Why Honoring Woman Might Be Keeping Women Down

manwoman

I ran across this article a few days ago, hailed as a “spot on” understanding of gender and marriage. It’s called “Why Man and Woman Are Not Equal.”

I thought, at first, it was a click-baity title, but no, for real, the point of the article is

Man and woman are not equal. He owes what he is to her. … Woman is the most powerful living force on the globe. She creates, shapes, and sustains human civilization. The first step in weakening her power is to convince her that she must overcome her femininity.

This article is a typical complementarian trope I call “pedestaling woman” — elevating the feminine, “the woman” singular, to untouchable heights on account of her world-changing femininity.

It seems nice, of course, for a man to say that man and woman are not equal, but then name woman as superior — the moral force, the hand that rules the world because it rocks the cradle, the good woman behind every great man. This sort of humility and reverence feels refreshing after all the catcalls and the criticisms for women’s career and home choices.

I think pedestaling woman is a major draw for complementarian and patriarchal women. Finally, a gender theory that values women for their more “feminine” side, their contributions to the home and family, their homemaking hobbies and heart. In this circle, women don’t feel second-class because they choose to homeschool or manage the home full-time. Women don’t need to climb corporate ladders to gain power. They just need to marry, rock the cradle, and bake the homemade bread to be “the most powerful living force on the globe.”

I’m glad for safe places that honor so highly the “feminine” (and with it, marriage, motherhood, and homemaking), especially for women who face opposition in those areas.

But that is the problem with this gender theory: it values woman but not necessarily women. It values femininity but not necessarily females.

Those who pedestal woman see next to no problem affirming the awesome value of femininity in the world and getting red-faced at the idea of a woman actually using all of her gifts, particularly in the church. Women like me, whose gifts and personality do not easily lend themselves to the “woman” this theory pedestals, are criticized on the grounds of their lack of femininity. Unladylike. Unwomanly.

It’s an awkward moment when your own personhood conflicts with womanhood, and womanhood wins.

According to this theory, regardless of women’s virtues, gifts, or personality, they fall short as persons if they fall short of “woman.”

This is an ancient idea, present in even the most oppressive, misogynistic cultures. Prudence Allen, author of The Concept of Woman, calls this gender theory “reverse sex polarity”: men and women are different, and women are superior.

For example, the Neo-Pythagorean female philosopher Perectione I (a rarity, since most philosophical schools prohibited women on account of their “mental and spiritual inferiority”) juxtaposed the lascivious, intemperate husband with the virtuous, pure wife who maintains the household, the marriage bed, and the family reputation. This situation makes woman the superior gender.

Since woman is the largest moral force on the globe, you see, a lack of femininity will cause the world to collapse under the weight of immoral single men in want of a wife.

As I quoted above, a woman’s greatest contribution to society in this theory is her “femininity,” loosely defined in this case as her moral reforming force on men. Above all else, the article warns, women must preserve their femininity. And yes, sure, of course “woman should have equality in the workplace, in politics, and in the public square,” but none of that matters if a woman is in any way unfeminine.

In other words, inequality isn’t great, but it’s not as devastating as the blurring of the feminine with the masculine.

Pardon my feminist interjection, but seriously?

This article operates on the naive assumption that “equality” and “inequality” are easy words to bat around when discussing gender, as if equality still isn’t an issue for many men and women today, as if misogyny and discrimination don’t exist, as if it’s not offensive in any way, shape, or form to call anybody, male or female, “unequal” on account of their gender.

In fact, I couldn’t for the life of me understand why, after writing an article on how men and women are different and how women, in particular, make men better, the author concludes that men and women are not equal. Why not conclude that men and women are “different” or “dependent”? How does men and women being different and dependent make them unequal? What is the correlation between difference and equality?

But then I remembered all the times sensible complementarians told me they couldn’t ever be egalitarian because they believe men and women are different. It seems that complementarians struggle with the concept that being equal does not exclude being different and that saying someone is “unequal” is offensive, period.

Unwittingly, complementarianism has emphasized the importance of women staying women and men staying men at the expense of pursuing equality. Complementarians tend to err on the side of worshiping the woman on the pedestal rather than seeking justice for the women right next to them.

I don’t buy into the flattering but laughable idea that women rule the world and reform people in any greater way than men do. It’s not true that the women in my life are any more nurturing and morally influential than the men in my life. Every man and woman affirms and contradicts what’s “feminine” and “masculine,” to the point where those terms are nearly useless.

