“I believe Scripture when properly interpreted along with tradition, reason, and experience all support a posture of equality toward women rather than hierarchy,” (RHE) in the home, church, and world. The more I research and study equality between the genders, the more obvious it is to me that wrong assumptions and misunderstandings about mutuality flourish. Since I hate wrong assumptions and misunderstandings, I would like to remedy that situation. The top six misunderstandings that I have encountered the most are:
1. “Egalitarian women just want to be like men”: Egalitarians recognize gender differences, but understand those differences are not (a) Universal- men are generally physically stronger than women, but not all men are stronger than all women, some women are stronger than some men. (b) Prescriptive- men don’t have to be stronger than women in order to please God. (c) Indicative of hierarchy- a man doesn’t get more authority because he’s stronger than a woman. Equality isn’t sameness. I don’t want to be “just like a man.” I want to be a woman who has all the same opportunities as a man to use my gifts in my home, church, and community.
2. “You (egalitarian wife) just want to wear the pants in the marriage”: Mutuality in marriage is about co-leadership and submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ (Ephesians 5:21). As I have already mentioned there are differences among complementarians and egalitarians and how their beliefs play out in life. However, in my marriage, no one person has the “final say.” We are fortunate that we have been very agreeable in our marriage when it comes to making major decisions (car purchases, housing selection, college for kids). Maturely compromising and calmly talking through what is best for our family has settled most of our disputes. He leads out of his strengths and I lead out of mine, but Jesus is our head of household. So we both “wear the pants” in the marriage.
3. “You can’t have it both ways”: The implication here is that women cannot have equality and expect to be treated with dignity and respect deserving of all human beings. In my attempts to explain biblical equality to my male friends, I have been told “you can’t expect to be treated like a lady AND be treated like ‘one of the boys.’” But I think this sentiment entirely misses the point.
I don’t think women are asking to be treated like “one of the boys.” I think most women want to be treated like a woman but given mutual respect for her agency. Unfortunately what passes as respect in America these days looks more like men using their manners, e.g.: holding doors, helping women slide their chair to the dinner table, and paying for date night. Then there is this bizarre “gentlemanly” thing where the man is supposed to walk street side on the sidewalk to protect their woman from puddles and traffic.
All these “niceties” that get confused for respect are really basic courtesies; we should be willing to hold doors for anyone. Unless they are feeble and elderly, women are perfectly capable of opening and closing doors, handling their dinner chairs and even paying for dinner if they want, and in the spirit of equality, they can pay for their date’s meal too. What man wouldn’t like an occasional free meal?
You know what does convey respect? Equal pay for equal work as a male counterpart, hiring a woman for any job she is qualified to do, being treated as an equal marriage partner and giving consideration to her opinions and feelings even when they differ from yours. Respect is meeting eyeball-to-eyeball with a woman and restraining your roving eyes, it’s being intentional with your words and not using some vacuous pick-up line at the gas pump or gym. It’s muzzling your whistles and lewd comments because it’s not flattery when the attention is unwanted.
Respect is asking permission for physical touch; she is not your property, you can’t just take what you want. Respect looks like self-control and any man who claims he cannot manage his impulses around a woman is placing himself on par with Fido the family pet.
4. “Egalitarians are going against the Bible”: This is an ongoing debate where complementarians say the authority of Scripture is being compromised because egalitarians are not living by every word of the Bible. But, no Christian lives by every word of the Bible. For instance, most churches do not require women to cover their heads in prayer (1 Corinthians 11:5), or remain entirely silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:12) or abstain from wearing jewelry (1 Peter 3:3), or abide by the Levitical Purity Laws that make them ceremonially unclean during their periods. All parties in this discussion need to start with the presupposition that both egalitarians and complementarians respect the authority of Scripture and that both are selective in the application of Scripture.
We agree Scripture is the inspired word of God; we disagree on exactly how to apply what we have read and interpreted. It appears the real debate is not between those who support or reject the authority of Scripture, but between those who believe Scripture consistently presents hierarchy as the standard and those who believe that Scripture consistently presents hierarchy as the result of fallen humanity.
5. “Egalitarians don’t support traditional gender roles”: This is simply not true. Egalitarians support women in any role they choose from stay-at-home moms to CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Egalitarians do not believe that God requires women to fulfill a traditional gender role in order to please him. James Dobson has long been associated with complementarianism and the belief that women can best serve God and their husbands taking care of the home and raising the kids while men serve God best in leadership roles in the church and leading their families. As an egalitarian, the common teaching from the Church and parachurch organizations (like Focus on the Family) that motherhood is a woman’s highest calling deeply troubles me. As Rachel Held Evans has cleverly stated, “As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ. And following Christ is something a woman can do whether she is married or single, rich or poor, sick or healthy, childless or Michelle Duggar” (A Year of Biblical Womanhood, p.180).
6. “Egalitarians are just feminists”: Sarah Bessey defines feminism as the radical notion that women are people too, and since they are human beings, I think they are deserving of the same respect and dignity conferred to men. Now that we have defined feminism, what is it that feminists do? In its basic form, feminism seeks justice for women.
Egalitarians are also feminists because they seek justice and dignity for women. However, not every feminist is a Christian or an egalitarian. Egalitarians and Christian feminists both share a common goal: justice and equality for females. These are really biblical ideals that should be part of the moral teachings and daily practices of Christians.
God created the first couple as image-bearers and equal partners and gave them both dominion and leadership over the earth (Genesis 1:27-28). There was no hint of hierarchy within the context of Adam and Eve’s relationship; there was only harmony and mutuality until Genesis 3:16 when God said to the woman, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (NIV). Enter the ongoing power struggle between husbands and wives. Patriarchy resulted from the fall; it was not God’s ideal plan for the world he created.