But I have noticed a disturbing trend in the awarding of these medals, which few others seem to have recognized.
We have feminized the Medal of Honor.
According to Bill McGurn of the Wall Street Journal, every Medal of Honor awarded during these two conflicts has been awarded for saving life. Not one has been awarded for inflicting casualties on the enemy. Not one.
Bryan Fischer’s post is ridiculous—but let’s try to get past that. Why is the claim absurd? Why would Bryan Fischer make it anyway? What are the claim’s political implications? (Bear with me. This may be a long ride—but I think it’s worth it.)
We know what Fischer means
While I suspect everybody reading this thinks that Fischer’s post is absurd—we know what he’s trying to get at. He’s not saying that the Medal of Honor has a fluctuating gender. He’s not saying it’s being awarded to a woman. He’s not saying the medal now has a picture of a woman on it. He is saying that the Congressional Medal of honor is being awarded for things he assumes are the sort of thing women are supposed to do instead of things men are supposed to do.
And he thinks this is “disturbing.”
The weaponization of feminization
What’s wrong with giving the medal to somebody who single-handedly saves his platoon instead of somebody who single-handedly knockes out the machine gun nest? The way we as a society react to war has changed. We’re more ambivalent about killing our enemy. We’re more concerned about the death of our allies. But we can all agree that saving the lives of our soldiers is an honorable act. And, since we have such a technological advantage, we can call in an airstrike on the machine gun nest. In the past, the guy who’d taken out enemy fortifications, usually at the cost of his life, had saved a lot of his comrades lives. Now he’s just the guy who got himself killed because he couldn’t wait for the planes to come in. What’s disturbing about that?
It’s fairly simple. Obama awarded the Medal of Honor. Is there any way we can read this to reflect on Obama? Can we play into the line that he’s a threat to national security? We’ve already said he’s … different. He is the Other. Women are also the Other. But the Medal of Honor is something we like. So maybe Obama is secretly turning the Medal of Honor into some Womany-Othery thing. The vaginas dentata are coming for us.
It’s a clumsy and reflexive way to connect the dots—but I suspect that’s what’s really happening here. Of all the ways to be wrong, this is, unfortunately, not a very interesting one. It’s just another beat of the same tired drum the religious right has been whacking for decades.
What does Fischer think is masculine?
As tired as the drumbeat has become, the drum itself is interesting. Let’s examine it. Fischer writes:
I would suggest our culture has become so feminized that we have become squeamish at the thought of the valor that is expressed in killing enemy soldiers through acts of bravery. We know instinctively that we should honor courage, but shy away from honoring courage if it results in the taking of life rather than in just the saving of life. So we find it safe to honor those who throw themselves on a grenade to save their buddies.
(Fischer then goes into a bit of bad theology where he claims that, “The cross represented a cosmic showdown between the forces of light and the forces of darkness, and our commanding general claimed the ultimate prize by defeating our unseen enemy and liberating an entire planet from his bondage.” I’m trying to tackle enough in this post without going into Fischer’s theological problems—but implication that the crucifixion was sort of like the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral is a real problem. The result was never in question. Darkness never had a chance.)
Sociological Images writes,
This is in dramatic contrast to the vision of the heroic man who protects others that has long been part of the American imagination (think firemen, policemen, body guards, big brothers, dads, boyfriends, and husbands) and a very interesting example of an attempt to redefine what “real men” do.
With no disrespect to the Sociological Images blog (which is wonderful—a real gift to the Internet), I think they’re misreading Fischer’s claim. Fischer doesn’t think that heroic rescues are feminine. He thinks that squeamishness about killing is feminine. He thinks that society’s increased hesitancy to to kill people is a symptom of some sort of wimpy, feminized liberalism. Perhaps the castrating feminists are after that most masculine of endeavors, war.
In case anybody missed it, Fischer uses “feminized” as a pejorative. More on that later.
Fischer might, by accident, be sort of right about something
I hate to go off on a tangent—but the concept of women as historical peacemakers is worth exploring. A lot of mothers who have seen their husbands and children go off to war and die are powerful voices for peace. Whether it’s the somber witness of Women in Black, the sometimes obnoxious antics of Code Pink, the potentially fictional activism of Lysistrata, or the quieter individual voices of those who have seen their fill of injustice and decide to stop it—the role of women who work for peace is worth acknowledging and exploring.
But there’s a vast gulf between the idea that women have more than carried their weight as peacemakers and the claim that it’s unseemly for men to be concerned about wanton killing.
Why does the right try to reinforce a rigid and hierarchical gender binary?
Things go wrong when we get our religion mixed up with our politics. Arguments against things like gay marriage worked pretty well when people could just invoke a disgust at the thought of “OMG gay is different and scary!” Once we got past that different and scary thing, it became important to find some way to reinforce some sort of gender roles to justify preferring heterosexual relationships to same-sex relationships. We saw the same thing with women’s rights. The idea that gender roles might shift is threatening—so it’s important to reinforce them by whatever means is necessary. In Fischer’s case this means bad theology.
There are some solid reasons to feel threatened by changes in things we’d taken for granted. If we’ve built a life on certain assumptions, changing them may be difficult. And anytime things are changing rapidly, even for the better, there’s room to get carried away and start believing some fairly stupid things. Finally, if you have a vested interest in the status quo, you might, of course, find change personally threatening.
Whether it’s motivated by fear of change, self-interest, or a need to rebuild a foundation for some fundamentally unsound ideas, Fischer and others have determined that it is their job to ensure that traditional gender roles are maintained. As they see it, binary gender roles are divinely ordained—and any shift, blurring, or ambiguity is potentially catastrophic.
Gender roles have never been clearly defined
Maintaining traditional gender roles requires defining traditional gender roles. That’s a lot more difficult than it sounds. Gender roles have always fluctuated in response to societal development and societal needs. We certainly know things that aren’t traditional gender roles or gender expression. But, since virtues are generally virtues regardless of who is expressing them, deciding which virtues go to which gender is a bizarre exercise doomed to failure.
This doesn’t stop Fischer from trying. Bravery is masculine. Mercy must be feminine. So killing must be masculine. If men are merciless killing machines, it doesn’t mean they’re sociopaths. It just means they’re real men. What else? Women bake. Men grill because they like fire. Women love children because they’re mothering. Men discipline children because they’re emotionally crippled. Women plant gardens because they’re nurturing. Men mow the lawn because they like gasoline and destruction. Women like pink because pink is a sissy color. Men like blue because men have always liked blue. Boys get into fights because all those women tell them not to. Girls are into plots and machinations because men find emotions intriguing but baffling. Men like sex, because hey, it’s fun. Women don’t like sex because sex is bad and somebody has to enforce the standards. Women are soft, squishy, and would make a decent pasta if the cannibalism taboo wasn’t so strong. Men are raging lunatics who need women to comfort them and tame them and make them cuddle even though they hate cuddling and have mother issues. Women hesitate. Men act. Men are ruled by reason, women by emotion, except for the times when men get really angry and are ruled by rage which is like emotion for men and then women are allowed to be reasonable. 2
These aren’t even gender roles. They’re a caricature of gender roles. They’re a reconstruction of something that never actually existed. They’re a monster sewn together from fragments of stereotypes, animated by fear, and plunked on an altar to be worshiped. It’s stupidity that approaches insanity.
Fischer has divided the world in to masculine and feminine. His effort to prevent any seepage from one half to the other leads to the bizarre conclusion that mercy is weakness and killing is honor.