Desiring God has a new post on their blog today written by Abigail Dodds on “The Beauty of Womanhood” (I am curious to know what percentage of their blog posts are on “biblical manhood and womanhood”?). Dodds’ writing is lovely but her description of ideal womanhood is a one-dimensional picture of privilege that diminishes the beauty of women who do not fit the complementarian mold, and is also disparaging of men who practice gender equity. Rather than celebrating the multi-faceted, diverse beauty that exists in global expressions of womankind, Dodds places middle- to upper-class 1950’s-esque Westerners on a pedestal of “blinding beauty.” I am certain that her intent was not to be unkind or dehumanising to others, but that is essentially what occurs when fundamentalists create firm boundaries around what a woman or man may or may not do. Those who do not conform are less-than, or in Dodds’ words, “grotesque.”
Dodds describes a woman’s influence as “found primarily in the soil of the home,” and glorious feminine beauty as being found in a woman “who presides over her domain with strong arms and resourcefulness (Proverbs 31); daughters that are corner pillars, whose strong support could only be matched by their exquisiteness (Psalm 144:12).” Dodds suggests that it is our culture (liberalism! feminism! egads!) that draws women away from the home to run on a treadmill of expectations in pursuit of rewards “that don’t require diapering.” Let’s not mention the treadmill of expectations that come with complementarianism!
And what does it offer in return? Women who strive against themselves, at war with the seeming redundancy of two X chromosomes, in a competition we were never made for, and in our hearts, don’t really want to win. For when a woman sets herself up alongside a man — as made for the same things and without distinction — the result is not uniformity, but rather, a reverse order. Indeed, in order for her to become like a man, he becomes less and less like one. And that’s something that most women, even the most ardent feminists, recoil at in their heart. Not because femininity is detestable, but because on a man, it is grotesque.
But wait, there is more! Dodds says that women who “forsake our feminine glory in pursuit of the uniqueness that belongs to men…become usurpers, persistently insisting that our uterus and biology are equal to nothing, irrelevant.” Women are meant to “make good men great.” We mimic our Savior by submitting to another’s will (many complementarians believe in the heretical doctrine of Eternal Subordination of the Son. I don’t know if that is what Dodds is referring to here, but I wonder if women are to mimic our Savior by submitting, what are men to do?).
God’s design outlined in the Scriptures is a vision for womanhood that is not just right and to be obeyed, it is experientially better than all the world has to offer. And it doesn’t just apply those who are married or mothers. Single women of any age are meant for full godly womanhood. To be a mother in the deepest sense — that is, spiritually — nurturing and growing all God’s given her.
Complementarians will often say that living a patriarchal life is the most wonderful way to live, without truly listening to non-complmentarians about their life experiences or to complementarian women who suffer in their subjugation (read this! and this!). It is a black and white issue for them and anyone who believes differently has been influenced by “the world” and could not possibly have acceptable reverence for God’s Word which clearly subordinates women. I do not know Abigail Dodds personally, but methinks she may not have any direct experience living outside of a complementarian context. I would guess that she was raised in a patriarchal culture and socialized to see the world through a patriarchal lens. It makes sense to her, she has a great marriage and a lovely faith community (with male leadership, of course), and she wants others to live as well as she does. Staying home is financially possible for her family and she does not recognize that this is not the case for most families, that this is privilege and not biblical womanhood. Her motivation for writing a piece like this is commendable and her heart is pure, but frankly, complementarianism’s rigid gender roles limit both men and women from exercising their full humanity and spirituality and from mutual flourishing.
I myself fit Dodds’ description of “blinding beauty” for most of my life. Complementarianism is all that I ever knew and I believed it 100%. Six years ago, while I was still complementarian, God spoke to me clear as day, calling me to pastoral ministry. I was blown away. I knew without a doubt that I had heard directly from God but his call directly contradicted my patriarchal world-view. That day, the chapel dean from my college days posted a link to “How I Changed My Mind About Women in Ministry” on Facebook, so I ordered it and began my journey to egalitarianism. For six years, I have been reading on a nearly daily basis from scholarly works defending egalitarianism (e.g. this one or this one) and articles depicting the plight of women living in patriarchal cultures (like this one). I post what I am reading to The Beautiful Kingdom Warriors FB page. Listening, listening, listening. Learning to pay attention to the least of these, who have no privilege and power, describe the consequences of patriarchy in their life. An article like Dodds’ seems benign until you consider it in the larger context of the suffering of women and girls around the world. President Jimmy Carter’s book, “A Call to Action,” is an excellent place to begin acknowledging the plight of disenfranchised and powerless women. In my review of his book, I said,
President Carter’s book is a “call to action” to reverse the widespread gender violence that is a result of patriarchal systems that devalue women, an epidemic touching every nation. He makes a case that denying women equal rights has a devastating effect on economic prosperity and causes unconscionable human suffering that affects us all.
The world’s discrimination and violence against women and girls is the most serious, pervasive, and ignored violation of basic human rights…Women are deprived of equal opportunity in wealthier nations and “owned” by men in others, forced to suffer servitude, child marriage, and genital cutting. The most vulnerable, along with their children, are trapped in war and violence…A Call to Action addresses the suffering inflicted upon women by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare. Key verses are often omitted or quoted out of context by male religious leaders to exalt the status of men and exclude women. And in nations that accept or even glorify violence, this perceived inequality becomes the basis for abuse. [dust-jacket description]
So what do I believe is beautiful about women? The Imago Dei in them. By that alone they are astoundingly, blindingly beautiful. Is it grotesque when my husband diapers the children or supports my work and ministry life? Not at all. His love for me and our family is astoundingly, blindingly beautiful. Our mutual love and submission to each other is what I would wish for other marriages.
