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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Complementarian Teachings Hurt Men Too

A friend of mine shared a blog post written by his wife, Brianna, a few days ago. In the post, she was praising him for being such a wonderful, supportive husband and father. She talked about how he supports her in her parenting and is in tune with their children's needs. It was a beautiful post, the kind that makes women think "I want a man like that." The kind that makes men think "I want my wife to appreciate me that way." Their relationship is beautiful and it shows in the way they speak about each other and their children. She ended with this sweet paragraph: "Ben lets me parent by instinct everyday…and as he supports my gut feelings, he also goes by his. It’s a beautiful pattern- a beautiful way to parent together. I love being so in sync with each other on our parenting journey! I’m so thankful to have the rare gift of a husband who’s as passionate about natural parenting as I am…a husband who’s gung-ho for meeting our kids needs and parenting naturally, rather than putting me in a “choose me or them” position. Together, we can seek what works best for everyone, instead of the pressure being put on me to choose between instinct and marriage, for instance. I’m pretty confident I’ll never have to say, “Well, Ben really wanted (such and such), so we’re working on that. It’s hard, but it’s what he wanted, so….I guess it’ll all work out.” "

Awwwww...right? :)

You'd think people would be encouraged by this post. I certainly was. Yet the very first comment left was by a guy who felt the need to condemn this couple. He accused them of their roles being reversed, that Ben was being the "helpmeet" to his wife and his wife was leading by emotions. He told them their kids would suffer for not doing things God's Way (TM). He pretty much said that because their marriage doesn't fit his beliefs of The Godly Marriage (TM) that they were all doomed. And he got this from a blog post where a wife was praising her husband for being so awesome.

Something I've been wanting to write about for a long time is how strict gender roles, as taught by complementarianism and the church, are harmful to men too. We focus a lot on the women in these teachings and the way they are suppressed and abused, but I think the men get the short end of the stick here too. Men who are gentle and kind and have no desire to order their wives and children around like army troops are told they aren't good enough, manly enough, and are "whipped" by their wives. The men are forced into a harmful mold that they weren't created for and don't fit.

And lest you think this is exclusive to extreme patriarchal types, think again. Mark Driscoll does it. John Piper does it. Many "mainstream" christian teachers do it. The movie Courageous did it. They define Real Men according to their interpretation of the Bible, which is read through their own paradigm and pre-conceived ideas, declaring that any man that doesn't fit their definition isn't a true, godly man. Then they predict all manner of doom on these men's souls, their marriages, and their children. Any man that isn't the "strong, commanding leader" is obviously not a true man. Or he's abdicated his position to his wife and "the feminist agenda".

The madness has to stop.

Somewhere along the line, we lost what it means to be people, children of God, in favor of "real men" and "feminine women". Instead of worrying about whether we were loving one another, being kind to each other, showering grace on everyone, we started worrying about whether we were "feminine" enough or "masculine" enough. Whether we were filling our prescribed roles or not. We started defining men and women according to strict views that someone decided came from the Bible and were caught up and perpetuated by the Church. We redefined "godly" and "good" as "gender appropriate". And if you didn't fit those molds, you just weren't godly enough. We separated the fruits of the Spirit and one-another principles in the Bible, given to all people, and branded some "feminine" and some "masculine". So that when men display too much tender-heartedness, they are branded effeminate and when women follow the command to rebuke a brother in sin they are branded as defiling their feminine role. Women who are strong and courageous, and men who are meek and kind have no place in this paradigm. Yet strength, courage, meekness, and kindness are supposed to be a part of the character of all who follow Christ; men AND women. God never placed gender-prescribed boundaries on tender-heartedness. Man did that. And the church continues to perpetuate and "teach as doctrine the commandments of men". How many men trade gentleness for severity because gentleness is a "feminine trait", forgetting that it's also a fruit of the Spirit? How many men are ignoring who God made them and forcing themselves into a mold, denying the Spirit's transformation in their lives and hurting themselves and their families because of it?

