Friday, June 28, 2013

Gender Roles in Marriage: Are They Right?

When Eric and I got married, I felt an enormous amount of pressure from myself to be the type of wife that I thought I "should" be. I thought it was my responsibility to do all the cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc. while also working and being (at the time) a pastor's wife. I heaped all this pressure on myself because I was taught (from society) that this was what a "good" wife does. After all, I'm supposed to be the Proverbs 31 wife, right?

Lately I've been thinking a lot about "Gender Rules" and whether or not those are actually true. So, here are a few points on why I'm not a fan of this whole idea:


1. I am not a "Proverbs 31 Wife."

After a few months of trying to do everything, I (and Eric) realized it wasn't working out - and then I was honest.

I don't like cooking.

If you really like to cook, that's awesome. More power to you - but I've never had a passion for it. I'm not good at it. I don't enjoy it. Whenever I cook, I try to make the easiest thing possible that doesn't take a long time, because I really don't like being in the kitchen very much. Eric, on the other hand, really enjoys cooking and he's really good at it. So who am I to stand in the way of that, all in the name of "wifely duties?"

I judged myself for a long time for not wanting to cook (and for refusing to clean the bathroom...gross), but Eric always encouraged me not to find my value as a wife in those things. I always thought of myself as a sucky wife because I let our apartment get a little messy and I don't always fold the laundry right away, but in spite of all of that Eric would look me in the eye and say, "You're a great wife." ...But why? Aren't I supposed to do all these things that I'm not doing? How could I still be a good wife?

And then he told me.

I respect him. I support him. I encourage him. I love him. I challenge him.

And sure, I'm definitely not perfect, but those are the things he cares about - not whether dinner is ready by the time he gets home from work or not.

I am not - and never will be - a "Proverbs 31 wife."

Let's go through all the specific areas of Proverbs 31 in which I don't fit:

         - I don't "seek wool." (v.13)
         - I don't "bring food from afar." (v.14)
         - I don't get up before the sun. (v. 15)
         - I don't make breakfast for Eric, nor do we have servants. (v. 15)
         - I don't buy fields, nor do I have a garden. (v. 16)
         - I don't sell merchandise. (v. 18)
         - I don't sew. (v. 19)
         - I don't "clothe" Eric in red. (v. 21)
         - I don't wear "fine linens." (v. 22)
         - I don't sell clothes. (v. 24)

Okay. So, you get the gist. According to this list, I really suck as a wife. However, I would venture to say there are deeper meanings to this passage beyond just a prescriptive list of things wives/women are "supposed" to do.

Rachel Held Evans discusses this issue in her post, Women of Valor: It's about character, not roles. She says,
"The subject of a twenty-two-line poem found in the last chapter of the book of Proverbs, the 'wife of noble character' -- or, more properly translated, eshet chayil - "woman of valor -- is meant to be a tangible expression of the book's celebrated virtue of wisdom. ...Like any good poem, the purpose of this one is to draw attention to the often-overlooked glory of the everyday.
The author is essentially showing us what wisdom looks like in action. The only instructive language it contains is direct toward men, with the admonition that a thankful husband honor his wife 'for all that her hands have done.' the Jewish tradition, it is the men who memorize Proverbs 31, so they know how to honor their wives.
And yet many Christians interpret this passage prescriptively, as a command to women rather than an ode to women, with the home-based endeavors of the Proverbs 31 woman cast as the ideal lifestyle for all women of faith.  ...No longer presented as a song through which a man offers his wife praise, Proverbs 31 is presented as a task list through which a woman earns it.
...It's not the domestic accomplishments of the Proverbs 31 Woman that matter, but rather her virtues of wisdom and valor."

2. Eric and I do certain things because we're good at them - not because he's a man and I'm a woman.

This point isn't a very long one, but:

Eric enjoys fixing computers. He enjoys working on technology. He enjoys fixing our cars. Does he enjoy those things or do those things simply because he's a man? I would venture to say absolutely not. I have full confidence that I could do any of those things (well, maybe not the car thing because I'm just hopeless with cars) and do them well. I really enjoy computers and I'm good with them. Most of the time if my computer has an issue with something I can figure it out without asking Eric. How can I do this? Because I understand computers. I get them. I can see the problem and figure it out almost all the time.

Eric enjoys cooking, and he's much better at it than I am. Will I tell him not to cook just because I'm the woman and that's the way things should be?

I'm better at cleaning than Eric (even though I don't enjoy it), not because I'm a woman, but simply because I'm more detail-oriented than he is. I am more prone to noticing dirt than he is, simply because that's who I am. I see the areas that he doesn't see. It has nothing to do with the idea that he's a man and therefore a slob, but everything to do with the fact that I see those details more readily than he does.

