A Dialogue Between a Secular Feminist, an Evangelical Egalitarian, and a Neo-Patriarch


Gloria (Secular Feminist)

Sarah (Evangelical Egalitarian)

Abraham (Neo-Patriarch)

Moderator (Neutral)

Opening Statements

Moderator: I am very grateful that you three have agreed to engage in a dialogue on a topic of intense interest and immense significance for my audience, that is, the ethics of male/female relationships in society, church, and home. Of course, we will not attempt to address every dimension of that issue but will focus on power and privilege, which are at the center of the contemporary controversy. As moderator, I will not take sides but I will attempt to enforce civility and encourage clarity. And I will try to keep you from straying from the topic under discussion. The dialogue will begin with opening statements from each of you. Please state your view clearly, explain your grounds for holding it, and detail some of its practical implications for society, church, and home. The order will be Gloria, Sarah, and Abraham.

Secular Feminism

Gloria: Thank you, Moderator, for the opportunity to explain and defend secular feminism to this audience. And since you seek clarity in this dialogue, I shall begin with a statement as clear as crystal: It is wrong everywhere, always, and for everyone to forbid a woman to do something she wants to do simply because she is a woman. Some things are logically impossible for everyone. Some things are physically impossible for everyone. And some things are physically possible for some people but for not others. But anything that is possible should be permissible. Secular feminists recognize as legitimate no law of nature, no social custom, no political legislation, and no divine law that forbids a woman to do what is possible for her. And we condemn every political, social, ecclesiastical, and familial institution that keeps a woman from actualizing her potential the way she wishes.

Having stated clearly what secular feminists assert, I shall explain the grounds or justification for our assertions. Those grounds fall into two categories. The first concerns a view of the self that is presupposed by all modern progressive movements, including secular feminism. The second concerns women’s experience of their own selves as women. The modern view of the self began to surface in the Renaissance, continued in the 17th century Enlightenment and in the 19th century Romantic Movement, and came to maturity in the late 20th century. When you disengage the human self from all external frameworks that impose on the self a preexisting, unchosen, and alien identity—state, society, family, church, and nature—you discover the essential self. This self exists apart from these frameworks and possesses power to create its own identity, that is, to become what it wishes to be. Its essence or one essential property is freedom, the creative power of will. The dignity of the self does not derive from any value system outside the self, from nature or God or society. Its dignity is self-grounded. That is to say, I am related to myself and I am worth something to myself. I value myself more than I value the whole world. Given the power of the self to create its own identity and establish its own dignity, it makes sense for the self to assert its right to determine itself and liberate itself from all external frameworks and forces. In fact, this assertion is the self’s essence and its proper act. And it demands that others respect its self-respect. This then is first justification for secular feminists’ assertion of their right to self-determination against all external frameworks and powers.

The second justification is specific to women. Women are self-creating selves like all human beings but in their own particular way. We secular feminists call it “women’s experience.” Women experience their female bodies from within, and they experience the external world of nature, society, church, men, and family as women. And that experience includes misrepresentation, oppression, exclusion, domination, abuse, and rape. Women’s experience includes the feeling of powerlessness, forced silence, and dismissiveness on the part of men. Women experience being valued only for the satisfaction of male lust, as wombs used for reproduction, as housekeepers, cooks, caretakers for children, and babysitters for immature men. We secular feminists consider women’s experience an authority by which to critique the oppressive structures of the patriarchal past and those that still remain.  More accurately, the modern view of the self, which I described above, is the authority by which oppressive structures are judged to be wrong and women’s experience is the way even subtle oppressive structures are revealed as oppressive for women. (In philosophical language, the first is ontological, having to do with the mode of being, and the second is epistemic, having to do with the way of knowing.) Because of their experience of oppression, women can see things that men cannot see.These two sources together provide a foundation and justification for secular feminism.

The third thing the Moderator asked me to do was to detail some practical implications of secular feminism. I will be as clear in this section as I was in the first. Secular feminists demand that every tradition, ideology, theology, or philosophy that justifies male privilege be rejected as false, anti-human, and evil. We also demand that every framework, order, institution, and structure that blocks or inhibits the realization of women’s potential be reformed or abolished. These institutions include all public and so-called private institutions: government, churches, military, clubs, families, societies, and schools. And since these institutions are heirs of a long history of oppression, they cannot be left to reform themselves. There must be an aggressive public policy of affirmative action to move rapidly toward equality. As for churches, they are the worst offenders, not only because of their oppressive practices but, more egregiously, because of their patriarchal ideology dictated by Bible, that ancient patriarchal and misogynous text that ought to have been relegated to the dustbin of failed mythologies long ago but is still revered by uneducated men and the women deceived by them. While I am on that subject…

Moderator: Perhaps this would be a good place to stop, since you seem to have completed your case and are now skating close to the edge of incivility. I think you have given our audience a clear idea of the nature of secular feminism. Your statement was clear, bold, and honest. It will give us something to think about and discuss in the next phase of the dialogue.