I can’t say with a straight face that I’m more virtuous and responsible than my husband. I’m more Type A, yes, because I’m me. I’m nurturing enough to work with kindergartners because I’m me. And my husband has always taken care of me, particularly when it comes to eating, and he has always been great with comforting, supporting, and accepting others in a distinctly Erich way.

There’s a dark side of pedestaling woman, the shadow from the pedestal, if you will. It ignores injustice against women, plural. It hurries over the individual virtues, gifts, and personalities of actual women and men. It wants to preserve something nebulous — the difference between the sexes — sometimes at the expense of promoting actual virtues and protecting actual people.

Honestly, reverse gender polarity is just as sexist as regular ol’ sexism. Any theory that limits, maligns, or misunderstands men and women on account of their sex — that’s sexism. And that’s exactly what pedestaling woman does.

In the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. — St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 11:11

Advertisements

First Day of Kindergarten

IMG_20160825_161905888IMG_20160825_161922563IMG_20160825_161936056IMG_20160825_161945122IMG_20160825_161958174IMG_20160825_162007390

Today is the first day I teach kindergarten.

Kindergarten and I, we have an interesting relationship. Since I was homeschooled, I have zero school experience with any other grade. My kindergarten credentials are volunteering in a public kinder class for a couple years, and going to kindergarten myself.

I attended half-day kindergarten when I lived on an air force base. They fed us frosted animal crackers and Oreos, which got me in trouble once.

I felt a bit under the weather one day, not understanding that sometimes (…all the time) you can wake up and just feel physically blah. I think my tummy felt off. I wanted to stay home. I wanted to go to the nurse. My mom tried to nip my melodramatic bud and told me I could do neither, but, always aware that I might have a rare and interesting (but non-life-threatening) disease, I went to the nurse anyway.

She bought my pity story and sent me to hang out on the wood-chip playground with the other students until my mom arrived early. Somehow, I ended up hoarding a packet of chocolate cookies to eat later that day, even while solemnly informing anybody who would listen that I was too sick to play.

My mom didn’t buy that story, not with chocolate cookies in the hand of a girl complaining about tummyaches.

Other than that, I was the perfect student. No, I take it back: there was the time I asked the teacher if I could stop writing my numbers to 100 because I already knew them, and she had the nerve to tell me to keep writing them, anyway. I think I sat there for a good while confused about the inefficiency and monotony of this task. Maybe that explains why I’m so bad at math.

But yes, I was a goody-two-shoes. I hung out with a goody-two-shoes blonde and felt sorry for the rather ditsy but goodhearted girl named Taylor. I stopped feeling sorry for her and started envying her profundity when she shared in gym class, “Whenever my brother and I would say, ‘They started it,’ my dad would say, ‘Well, who will end it’?”

(I felt equally profound when I started butting into my mom’s disciplinary moments with this wisdom.)

Taylor, the blonde, and I were all day, every day green card students. I never got my green card pulled. Not once. I was the only student who managed that feat. And I do mean manage, because I happened to stop running in the hall right as a teacher rounded the corner and pulled the green card of every running child — which was all of us, even the blonde and Taylor.

They were mortified. I felt bad, because I knew I should ‘fess up and get my card pulled too, but I was no Abe Lincoln, not at age five.

That’s part of the reason why I don’t use clip charts or stop light cards in my class (yet). I work with inner city kids, and I’m told they’re a tough crowd. But I’m hoping that respect, kind words, reason, and a look of withering boredom will keep them in line. And Play Dough.

Well, I’m off to make sure seventeen kids learn how to read and don’t stab each other with pencils. Wish me luck, and share your kindergarten memories with me so I can have something entertaining to read if the first day goes horribly. :)

P.S. Fellow nerds: I learned how to do a close reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. This is literally the best thing that happened to me all week.

Favorite Wedding Moments

departure

I went to six weddings this summer — including my own — and witnessed many beautiful moments. I rode on a trolley to a gorgeous country club, discovered all Catholic weddings involve open bars, and saw five beautiful brides grin up at their new husbands.

Some of the moments weren’t so beautiful, of course.

Erich and I nearly asphyxiated on the cloud of Febreze in our motor lodge room. I forgot to write down which hotel I booked and had to track down the place by tracing the outgoing call for the reservation and Googling the number, all on a 4% phone battery. I couldn’t say no to soft pretzels, with grave gastrointestinal consequences. I forgot to pack pajamas every. single. time. we stayed overnight. And I spent way too much money on overpriced McDonald’s frappes at the Chicago oases.

