"A great gap had grown up between the sexes. Segging we called it. From segregation. Almost everything we did was segged. Girls with girls, boys with boys…two big streams that couldn’t make a river." – The Ice People, Maggie Gee
Despite the recent furore over Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, there’s only one dystopia about male-female relationships that’s been running through my mind lately—and that’s Maggie Gee’s little known novel, The Ice People (1998). Gee describes a world falling under the spell of a new ice age, with the encroaching ice acting as a metaphor for the coldness that has grown between men and women. As fertility declines, the sexes segregate, unable to relate to one another, or define what it means to be male or female. The men band together with robots for companions and a hate-filled rhetoric for the women, whilst the latter take the remaining children and their general contempt for men and attempt to ‘go-it-alone’. The book is characterised by the longing of the sexes for each other, yet ripe with frustration and miscommunication.
The Ice People’s bleak future felt particularly prescient over this last month, as news broke of the Toronto terrorist attack by a man who self-identified as an ‘incel’ (involuntarily celibate). We saw a spate of articles analysing the ‘incel movement’, a group of young men on message boards fuelled by misogyny and anger. At the same time, declining sexual interest amongst the young received fresh attention, with the most startling news from Japan, where recent data has shown that 46% of women and 25% of men between the ages of 16 and 25 are averse to, or uninterested in sex. These are extreme examples, to be sure (as is The Ice People’s exaggerated vision), but the increasing failure of men and women to fundamentally relate to the other sex has garnered surprisingly little attention, perhaps in part because of the current focus on the deconstruction of gender. And yet it is a very real concern, which has been a long-term issue for some feminists (including Maggie Gee), that in the (right) desire to protest unfair treatment of women, the emphasis will shift from eventual restoration of relationships with men to deeper division, competition and disdain. Moreover, in our current arena where feminist slogans are appropriated as marketing tools, where there is a rising rhetoric of victimhood and an online space that amplifies inflammatory public discourse, the gentler arguments fall away and divisions thrive. And all this can fuel a further reactionary response from the opposite sex.
What might the Bible have to say about this? In the first instance, conflict between the sexes should be no surprise; it certainly isn’t a new phenomenon. Genesis 2-3 paints a picture of a man and woman, originally intended for companionship and interdependence, thrown into conflict by the Fall. Without this understanding of the original goodness and then tragic brokenness of the relationship between men and women, we can lose our basis for the desire for unity between the sexes. Whatever your views on the specifics of the Genesis account, it speaks powerfully to a deep unity and 'one-ness' between men and women, that our cry might mirror Adam's exclamation on seeing Eve: 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh' (Gen 2:23). In Christ, we look forward to the final redemption, but in the meantime the New Testament shows us a hopeful trajectory for restoring relationships across society.
For Christians speaking to the world, acting as salt and light in this context is to acknowledge and respond to gender-based injustice, whilst refusing to cede to a worldview that assumes a zero-sum competition between the sexes. Rather, we are called to be reconcilers and peacemakers, healers of division and the ones who promote a cooperative understanding and partnership between men and women. We have a beautiful vision to share of interdependence and powerful unity—a unity that is strong because it embraces our bodily diversity. We must urge others to see beyond protest, and re-frame the public debate as to how men and women can live well together, for the good of both sexes and the next generation which they alone can bring forth.
For more on the importance of a positive vision in creating social change, see Calum Samuelson's article: Inspiring Dialogue: Moving beyond ‘agree to disagree'.