Tuesday, April 19, 2011

More on Gender Roles

When I was very young, maybe even as young as four, I was sitting in church. The pastor must have been preaching on the crucifixion--I don't remember that part--but he said, "I was there; I carried that cross!"

Everyone was listening intently, but I was sitting there thinking, "Why do all of these adults believe this? This happened a long time ago, and this man couldn't have been born..."

Obviously, I wasn't developmentally ready for the abstract concept he was addressing. As Piaget would say it, I was concrete operations sitting in an abstract situation.

The thing is that it was confusing because my family told me, "Everything at church is true you should believe it." For a long time, I couldn't distinguish what I thought was true from what I was told was true. That's where I am at with gender roles.

My developing mind accepted what I was told about a wife submitting to her husband. My whole life that has been a concept I have begrudgingly lived with. My whole family believes that is part of marriage. Yes, my church believed that too. It wasn't a belief that was abusive to women. It wasn't a belief that I would call repressive because women have a choice. There are no submission police. It wasn't a belief that women are less than men. That's not my issue. It's just that I woke up one day and thought, "What if I don't believe that?" What if I think that marriage and family decisions are a completely equal partnership and not about authority on either side? What if I don't even want to try to submit? What if I think that if my hypothetical husband absolutely thinks I am wrong and I think he is wrong that we should use rock-paper-scissors and not his authority to see what we should do (yes, I am being facetious, but I do think consensus, not authority could work)?

In theological circles, we call this debate egalitarianism versus complementarianism. Once I wrote a paper defending complementarianism, but that was before I really lived out in the real world. Now, I just can't believe that anymore.

I don't think that women who choose to practice complementarianism are cheating themselves. My Grandmother lived that way and was happy every day of her life. I just woke up one day, and I realized that I don't have to do it. That thought was freeing.


Jen said...

There are a lot of things that I was sure I was sure of, or at least believed enough up through my teens...that I gradually came to realize didn't have to be true for me, or could be *chosen* as ways of thinking, but weren't necessarily related to reality.

It was both freeing and also a little annoying -- in so many ways it's easier to be able to just accept (submit?!) and deal within a set framework. But, turns out some of us aren't made that way -- arbitrary structures make me crazy, not content!

On a less abstract note, my egalitarian relationship is a joy and a delight of more than two decades (gulp!), and I hope I've raised/am raising my three sons to appreciate that too.

Rachel said...

Thanks for clarifying. Using the word "usurp" is pretty strong and in my opinion definitively connotes repression and submission. If it means to seize power inappropriately, it means that the usurper didn't have power/authority prior to his/her radical action. Thus, I understood your issues with your church (usurping women are poison; women are to be sweet natured, not leaders, etc.) as a repression of women. Honestly, looking at those descriptions, they still strike me me as repressive, but this is only a small representation of your parish life, so I'll take your word for it.

If I had to, I like to think of my marriage as complegalitarian (honestly, what we do just works - I've never had to think about putting a name to it). A recognition of differences in male/female has definitely affected our roles within the marriage; however, we ultimately both put the other person first - there is no hierarchy created out of those different roles. If you had told me as a teenager I would be accepting of any complementary/traditional ideals, I would have laughed in your face. But, like you, I have had time to see my ideas or presumptions play out in real life with my own marriage and the marriage of others, and then adjust my own perspective accordingly.

But that wasn't your main point here. The main point is you have been able to realize you can make your own decision about the kind of relationship you can have, and that is freeing. Congrats. :)