Good, good times.

But by far, the two wedding moments that stuck out to me as the sweetest happened at wedding number six (the wedding where a thunderstorm followed us the entire way there, and we arrived at the church right as the bride walked down the aisle).

During the first dance, the bride’s toddler nephew ran out onto the dance floor to join the newlyweds. Like the good and giving people they are, they picked him right up and danced their first dance with a little red-head in their arms. Heart. Melt.

I don’t know what was sweeter — envisioning them with their own little one a few years from now, or feeling that this moment perfectly captured their love for others.

And then, we got to throw Fruit Loops for the departure. Yes, you heard right: Fruit Loops. The bride had always wanted to run through Fruit Loops after her wedding. So my wedding season concluded with pelting Fruit Loops at one of the happiest, most caring couples I know.

Let me know what wedding moments stuck out to you this summer!

Sticking to a Tight Food Budget

A photo by Webvilla. unsplash.com/photos/hv1MrBzGGNY

Even if we weren’t poor post-grads, I’d stick to food budget. It’s amazing how much moolah food costs, and, though I’ve tried it on days when I’m too lazy to cook, cutting out food from one’s life just doesn’t work.

We give ourselves a $200 per month budget. It’s tight, but we’ve got some secrets to keeping our small budget.

We shop for two or three weeks at a time. It’s nearly impossible to make wholesome meals out of a $50 weekly budget, but it’s more than doable to drop $80-$110 dollars on one shopping trip that stretches for several weeks.

This means we buy in bulk as much as possible, hunting for the lowest price per pound on almost everything. The few cents we save adds up. Anything that spoils quickly, we freeze. (This does cause problems when it’s 8 PM and I remember that food is a thing but all we have to eat is frozen solid. Just a forewarning.)

We’re still using our gigantic bag of rice we bought as newlyweds. Rice, potatoes, eggs, beans, and huge bags of Great Value cheese are our staples. It’s mind-blowing how many yummy, filling recipes you can cook up with those ingredients and a few dashes from your spice cabinet. By the end of week 3 (maybe into week 4, if we’re lucky), we’re chowing down on potato cheese scrambles, bean burritos, and seasoned rice.

That’s another secret to sticking to our budget — we don’t do much meal planning. Sure, we’ll think ahead if we’re craving something in particular, but we just buy flexible ingredients that work with each other. We’ve always got some tomato sauce and ground beef to whip up a noodle dish or a chili, tortillas for fajitas and quesadillas, and veggies for stir fry, salad, or snacking with some ranch dressing.

When our food starts dwindling, I Google recipes involving whatever random ingredients I want to pair until we’ve eaten through everything and the  backup potatoes, eggs, and beans. No food gets left behind — except the bare bones staples like flour and oil, and condiments.

I might make another run or two to buy fresh milk or butter (or Japanese cookies), but we’re pretty much done shopping for the month. All of this for under or at $200, no problem.

What are your tips for shopping or cooking on a budget?

Before You Vote, Consider These Pro-Woman Issues

women voter

Erin Zoutentam is a fellow Hillsdale College alumna and an intelligent voice on women’s issues. Today, she brings to attention some crucial issues we Christian feminists need to know. 

I can’t pinpoint when feminist issues became part of my life. It was a gradual warming that happened sometime after I left college and before I started my graduate program four years later.

During my undergraduate years, I thought “gender studies” was a byword for “liberal” nonsense, but by the time I started my master’s in theological studies, I saw gender as a gift. I experience everything — the world, other people, God, texts that I either read or write — as a woman, and my husband experiences these things as a man. To acknowledge this is to acknowledge our humanity, to affirm the image of God that we each bear.

My graduate studies have taken me to new territory — some good, some bad. I sometimes run across articles with titles like “The Psycho-Sexual Politics of Orifices in Israel.” (OK, that’s not actually a real article, but it’s close!) Frankly, these articles bore me to pieces and seem to serve little tangible good.

On the other hand, some of my work has focused on obscure women whose voices have been lost but who deserve our rapt attention. Being on the margins of theological discourse turns out not to be a disadvantage but a great advantage, and these women have things to teach us that no one else can. My favorite contemporary writers on gender write with one eye to the contemporary realities of women, even when they’re writing about Hagar or Hildegard of Bingen.

