Sunday, August 26, 2007

Woman knows best?

I used to regularly attend the mens' ministry at my home church. I don't remember what exactly sparked the discussion, but I remember one point at which the leader remarked upon the necessity of getting over the notion that women don't sin. It is actually a common notion in the modern evangelical world. It's seldom stated explicitly, but often, any discussion of relations between the sexes carries a subtext of assumptions that women are these good-hearted, pure, noble creatures who always want what's best but whose desires are often thwarted by the immorality of uncouth men. You know, snips and snails and puppy-dog tails vs. sugar and spice and everything nice.

These assumptions are often present in the articles and blog posts at Boundless, the Focus on the Family-run site I mentioned in my post on how evangelicals love diversity. A few days ago, editor Ted Slater posted what amounted to a statement of contrition for the personal qualities he possessed while a bachelor and gratefulness toward marriage for absolving him of those sins and reforming him. Part of it read as follows:

"Habits" were a big part of who I was, pre-marriage. Habits like staying up late working on my audio or Web site projects, taking naps whenever I felt like it, eating whenever (and whatever) I wanted, spending money impulsively on new musical or computer equipment, enjoying flirt-tinged conversations with single women, hanging out late with my buddies after worship band practice, getting to work late and staying at the office late, and so on.

The way I prepared for married life was by telling myself, and my bride-to-be, that our wedding day marked the death of the single Ted. On Dec. 21, 2002, the single Ted would be no longer. He would be dead.

The truth is that it took years to shed some of my more self-centered habits, but I do think it was helpful to begin the process by having a specific time in mind where those habits were no longer what characterized me.

The single Ted is long dead. And the happily married Ted doesn't miss him.

Now, it may very well be that Slater was a rotten guy as bachelor and that marriage forced him to clean himself up. I have to question, though, why if this kind of thinking is not part of a trend that sees men as inherently bad and women as inherently good, we never see similar thoughts expressed about women needing to clean themselves up. Indeed, try to imagine a post from Ted's wife Ashleigh alongs these lines:


"Habits" were a big part of who I was, pre-marriage. Habits like staying up late working on my school projects, taking naps whenever I felt like it, eating whenever (and whatever) I wanted, spending money impulsively on new clothes or shoes, enjoying flirt-tinged conversations with single men, hanging out late with my friends after worship band practice, getting to work late and staying at the office late, and so on.

The way I prepared for married life was by telling myself, and my husband-to-be, that our wedding day marked the death of the single Ashleigh. On Dec. 21, 2002, the single Ashleigh would be no longer. She would be dead.

The truth is that it took years to shed some of my more self-centered habits, but I do think it was helpful to begin the process by having a specific time in mind where those habits were no longer what characterized me.

The single Ashleigh is long dead. And the happily married Ashleigh doesn't miss her.

One simply doesn't hear this kind of thing in the evangelical world. And the funny thing is that most evangelicals will still claim to believe in traditional gender roles, even though this totally contradicts the notion that men are inherently bad and essentially need to "submit" themselves to women in order to be reformed. The aforementioned mens' minstry met at 6:30 AM on Saturdays, and some of the men didn't have much time to stay and chat afterward because they said their wives wanted them home to relieve them of the kids. Excuse me, but I thought that when a woman stayed home, taking care of the kids was part of her job. Where in all this are the "submission" of wives to their husbands and the "rule" of husbands over their households of which the Bible speaks? Now we have "conservative" Christian men cowering in fear of their wives, or perhaps, not wishing to provoke sexual rejection.

There's a lot of fretting in the evangelical subculture today about how the divorce rate among professing born-again Christians isn't any lower than that of society at large. That is certainly worrisome and wrong, but it is never going to change as long as evangelicals hold this view of women being morally superior to men.

5 comments:

John Savage said...

Hermes, I tend to buy the idea that women are more morally pure than men. I think it's an essential traditionalist doctrine, and I think it can be supported by human biology as well. In particular, since women have babies, they can't afford to remain single as easily as men can. As a result, they have a natural tendency to invest themselves in a lasting marriage. Men don't, unless the society does a lot to change the incentives.

You write, "And the funny thing is that most evangelicals will still claim to believe in traditional gender roles, even though this totally contradicts the notion that men are inherently bad and essentially need to "submit" themselves to women in order to be reformed." There's no contradiction there at all. Traditional gender roles, in fact, prescribe the belief that women should be morally superior, don't they? To protect that aspect of women's nature, we shelter them in the home, lest they be corrupted by the public sphere. Men have the last word because they understand the need to make compromises between private needs and the requirements of the real world. But that's just admitting that we can't be as perfect as women would like us to be.

