02 April 2007

Gender Unity: A Nibleyesque Musing

So, I'll get around to an obligatory conference post eventually today, but I'm restraining myself from writing anything fun until I do the Nibleyesque Musing that was due last week. Unfortunately, the only way I can motivate myself to do it is by posting it on the blog, so you'll just have to bear with me. Hey, it's on gender roles instead of obscure doctrine, so that should be fun.

Patriarchy and Matriarchy” was an interesting approach to the question of gender equality in the gospel. I’m not sure I agreed exactly with Nibley’s characterization of Adam and Eve. He seems to switch back and forth on who he “blames” for the Fall (assuming it’s something to blame for). He attempts to make Eve a conscientious actor (“It is she who perceives and points out to Adam that they have done the right thing after all.”), a deceptive trickster (“But Eve, who in ancient lore is the one who outwits the serpent and trips him up with his own smartness, defeated this trick by a clever argument.”), and finally an innocent victim (“The first daring step had to be taken, and if in her enthusiasm she let herself be tricked by the persuasive talk of a kindly "brother," it was no fault of hers.”). It seems that Nibley wants to have it all ways at once, to blame Satan, Adam, and Eve each for the fall in successive turns. After all, I suppose all are to “blame,” but I don’t think Nibley does a good job of pulling all three problems together into a coherent vision. Instead, his description of the Fall seems to remain fragmented and confused.

However, I do like Nibley’s final conclusion about apparent gender issues in the gospel. The problem with the Fall, he says, is not that it was a wrong choice. It was that the choice was made by Eve alone, rather than in conjunction with Adam and especially without consultation with God. He goes on to conjecture that the real problem with the matriarchy/patriarchy issue is that it shouldn’t be an issue. We shouldn’t be choosing one or the other, but both and neither. The problem is that we set it up as an issue at all, that our society is so concerned about who should be first. As Nibley explains, “the suffix archy means always to be first in order, whether in time or eminence; the point is that there can only be one first.” The problem is that we insist on trying to find out which gender is superior or better, or trying to find the exact nature of either gender, under the false assumption that one can really exist without the other.

Nibley’s explication of the loss of gender identities in Macbeth clicked an image in my mind of gender identity and struggle as a sort-of circle. At the bottom of the circle, we have those societies who, like Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, have lost their gender identity in a quest for power and authority. Here is the raw power sought by either pure patriarchy or matriarchy, complete chaos and domination by one set of principles or the other. Moving up to the middle of the circle, we have a society of opposites: extremely different and polarized gender roles, where we have given up some of our desire for power in order to achieve a more balanced society. Some would think this is the society the Church advocates, with men in the workplace and women in the home, each minding their separate spheres. But what the gospel really calls for is at the top of the circle, where gender becomes both extremely essential and also totally unimportant. As we move to the top of the circle, we move from a society desiring power to a society desiring progress—eternal progression. We give up our desire for absolute agency (being able to make all the choices ourselves) for the greater gift of unified action. Gender at this level becomes infinitely important, because society must be run by a man and woman working and deciding together, but also irrelevant, because of the perfect unity achieved. The two have become so one that both can do everything, and yet nothing, without the other.

(Long time readers may catch the definite allusion to one of my favorite posts on this blog, The Circle: A Theory of Knowledge. Like I say, everything relates to it!)


Connor said...

Randy Bott explained this line of thinking in my Mission Prep class at BYU, discussing how God is essentially Man and Woman working together, rather than one in submission to the other. In essence, both wear the pants in the relationship together.

Courtney said...

I've read this Nibley gem quite a few times. I like it. I like what you say (in lieu of Nibley's ideas) that when we reach the a higher level, gender roles are both essential and unimportant. Perhaps gender, specifically, is essential, and gender roles are unimportant? I think there must be more to gender than meets the eye. It can't boil down to inherent characteristics and tendencies (those tend to be mass generalizations that don't apply to everyone). So, gender must be more than what we think it is. This would explain why being gay is wrong (I would imagine) and why the family is so important. Oh the things we will learn . . .

onelowerlight said...

Very interesting. Your comments actually corroborate an insight that I've had in the temple for quite some time. Of course I can't tell you exactly what that is, but I can say that it has to do with the portrayal of the fall in the Temple endowment and how Satan's strategy, essentially, was to divide Adam and Eve--and that God's strategy, after the fall, was to unify them.

Cathryn said...

I'm going to play the devil's advocate for a minute, because I love this idea you're exploring and I want to keep the discussion going.

What do you make of Paul's teachings, then, in Ephesians? "Women, SUBMIT yourselves to your husbands, even as Christ submitted to the will of the Father;" "Men, LOVE your wives, even as Christ loved the church" (I'm not sure that that's the exact wording, so don't quote me on it, but I know it's pretty darn close)? Those are definitely different commandments. Was Paul, an ordained apostle, flat-out wrong? Are the two concepts mutually exclusive?