Biblical Gender Roles, Feminism, and Jerkhood
November 20, 2018 § 2 Comments
Our Creator gets to tell us exactly who we are. On the first page of the Bible, Genesis 1:27 declares two truths about who we are.
“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.”
“The image of God” tells us how we are all the same. All human beings are of equal value. “Male and female” tells us how we are different. Half of us are gendered male and the other half female. We need both truths in order to think rightly, and act rightly, about gender today.
BEING EQUAL YET DIFFERENT
Gender and sex used to mean basically the same thing, and some languages still only have one word for both. Ontologically, as most dictionaries will affirm, there is no critical difference between gender and sex (“the state of being male and female”) except as posited by those whose obsession with autonomy mandates a critical difference. The immutable and binary truth on this topic hasn’t been seriously challenged until recent history in an effort to separate gender (social and cultural roles and self-identity with respect to the state of being male and female) and sex (objective physical traits with respect to the state of being male and female). One of the contemporary challengers, representing a sexual libertarian worldview, is the New York Times, calling gender a “creative playing field.”(1) A biblical worldview says that gender/sex was God’s creative playing field, and His work in the department is complete. If we understand this, we honor God, stay true to ourselves, and do a lot less harm to our neighbor.
Suppose a teacher asks her 4th grade class, “Aside from anatomy, what’s the difference between boys and girls?” (I saw this in a YouTube video meant to challenge gender stereotypes, but for the life of me I can’t find it now). The students, too young to have had a comprehensive biology course, give the teacher the answer she’s looking for by shrugging: “I guess nothing, really.” The conclusion: Anatomy doesn’t really matter. Maybe there’s really no significant difference between males and females after all.
But there’s glaring problem with the original question. Anatomy is too big of a thing to set aside. If we asked, “Aside from oceans, where do whales live?” we would come to find that without oceans there would be no whales, except for a handful at SeaWorld and the dead ones on beaches. Likewise, without anatomy, we don’t actually have a human being. Anatomy encompasses all that we are physically, and even those who consider human beings more than physical entities have to admit that we are not human without our bodies. In our anatomy, we see obvious differences beyond the basic reproductive differences we learn about in sex ed.
The human anatomy includes about 37 trillion cells, each encoded with information that denotes male or female. Female DNA have one pair of identical X chromosomes, whereas males have an X and a Y chromosome. You could say our anatomy declares what sex we are 37 trillion times.
Even our brains are binary. According to Stanford Medicine, we find “distinct anatomical differences in neural structures and accompanying physiological differences in function” in the brains of men and women(2).
Maybe the most obvious physical difference is overall size and strength. I will concede that there are women out there who can arm-wrestle me to ruin or completely lose me running the mile. But the exceptions prove the rule that the strongest man in the Olympics is stronger than the strongest female, and the fastest man at the Drake Relays will best the fastest woman.
So clearly, anatomy does matter in determining what is a boy and what is a girl. But what are the reasons for these physical differences between the sexes?
According to the Bible, male and female humans are designed to fulfill certain God-given roles. These roles are numerous, but I’ve chosen a handful that Jill Nelson explores in her “Your Word Is Truth” curriculum published by Truth:78(3). Men are uniquely designed to be servant-leaders, providers, and protectors. Women are uniquely designed to be helpers, submissive (yikes!) and nurturers.
BEING A MAN
In reading Genesis 2, we find that man was created first (vs. 5-7), that Adam’s first job was a gardener, and that God gave him a warning to not eat the forbidden fruit in order to protect him (vs. 15-17). In verses 19-21, we see that the first woman was not made the exact same way as man (Adam was formed from the dust of the earth, and woman was formed from man), and that the man named the woman (vs. 23).
So far, so what? There is a particular ordering in God’s creation here, but we only begin to see the significance of it after sin comes into the picture in Genesis 3. Eve was deceived by Satan and ate the forbidden fruit first, but then Adam followed. In verse 9, “the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?'” God didn’t forget about Eve, but God went straight to Adam because the man did not fulfill his God-given roles to lead, protect, and provide for his wife.