Feminists have made the mistake of insisting that women are morally better, so they should have power. But much of that moral superiority would disappear if women were in charge. Not all of it, to be sure, especially on issues of sexual morality. However, knowing that power corrupts, we should not be surprised by the paradox that thus the more corrupt group must rule. The hope is that there will always be the positive influence of the "better half" in the home.

At least that's how I see it.

Elena said...

In the example you cited, Hermes, of the men who are conscientious about getting home to be with their families, which ones are doing it out of genuinely good motives (I have a responsibility to my family; I want to be with them) and which ones are letting fear of man control them (If I don't get home, my wife's gonna be mad at me)? Which ones are taking responsibility for their decisions to leave the gathering early? And which ones are merely blaming their wives?

And if a wife has requested gently and kindly (not demanded or manipulated) that her husband return home for family time (whatever form that family time takes), what is wrong with his leadership decision that he steward his time that way?

(Of course, I think it's tacky of a woman to begrudge her husband "guy time," especially if it is fruitful for his walk with Christ and for the walks of his brothers. He needs to invest in his brothers in Christ as much as they need to invest in him. I think some of the keys, here, are her attitudes and her expectations...how those are walked out in her words and actions towards her husband.)

I don't think either sex has the corner on succumbing to the fear of man. Nor a corner on blaming others and making others the scapegoats.


What do you think of the idea that the role is helper, not submitter, and that submission is the response to the husband's leadership? (His role is leader; his response to her helping, is praise.) I got the idea from a book called Rocking the Roles: Building a Win-Win Marriage, by Robert Lewis and William Hendricks.


john savage: Though I disagree that women are naturally more morally pure than men (which is a myth held over from the Victorian era, and maybe from before that), I do agree with you that women generally view marriage and raising children as a natural progression of their growth as human beings. In the example Hermes gave (Ted and Ashleigh Slater), I wouldn't have been surprised if Ashleigh had described her change from single-Ashleigh to married-Ashleigh as not a death/birth but a less-defined transition (in the sense of who she is... the change itself from singlehood to marriage, certainly is a pretty sharp transition!). But since I don't know her personally, I cannot accurately assess that.

Interesting concepts to ponder, certainly!

Hermes said...

John, I can see why it would be tempting for a traditionalist to say that. Chivalry, a concept which puts women on a pedestal, is a very traditional practice and is one aspect of the past that many of us have a special fondness for. And it is certainly true that in traditional society, women had to be protected from uncouth men. But let's think about why that was. Was it because the women actually had a greater innate tendency toward morality than the men, or was it just because women needed to be protected from the practical consequences of immorality--e.g., uncouth men would leave them pregnant with no means of support? If women are going to have babies, they can't afford to remain single as easily as men can, but does that really translate into a natural tendency to invest themselves in a lasting marriage, or does it just mean that they will easily accept support from the state or decline to have children at all? That's why I don't agree that traditional gender roles assume that women are or should be morally superior.

You have said "but much of that moral superiority would disappear if women were in charge." Don't you think that contradicts the idea that women have more innate morality? That is exactly the point I would make in disagreeing with you. If women were more innately moral than men, then as women have gained increasing power and influence in our society in the aftermath of feminism and the acceptance of equality of the sexes, our society should have become more moral, not less. Instead, rates of illegitimacy, premarital sex, cohabitation, sexually transmitted disease, and the like have all gone up since women gained equality. The older generation of feminists hated pornography because it objectifies women, but the younger generation celebrates pornography because it breaks down the traditional values the find so oppressive and exemplifies women's sexual power over me, thus they find it "empowering."

It's a pet peeve of mine that many conservatives, especially evangelicals and conservative Catholics, assume women really all want to settle down, be monogamous, get married, have children, and be domestic. If that were true, it would be easy enough for them to simply refuse to have sex with men without the promise of marriage. Yet they don't. And if you have ever interacted with liberal women, whether in person or online, you know that this topic raises their hackles like no other. They absolutely hate it when someone implies that women just want marriage and children; it causes them to immediately launch into a diatribe about how women can enjoy sex for its own sake just as men [allegedly] can, how it's pleasureable and empowering for them to do so, and how anyone who thinks otherwise thinks women are nothing more than walking uteruses with no rights or value. Again, on the subject of cohabitation--if this is really just what the men want, while the women want marriage, why do women consent to it? Why aren't they using their sexual power to require men to marry them, if that's what they want? I know I have heard more women than men say, "you wouldn't buy a car without test driving it first, would you?" as a rejoinder to disapproval of cohabitation.

I must admit, while I don't agree that women are more morally pure, you've made me think more deeply. I think this topic needs to be explored much further, and I'd be interested to know if you have more thoughts.