Next, we will hear from Sarah our representative of Evangelical Egalitarianism.

11 thoughts on “A Dialogue Between a Secular Feminist, an Evangelical Egalitarian, and a Neo-Patriarch

  1. nokareon

    Very interesting! I am definitely eager to see where this goes. Am I correct in inferring that this is a virtual dialogue composed for illustration/elucidation purposes?


  2. Sara Hope

    One issue with self-grounded dignity that occurred to me: On what grounds could the secular feminist critique a person’s self-evaluation as one of being worthless? Whether they are depressed, oppressed, or even oppressive. Could the secular feminist argue that this person is inherently dignified apart from their self valuation? If dignity is fundamentally self-grounded and not at all dependent upon external structures or forces… Perhaps she/he could say the person’s very persistence betrays that they deem themselves worthy of life, but not so for those who succumb ultimately to suicide.

    Does it follow then that some people are worthless? Or even, perhaps more problematically, that on day 1 a person is worthless, but on day 2 upon which the person has taken their Prozac and sees themselves in quite a better light, that they now have dignity?


  3. ifaqtheology Post author

    Very good questions! I will be compiling comments and objections for each persona to address at some point. Perhaps Sarah or Abraham will press the issue you raise. They both believe in creation and a God-given dignity. I am sure they will press Gloria on these and similar points. Thanks for reading the post and, if you are willing, encourage others to follow this series. I think it will be illuminating for some.


  4. mmccay1982

    I’m interested in the remainder of the dialogue as well. For what it’s worth, this is the most articulate and concise secular feminist I have ever heard from.

    Sarah Hope, I have a thought that was sparked by your question about the self-grounding of dignity. You asked, “Could the secular feminist argue that this person is inherently dignified apart from their self valuation?” I think your anticipated answer was no, as that would require appeal to an external and objective measure, any type of which would probably be perceived as oppressive withing one of Dr. Highfield’s categories. My thought/question sparked by yours is:

    Regardless of whatever subjective source of dignity is appealed to by the secularist, in the absence of an objective source of dignity given by God, by what source or measure should I evaluate your argument of dignity?

    Restated, if secular dignity is based on your subjective opinion/self valuation, why should anyone use anything other than subjective other/valuation in determining the rightness or wrongness of your valuation? If the secularist is not appealing to an objective moral source in defining their dignity, what source does the secularist appeal to when the world judges their self/valuation as completely errant and worthy of being ignored?

    The objective standard is both a confining power to us all in identity, as well as a liberating power in the assurance of dignity within that identity.


  5. ifaqtheology Post author

    Thanks for your comment, Matt! It’s good to hear your “voice”! Yesterday and today I am writing Sarah’s position statement. Writing in a persona, or actually three personae, allows me to “get into character” in an attempt to understand each position from within as much as I am able. We used to do this in graduate school. Our professor would assign us a position to defend or refute without regard to our true evaluation. I thought it was a great exercise then and I still do. As I said to Sara, your comments will generate aspects of the future discussion. Thank you!


  6. Jerry Starling

    The question that occurs to me is to ask on what grounds Ms Secular Feminist can “demand” that some other “self” respect her own self-evaluated worth of her “self”? If the other’s self-worh is based on his/er own self evaluation (just as her “self” worth is self-given), how can she place “demands” on another “self” based solely on her internal authority? Without an external authority of some kind, how can she pronounce any “other” as being evil?


      1. Jerry Starling

        As I read Gloria’s comments, I was reminded of Eve’s rumination re the forbidden fruit, “that it was desired to make one wise like God KNOWING GOOD AND EVIL.” It appeared to me that her knowledge of good and evil lies solely in herself and none other can tell her anything about right and wrong.


  7. ifaqtheology Post author

    Good analogy! There is something Promethean in Gloria’s philosophy. When you refuse to ground your existence and value in the Creator–and thereby accept your limits as part of the good creation–you have to put yourself in the place of the Creator. But, of course, others may not recognize your divinity!



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