Romans 5:12 says that “sin entered the world through one man…” Eve did not escape sin’s consequences, but Adam’s role as the head of his wife meant that he bore a greater responsibility for rebelling against God. We can see how this works in other human relationships where authority is ordered. Young children get into trouble by their parents for stealing something at a store or borrowing the family car, but the law ultimately puts the responsibility for the crime on their parents. Soldiers who violate orders get reprimanded by their sergeant, but the sergeant will also answer to his superiors for the actions of his unit.
What does it mean for a man to be a leader?––Or better yet, a servant-leader? Scripture provides two specific arenas where men are to take the lead, but also be willing to serve. These two contexts are the church and their marriages.
In the church, “an overseer” (or pastor or elder), “manages God’s household.” Titus 1:7-8 requires men who lead in the church “be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” The lead pastor at our church, who also serves as one of the elders, meets these qualifications. He leads, he pastors, and is also at times spotted taking the trash out after potlucks. Such tasks are not menial to a servant-leader.
In marriage, according to Ephesians 5, “the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The command for men: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (vs. 23-25) The “head of the wife” should also serve his wife and family as Jesus did, willingly making sacrifices of himself.
Neither of these passages describe men who are oppressive, mean bruisers who lord over women. Neither do they describe wimps who live and serve passively. Can women be leaders? Of course, and many are. Can women make independent decisions in a marriage? Yes, please. Men, however, are uniquely gifted by God to fulfill the role of servant-leader.
What does it mean for a man to be a provider? “Deadbeat dads” are fathers who are expected to provide for their family but choose not to. Deadbeat moms also exist, but because there is a greater expectation on men to provide for their families, men are in the spotlight when they don’t.
Many studies exist about depression and anxiety in unemployed men(4), but we really don’t hear about this problem among unemployed women. That’s not to say that women who lose their jobs are thrilled about it, but there is a higher expectation of men, and by men, for men to be able to provide for their families. The inability to fulfill that God-given role can tear a man apart (whether they realize it’s a God-given role or not, because bearing God’s likeness means we can’t help being like Him).
Can women provide for their families by themselves? Yes! Many do as single moms, either because they want to or because they are forced to, and they do it well. But men are uniquely gifted by God to be providers.
What does it mean for a man to be a protector? When there’s a crash downstairs in the middle of the night, who is expected to be the first one to determine if it’s a cat burglar or just the cat knocking around Christmas ornaments? We expect the husband to grab the baseball bat or 9 mil and investigate. When sister is being picked on, should brother stand idly by? The expectation is that he will rise to sister’s defense. Unless the husband is disabled or absent, or the brother is much younger, it’s hard to imagine those roles reversed.
Let’s be clear, women can be protectors too. Poke the mama bear and you’ll see. Women serve in military and police forces, put out fires, and save lives in medical emergencies. But men protecting women as a primary role screams at us in certain situations. Take the recent shooting in Thousand Oaks, CA at Borderline Bar & Grill. Where 12 people were killed by one bad man, this tragedy revealed many good men instinctively being protectors. Men piled on top of women to shield them from bullets, men broke windows to provide a way of escape, and men used their own shirts for tourniquets to save the wounded. One man pulled his son outside and then lamented that he couldn’t go back into the building to help others. As Glen Stanton wrote in The Federalist, “This is the very opposite of misogyny, and dramatically so.”(5) Nobody had time to question the political-correctness of guys using their strength to protect nearby women, and no woman complained about it after the fact. These were men intuitively doing what God designed them to do.
Does any of this mean that men are more important than women? Not at all. Men are generally larger and physically stronger, which helps in fulfilling the above roles. But Genesis 1:27 tells us men and women are spiritual equals because we are all image-bearers and deemed worthy of God’s love and redemption. God, in His infinite wisdom, gave equally-valued males and females different roles. Godly men should embrace their unique roles and lead confidently, provide faithfully, and protect intuitively, with love and respect for women, and without the need to dominate them.