I’ve tried to model this same virtue in my own thinking lately. I’m researching Catherine of Siena now, and her involvement in the political situation of her day is both an inspiration and a challenge.

I don’t know how to sort out the mess that is the current presidential election, but I do know that the policies that concern me most when it comes to women are just as important at the local and state level as they are at the national level. I ask different questions of politicians now, because I believe that neither of the current political parties care for women’s well-being in the radical way that the Gospel calls us to.

Even though I’m not Catholic, I recently joined an emerging third party whose platform is based on Catholic social teaching, in part because their platform better cares for women’s well-being. But we can all advocate for women’s safety and equality regardless of our party affiliation.

Here are some of my top issues, and I encourage you to research these and to dialogue with political candidates at every level about these things. Politicians aren’t going to suddenly adopt pro-woman stances unless they believe these things matter to constituents.

  • Offering maternity/paternity leave. Compared to other developed nations, the United States has exceptionally poor maternity and paternity leave. Supporting paid maternity leave is part of creating a robust pro-life culture, since women do not have to fear for their financial viability when they give birth.
  • Caring for women during pregnancy and beyond. Simply legislating against abortion is inadequate — being pro-woman and pro-life is so much more than this! Calling for better access to education, adequate social services, and reasonable healthcare gives women more confidence about carrying a pregnancy to term. They don’t have to feel as if they are choosing between giving birth and their future well-being (and the well-being of their other children).
  • Pursuing justice for women in the criminal justice system. It’s almost hard to believe, but in some states women are still shackled during childbirth if they give birth while they are incarcerated. These women pose no security threat, and this practice is inhumane. Some states have made this practice illegal, but not all. Another issue to keep an eye on is whether women are being transferred to prisons hundreds of miles away from their children. Mothers should be incarcerated as close to their family as possible.
  • Taxing feminine hygiene products as “non-necessities.” Many states provide sales tax exemptions for necessary purchases, but tampons are not usually included on this list. I didn’t know until quite recently that many poorer women in the United States use things like napkins from fast food restaurants because they can’t afford tampons. Tampons are a necessity — let’s tax (or rather, not tax) them accordingly.
  • Honoring the dignity of women. How do political candidates speak about women? Just as importantly, how do they speak about rape and sexual assault? How we speak matters, and it often betrays how we view women. Hold politicians accountable.

Pro-woman Christians can and do have widely varying political opinions, and that’s OK. Sometimes we disagree about policy or execution even when we agree in principle. But the more we speak up about women’s issues, the more responsive politicians will be.

I believe that advocating for women’s well-being is part of seeking justice, and I hope that’s something that all of us can agree on — no matter who we vote for.

Erin Zoutendam is a ThM student at Western Theological Seminary and the co-chair of the Women’s Committee for the American Solidarity Party. She blogs with her husband (less now than she used to) at Human Drama Thing.

PC: Underwood Archives/Getty Images

A Simple Way to Empower Christian Women

women prayer

I don’t know how it worked in your churches and family, but it seemed to me that whoever had the most “authority” or “spiritual clout” blessed the meals during church potlucks and private hospitality.

Nobody had any ulterior motives; it just seemed reasonable, when it came to that awkward moment when somebody had to pray out loud, in front of people, to ask the pastor or the father or the husband to pray the blessing.

The head of the house (or the church or the Christian group) got to pray the dinner blessing. All men, of course, just like only men prayed out loud during the public worship service.

All of the men in my life who prayed over these communal meals certainly deserved such a recognition, so it never occurred to me to question that practice.

Then I got married to a man who hated praying extemporaneously in front of me, much less in front of any friends and family we might gather together in our little apartment. I found myself in the position of “assigning” who got to pray the meal prayer.

(Why didn’t I just say the blessing myself? I don’t know. My family often asked our guests to pray, as a courtesy, I think, as a sign that we respected their spirituality and contribution. Plus, I don’t like praying out loud either. Introvert. Sorry.)

Whenever we got together with Christian families, the wife always asked the husband to pray. In any situation where a layman could pray, men always prayed. When my family visited us, I asked my dad to pray, without hesitation, for the head of the household reason. I later thought, “It didn’t even occur to me to ask my mom, and she’s equally the head of our home and a spiritual servant deserving of recognition per The Arbitrary Rule of Who I Ask to Lead the Meal Prayer.”

