Biblical Manhood and Womanhood

complementarianism

Cartoon by David Hayward

Guest post by ObstacleChick

Growing up in Evangelical Christianity, both in the Southern Baptist church and at a Christian school, I had a lot of things to learn about what it means to be a good, obedient Christian. We were taught that if we were saved and followed X, Y, and Z rules — God’s plan for our lives — then we would be living the best lives possible. Rebellion against God’s plan for our lives would lead to misery, suffering, and not living up to the potential for which God created us. Most of what I learned between church and school matched up, but what did not exactly match up was the concept of Biblical gender roles.

Looking back, I believe that the administration at the Christian school were careful not to dwell too much on gender roles because their role as a school was to provide students with a good education based on Biblical values and teachings. So other than gender-based dress code and the understanding that only men were called to preach the Word, we were not taught too much about differences between men and women or their approved roles. However, at church it was a different story.

During the 1980s, some of the leadership within our church started to teach Biblical manhood and womanhood seminars. Originally designed for married people to attend, there was a small class for us older teen girls that was taught by my friend’s mother who wanted her daughter to learn proper Biblical roles. My mom and grandma took the Biblical womanhood courses taught for married women. I do not recall if my stepfather and grandpa took the courses (most likely not as neither particularly liked sitting in classes or seminars). I do not even know how much my mom and grandma knew about the courses before they started taking them. Had she known, I’m fairly certain that my mom would have discouraged me from taking the course.

In any case, every Saturday morning, six teenage girls from my church and school sat in my friend’s living room while her mother taught us what it meant to be a Biblical woman. First, we learned that God designed men and women differently outside the obvious physical differences. Men were designed to be analytical thinkers, to rely on data, to desire to solve problems, and to be nearly devoid of emotion (or at least to be able to control emotion — which reminded me of the description of the Vulcans on Star Trek). Men were driven to arousal entirely by visual cues — if they saw an attractive woman, they would desire to touch her. Women, on the other hand, were highly emotionally driven and relied on feelings rather than data or intellect. Women were designed to be nurturers and to desire to bear and take care of children. Whereas men were visually aroused, women were only aroused by physical touch. Therefore, it was important for women not to do anything to draw undue or unnecessary attention to their physical appearances in order to prevent men from wanting to touch them.

From there, we moved into all the Bible verses that supported the notion that children are supposed to be submissive to all adults; that wives are supposed to be submissive to their husbands; that husbands are supposed to be submissive to the church; and that the church is supposed to be submissive to Jesus. This hierarchy is God’s perfect and holy plan for humans, given to them so that they may live fulfilling and happy lives in service to him. We were taught that rebellion to God’s plan would lead to an unhappy home life, full of strife and displeasing to God. And husbands who did not live in perfect submission to the church would be putting their families in jeopardy by not providing the God-approved spiritual leadership that they were required to provide. While wives were required to submit their will to that of their husbands, it was only suggested to men that they could listen to their wives and love them if they so chose.

We young women were taught that feelings of rebellion against this perfect plan from God was a sign of sin in our lives, and that we should pray and read the Bible in order to purge these wicked thoughts from our lives. It was reiterated that the only way we could be happy in life was to submit our will to that of our husbands because we were not designed to be able to make big decisions for our families. Only our husbands were designed to make decisions because they thought logically and analytically and weren’t swayed by emotion or hysteria. (Our silly little women’s brains were flooded with pesky hormones and emotions, drowning out any analytical or logic-based skills we may have had, though it was doubtful that we had any).

I literally felt nauseous hearing all this. Rebellion rose up within me like bile, a sign that I was not right with God, a sign that Satan was drawing me away from God’s perfect plan. Obviously, there was something seriously wrong with me because I excelled at mathematics and science, I was drawn to maps and navigation, and I rarely exhibited emotions. I suppose it was possible that all the boys in my grade were underperforming and not living up to God’s standards, but facts showed that I was the top math and science student in my grade (the top student in every subject, in fact). Knowing that there was something wrong with me (it’s sad that my first thought was that there was something wrong with me, not that the religious concept was wrong), I swore at age 18 as a senior in high school that I would never marry. I knew I would never be able to submit my will to that of another, regardless of how intelligent or godly or anything else he was.

My grandma, always striving to follow her deity’s will to the best of her ability, implemented this complementarian doctrine into her marriage. My grandpa wanted nothing to do with it, and occasionally I would hear grandma say, “well, I have to submit to my husband” when we all knew she wanted to speak up but withheld her opinion. Grandpa had to start going to great lengths to encourage Grandma to give her honest opinion. He was drawn to her for her intellect and spirit, so I think it was difficult to see her suddenly struggling to turn off those traits about her that he loved. I don’t know how they eventually worked it out as I moved away to college soon after, but they seemed to find a way to manage so that she could still serve her deity and he could still have the woman he fell in love with. (I’ll write about my grandfather’s feminist tendencies another time).

My mom and stepdad never followed the complementarian roles. My mom was by far my stepdad’s intellectual superior, and they had determined that they would discuss big decisions, but in the end, my mom would make the decisions.

Science shows us gender and sexuality are on a spectrum, not strictly binary. While most people carry XX or XY chromosomes, there are people who are XO, XXX, XXY, or XYY. I can only surmise that Evangelical Christians would say that these people should adopt the gender shown by their external sex organs and that they must only practice married sex with someone with the opposite external sex organs. And if the union does not bless them with children, then that is due to the problem of sin in the world. Perhaps their sect allows adoption; in any case, they should pray and seek God’s will in the situation.