Eric and I were created differently - we both have different talents, gifts, and personality traits. Just because I have a certain personality trait doesn't mean it's because I'm a woman, and vice-versa. Eric and I are on this journey together, and we are called to work cooperatively in accordance with our gifts and talents - it would be counter-productive for us to do something we're not good at simply because it's what we're "supposed" to do.

3. Submission...?

This is a point where I know I'll disagree with many people. In Christian culture today we hear (and read, unfortunately) all the time about how wives need to submit to their husbands. However, through studying Scripture and the context surrounding Ephesians 5:22-33, I can't help but notice that Paul commands every believer to submit to one another (15-21).
"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for the is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ." 
THEN he goes into talking about wives submitting to their husbands and husbands loving their wives. Here's how I interpret it, and an analogy (which is probably similar to what Paul was doing):

Imagine you were a pastor. In evaluating your church, maybe you saw that there were specific issues that needed to be worked out. So in order to address those issues, first you talk about what the members of your church should all be doing for one another (submitting to one another, loving each other, etc.). Afterwards, you point out the specific problem areas in your church. For Paul, it was that the wives weren't submitting to their husbands, and the husbands weren't loving their wives.

Remember, everyone is called to love and submit to one another. 

It is entirely possible that the women had no problem loving their husbands, but instead had issues of submitting to them. Paul saw a specific issue with the Ephesian church, and thus he addressed it. I cannot interpret that passage without that cultural context nor the context of the rest of the chapter/book.

Eric and I are really, really against this idea of "patriarchy" where whatever the husband says, goes. We see each other as equals and we make the decisions for our marriage together. Sure, I let him make most of the financial decision for us as long as I'm comfortable with them, but that's just because I hate dealing with money (and well...he works at a bank).

Eric desires for me to share my thoughts and opinions on things in our marriage and in life in general. He wants to hear from me - he doesn't have this urge to lord power over me or to make decisions without talking to me about it first. This is true for me as well. I don't want to make decisions without discussing it with Eric, because our marriage is an equal partnership. It's a give-and-take. And we love it that way.

[Also, sidenote... I do have a desire for Eric to lead our marriage. However, this is a personal decision, not something that I believe should be prescriptive for all marriages. I like the idea of Eric being a leader (especially since he's such a humble, caring man), but I will never pressure him to lead, nor will I judge anyone who disagrees - this is just a personal thing that I like to see in my marriage.]

4. We are all called to humble ourselves and love one another.

I think I will let Scripture speak for itself here:
"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do not thing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others." - Philippians 2:1-4
 "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." - John 13:34-35
 "Clothes yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." - 1 Peter 5:5b
"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us." - 1 John 4:7-12
"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. it does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." - 1 Corinthians 13:1-7

Marriage does not exempt people from this. When two people get married, they don't suddenly get a new list of "rules" they need to follow, nor a new set of "roles" to which they must adhere.

We are called to treat one another with love, respect, kindness, humility, and selflessness -- regardless of whether we're a husband or a wife, a man or a woman.

*I am planning on writing on the story of Hosea and Gomer soon (how it isn't supposed to be prescriptive for all marriages), and would love any resources any of you can send me on that topic!*


  1. Great post. I feel like Ephesians 5 is one of the most misapplied passages in the Bible. Because first, the 22 and forward section is, as you said, not independent from what comes before. In fact, the newer version of the NIV moves the section break to be before 21. The whole point of the passage is mutual submission and mutual loving relationships.

    Submit to one another
    A. Wives submit to husbands
    A1. Husbands love wives

    B. Children obey parents
    B1. Fathers don't exasperate your children

    C. Slaves obey your masters with love
    C1. Masters treat your slaves "in the same way"

    In the West, where it's assumed that husbands and wives will love each other, and where at least theoretically, equality in relationships is a deeply ingrained value (probably b/c of this passage being applied over the centuries!), we miss the point. In other parts of the world, men read this passage and their entire world is turned upside-down! Love my wife?? Unconditionally, like Jesus loves me a sinner?? That's truly radical in much of the world, and this was what was radical in Paul's day too! This whole passage is saying "you without power, continue to respect those with greater status. You with power and status, act as if you don't have it, surrendering it as Jesus did!" We spend all our time applying this passage to get women to submit, when its first hearers would have focused on men conforming to the model of Christ giving up his power (Phil 2).

    Here's a contemporary example of what I'm talking about--short by totally worth the read: (make sure to read pt 1, which is linked to in here)

    1. Thank you for your comment, Tim!

      I absolutely agree with everything that you're talking about - we're all supposed to be equal and treat each other as equals - there's not supposed to be some kind of hierarchy.

      I'll also take a look at that article. Thanks!

    2. I will also say though that I think the "power" or "status" that husbands had was a cultural thing. Women were seen to be lower than men at that time, but now men and women are (supposed to be) equal.

      Because of this, the same message of mutual submission still applies - just in the context of the fact that we are all equals and should be treated as such.

      I don't know if that makes sense - haven't had much coffee yet today. :)


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