I started noticing this trend, and I decided to break it. When my married friends came over, I asked the wife to bless dinner. (This also made sense, because we’ve been besties forever.)

This is an ingenious (and a little devious) way to scramble the patriarchy and introduce women’s prayerful voices to a Christian community who silences or unintentionally passes over them.

I don’t have the authority to order church leadership to allow women to pray during the worship service, but I do have authority in my own home to request who prays. I think asking godly wives, daughters, and single women to do the traditional, head-of-the-household prayer is a simple way to empower Christian women. It would work in any situation where men traditionally take the lead — co-ed Bible studies, prayer groups, or lay(wo)men ministries.

Some women have never even heard the power of their voice before.

Of course, the ideal would be for everybody to pray one prayer at once, but the church split and each denomination changed up the group dinner prayer. Might as well use a broken system for the advancement of women’s spiritual rights!

Two Prayerful Songs

assad

As a singer, I find my prayers often come out best as songs. Music adds a dimension of the soul words and emotions cannot. These two songs come to mind the most when I’m trying to express my heart to God.

The other day found me flopped on the couch, discouraged, depressed, and searching for proper Christian emotions. I ended up singing “Worn” as a prayer (again). Tenth Avenue North sings of a Christianity that resonates with me. So basic white evangelical, I know, but I love them.

I’m tired, I’m worn, my heart is heavy
From the work it takes to keep on breathing.
I’ve made mistakes, I’ve let my hope fail.
My soul feels crushed by the weight of this world.


When I’m not humming “Worn” to myself, I’m constantly singing Audrey Assad’s “I Shall Not Want.” This song gently reminds me that all my sin comes from fear, hurt, and a desire for wholeness. It targets my most besetting sins and my deepest pain. I sing it as a confession, a comfort, and a battle-cry all at once.

From the love of my own comfort
From the fear of having nothing
From a life of worldly passions
Deliver me, O God!

From the need to be understood
From the need to be accepted
From the fear of being lonely
Deliver me, O God!


Do you have any “go-to” songs you sing as prayers?

// A prayer and a book for when you don’t feel the least bit spiritual

PC: Audrey Assad from “I Shall Not Want (Live from RELEVANT)”

When to Exit a Discussion

conversation

The other day I got some Facebook feedback on my post, “Maybe Men’s Problem with Christianity Is Masculinity.” One man grasped my point and thanked me for it. Another man rather sarcastically and bluntly questioned me, eventually mocking me and mansplaining how ignorant I was of the basic issues and church history. As a Christian studies major, I LOLed, ended the conversation with a cheerful, “Well, okay then. (smiley),” and went on with my day.

It’s always a gamble, starting an internet conversation. Sometimes, even an originally hostile conversation can turn into something productive, with both parties walking away enlightened. And sometimes, things go south really, really fast.

I learned a little trick to discover if a conversation, even with a slightly hostile tone, is worth continuing: If he starts explaining or questioning your motives, leave now.

It’s called manipulation, and it’s not productive.

“You’re just saying that because you’re ignorant.”

“If you really understood the historical context of this….”

“You clearly don’t have the Spirit of God in you.”

“You’re just bitter.”

Everyone, on all sides of all issues, has probably done this at one time or another — especially on the internet.

The situation often goes like this. The manipulator will ask you a question or make a statement, inviting your response. Your conversation will seem fairly normal, he asking clarifying questions, you explaining your position, maybe even reaching some sort of civil understanding or disagreement, and then bam, he hits you with a load of you-statements and opinions about your character, intelligence, spirituality — your motives, basically.

He doesn’t want to talk about the gender crisis in the church or offer true help and guidance for your doubts. He just wants you to know why you’re really feeling, thinking, and believing the way you do. He wants to enlighten you of your own ungodly or bigoted motives. You clearly have no self-awareness, but fortunately, he can read you like a book.

For what end? I’m not sure. I just know, personally, it’s easier to tear someone down than engage in conversation with them. It’s easier to believe that everyone who holds differing viewpoints is stupid and immoral and rude and misguided than to hear and understand what those people have to say.

But whatever his true motive, it’s prudent to just walk away from someone accosting your motives. That conversation won’t go anywhere. Don’t defend yourself or throw a zinging insult in retreat. Just close the conversation and move on with your life. The only way to beat manipulators at their own game is walking away, completely unscathed by their assessment of you.

Have you run into these manipulators? How did you handle them?

