As a young, late-teens, early-twenty-something Christian, I heard sermons on gender roles over and over again. I read several books on gender, on marriage, and on Godly womanhood. I read the Joshua Harris “courtship” books, and my future husband and I used them as a model for our own relationship.
One thread was woven throughout many teachings I received: women tend to take control away from men. We reach outside our God-ordained roles as followers, and snatch leadership out of the hands of men–who love us (or fear us) too much to take it back. In effect, we emasculate our men. We deprive them of their God-ordained leadership role.
If we truly loved our (future) husbands, I was told, we would let them lead. We would actively practice letting them lead—and the teacher or writer would always give a few simple examples:
–Don’t be the first one to speak when asked, “Where should we go to dinner?” Let him pick.
–Don’t interrupt him; that’s just rude.
–Let him offer his opinions first in any discussion.
–Let him win a few arguments. I mean, you ladies are typically really good with words, so we’re just asking for a handicap here. (laughter from the crowd)
–Let him decide where to spend his money. After all, he earns it. Honor his work ethic.
–Follow your highest calling as a wife and mother. Understand that you’re obeying Jesus here, and if you suffer for it, God will sustain you through the suffering. After all,” 4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” If the great followers of the Bible suffered, you may suffer too—but God will bring good out of all suffering.
–Your husband will adore you for building him up. In letting him lead, you will be making the best investment possible for a Godly marriage, and your children will be sanctified for it.
As an unmarried, madly-in-love, Bible-believing young woman, I had reason to be concerned. I was marrying a quiet man.
The comments were already starting: “We know who will wear the pants in THAT marriage.” “Well, I’m sure he just does whatever you tell him to do, wink-wink.” “Do you think you’ll ever let him get a word in edgewise?” I. Was. Terrified. I loved this man. I saw how some family members had already squelched his opinions, sat on his desires, and undermined his every attempt at showing an opinion. What if he was just marrying me because I was comfortable? Because I was what he was used to?
I refused to be one of those women.
Over an eight year period, I practiced letting him lead:
–“Where do you want to go to dinner?” Nine times out of ten? “Oh, wherever you want to go. I’m fine.”
–“What do you think of this political issue?” Well, I haven’t studied it in-depth. What do you think?
–I know we disagree about this marital problem, but since you’re the head of the family, I’m going with what you say. God set this system up for a reason, right?
–We need to make this budget change for your new camping equipment? Okay. Oh—this will require me to work more hours? Oh…okay….
–You don’t think I should buy red delicious apples? I really like them. Oh—you don’t. Ok…
–Well, it will be hard to work night shift so I can care for the babies during the day, but…if that’s what you really want…
–I really am suffering here. I wonder what God is trying to teach me?
–I can’t understand why you don’t respect me. Haven’t I been letting you lead?
It didn’t happen overnight. It didn’t happen over a year, or even five years. However, at one point, I woke up and realized I was working every day to be an entirely different person that who I was, all in the name of “letting him lead.” I was censoring and analyzing every word that came out of my mouth. I was making sure I didn’t “emasculate” him.
Now, one could say, “You were taking this whole complementarian teaching waaaaaaay too far. Headship and submission doesn’t mean that! You’re supposed to have your own thoughts, your own life, and your own red delicious apples!” That’s easy to say, but very hard to quantify. No one tells you where submission should stop. No one says, “The line is drawn here! This far—no further!”
In practice, every time I asked a pastor, teacher, or older sister-in-Christ for advice on a particular individual issue, I was pointed back to the submission passages of the Bible, told that God would lead my husband—and was reminded that I had a really strong personality.
Since I was vocal outside of the home, no one would guess that I had no voice inside of the home. No one could see that, on family issues, I was practically mute.
I couldn’t decide how many children to have.
I couldn’t decide where money was spent.
I couldn’t decide where—or even if—I was supposed to work.
I couldn’t question his decisions.
I couldn’t decide what to wear.
I couldn’t even decide whether or not to buy red delicious apples.
The worst part was, since I’d based our entire marriage on “respecting and submitting to my husband”—he just thought I had no opinions, little intelligence, and no voice. His respect for me slowly leaked out of his heart, like helium from a neglected birthday balloon. But what else could he think? What evidence did he have to the contrary? Therefore, the promised “he’ll love and adore you for respecting him so much” never materialized.
Even worse, our children were not “sanctified” at all by this arrangement. I’ll never forget the first time my oldest daughter watched “Beauty and the Beast.” She was so excited! She jumped up and down and said, “Mommy! Isn’t it nice of the beast that he doesn’t lock her in the tower any more? She was good, so he let her out of the tower!”
It wasn’t a “final straw,” but it was a lightbulb moment: I was training my daughters to be abused.
Thankfully, I finally re-discovered my voice.
I told him “no” on several decisions he’d made that were outright exploitations of me as his wife.
I set boundaries. “If I’m earning the money to support us, I get a say in how it’s spent. I also get a say in childcare, work schedules, and what we eat.”
I studied the Bible for myself.
Then I got MAD.
“If a slave-wife is allowed food and a change of clothing, why the heck have I been wearing threadbare clothes that don’t fit while you go buy camping gear?”
Oddly enough, he started respecting me.
Oddly enough, he woke up to several areas of sin in his own life.
Oddly enough, my speaking up made him more confident in his own decisions.
Oddly enough, iron-sharpening-iron wasn’t meant for MEN alone, but applies to married couples too.
I’ll never forget the first red delicious apples I bought after that season. I savored every bite, weeping over its red skin. So often women are blamed for taking the apple, eating the apple, causing the downfall of humanity, and poor old Adam was just too weak to stand up to Eve. Yet, in Christ we are both redeemed.
It’s been two years since I first woke up. It’s been difficult, re-discovering each other, exploring our hearts and our Bibles, and a good Christian counselor has helped. (So have a few other things, which I’ll touch on later.) But just the other night, my husband and I made love, and in the sweet afterglow, I realized I had not censored anything that day based solely on, “Will this hurt his masculinity somehow?” I was free to respectfully speak my heart and mind, and his “masculinity” was actually stronger for it.
I’d never felt so free.