Hermes said...

I don't know if Elena will be coming back to check these comments, but I think her comment is important to respond to.

I wouldn't say most of these men were "conscientious" about getting home to their families, nor that they were blaming their wives. I just got the sense that they were sort of tired and weary, and quietly resigned to the fact that they had to do what their wives wanted. This is the problem with trying to live as a Christian in a secular culture, and why it's so troubling to see Christians embracing their increasing cultural isolation as a form of faith-strenghtening suffering. We can talk all we want about Biblical submission and how the man is supposed to be the leader in a Christian marriage, but we live in a surrounding culture that doesn't believe in this arrangement. This allows women to make their husbands' lives miserable if they're not happy, in ways that include threatening to leave him. In a traditional society, that would not be possible.

As for the idea that submission is a response to leadership, I'm extremely wary of any statement that one's fulfillment of one's obligations should be contingent on someone else, especially in marriage. Ephesians 5, for example, doesn't say "wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord IF they love you sacrificially." It just says submit, period, and then it says to husbands, love your wives, period. I think that each has his obligation to fulfil that independently of the other. A wife has to submit to her husband as to the Lord regardless of whether she feels he is loving her as Christ loved the church, and a husband has to love his wife as Christ loved the church regardless of whether he feels she's submitting to him as to the Lord.

NJArtist said...

Hermes:
As a 58 yr old who has been a Christian since age 14 and who was brought up in the Episcopal church, I can say, with experience, that what you say is true. This attitude that women are purer than men has damaged relationships between men and women, first in the church then the secular society.
From the time I first considered myself an eligible bachelor, falsely it turned out, to now (I am an artist), I have been the object of being told by so-called Xian women that I wasn't rough enough or didn't make enough money. In one church, I watched as the "professional virgins" got all perky and bouncy with a new convert who found Jesus after several years of fornicating like a rabbit: he was rough enough.
In a more conservative church, I watched as a bright, and attractive "church lady, visibly shuddered at my question as to why did she not date any of the decent, Christian men in the congregation; she then got up to talk to a fellow who just drove up to the diner in a new Mercedes.
When I attended church again after a ten year hiatus, it was to a Reform start-up church. The congregation didn't get beyond a core of about eight persons. Why? Because the biblically based Reform doctrine emphasizes man as the head of the household. Men would start attending; after a couple visits, they would bring in their wives: wifey never came back and the husband soon stopped coming.
My last and final experience was with another "Reform" church. Here, the damage done to the Christian male was extensive. The wuss factor damage in long-term Christian males was extensive: it was sickening to watch men hardened by an early to adult non-Christian life dominating the men who obviously were brought up in the church. I watched as fathers relinquished disciplining of their children to their wives. I saw mothers who took the responsibility of dragging their sons to church while the father was an infrequent visitor: the wife usurped the role of spiritual head. I observed the difference between one man's son and daughter: she was born before or shortly after the father became a Xian (the mother having married a non-Xian); the son was born some time later. The son was a "nice guy" and president of the youth group: I watched as an eligible woman almost choked as he tried to be friendly. The daughter, on the other hand, was dating a bad boy who appeared to share traits of the father from before he was "saved".
To make a long story short, the daughter, who character was formed before the father was properly Christianized, was dating someone like her unsaved father; the son, having been formed after the father was "Christianized", was having a hard time dating. Why? Because he was trying to find a "girl just like the girl that married dear old Dad"; unfortunately, mom chose a bad boy, As a result, he has no appeal to women like unto his mother. And that is the only type he has experience with.
On one occasion I cringed in sympathy for a young man who was praised in front of the congregation by the one of the lead musicians as one of the nicest guys he ever met. I almost hear any remaining eligibility he had amongst the young women present come crashing down.
During one of my last visits to this church, I witnessed a confirmation ceremony (14 yr olds). The girls had more masculinity in the cast of their faces than did the males.
The final straw came when I approached an older man (by about 10-15 years)in obedience to an inner prompting to acquire a prayer partner. His wife jumps in and begins to dominate the situation. On one occasion she continually stroked my arm. She dominated any conversation I had with her husband. I walked away from the church shortly thereafter.

This is all prologue to a general statement.

In my 38 year experience, I have learned that women who believe the unbiblical doctrine that they are the purer sex, that they are the moral/spiritual center of the family, are unlikely to date or choose (as opposed to settle for) a man brought up in the church or who has been a Christian for a significant length of time: to do so means she would have to yield the dominant position to a well-grounded male. So what sort of male does she choose?: a male whose intelligence and character are in service to either his wallet or his groin. She chooses best who chooses a bad boy with status or a good income.