrism and Patriarchy are terms that are used a lot in FJ discourse when it comes to discussing fundamentalist thought. There are many nuances and shades to these definitions including contextual ones: these words may mean something different in general, secular parlance than they do in religious, fundamentalist parlance.

Of course, I could go to Webster's but I won't do that - unless someone really wants me to. I am happy to paste it in here at a later point.

I'd define androcentrism as a cultural phenomenon that places men and men's interests at the center of the social experience. A man (or a woman) can be an androcentrist when they deem men more important, valuable or essential to the human experience - be it through leadership, sexuality or any other cultural meme.

For instance, VF is androcentric in the sense that it places the male experience at the center of both its ministry and its theology. It is the male experience that matters most - women are there ultimately not for their intrinsic worth but to help facilitate the male experience. The concept of 'helpmeet' engenders this. Doug Phillips takes this androcentrism to even higher levels through the programming of his ministry - Father and Son retreats, an emphasis on homosocial relationships etc. This even has theological ramifications through androcentric theology: in which the 'maleness' of Deity is affirmed and only males are deemed suitable as spiritual leaders.

I'd define patriarchy in a number of ways:

1) General patriarchy (also known in general society): the rule of men over women. This is, of course, a terse and limited statement as experience teaches us that not all men rule over all women. There always have been noted exceptions to the rule. (ie. female Biblical prophets, Queen Elizabeth I, Hillary Clinton, etc). But often the exceptions affirm the rule because they are so rare and often rarified in the perception of general society.

A patriarchal society will - to a more or lesser degree - consider women subordinate to men and consider them to inhabit a personhood-chattel continuum. In milder cases, a woman is seen mostly as a person and only as chattel sometimes (i.e. Western marriage customs, Jewish Orthodox marriage right of 'purchasing' the bride with the ring) and this position of chattel may be entirely symbolic (though still powerful) as opposed to legal. (Women in most Western societies have equal rights but still experience patriarchy). In more extreme cases, a woman is seen mostly as chattel with only certain undertones of personhood (i.e. Biblical patriarchy where women are seen as spiritually equal to men but not ontologically or socially). Patriarchal customs can include such things as 'wifely submission' and 'transfer of authority' popular in certain fundie circles. In all cases of patriarchy, women's agency does not have parity with men's and women's agency is limited or diminished.

2) Biblical Patriarchy: this refers to a specific ideology popular in Quiverfull, Dominionist and fundamentalist cultures. Biblical patriarchy refers to an attempt to restore (or reinvent) the patriarchal structures of Bible times, especially Old Testament times. These perceptions may or may not line up with actual evidence provided by Biblical scholarship on what Israelite or early Christian society looks like but is only based on a (narrow!) exegesis of the Biblical text through a literalist and fundamentalist lens.

Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy include the idea that women are always under male authority: be it father or husband (and in some extreme cases, male sibling) and that a 'transfer of authority' takes place from the father to the husband when the woman weds. But Biblical Patriarchy up to a lesser degree also circumscribes the lives of young, unmarried men who live under the authority of their fathers until they wed and establish their own household. In that sense, it can be a control-grid that affects both sexes and that locks unmarried children into expectations of obedience.

Biblical Patriarchy also has theological ramifications: it teaches a particular doctrine of Trinity (see Vision Forum Ministries) in which the Triune Godhead is not in equal relationship with Itself (Father, Son, Holy Spirit - often conceived of as female in normative Christian thought) but rather where the Son (both in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth and in the spirit) is seen as being in continual obedient submission to the Father. This then, becomes a model for both unmarried sons, unmarried daughters and married wives.

Christian Patriarchs differ in opinion on how far their patriarchy extends. More moderate ones only preach female submission within the context of marriage. More extremist Patriarchs preach submission of all women to the three spheres of Family, Church and Government.


Hope this helps!

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Just adding what I wrote in the 'What is Vision Forum/Patriarchy' thread on Trinity because it is relevant to this discussion:

Not only is VF socially 'androcentric' but also theologically. And their theology filters into everything else. They believe that every part of the Christian Godhead (i.e. the Trinity) is masculine. Most mainstream Christian theologians (correct me if I am wrong, Christians!) would at least consider the Holy Spirit neutral at best or even explicitly feminine. They also have an odd theological belief that the Son is in continual submission to the Father, while other Christian theologians teach that the Son was in submission to the Father only when in the flesh and that the Trinity is composed of three equal aspects of God.

This might seem like theological nitpicking but it's relevant because it totally filters down into their perception and reconstruction of the patriarchal family: hence, by extension, the Father has complete authority over his children and wife, rather than being in partnership with the wife (as the Holy Spirit could be seen as being in partnership with the Father in mainstream Christian theology). They write on their Ministries website that the father-son relationship is paralleled in the Godhead, in a near mystical fashion. This only informs their 'idolatrous' worship of the family and the father's role therein.

Unsurprisingly, VF Ministries organizes activities for fathers and sons (to affirm this metaphysical model), for fathers and daughters (to instill submissive virtues in the young women and to bolster the authority of the father), for mothers and daughters (so that daughters learn to emulate their virtuous mothers and accept 'transfer of authority') but never mothers and sons. Do mothers and sons need no particular bonding? Apparently, for VF, no. My theory is that women have no intrinsic value according to VF theology and that in their view, the mother-son relationship is fraught with tension because of issues of authority: on the one hand, the mother has authority over her (young) son but on the other hand, this is mitigated by the fact that any male has inherent authority over any female under patriarchy. So that relationship is not fostered.

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  • 1 year later...

Most mainstream Christian theologians (correct me if I am wrong, Christians!) would at least consider the Holy Spirit neutral at best or even explicitly feminine.

I have never heard the Holy Spirit referred to as anything other than "He". Certainly not as feminine, for sure. Though there may be liberal denominations that do.

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