C.S. Lewis Was not a Feminist

If you’ve ever read C.S. Lewis’ works of fiction you may have noticed an underlying theme of gender difference lying in the background, particularly in That Hideous Strength & Till We Have Faces. To the modern evangelical, Lewis is the type of thinker who is troubling. He refuses to fit into the compartments that the modern mind would have him go. Lewis challenges the modern evangelical on issues like: creation & evolution, Biblical innerancy, & a host of other issues that the modern evangelical Christian likes to neatly package and place people in to. Because of this, many liberal Christians try to take Lewis in as one of there own. Because he’s a little vague about his views on the Bible’s innerancy the liberal theologian will try to run with Lewis. Likewise, because he’s a little vague on what he believes about science and evolution, liberals will continue to do the same. Unfortunately for them, Lewis often comes across much more “traditional” than they would like.

Lewis was no fan of the feminist movement of his day and he often chose to voice his disagreement with it through his fictional writing. Rarely overstating, Lewis sneaks in fine displays of gender differentiation. One fine example of Lewis’ ability to do this is in his final installment of his Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength. In That Hideous Strength a government organization (N.I.C.E) is attempting to take over the world. There is a small group of informed resistors who all live in a house together tracking the movements of N.I.C.E. One of the rules of the resistance headquarters is that the men and women take turns with the household chores each day. One day the men will clean the kitchen and the other day the women clean the kitchen. Macphee, a member of the resistance, explains to Jane, a newcomer, why this is the case:

“The cardinal difficulty,” said Macphee, “in collaboration between the sexes is that women speak a language without nouns. If two men are doing a bit of work, one will say to the other, ‘Put this bowl inside the bigger bowl which you’ll find on the top shelf of the green cupboard,’ The female for this is, ‘Put that in the other one in there.’ And then if you ask them. ‘In where?’ they say, ‘in there, of course.’ There is consequently a phatic hiatus.” (pg. 164)

The theme of gender is actually pretty strong in That Hideous Strength, yet Lewis has a way of placing some of his strongest themes just below the surface of the page in such a way that you always feel them much more than you can perceive them.

Another instance in Lewis’ fiction where he highlights gender differentiation is in his novel Till We Have Faces, a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. The citation comes from a dramatic part in the plot where Oural (the narrator) is bemoaning the plight of her sister Psyche. She is explaining her despair to her grandfatherly like guardian who counsels that a nights rest will do them both well and they will further their discussion in the morning. Orual is distraught that he can even think of rest at a time like this. As narrator she then tells the reader:

This is where men, even the truest, fail us. Their heart is never so wholly given to any matter but that some trifle of meal, or drink, or sleep, or a joke, or a girl, may come in between them and it, and then (even if you are a queen) you’ll get no more good out of them till they’ve had their way. (pg. 149)

In both the setting of the quote and the quote itself Lewis highlights the differences between men and women.

This is obviously a very unpopular theme in our day. Gender is seen as a limitation to being what we want to be. Individual Autonomy has become the divine ruler in our day that any hindrance to it, even gender, must be sacrificed in order to attain “autonomy.” Yet Lewis has wisdom for us here and I think we would do well to hear him out. Lewis seemed to perceive the difference of gender permeating so much of life yet in a very understated way. Christians often approach the topic in a brash reactive way in response to the gender twisting they see around them. Lewis approach seems much less brass yet no less clear. It is a fine gift to be able to be clear without yelling and I think Lewis had that gift.

Food for thought.

Michael

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One comment

  1. I find it very funny and quite odd that you think of these two quotes/books as proof that C.S. Lewis was not a feminist. I am a feminist myself, and found nothing offensive or incorrect about either of the statements he made. Now, if your point is that C.S. Lewis would clash with the gender identity movement of today, then these would make a good point, but the gender identity movement is separate from feminism. These quotes in and of themselves say nothing that is securely for or against feminism, they are simply observances on the differences of the sexes.

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