In the past few months, writers and theologians who hold conservative views on gender roles have made a lot of claims that misbehaving men are the only reason women feel they need egalitarianism/feminism, and that if all boyfriends and husbands treated women well, women would abandon these ideologies and slide happily into complementarian life.
We egalitarian wives and girlfriends know better, though. Many of us have grown in our convictions about egalitarianism and/or feminism precisely because of wonderful egalitarian husbands/boyfriends who treat us well. Yes, egalitiarianism and feminism do “call out” men who behave badly. However, at the end of the day, we believe egalitarianism works because we’ve seen it work in our lives–not because we mistrust men and imagined up a system that would make them behave. We believe it through positive reinforcement, not negative.
Several of us blogged about that this week. Here is my contribution to the week of proving that #LoveGrowsMutuality.
There are several areas of life that have shown Jaron and I that feminism (or Christian feminism, or egalitarianism, they’re all interchangeable to me) is the way to go. Here are just a few…
Co-Leadership Grows Confidence and Productivity
Early in my marriage, I struggled to work through comp versus egal theology. Jaron and I married with the agreement that we would practice two-way submission instead of husband leadership, but I hadn’t thought it through any farther. I’d heard tons of subtle comp messages about the role of a wife, and they came to haunt me as I tried to figure out my adult self—especially in the area of my passions and career.
Comp theology pushed the husband’s path as determinative for the family, with the wife’s goals important but fitting secondarily around his. How could I get excited about my personal life goals when I didn’t truly have the authority to see those goals through? What if I got really invested in something and then Jaron’s path or heart told us my passion had only been for a season?
If Jaron was my leader, and I should view my life through his plan for our collective family rather than my plan for myself, how could that not cool my enthusiasm for my career and passions?
In contrast, our burgeoning Christian feminist beliefs allowed my passion to blossom and made our marriage that much more exciting. The possibility that my plans might set the precedent for our family in certain seasons—that God not only allows, but expects me to step up and take the lead in what I do—strapped a rocket pack to my energy. Knowing that Jaron supports my work equally makes me happy, secure, optimistic, and willing to give his work that same support.
As a result, in the last 10 years I have worked in nearly all my dream fields: in journalism, education, ministry (admin at a church—that counts!) freelance writing, and am prepared to launch the web comic I’ve dreamed of. I credit my success in part to Jaron being a supportive husband—but he’s able to be supportive in the ways I need because of his feminist convictions about my work not coming second. Feminism makes him a supportive husband, and being a supportive husband leads him to feminism.
All couples get aggravated with each other. Let’s be honest; sometimes we have ongoing disagreements. Jaron and I appreciate that feminism helps prevent additional, unnecessary resentments that would make marital bliss harder.
Frankly, it would be hard not to feel confusion and frustration that someone who was my equal intellectually, educationally, in age, and in experience was arbitrarily gifted the status of leadership above me just because he was born a different gender. It seems natural that this frustration would breed resentment, however small, however nice he was trying to be. It seems nuts to suggest that wouldn’t happen.
Comps suggest that resentment against husband authority is Satan’s temptation and that women can fight it. Jaron and I have found an easier solution by not introducing it in the first place.
I don’t have to wonder if he really thought through how important something was to me before he made his decision—instead, he trusts me to say when something really matters to me, and then to make the decision myself. That gives me an incredible sense of security and respect in our relationship. I don’t have to talk myself into feeling equal with him even though my essence is defined by what I can’t do in comparison to him. He lives out my equality daily by acknowledging and honoring my leadership. That makes me feel truly loved and valued.
I’ll keep that husband rather than the version that tries his best to make the decisions I want him to make in my place. Who needs that level of temptation to resent each other?
Digging Deep to Get Past Assumptions
Feminism insists on looking beyond assumptions and labels about gender, so it leads us to questions that help us understand ourselves and make us better partners.
I’ve asked why I accept limitations that make me feel disempowered, such as the stereotypical assumption that women aren’t good at building or fixing things. I realized that I was waiting around for Jaron to do “hands-on” things, making me frustrated and him overwhelmed with the honey-do list. We’re working on it, and we both feel better.
After watching friends welcome babies into their lives, Jaron realized he was besotted with infants. Feminism’s insistence on going beyond stereotypes helped him push himself outside a typical male comfort zone. He was able to learn about infant care when our twin godchildren were born, which made him a priceless partner during the crazy season of supporting my best friend through twin motherhood.