BEING A WOMAN
Eight times throughout the creation account in Genesis 1, God makes a point to call what He had made “good” or “very good.” Then in Genesis 2:18 we learn it was “not good for the man to be alone.” And God said, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” Enter Eve, the suitable “helper.”
What does it mean for a woman to be a helper? Eve helped Adam garden, but the scope of her help to him was no doubt life-size. In this intentionally complimentary relationship between the first man and woman, Eve helped Adam become complete. Men need women.
But the term “helper” in our day-to-day seems like an inferior or subservient position in relation to the one being helped. This is not a biblical position, however. The Hebrew term for “helper” (`ezer) is used in scripture some twenty times referring to God Himself (i.e. Psalm 121:1-2: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help (`ezer) come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.”) God is not inferior or subservient to us, so we shouldn’t think that woman is considered, biblically, to be inferior or subservient to man(6).
What does it mean for a woman to be submissive to man? This is a contentious issue today to say the least. “To be subject to their husbands” (Titus 2:5) is not a role that every woman is completely at ease with. Why is this so?
I will suggest that the reason we don’t like the idea of submission is not due to a problem with the idea of submission, but, we have a problem with the idea of submitting to men who are jerks. Would there be any reason a woman would not willingly yield to another’s authority or leadership if those charged to lead did so justly, honorably, courageously, respectfully, and in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7)—the way men are called to lead? Husbands can be less than perfect in this regard and wives are still called to submit, but it’s harder to do. Men should demonstrate to women everywhere that they can be trusted. Men, stop being jerks.
What does it mean for a women to be a nurturer? To nurture means to nourish, care for, encourage, comfort, teach and train. Seventy-six percent of teachers are female(7), perhaps because the best teachers are ones particularly gifted to nurture students into knowledge rather than simply presenting information. In a family, nobody nurtures like mom. In and out of the home, men can also nourish, care for, encourage, comfort, teach and train, but women are uniquely designed for this. The role of nurturer lines up and compliments man’s role as protector in the family. Children do best with a mother and father, in part because children do best when they are both nurtured and protected.
BEING JERKS (AND WHY WE HAVE FEMINISM)
Even as a conservative Christian, I’ve often thought that there are some redeeming qualities to feminism, at least in its origins. I think the reason some women became feminists was because there was a legitimate problem in society. We have feminism largely because we have misogyny and sexism. Historically, and today, too many men have abused, sexually harassed, unfairly discriminated and oppressed women. Instead of being faithful to their God-given roles as servant-leaders, providers, and protectors, men in positions of power over women have abused that authority. Men who are physically stronger than women have over-powered them and treated them as objects of conquest, and this is despicable. As previously noted, we have been jerks.
For all its good intentions to address the problem, however, postmodern feminism in general is an over-correction. It’s me, whenever I’m playing a video game where I’m racing a car; I hit one wall, then oversteer to the other side of the track and hit the other wall. I can’t keep the car on the road. Feminism sees men nefariously taking advantage of differences between men and women and then jerks the wheel to the other extreme, pretending there are no significant differences between men and women. That’s not right either.
Gender has been in crisis for some time. Getting back on the road means getting back to the blueprint of God’s word. I see the bulk of responsibility resting on men to take the lead in fixing things. If men lived out their roles as servant-leaders, providers and protectors, we would not have misogyny and sexism, and we would not need feminism, which would make it a lot easier for women to commit to their roles as submissive helpers and nurturers.
God is our designer and definer, and His plan is always the best. As human beings who bear God’s image, we are all equal in value and as recipients of His salvation through Christ Jesus, joint heirs in the gracious gift of life(8). As for our wonderful and God-honoring distinctions, women being feminine (instead of feminists) and men being masculine (instead of jerks) means living according to our God-given roles together. Clearly, we need each other, and we need God’s word to know who we are.