Over at the Lingamish blog, David Ker has been talking about marriage and about gender roles within it.
He describes his own position as complementarian, though to read his description of complementarianism you wouldn’t know he’s talking about the same thing as many other folks. Traditionally, complementarianism has argued that women and men have natural, God-given roles that complement one another: women are designed by God to bear and raise children and to accept the authority of their husbands, while men are designed by God to lead–in home, church, and society. Men and women may be equal in God’s eyes, say complementarians, but their roles are determined by God and are not the same. Complementarianism offers a way to claim that scripture treats women and men equally while still denying to women roles of authority over men. The Visionary Daughters, for example, espouse this understanding of gender roles. (see my blog post)
That’s not the way David describes his own position in his post “Return of the He-Man Woman Haters.” For example, he supports ecclesial equality—women can be gifted by God to fulfill the same roles as men. His description of equality often blurs with the way many feminists would describe equality.
Where I most differ from David is in his claim about “natural” tendencies–the idea that by divine design all men are a certain way and all women are a certain way. I do recognize the biological and cultural studies that point to gender/sex differences, but the claim that all people of a sex/gender HAVE to be a particular way is problematic and dangerous. It precludes people from discerning and celebrating their unique and distinctive gifts, especially those seen to go against “nature.” Women who are mechanically inclined or men who like to sew are treated as exceptions or even discredits to their gender.
I can tell story after story about people I know who struggle against the gender roles assigned to them. The male student who is ashamed to tell his conservative parents that he likes to cook and that his wife likes her job. The female student who has struggled to define her worth as a woman who is childless. The transgender student who finds that strict male and female gender roles just don’t fit real life.
There’s nothing wrong with two people complementing each other. Where the trouble comes in is when the role is each one is to play is pre-determined, and even worse when the pre-determined role is given divine sanction.
Here’s a humorous piece from The Onion which shows, in farce, just how hard societies (especially parents) try to make our kids fit.