You know what I think is grotesque? Pharisaical, prescribed gender roles.
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It is interesting that Dodd apparently used Ps 144:12 as part of her argument and focused on the beauty aspect rather than the primary analogy which is one of strength… strong women… women supporting rather than being supported. Of course, who can help thinking of Jesus as the cornerstone when reading about daughters like pillars (plus there is the idea of daughters of the King in the verse too)? Pillars that are part of a palace (according to the NIV) and not part of ‘the home’ which, according to Dodd, is their primary domain. Yes, the imago dei is where it’s at – identity in Christ gives the beauty that comes from knowing the Creator.
Thank you, I love this comment! There were so many things to respond to in this piece! You bring up some great ones I missed. 🙂
I wonder if women are to mimic our Savior by submitting, what are men to do?
To mimic our Savior by authoritating; my friends at the Head Covering Movement said as much today with this quote: “Jesus exercises both the role of head and the role of subordinate. He is an example for both sexes.” (1 Corinthians 11:3) – Alexander Strauch
It bothers me to read comments like this one: “Because all are in the image of God, and because women generally are image of God through the man, some expression of this male-headship principle ought to be exhibited generally among women and men, while reserving the particular full relationships of authority to those specified in Scripture, viz. in the home and the believing community.” – from: http://cbmw.org/uncategorized/male-and-female-complementarity-and-the-image-of-god/
It’s as if they take the Imago Dei teaching to say: “Sure men and women are both the Imago Dei, but men are more of the Imago Dei than women are and women are only the Imago Dei through the men who were the Imago Dei first.” I really don’t think that was the point that God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit wanted the church to arrive at.
I suppose I was wondering, if Christ submitted to the Father, why should men not be submissive too? Shouldn’t we all, as Christ’s adopted brothers and sisters, model pur behavior after him? Should we not all submit ourselves to the Father and then also consider others before ourselves? Paul clearly wrote to all Christians to submit to one another in Ephesians 5:21 and then in 5:22 says “women to your husbands…” with “submit” added to the verse in a later translation, and continues the thought with how husbands ought to submit to their wives. “Head” in Biblical times did not have the authority connotation that it has in modern times.
I am interested also to know more about the Head Covering Movement, and I am grateful for your visit to my blog. 🙂
That’s the thing, they view submission in terms of relationships, Christ submitted to the Father, but not to the church, over which he has authority as the head. They would believe that they are to submit to Christ, but never to their wife. In this way, they believe in mutual submission in that it is something held in common, but without reciprocity. Like in the sentence: “We have a mutual friend” but not as in “our arrangement is mutually beneficial” Once you get that they’re using two different meaning of the word “mutual” it makes a little more sense. They do believe in mutual submission, the husbands to Christ and the wives to their husbands, but not in mutual submission, the husbands and wives to each other. That would be as unnatural as Jesus taking his marching orders from the church or the Holy Spirit telling the Father what he can or cannot do. I spent the better part of yesterday looking at ‘kephale’ in 1 Cor. 11 and I’d have to agree that the Greek word doesn’t have that connotation, however the English word does, and since most who read ‘head’ as ‘authority over’ accept Wayne Grudem’s teaching that it does without question there seems to be little point in pointing out that reading ‘head’ to always mean ‘authority’ makes mincemeat of where ‘head’ actually means ‘head’ or where ‘head’ means ‘first’ or where ‘head’ means ‘prominent’ or where ‘head’ means ‘source’ or ‘origin’. In English especially, from the head honcho, headmaster, head boy, heads of state – it almost automatically associates ‘authority’ where we use the word ‘head’. So it was inevitable that it would be read onto the Scriptures – we don’t know how to use ‘head’ to refer to a person who doesn’t have authority.
The Head Covering Movement is thankfully small. They affirm a literal interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11 and in using modern technology to spark a return to the tradition of head coverings as it was practiced in the church in general decades ago. They believe that all women should wear cloth head coverings, scarves, hats, etc. during church services and church-like gatherings, but only certain women should submit to certain men, specifically: wives to their husbands, single daughters to their fathers, and widows to her church elders. Here’s their site where you can read up on it more: http://www.headcoveringmovement.com/ About half a year ago, they blocked me. I can’t imagine why. Perhaps it was because I believe that head coverings are optional and they couldn’t convince me otherwise? At any rate, it helped to get into their heads to see how they think affects what they read and understand the text and how the form their arguments based on that.
Thanks for all the helpful info. God bless! 🙂
It strikes me that there is so much room being made for women being a certain way, and men being a certain way, that there is little room left for God. And strangely enough, I have come to recognise that, far from perpetuating the misogyny of the day, Christ and early Christianity actually turned all that on its head by telling us to be humble, to be small, to serve, to hold ‘the least of these’ in special respect. I serve my husband and family gladly. He does the same. In this way we both mirror the relationship between Christ and the Church, and it is beautiful.