It’s helped us understand our goals in life. Jaron has admitted that he doesn’t hang his ego on being a financial provider, and my admission that I do have ego in that area has helped me work through frustrations that otherwise would bubble unlabeled beneath the surface.
We enjoy the benefits of not simply accepting things about ourselves, but digging to really uncover who we are. It makes us more attractive to each other. It makes me feel loved to know that he will accept whatever I find in myself, that he will delight in seeing me discover the real Rachel. He thinks it’s cool when my personality doesn’t fit the feminine box, which makes me feel super good, because if there’s one thing I’m bad at, it’s climbing into boxes.
I’m not saying it would be impossible for complementarians to ask those questions or make those discoveries. However, if I’m honest, it was feminism that pushed us down this road. No sermon we ever heard about husbands loving wives well pushed us that direction. Feminism brings that out more naturally in us. So we stick with it.
Tools of Cultural Critique
I can’t stress this one enough. Feminist rhetoric has taught us how to examine the role that culture plays in shaping beliefs.
This means Jaron is really good at, for instance, spotting rape culture messages. He grasps how things that seem like normal “boys will be boys” attitudes can feel threatening to me—even attitudes that sometimes come from Christian teachers. Do you know how cherished and valued I feel when he sees those things and points them out? He also recognizes how culturally constructed our notions of beauty are, and understands my struggle as a woman in that world (for that matter, feminist’s cultural critique of beauty standards helped my body image more than all the “God cares about inner beauty” platitudes ever did).
It makes me a better wife to acknowledge Jaron’s right to be emotional and vulnerable. When I’m tempted to demand that he take on my struggles and have none of his own, I call that out for the bankrupt cultural patriarchy that it is, get over myself, and help him through his rough spots.
I could go on with these examples. Suffice it to say that feminism teaches us to get outside man-man paradigms of gender, while complementarianism, for all its talk of “not being of the world,” is quick to pigeon-hole man-made beliefs about gender as being hardwired by God. So that’s another area where we won’t be trading feminism for kind complementarianism.
Because we don’t believe that I’m ultimately called to submit to his authority, when we disagree, we have to talk it all the way through to a mutual solution.
I can’t overstate how vital this has been to each of us becoming a better spouse.
If submission factored into our marriage, there would have been times where, exhausted from the hard work of hashing things out, we would have “called it” and said it was time for him to make the decision. But without this belief, we’ve had to go farther and deeper into the heart of disagreements. I’ve come to depths of understanding about how he thinks (and how I think!) that I couldn’t have reached if we’d taken the relational shortcut of submission.
In moments where you don’t have one person’s answer to reach for, you have to exercise patience, perseverance, love, selflessness, and compassion at a whole new level. Jaron’s ability to do these things for me has only grown over the years. Would he be like that—would I be like that?—if we had stunted our practice in these areas by defaulting to him when things heated up?
These are just a few of the ways in which the health of my marriage works as an endorsement for Christian feminism. This is why I don’t buy the idea that well-practiced complementarianism would make feminism look dingy.
Having said all this, I realize that some complementarians will argue that they do these things, too—thinking outside stereotypes, valuing the wife’s work, making sure both people’s opinions are heard. I’ve heard complementarians say it’s a fallacy that their system doesn’t allow this, and that in fact they recognize its value.
To which I respond: then you agree with a whole lot of feminism, and I’m not sure why you want it to go away. Why this insistence that husbands should act better so feminism will disappear? Feminism is in tune with husbands acting better. You’d have as much luck boycotting meat to make vegetarianism go away.
I’ll go a step further. If you resonate with my list, you are so in tune with basic feminist principles that you may in fact be an accidental feminist without knowing it, all except for your belief that men “technically” do have some God-given leadership over wives.
(If someone wants to bring up that feminists supposedly have to believe in abortion, and therefore the whole movement is bankrupt, I addressed that in a previous post, so don’t reinvent the wheel in this comment section or you will look like a ninny.)
I realize that the theology of marriage is a very personal decision. I don’t want to pressure anyone into seeing it my way (though yes, I secretly believe it would be good for anyone!). By the same token, don’t assume that feminists have simply misunderstood what men are supposed to be about. Feminist men know how to treat women right—and a wife who’s experienced a feminist husband will accept no substitute.