And the judgment that flies around from men to other men in the church is outrageous! Men are berated from the pulpit for not being manly enough. Instead of encouraging a man to partner with his wife to raise their kids, other men castigate him for not being a "strong leader" and for letting his wife make too many decisions. His very identity as a man is attacked for displaying traits that Jesus Himself exemplified. In a very real way, the men of the church (and some of the women) are placing gender identity worship over being imitators of Jesus. And when a man steps up and says "this is wrong", he is mocked for being weak and effeminate. Since when did we get so numb and complacent that we allow the teachers of our faith of trade the gospel of Jesus Christ for gender worship?

I look around at conservative Christianity and I see the fall-out. I see the broken hearts of angry men believing the lie that they must behave a certain way or they are not true men. I see the women who are the subjects of their anger, who perpetuate dissatisfaction in husbands that aren't good enough, godly enough, leadership-y enough. I see broken marriages and broken families because the Church has chosen superficial gender roles instead of kindness, compassion, grace, and respect. And instead of stepping back and asking "could we be wrong here?" the men are told they didn't lead well enough and the women are told they didn't submit well enough. (Whatever happened to just loving enough???) People who are the victims of a man-made paradigm are told they are at fault and not trying hard enough to follow their roles within the paradigm. People who are brave enough to question and declare "something is wrong with this picture" are labeled "feminist", "humanistic", and "worldly". And so the broken cycle continues.

My friend, Ben, is a good man, a good husband and father. But because he and his wife lead their family together, and because he is kind and gentle and desires an equal partner for a wife, he gets berated. By another Christian. Because Ben is compassionate and cares about the hearts of his wife, children, and everyone he speaks to, he is told he isn't quite godly enough....not quite manly enough...not commanding enough or leading enough, like a real man. And because Brianna takes initiative and uses her strengths to make good choices for her family, she is "usurping her husband's role". Something is very wrong with this picture. It is insane to tell a man that when he listens to his wife's concerns and treats her with honor he isn't fulfilling his role as a husband to lead. How backwards and illogical can we be? The church needs to wake up.

I've shared this before...my husband and I trying to make ourselves (and each other) fit into the church's prescribed roles for men and women almost tanked our marriage. The more we tried, the more we failed, and the more we came to resent the other for not doing it right and blaming our shortcoming on the other person's failure to follow their role. He wasn't the "strong spiritual leader" the church said he was supposed to be. I wasn't the perfect little wifey that always deferred and submitted to my husband. Guilt was heaped on guilt by every marriage book we read and every seminar we went to. "Just submit more" and "just be a better leader" didn't fix anything, it only served to make our problems worse as we tried in vain to follow someone else's rules. What saved our marriage was realizing that God made us with the strengths we each have, our strengths and weakness fit perfectly together, and we didn't have to try to fit into a mold that others said we did in order to have a good marriage. We completely gave up and threw those stupid gender role teachings out the window. Peace suddenly reigned over our marriage and we were free. Free to each be who we were created to be and to love each other in the ways we needed to. We both bring amazing gifts to our marriage and we just don't care anymore if by using those gifts we are playing the correct gender role or not. We don't believe in playing roles anymore. We're too busy living life, loving others, following God, and raising our kids.

What I didn't realize until recently was just how much my husband was hurting from these teachings. I remember going to church without him one week years ago and listening to a guest speaker rail on the men for not being better leaders, better husbands, and better fathers. (This was his usual sermon when he visited.) How I wished my husband had been there! I confess I thought he could use a good ass-whipping to be the man he wasn't being (and since I was trying to be the perfect submissive wife, I certainly couldn't give it to him). When I told him later who spoke, he muttered under his breath "Another guilt-trip for not being a good enough man. Oh yay." That hit me hard. Thing is, in listening to these things, I almost missed the man he really is....the man I love and who has much to offer his family. I almost missed the blessing that he is in favor of a made-up image of what he wasn't. I DID miss it for a long time. I perpetuated the hurt and guilt that he was experiencing and all for what? The church's idea of a Real Man? How lost can we get?

