Thursday, November 5, 2015

Relational gender essentialism

It might turn out to be like this: There is no significant difference between matter and antimatter, except insofar as they are related to one another. A proton is attracted to antiproton, while each is repelled by its own kind. Our universe, as a contingent matter of fact, has more matter than antimatter. But, perhaps, if one swapped the matter and antimatter, the resulting universe wouldn't be different in any significant way. If we this is true, we might say that there is a relational matter-antimatter essentialism. It is of great importance to matter and to antimatter that they are matter and antimatter, respectively, but it is important only because of the relation between the two, not because of intrinsic differences.

I don't know if it's like that with matter and antimatter, but I do know that it's like that with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The only important non-contingent differences are those constituted by the relationships between them. (There are also contingent extrinsic differences.)

Could it be like that with men and women? The special relation between men and women--say, that man is for woman and woman for man, or that one of each is needed for procreation--is essential and important to men and women. But there are no important non-contingent intrinsic differences on this theory.

There might, however, be important contingent theological differences due to some symmetry-breaking contingent event or events. Maybe, when the Logos became one human being, the Logos had to become either a man or a woman. If the relation between men and women is important, the decision whether to become a man or to become a woman, might have been a kind of symmetry-breaking, with other differences in salvation history following on it. In itself, that decision could have been unimportant. If the Logos had become a woman, we would have a salvation history that was very much alike, except now Sarah would have been asked to sacrifice a daughter, we would have had an all-female priesthood, and so on.

Or perhaps the symmetry-breaking came from the contingent structure of our sinfulness. Perhaps the contingent fact that men tended to oppress women more than the other way around made it appropriate for the Logos to become a man, so as to provide the more sorely needed example of a man becoming the servant of all and sacrificing himself for all, and in turn followed the other differences.

I don't know if relational gender essentialism is the right picture. But it's a picture worth thinking about.


Gorod said...

Very interesting post, thank you. I've been thinking about it since yesterday.

I'm inclined to think that there is an asymmetry between all those pairs of realities you describe. In God, that would be a fundamental origin in the Father, a certain activeness, initiative. In the Son it would be the exact corresponding opposite, a certain passiveness, receptiveness, reaction.

I see this (and I believe I am not being too original here) would be the actual cause (model) for the differences between man and woman.

They would also be the reason why the Son incarnates as man. He is to be the origin, the source, the activeness in the God-Men sphere (the Church). This is clearly present in the the scripture, that the role of the Son changes when we move from the trinity-sphere to the church-sphere: "as the Father loved me, so have I loved you", "as the Father sent me, so I send you", and many other examples. Ephesians 5 then relates this "structure" to the man-woman pair.

you say about the Trinity that "The only important non-contingent differences are those constituted by the relationships between them". That's right, but it doesn't mean that these relations are commutative. They can be essentially directional (and I believe they are).

Alexander R Pruss said...

It's a good point that there is a disanalogy between the Trinitarian relations and the matter-antimatter relation. The Trinitarian relations have a directionality to them. I didn't mean to carry this directionality over to the gender case: the theory I am considering doesn't have any such directionality. (But a variant of it could.)