// More advice on dealing with obnoxious people

Praise She Can’t Deny

music

I rue the day somebody told me I was the best — the best singer, writer, young Christian they knew, and just an all around awesome girl. When I got to college, I lost my reputation as the best at anything — and along with it, all of my self-worth.

At college, praise made me cringe because everyday moments and other awesome people made me feel like a loser. I’m smart? Lolz. I use Wikipedia for research sometimes. I’m such an inspirational person? You wouldn’t say that if you really knew me. I’m kind? I just bit my boyfriend’s head off two seconds ago. I dress cute? Dude, I wore leggings all of last week. The same pair. 

You’ve probably experienced it too, when somebody gives you a sweeping praise: “You’re so [insert any adjective].” Your heart sinks. You protest. You never believe it. You feel awkward: Do I accept this lie, or do I set them straight and look like an insecure wimp? Oh, wait, I am an insecure wimp. Thanks for reminding me. Now I feel awful. 

All of this, because nice people give nice compliments.

We all know the sting of poorly-given criticism, but we don’t recognize the destruction of poorly-given praise.

The latter can hook us on perfectionism or people-pleasing, social drugs that sap self-worth faster than anything. More praise, please. Tell me more about how good I am, how wonderful I am, lie to me, anything to hide the pain.

Praise wears off more quickly as you get older and make more and more mistakes, and then you’re stuck going into the shock of facing a world without people’s approval, or you start asking your friends for canned assurances of your greatness. How idiotic did I look? You still love me? Do you like me too? 

Praises like “I’m so proud of you” link our accomplishments to other people’s pleasure, not our own self-esteem. “You’re so good” gives us a vague image we must maintain (or make up) to feel good about ourselves. “You’re the best” sustains our self-worth until that person who’s inevitably better than us just crushes our little egos. It sparks jealousy, resentment, and meltdowns every time someone does something better than us.

We’ve seen it. We’ve done it. It’s ugly.

It’s impossible to form a healthy, independent sense of self when we feel bound by people’s evaluations, even positive ones.

Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, in How to Talk So Kids Can Learn (p.s. every parent, teacher, and person alive should read this book), insist praise ought to be descriptive, not evaluative.

When your friend finishes a piano recital, nix the gushing, “You were so good!” and say, “You could tell how much work and joy you put into learning and performing that piece.”

When your little sister shoves yet another scribbled picture in your face, don’t beam, “I love it! You’re such an amazing artist!” Say, “The colors make this picture pop! It’s kind of you to give me this picture!”

When your friend loses her volleyball match, don’t lie and say, “You were perfect!” Say, “Sure, you messed up the last set, but dude, that one dig you got in the second match? That took guts!”

No evaluation. No comparing. No good, better, or best. Just straight up description of what stood out to you.

Descriptive praise takes more thought. It shows you are engaged in the other’s life. It doesn’t place any burdens on her to maintain her “perfection” throughout every moment of her life. Rather, it directs her to positively evaluate her accomplishments on her own: “I really did work hard on this piece. I’m really good at picking colors! I really did make an epic dig.”

Positive self-evaluation sticks. The next time she feels down about her game or her drawing, she can remember a time she did something well — objectively.

And best of all, when you lay out the facts, she can’t deny it. No more awkward moments.

How Headship Complicates Marriage

Bergmann-StegerWedding-388

Out of all the patriarchal and complementarian wife material I read, I don’t remember reading much about any of the actual challenges I face or the most helpful solutions I use in my marriage today.

I read little about good communication, lots about keeping a happy smile on your face when hubby comes home. I didn’t hear about conflict resolution that much, aside from learning to swallow your pride when hubby makes a stupid decision. I didn’t know about the dynamics of individual personality, just the dynamics of stereotyped gender roles. I never heard the words “consent” or “mutual” until recently.

I don’t think that’s accidental.

When you’re busy trying to impose an artificial structure on something organic, when you focus on something tangential or even harmful to real marriage, you gloss over all the real problems and solutions.

I mean, of course, the patriarchal and complementarian obsession with male headship as a formula for marital success.

Let me point out that many complementarians focus on the main directive of Ephesians 5: loving, laying down one’s life, and seeking unity above all. Even if they accept an idea of male headship, they encourage men to love as the primary objective of that headship. Those complementarians understand marriage and basic exegesis. Good on them.