As women, we have to stop. We have to stop the crazy cycle of trying to make our husbands be something they're not just because other men say they should be. Forget being labeled "feminist". Who cares? If you're ruled by the fruits of the Spirit and a desire to honor, let others label you what they like. Love your husband, respect him for who he is, confront him when he's wrong, appreciate his strengths and understand his weaknesses without enabling. Men, follow Jesus, not what some man in a pulpit or a book said you must be to be a man. If you're a strong leader, lead with compassion and learn to submit to others (Eph. 5:21). If you're not a leader type, it's OK. You can still be a man who loves well and follows God. Love, respect, grace, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness, faithfulness, strength, courage, justice, honor, integrity, and peace know no gender limits.

I'm encouraged by the many men I know who aren't concerned about whether they're being manly enough. Who are more concerned about whether they are loving well. "Real men" come in every shape and size. You'll know them by their love for other people, regardless of their unique talents.

"Anthropology teaches us that the alpha male is the man wearing the crown, displaying the most colorful plumage and the shiniest baubles. He stands out from the others. But I now think that anthropology might have it wrong. In working with Booth, I've come to realize that the quiet man, the invisible man, the man who is always there for friends and family, that's the real alpha male."
- Bones (thanks to my friend, Lore, for sharing this quote)


  1. "As women, we have to stop. We have to stop the crazy cycle of trying to make our husbands be something they're not just because other men say they should be." my favortie!! we need to accept them and let each other 'make our own rules' and live in a way that is healthy & not codependent and allows the man to flourish.

    & "I've come to realize that the quiet man, the invisible man, the man who is always there for friends and family, that's the real alpha male." i want this in a man!!! this is been something on my heart lately with what i want in a man and what i think it very alphaish in a male. xoxo

    you nailed it!!

  2. Thank you for sharing this! I'm grateful to have a kind, compassionate, patient and considerate husband. He believes strongly that we are partners and not just boss&underling in our marriage.

  3. Love it--especially as a woman who has a meek and gentle husband (and who is wonderful that way). I love the line in your post: "We don't believe in playing roles anymore. We're too busy living life, loving others, following God, and raising our kids."

  4. Darcy - thanks. Thanks a bunch. Hearing this message again really spoke to me, especially since it was written in part just for me. :-) I have too often felt like I wasn't "good enough" because I didn't match the "model man" set up by Christians. But the more I've let go of the chains, the more I've come to appreciate the man God made me to be.
    You're a blessing, Darcy- keep up the good work!
    Your friend,

  5. :-) Great post, Darcy! Especially since I think Ben's awesome... ;-) It's been good to grow outside of just appreciating Ben and our marriage the way it is towards encouraging others to appreciate their spouses the way they are and recognize it as just as "Christian" a marriage! Keep it up!

  6. You two are adorable. Just sayin'.....;)

  7. You go, Darcy! I wish more women were like you, and more men were able to listen to you.

  8. "when women follow the command to rebuke a brother in sin they are branded as defiling their feminine role."

    Thankfully, I don't view it that way as all. I'm not afraid to speak up about what is right and what is wrong despite the fact that I am a woman :)
    God called us to speak up and help a brother/sister when they are living in sin.
    No gender specification needed ;)

    I admire a man who is strong yet gentle.
    And I admire women who are gentle yet strong.

  9. Obviously I don't view it that way either, Anonymous. lol

  10. Complementarian teaching can hurt guys in a variety of ways. The ways you've outlined are very true (my husband had firsthand experience with these things back in the day when he dated a girl from a strict complementarian family and was deemed not "manly" enough by the parents).

    It hurts them in other ways, too. For one thing, men have fewer choices about what to do with their lives than women do. They are expected to always be breadwinners; the option of staying home with kids is closed to them, at least in terms of what's socially acceptable. Also, because husbands are seen as the "main" provider, they feel more pressure to pick their jobs based on pay-scale. Women can often get away with choosing a more rewarding job, even if it pays less, because their husbands are bringing home the lion's share of the family budget. But if those roles were reversed, these men would be seen as "making" their poor wives work for the husband's own selfishness.

