What if a man can’t lead?

I’m continuing my posts this week on the subject of mutuality.  Today’s topic: Exceptions to the rule.

Whenever I hear the words “Biblical womanhood” I want to do several things:  Throw something large, heavy, and preferably breakable; scream; hide until whoever said it goes away.

I understand that a certain kind of relationship is to be expected when you take a particular female personality type and a particular male personality type and put them together in a marriage.  And you know what?  That’s awesome for them that they have figured out how to make their marriage work, honoring their natural styles.  But I’d rather they keep their opinions about my marriage to themselves, thanks.  My marriage isn’t built on obeying a certain set of rules, goals, traits, or what have you.

Anyway, one thing that always concerns me is the number of people who are left out of the equation.  I can handle it.  I’m used to being a non-traditional woman among traditional Christians.  Story of my life, for many, many years.  No, I’m more frustrated by the traditional people left out in the cold by people hawking Biblical womanhood.

There are a lot of women who can’t fulfill this role even if they want to.  As one friend put it, “I don’t like hearing all the time about how I’m supposed to submit to my husband.  I don’t have a husband.  Am I supposed to go find one so I can submit to him?”  Another friend asked, “What am I supposed to do?  I’m a single parent.  I have to be both mom and dad to my kids.  Who do I submit to?”

Last night, my husband and I generated a list of people who might have some difficulty with the typical conservative marriage expectations:

  • Women whose husbands have died or abandoned their family
  • Women who have never been married
  • Women whose husbands are ill or injured and unable to “lead” their families
  • Women whose husbands have left the Christian faith and cannot be the spiritual authority
  • Women who became Christians but their husbands did not (see above)
  • Women whose husbands are deep in addiction
  • Women whose husbands are abusive
  • Women whose husbands are doing things that are morally corrupt or illegal
  • Women whose husbands are incarcerated
  • Women whose husbands spend large amounts of time away from home (due to work or military service)

That’s an awful lot of exceptions to the rule.

I am sure that conservative people would have some snappy answer for all of it.  Or else they might say that of course there are exceptions, this applies to “regular” people.  That’s fascinating, but it doesn’t do much to help the people who are in the midst of those situations.  It doesn’t help the woman who has lived her entire marriage being the kind of Biblical wife she believed she should be, and now finds herself without a spiritual rudder because her husband has Alzheimer’s.  It doesn’t help the woman who suddenly finds herself a single mother of three because her husband has left her for another woman.  It doesn’t help the woman who has given her whole life in service to others, believing her highest calling wasn’t marriage but the mission field.  It doesn’t help the woman whose husband returns to her every night, blind drunk.  It doesn’t help the woman whose husband has spent the better part of their marriage beating her and calling her names.

Instead of labeling those women “irregular” and “exceptions to the rule,” why not make a point of helping those women gain strength in Christ?  I know there are support groups for people dealing with life issues.  However, shouldn’t the church be another place they can turn?  There are more women in these situations than you know.  Instead of reminding them of the ways they are different from all the “normal” families, where Dad is the strong head of the household, can’t we do more to empower those people who don’t fit that mold?

If we really want to build healthy marriages and healthy families, we need to start by removing language that says or implies that proper, Biblical marriage is the pinnacle of existence.  We need to talk more about how families can be strengthened in God-honoring and people-honoring ways that have less to do with gender roles and more to do with respecting each person’s needs within the home.  When we can do that, we will bring hope and healing for all women, regardless of relationship status.

This post is part of the Week of Mutuality led by Rachel Held Evans.  You can follow the other posts on Twitter with #mutuality2012.  Check it out, there are some fantastic writers weighing in on the topic.  On Friday, I will highlight my favorites.  Look for Rachel’s faves in her usual Sunday Superlatives.
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4 thoughts on “What if a man can’t lead?

  1. I think that those that use the term “Biblical womanhood” just think of woman as hoodlums. Either it is their internal projection or they are just power hungry men that find fulfillment in expressing their perceived power. They ultimately want to make women emotionally damaged goods and codependent to them.

    • Interestingly, it’s mostly women who have imposed this on each other. I agree, when I hear men do it, that’s what comes to mind (and that’s what I’ve heard in some sermons on the subject). But that tends to be obvious. Men who are obnoxious to women are NOT subtle about it, fortunately.

      Sadly, women who use the term are far nastier and much more sneaky. There’s an underlying sense of superiority, that a particular personality type is the “right” way to be a Christian woman. It’s not always easy to spot, so it can leave a person with a sense of feeling that something isn’t quite right but unable to specifically identify it.

  2. Pingback: Another view on Biblical submission? « unchained faith

  3. And if women are morally corrupt and do illegal things, they suffer abuse from their husbands. Same goes for women being obnoxious to men as well as being an incarcerated woman, being away all the time, especially work and military which raises a woman’s risk for domestic violence, leaving the Christian faith, not becoming Christian, etc., knowing Christians expect women to be good all the time and if they’re immoral, they’re in trouble with their husbands and other people.

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