But the vast majority of complementarians, for better or worse, focus on a descriptive clause (“the husband is the head of the wife”) and make it the main action verb, the takeaway, the “go and do this” for husbands. They stress that this descriptive clause makes or breaks a marriage, that male headship is essential to a happy marriage, that it, combined with the wife’s unconditional submission, solves or prevents most of today’s marriage problems.

This leads to abuse, at worst, and at best, complicates marriage.

Male headship is entirely unnecessary to a happy marriage. Any sort of hierarchy in an intimate relationship is entirely unnecessary. The only vaguely convincing reason complementarians give for the necessity of headship is when husband and wife can’t come to an agreement and somebody needs to be the tiebreaker.

When somebody argues this, I want to peer at them and say, Have you never tried picking out a movie with siblings? Did you not grow up debating the merits of every movie in your movie cabinet, parsing the moods and opinions of eight other immature, selfish people, and keeping in mind that three-year-olds can’t watch most of the movies your heart desires? 

In every case, with more people, more subjectivity, and more nuance, we all came to a compromise.

I imagine the ludicrousness of my brother standing up and saying, “Well, I, as male, have heard all of your opinions, which I value, but we’re going to go with mine, because I decided it was the best.” Everyone would have called that out for what it is — presumption, pride, stupidity — even if it was our oldest brother trying to call the shots.

I can only imagine this, because never, in my life of big or little decision-making, did anyone consider this a good idea, much less a necessity, for problem solving or the relationship itself.

In my egalitarian marriage, Erich and I make all sorts of mutual decisions that initially started as our biggest spats, problems we thought would break us, problems with no immediate compromise. Making those tough decisions together, without giving either of us the final say, forced us to mature and love in unforeseen ways — you know, the point of marriage.

Intimate relationships don’t need hierarchy. They need understanding, patience, and lots of time and energy to come to an acceptable compromise.

Many women in complementarian marriages, even those who voluntarily grant their husbands the right to exercise veto power in decision-making, instinctively feel the unfairness and betrayal of intimacy when their marriage becomes more about the husband’s headship and less about love, trust, and good communication.

“Whenever he made a final decision that disagreed with my opinion, I cried,” women tell me. “I know he’s doing it for our good, but I feel like I’m making all the sacrifices in the relationship and I have no control over my future.”

“I cried all the time when I first learned to submit,” one complementarian said in the course of trying to convince me of “Biblical headship.”

I am appalled at the number of crying complementarian wives and the inefficacy of their tears to signal even to themselves that something’s badly off about this “Biblical marriage advice.”

These are not women in abusive or even dysfunctional relationships — just normal complementarian women with normal complementarian husbands who aren’t purposefully going out of their way to hurt their wives.

This pain and sorrow stem from relying on male headship and female submission to arbitrate the relationship.

A complementarian gloss on these women’s pain is, “Well, she needs to submit more.” Any competent marriage counselor will tell you, “No, they need to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better solution.”

I fear many complementarians miss everyday moments to grow in basic relationship skills because they are forever talking about this binary of submit more and lead more, be more masculine, more feminine, be more entrenched in distinct roles, and then your complicated relationships will work

In reality, the couples need to take a Gottman class. They need to read some books on good communication. They need to get marriage counseling. They need to get real, tangible help and real, practical solutions beyond the shaming advice to be more of a leader and more of a follower.

This is a marriage, allegedly the most intimate relationship on earth, not a government system.

Good communication skills will solve problems — not the male veto. Speaking exactly what’s on one’s mind will result in greater intimacy — not tiptoeing around the male ego. Pushing back against a husband’s normal selfishness and pride will result in sanctification — not giving him the final say over everything. Reaching a compromise acceptable to both parties will strengthen the marital bond — not stopping the conversation short and making a decision, anyway.

When men are told to love and sacrifice for their wives but also be the man, the leader, and the dude with the power over his wife, that complicates marriage.

When women are told to be free, open, and intimate with their husbands but also shut up and put up once he gives the final word, that complicates marriage.

When spouses must worry about maintaining their “masculinity” and “femininity,” their roles and duties, in addition to addressing their individual and collective sins and hurts, that complicates marriage.

When spouses must worry about maintaining a structure easily tilted towards selfishness or abusethat complicates marriage.

Marriage, as I’ve found, is hard enough without unnecessary, harmful structures, expectations, and roles. Whatever is meant by headship in Scripture, I think it’s prudent to err on the side of loving, loving, loving unconditionally, mutually submitting to one another out of love for Christ.