    Finally, there's the problem of stress. My husband gets very stressed out if all the family problems fall on his shoulders. He wants me to be an equal partner. As they say, it's lonely at the top.

  11. Yes, there is so much that could be said on this subject. When I started writing about it, I ended up with enough thoughts to fill several posts. Probably as many as have filled posts on how these teachings hurt women. I hope others will explore this as well; maybe some who are men and can tell first-hand what it's like to be a man under this system.

  12. preach it sister

  13. I feel so blessed to be part of a congregation where the men, at least so far as I can tell (and I am, of course, including my husband) are secure enough in their manhood that they aren't constantly adjusting it, flexing it and pumping it up. These are men who are more concerned about Christlikeless than manliness. They don't have to try to be men, they ARE men.

  14. You're the man! Oh, wait...

    Seriously, this is flat-out awesome. As one of those sensitive, introverted, artsy men, I appreciate it more than I can say.

  15. You nailed it. Still get a sick feeling in my stomach from all the years-23-of trying to jam myself and my husband into these prescribed roles. Was death to me. Still getting on my feet in recovery, but have never felt freer and been happier in my marriage than I am now that we got rid of those f***ing "biblical" roles. I want to shout from the rooftops how incredible an equality-based marriage is. Now my husband and I laugh and tease each other, talk forever,and have great sex. I never imagined that we could be so incredibly in love after the deadness and resentment I felt trying to be the submissive wife, and he, the macho leader.
    Why did I want the roles so badly?
    1)Lots of fears. I married an effeminate man, and I am a tomboy woman. Oh no! Just the opposite of a godly pair.
    2)Prestige in the church. My husband doesn't even want to go to the man's hunting expedition. Secretly, I do. Instead I end up at the quilting circle.
    3)Help, we need to change! How?? Submit even more and you will be feminine and he will be masculine; the only biblical solution.

    How'd the change come? Thankfully my strict gender role "dream" church served us up some good spiritual abuse, and my eyes were opened to this whole disgusting dogma.

    Thankfully, we are now on the road to happiness.

  16. All the statements about women naturally being good with children amaze me. In the case of my father, he was all the neighborhood kids favorite person. They would wait until he came out doors to work on his beloved roses and then they would drift over to talk to him. My husband is also lots better with small children than I am.

  17. The funny thing is, my husband is very manly. He's a mountain-man, cowboy type. He loves horses and hunting and fishing and Nascar and beer and he's not musical or artsy (though he builds gorgeous furniture and loves to take awesome photographs). But he's quiet and deep and uncharismatic and the guy that is never in the spotlight but always shows up at work parties with a truck, some tools, and his own two hands. There is no labeled box for him or any other man. Men and women are harmed by people trying to put them in boxes. Each of us have strengths, weaknesses, gifts and callings. To see past the gender-roles is to be able to appreciated who we really are and what we bring to the church, our families, and society.

  18. You know who else gets berated under this system? Stay at home dads. I know a few and they're awesome. But they get treated like they turned in their man card and gave up their identity so they could stay home with their kids while their wives work. It's terrible being treated that way just because you actually like being a full-time father and are good at it.

  19. My husband is also 'manly' in a lot of ways, but he loves the kids and loves being with them and staying at home with them. What I can't stand is his sister making fun of him for being whipped, because he honestly doesn't mind watching the kids or changing them or playing with them - more than I do, most of the time. She thinks that because sometimes, when I suggest something or remind him that it's time for something (like a nap), and he goes ahead and gets them ready for it, he is totally whipped. At the same time it shouldn't bother me, since we've worked out our own dynamic and I know he just laughs at her... But at the same time it's really frustrating, because she's not the type to take orders from anyone (least of all her boyfriend), and yet... Either way, if my husband could be a stay-at-home dad, he would be (it's a financial thing), and I wouldn't mind at all, but I think his family wouldn't 'approve', no matter how good he was at it. Oh well, too bad for them, should it ever come to pass. :) At least we'll be happy!!

