Geoffrey Kirk is amazed by the radical opinions of a bishop-in waiting

Perhaps the most stimulating – and certainly the most controversial – book produced as a result of the first wave of feminist propaganda was Steven Goldberg’s The Inevitability of Patriarchy.

‘Persuasive and accurate,’ wrote Margaret Mead, ‘it is true, as Professor Goldberg points out, that all the claims so glibly made about societies ruled by women are nonsense. We have no reason to believe that they ever existed … Men have always been the leaders in public affairs and the final authorities at home.’ ‘Compendious, well-balanced and scholarly. I believe that it settles the argument’, wrote Ernest van den Haag.

Of course all this enraged the sisterhood – so much so that the American publishers were forced to withdraw the book. A later and fuller edition was published in Great Britain (comparative haven of freedom and sanity) in 1977. It is now something of a collector’s item So what was it (apart from the provocative title) which so enraged the right-on and the politically correct?

Universal pattern

Goldberg’s thesis can be succinctly stated. All human societies have always been patriarchal. If one looks at those roles which carry authority and high status and which can be filled by either women or men, men predominate and have always done so. Has the human race throughout history been foolishly misled, Goldberg asks, leaving the truth to be discovered for the first time by our own generation? Or is there a reason behind this universal pattern?

He goes on to argue that there is, and that it is psychologically rooted in our nature. It is not that men necessarily do these tasks better than women, nor is it a legacy from the days when physical strength mattered more than it does now. It derives from the simple fact that, on average, men have a greater drive towards dominance. (There are, of course, many individual exceptions to the rule, but the fact that many women are taller than many men in no way contradicts the observation that, on average, men are taller than women.)

Dominance tendency

Societies, says Goldberg, have always been aware of this male ‘dominance tendency’ and have founded their institutions upon it. This in turn tends to exaggerate it, as social forces reinforce the biochemical tendency. Unquestionably this can produce frustration and unhappiness among those who vary by much from the average. But just as unquestionably far more human damage would be caused by a society that based its institutions on the false assumption that there was no basic difference of this kind between the sexes.

A large part of the book is devoted to a scrupulously thorough review of the evidence that patriarchy is in fact universal. Another centrally important part investigates the causes of the dominance tendency, which Professor Goldberg locates in the sex hormones which we inherit as part of our genetic make-up.

Throughout the book he examines with the greatest care any possible objections or exceptions, particularly those raised by feminist writers; and unlike some of his fashionable opponents, he is always careful to specify the theoretical and factual grounds on which his argument rests. Nothing in The Inevitability of Patriarchy suggests that men are more important than women. Professor Goldberg repeatedly stresses that dominance is not to be equated with value, and that there are many traditionally ‘feminine’ activities which are far more important than the masculine pursuit of power and status. His book is not an attack on women; rather it is opposed only to those who refuse to see the world as it is because their ideology would like it to be different.

Faulling for it

No one will be at all surprised that opponents of women’s ordination have held Goldberg’s book in high regard for many years. But imagine my surprise when I discovered recently that bishop-in-waiting Vivienne Faull is another admirer. In an interview in The Daily Telegraph (August 28, 2001) the Provost of Leicester voiced a similar thesis.

‘I think the priesthood will become a profession dominated by women, particularly if the Church becomes more marginal,’ said Faull. ‘Men will be less attracted to working in the Church because it offers less social status. Women worry less about this. Also, being a good priest demands the feminine traits of caring and nurturing. I predict that once initial doubts about women clergy are dispelled, parishes will actively seek women as their priests.’

All this, of course, is pure Goldberg.

Women, Goldberg says, are more likely to be attracted to, and be successful in, low status occupations. With men it is the opposite. And in the eyes of men, when a profession comes to be predominantly female, it is automatically lowered in esteem. ‘Women’s work’ is no arena for a hot-blooded, testosterone-flooded male. This goes for the pews as well as the pulpit. (An independent social survey of the pubs and clubs of this part of South London would certainly not contradict the Professor!)

Spiralling decline

The Goldberg-Faull thesis delineates a spiralling decline of influence of the Church on its ambient society. As the Church becomes more marginalized it is designated by the majority of men as ‘women’s work’, and women increasingly, in a clerical capacity, do it. In consequence the proportion of men in Sunday congregations dwindles even further (is this possible? – see the work of Leon Podles), and the now almost exclusively female congregations seal the matter by demanding one of their own kind as their Vicar.

What is amazing is that the Provost of Leicester is so obviously sanguine about all this. Why is it, for her, a cause of self-congratulation that women will increasingly be in charge of an institution whose status and relevance will necessarily be proportionally decreasing? Goldberg, of course, would have a plausible explanation. But I doubt that Vivienne Faull does.

Geoffrey Kirk is Vicar of St Stephen’s, Lewisham and National Secretary of Forward in Faith.