Probably no piece of classical music is better known than Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, that paean to freedom and joy. A section has even been turned into a hymn: "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee."
So it's startling to hear what some feminist critics are saying today about this symphony.
They insist that all music is shaped by sexual themes--themes of male domination and control. One feminist professor writes that in Beethoven's Ninth, what she hears is not an ode to freedom but frustrated sexual energy--energy that builds up until it "finally explodes in the ... murderous rage of a rapist."
Well. Welcome to the strange world of feminist scholarship.
It used to be that feminists just wanted to open opportunity for women in all fields--a worthy goal. But today there's a new movement of so-called gender feminists. They want more than equal opportunity. They want to change the very content of what's taught in all fields--to create a feminist music, a feminist art, a feminist science.
For example. In architecture, gender feminists say the development of square-cornered buildings has nothing to do with economy or space. It represents simply "the male take-over of power in architectural shapes." If females were architects, they say, we'd be living in oval mounds and other rounded shapes.
In advertising, gender feminists read fashion photos as symbols of suppressed male violence. A model wearing a high collar is said to represent strangulation. Bracelets denote slavery.
Even science is interpreted as an expression of male dominance. In biology, DNA is sometimes called the master molecule because it directs the cell's activities. But for gender feminists, any concept of mastery is masculine. They reject the master molecule theory, saying it pictures the DNA as "a male controller in a female body."
But criticism goes beyond individual scientific theories. Gender feminists say the scientific method itself is an outgrowth of male bias. They like to quote Francis Bacon, a 16th-century scientist, who quaintly described science as a "marriage" between the human mind and nature. He said the mind "penetrates" nature and turns her into his "slave."
Gender feminists pounce on this kind of imagery and say all science is based on the metaphor of sexual subjugation--of dominance and control. One feminist even suggests that Newton's mechanics be renamed Newton's rape manual.
The examples are so outrageous they're almost silly. But the underlying theme is far from silly. Gender feminists deny any objective truth. Every theory, they say, is distorted by gender. That's pretty disturbing for people like you and me who believe there is an objective truth, and that the heart of that truth is in the Scriptures.
There's no denying that women's perspective and experience have been excluded from the public arena. Christians should be the first to recognize that both men and women are created in the image of God, and both have something important to contribute.
But we should also stand against the attempt to deny objective truth and reduce everything to sexual themes. There's much more to art and science than the battle of the sexes.And yes, there's more to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as well.