  20. Quick question: when you judge others for being judgmental, what does that make you? I can see no material difference in the opinions you offer and the criticism to which you reacted.

    Recovery (and Grace) is a lot about being okay with who others are, whether or not they are agreeable. Maybe a little less trying to "fix" other people, a little more grace to forgive the people who may have hurt you. We have a perfect model for that kind of man (or woman).

  21. Anonymous,
    It's not my fault if you have a lack of logical thinking and discernment.

    I am also amused at your failed analysis of my motives and state of mind. It's cute. In a facepalm sort of way.


  22. Darcy:

    I really appreciated your post. Many great challenging thoughts. I have a question. When have you heard the men you cited teach manhood in the way you described? Can you give specific examples? (see the below)

    "Men who are gentle and kind and have no desire to order their wives and children around like army troops are told they aren't good enough, manly enough, and are "whipped" by their wives. The men are forced into a harmful mold that they weren't created for and don't fit.

    And lest you think this is exclusive to extreme patriarchal types, think again. Mark Driscoll does it. John Piper does it. Many "mainstream" christian teachers do it."

    1. I included a couple links in the post. If you want more, feel free to google them. I don't have time. You can go to this site for many perfect examples: http://thewartburgwatch.com/

      Just go to categories and click on the name you want.

    2. Also, read anything from the Counsel for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, especially their book. Some stupid stuff in there.

    3. Thank you. And thank you for the time you take to think through these issues. I did read many of the articles on the site. I guess I am not hearing the same tone and meaning from Piper you are in the totality of his speaking and writing. I guess we all hear the words people use with some type of emotional baggage based on how those words were used in their upbringing. Again thank you for your writing.

  23. This was excellent, Darcy, and also describes my own experience in marriage. I remember the frustration of watching him balance the checkbook, knowing he just wasn't good with numbers, while I knew exactly what to do-- and yet our church taught that the man was supposed to manage the money. He hated managing the money and I hated having to keep my hands off. What a relief to say, "Hey! Where does it say he's got to manage the money just because he's the man?" And that was just the tip of the iceburg of all the "roles" we were expected to fulfill. What a relief we both felt to just do what our own strengths and giftings led us to do, without worrying about who was in charge. And realizing that that was what Jesus was talking about when He said to stop worrying about who was greatest and just enter the kingdom like a child.

  24. Darse,
    I found myself repeatedly nodding while reading this post. There is freedom in not following gender role worship, but to follow Jesus only.

    If you're interested, look at the site www.marriedmansexguide.com. Mom pointed out to me the series of posts where he describes Alpha and Beta male traits and how every man has them and how problems develop when they aren't balanced. This can lend itself to an egalitarian relationship when used properly. I'd love to know your thoughts on this.

    Talk to you later.

  25. Darcy,

    I was first directed to the blog you wrote about how "guarding your heart" damages relationships, something I've felt for a long time but haven't been able to put into words like you did. I've been reading through your blog and agree with so much. Particularly this: "Forget being labeled "feminist". Who cares? If you're ruled by the fruits of the Spirit and a desire to honor, let others label you what they like."
    As a Christian feminist, I would argue that being "labeled" feminist is hardly the worst thing people have called me. Keep up the excellent writing!

  26. Thank you for writing this from your heart Darcy! You hit the nail on the head and perfectly penned what I had rambling thoughts about.

    As a result, I took the liberty of coyping this post and pasting into a post on my blog. I did give you full credit and linked back here. I hope you don't mind. I just thought it was a great waste of energy to try to reiterate what you so perfectly put into words already.

    Thanks, and God bless!
    Tracy @ Radically Free (http://radicallyfreeyou.blogspot.ca/)

    1. I don't mind at all as long as you link to my original blog. Thanks for reading! :)