During college, I moved further from Evangelical Christianity and was able to expand my world view. In the end, I found a man who was looking for a partner, not a submissive wife, and we have a good relationship. We are both analytical and logical thinkers, and oddly enough, he is more emotional than I am. Whenever we watch a sad movie, the joke from our kids is “how many times did Dad cry?” I had put a lot of this complementarian drivel out of my mind for many years, but it started coming up again with Josh Duggar scandal, Roy Moore, and people from my past posting complementarian ideas on social media. Recently, I told my husband about my experience learning these Biblical manhood and womanhood roles. He was uncharacteristically silent for a moment and looked at me like I had two heads, then in his true sarcastic fashion, he said, “Well, then, woman, submit and go make me a sandwich and bring me a beer!” I told him where he could shove the sandwich and beer.

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6 Comments

  1. Connie

    I haven’t met either you or your husband but I suspect I would enjoy your company.

    My whole life I’ve had people look at me as if whatever I stated was some of the dumbest drivel they ever heard. I believed I was stupid so set out to learn as much as I could about as much as I could.

    Sigh. That one fact should have clued me into some glimmer that I’m not stupid but the gender roles of evangelicals were pounded into every child through television. Girls were hysterical, boys were logical and never shall anyone differ.

    When I had a complete psych eval after coming in from the cold it was revealed that my intellect fell into the top 97 percentile. I’m still struggling with the concept that people didn’t understand me because I’m that smart, not stupid.

    How many amazing ideas or solutions to current issues have been dismissed because of situations like mine? That’s the thought which keeps me awake at night.

    Reply
    1. ObstacleChick

      Connie, thanks for reading and for your honest comments! I hope you would enjoy hanging out with us – there’s a lot of sarcastic banter for sure – our teens have mastered the banter too so it’s a lot to handle!

      It makes me sad to hear you were subjected to this drivel too. I am glad you have sought professional counseling to help you fix the “broken records” you were taught. I always wonder how many girls have been damaged by this teaching. If you are consistently taught that “you are hysterical and illogical by nature”, eventually it can be internalized as a self fulfilling prophecy. I am a skeptic by nature but many people aren’t. And many don’t have the support system or wherewithal to break free.

      Good for you for being able to break free. It’s a process to replace these false ideas, and sometimes one will pop up unbidden. I just tell it to go to the hell where it belongs.

      Reply
  2. Karen the rock whisperer

    My mother, a devout Catholic, was somehow committed to the idea that she should be submissive to her husband. (That idea wasn’t included in what I learned at Catholic school, but Mama learned her Catholicism a generation earlier in the rural Midwest, and I learned mine in the post-Vatican-II liberal West Coast.) My dad, a non-practicing Lutheran, was horrified by the notion. As far as he was concerned, Life was a tricky business, and a married couple–indeed, a family–needed everyone pulling their intellectual oars, so to speak, for the boat to stay on course.

    What does a frustrated would-be submissive wife do, when her husband isn’t on board? She dumps on her only child. We had uncountable conversations along the lines of:

    Mama: I wish we could do X, but your father plans to do Y.
    Me: did you talk about it? I’m sure he isn’t that set on Y.
    Mama: no, that isn’t right.
    Me: why not?
    Mama: well, he’s head of the household.
    Me:so?
    Mama: (shrugs, then complains about something inconsequential that I did.)

    Having skipped third grade, I managed to go away to college a few weeks before my 17th birthday. I was incredibly happy to be out of that environment where it couldn’t be Dad’s fault, so it must be my fault. We still had variations of that conversation for the rest of my mother’s life, but I was no longer the place where the blame stopped. Now, don’t get me wrong, I did love my mother, and she loved me. But the submission issue was one that we simply couldn’t come to terms about.

    Reply
    1. ObstacleChick

      Karen, it’s interesting that your mom learned submission. My husband’s family are Irish Catholic located about an hour north of NYC and I never heard of submission being part of their repertoire. Maybe it was your mom’said parish priest who taught that – who knows! It’s too bad she dumped on you like that and that she didn’t discuss this gs with your dad. It must have been hard for him too having to make all decisions on his own.

      Reply
  3. mary

    I grew up hearing about these teachings, but my mom always manipulated behind the scenes to get her way. If that did not work, then there were tears, tantrums, and arguing with dad always walking out. But she got her way. Now as an adult, dad and everyone else avoid her as much as possible because we are sick of the manipulation. She is now heading up a womens bible study, and they hang on her every word, which is mostly bashing men. In my own life, my husband cannot stand the submission stuff. We live a traditional life, with me staying home with kids, but he always seeks my input on everything. He watched his own mother be mentally and economically abused by his father under these teachings. We are a team. Thanks for exposing these false and harmful teachings.

    Reply
    1. ObstacleChick

      That’s part of the problem with the complementarian teachings. Those women who still want to get their way will use all sorts of manipulation, and that’s not good for a relationship. One of the greatest things about a good marriage is teamwork – you decide together what works best for your family. If you choose for one of you to be home with the kids during the day while the other one works, awesome – it was your family’s choice! If you choose for both to work, that’s great if it works well for your family. My problem with the complementarian teaching was that it assumed men and women HAD to be a certain way for things to work. But in real life, we know humans are a lot more complicated than any binary system can handle.

      Reply

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