As I’ve been thinking over this topic, I imagined the push-back I might receive from some people. This brought me to a revelation: When someone argues against complementarianism and says that men and women should have equal opportunity, I think a significant number of people hear “It’s ok for men to be lazy, irresponsible, and passive.” (Like it or not, people often hear something different than what a speaker is actually saying.) If you listen to anyone argue for the egalitarianism, you’ll never hear them say this. But I am aware that one of the big areas from which complementarianism is presently coming is from those who are trying to get men to take responsibly and not passively accept sin or poor relationships in their lives. I think these goals are very good. However, putting men in a position over women (systemic gender bias) is not the correct answer nor means of achieving this goal. One wrong doesn’t correct another.
But this brings up an honest related concern. Though one may understand that egalitarians aren’t giving men a license to be irresponsible, people are concerned that when women lead, men become passive. In my opinion, this is most real and difficult concern about women leading which was raised in the book. Leigh Gray believes that “when women lead, it demotivates men from becoming what they’re supposed to be” (p. 45). Lee Merrill voiced similar concern when said “I felt like my mom was being the boss and my dad wasn’t stepping up to lead” (p. 69). Likewise Laura O’Neill shares about this “sensitive topic… How does a woman lead a man without chopping his legs out from under him, or on the other hand, becoming an expert at playing the power of suggestion game?” (p. 124)
Is the only solution for men to always have authority over women? I don’t think this can be the answer. Kathy Escobar feels that we know how to be over and how to be under, but aren’t as good in knowing how to be alongside. In other words, it’s a problem if the only alternative we see to men over women is women over men. One of the best solutions to the above problem is to work together alongside one another. Most of the best examples I’ve heard of women in leadership aren’t stories of women dominating men and bossing them around, but rather are of women and men working together alongside one another as equal leadership partners. So we could sit around and have women and certain men complain about how men just need to “step up” and “be real men” (whatever that means). Or instead of passively criticizing, we could allow women to encourage men to be all that they can be, and in turn have men who encourage women to be all that they can be. The latter choice is certainly the one I find more preferable.
Many if not most women want to be wives and mothers. Many women aren’t specifically interested in leadership positions and like their husbands to make decisions and be proactive. Because of this, there are women who will say, “I don’t feel repressed; I’m actually comfortable with and like these roles.” They see egalitarianism as a threat to changing a part of their world which they personally like. It’s perfectly acceptable for a woman to want to live out a traditional role. The problem comes when they try to apply this to all women. In other words, some women think that since they are this way, all women should be this way and there must be something wrong with the women who seek a non-traditional role. (It seems that some of this push-back is in reaction to feminism, which made the same mistake on the opposite side by looking down on women who choose traditional roles.)
The fact that many women enjoy traditional roles does not mean that all women should be required to be limited to these roles. Similar to the argument above, being a stay-at-home mother should be honored; egalitarianism isn’t an attack on this. We shouldn’t have to require all women to be stay-at-home moms in order to honor this role. Egalitarianism isn’t about turning everything upside down; it’s about women being honored as fully capable human beings and having the freedom to exercise their God given talents and abilities. If that happens in a traditional role, great. But let’s not bar women from demonstrating the qualities of God in other ways too.
It seems in reality many who would say they are complementarians are really more egalitarian in practice1. They hear complementarianism as “equal but different” and agree with that. However true complementarianism is actually sexism, and according to some, merely a nicer word for patriarchy2. The idea is that women are inherently inferior to men and men are inherently superior to women. Women are “more easily deceived” and therefore need to be subjected to men in order to come under control. In fact, one author speaks in terms of “the burden of male headship”2, which reminds me way too much of the “the white man’s burden” that backed the racism and colonialism of the 18th and 19th centuries. The idea that men are better than women seems untenable to me considering the great imbalance in violence and abuse from men to women in contrast to the other way around. With that in mind, which gender seems more prone to sin?
I agree with the many who say that we understand God through balancing scripture with the guiding of the Holy Spirit, our reason, and the witness of the church (see Wesleyan Quadrilateral for one example). The witness of the church is the only one out of alignment here. I believe the bible, taken as a whole, along with the Spirit and reason all say that women shouldn’t be subjugated based solely on their gender. “It’s demeaning to women to tell them they don’t qualify for a job simply because they lack a certain body part… frankly, it’s illegal to treat women that way [outside of the church]” (Amy Snow, p. 108).
The real answer in all of this is being transformed by Christ. Before we are transformed by him, we are more likely to be acting in our own self-interest only and engage in a struggle to take and maintain control. “The core problem, I’m convinced, is power” (Henderson, p. 262). When we begin to walk with Christ and be transformed by him, we will start to seek the best for everyone in our lives, man or woman. We will be free to love, encourage, and help others reach their full potential. We won’t feel threatened by others’ successes, even if they reach a higher position than what we have. We will be excited about the beauty of other people exercising their God given talents.
“I am convinced that women are our greatest untapped resource” (Lynne Hybels, p. xi).
“We limit women to our own detriment” (Henderson, p. 9).
“[Keeping women from leadership] not only negatively affects these women, it also hurts the church” (Henderson, p. 256).
I am participating in the Week of Mutuality synchroblog hosted by Rachel Held Evans.