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Desperate Times Call for Desperate Women

May 31, 2010

“It’s an evidence of decline, however, when women come into positions of authority. It’s not a reflection on womanhood, but the reflection is on manhood when womanhood takes the lead. It’s actually a sign of weakness, the sign of a flabby age.” 

-Dr. J. Vernon McGee, (circa 1970)       

Wow. Ouch. I know what you’re thinking.  But just for a few moments, I would like you to take out your inner-feminist, and put it on “silence”. 

Dynamic Womanhood    

Several years ago, I came across a broadcast of Dr. J. Vernon McGee’s Thru the Bible radio program, in which he briefly covered the biblical story of the Deborah, a leader of Israel, found in the book of Judges. 
Since that time, few formal expositions on gender theory have offered me as much clarity and satisfaction in sorting out the functioning of men and women in public leadership. Though it may sound offensive to 21st Century ears, McGee’s words ought not be mischaracterized as the pontifications of a sexist patriarch.  

 

We are usually presented with two extremes when it comes to looking at gender. Either we are “blank slates” as certain feminists would like us to believe, or we are born into strict, unchanging, circumscribed gender roles. In our day, most people operate within the middle ground of this spectrum.  Dr. McGee, however, offers a third choice: dynamic womanhood–a type of femininity that reacts in different ways to different environments, all of which are still consistent and obedient to God’s calling.       

Exception in Rule       

Women in fact, do make exceptional leaders, and McGee is quick to point out that Deborah was indeed chosen by God, and served as one of the better judges in Israel, putting to shame many of the men of her day. And yet it would be morally dishonest to abstract from that the idea that God intended women to share in positions of authority with equal frequency as men.       

I could point to numerous scriptures, or I could point to biblical history. Either way it becomes clear that: 1) the Bible spells out different, complementary, and equally valuable roles for men and women. 2) Having a woman rule over man is not normal.  In a sense, when such exceptions do occur–when God raises up mighty heroines–it serves as a punctuation mark for the student of history: “look at what at what’s happening here!”       

The Price of Leadership       

If God uses women in leadership so effectively, then why is there a problem with the equal distribution of authority? On a practical level, it comes down to a matter of cost.       

It turns out that women can’t have it all. Neither can men, for that matter.This should have become abundantly clear about the same time is was discovered that men can’t bear children.       

Because we can’t have it all–because choices must be made–the price that we pay for choosing one option over another, is the price of opportunity. Fr. Thomas J. Loya illuminates this theme, explaining that while women are perfectly capable of making it in the corporate world, when compared to men, they generally pay a much steeper price  for success, due to in large part to biological and psychological differences.       

Of course, the cost of public leadership varies, and depending on the woman’s age and the time demands, it might be relatively small. But often times, great sacrifices must made. For young women this can include the delay of marriage and childbearing. When they do finally sense the urge to start a family, it is often too late: there was a lot of biological ticking going on while they were conquering the world.       

Obviously, many women solve the problem by doing both: bearing and raising children while simultaneously advancing in roles of leadership outside the home. While many mothers accomplish this daunting task, it would be silly to deny that they pay a price in one direction or the other: lost time with their children, lost opportunities at work, or simply the cost of being weary, burdened, and overworked.       

Work-life balance?

Men generally do not pay the same price, because being outside the home, and being the initiator-leader-provider, are roles that are congruent with how they define themselves as men.  Loya attributes this to the external nature of masculinity. Being successful in the corporate world, Loya explains, “contributes towards his well-being as a man, his self-image, his sense of accomplishment…he’s hard-wired that way.” Dennis Prager puts it this way, “to be a man is to aim to conquer the world, whatever you consider ‘conquering’ it to be.”       

The Advantage of “Traditional Gender Roles”       

“Traditional gender roles” are not artificially imposed restrictions. Surely they have been used and abused that way in the past, but that is not what I am advocating here. Instead, I propose recognizing the benefits of making allowances for the natural gifts and yearnings which men and women experience differently.      

The long-held notions of the woman as “relational-nurturer”, and the man as “provider-conqueror” have historical precedence for a reason. Operating within these archetypal descriptions, have been a way for both sexes to find success in the areas that are consistent with their nature. When women, as a population, share equally in positions of leadership, they will have less time to devote to fulfilling their relational/nurturing instincts. Conversely, if men share equally in nuturing a family, they will have less time to devote to fulfilling their provider-conquer0r instinct.       

Are there  exceptions to the rules? Are there women who desire to conquer the world, and men who long to stay at home, raising children? Of course! But as Prager asserts, “without generalizations you have no ability to understand life.”       

If this premise is true, if men and women have different innate needs and desires, it is understandable why McGee and others would not view an increase in female leadership as a positive trend. Not because women are incapable leaders, but because they are paying a higher price, and because it often signals a breakdown in other areas of societal structure.  McGee considers such a trend to be an indictment against manhood, I would broaden it to an overall indictment of a culture in which masculinity and femininity have lost their meaning.       

Tea Time       

And yet it is precisely during these times of social confusion, that God has effectively raised up women into positions of authority. When a society goes sideways, it is the qualities of femininity that are uniquely suited to right the ship. McGee postulates that it was Judge Deborah’s mothering instinct that filled her with the passion to bring justice to the lawless society of her day. In Judges 5:7-9, Deborah sings, “Village life in Israel ceased, ceased until I, Deborah, arose, arose a mother in Israel…My heart is with Israel’s princes, with the willing volunteers among the people. Praise the LORD!”       

Sarah Palin addresses a tea party

Thousands of years later, I couldn’t help but see a parallel when I heard Sarah Palin’s recent address at a fundraiser for the Susan B. Anthony List, “I always think of the mama grizzly bears that rise up on their hind legs when something’s coming to attack their cubs. You don’t want to mess with the mama grizzlies, and I think there are a whole lot of those in this room.”        

I think Palin is right. And I’m holding out hope that there are a whole lot of mama grizzlies in this nation, whom God will use to confront the great trends of irresponsibility, injustice, and indecency that threaten future generations.  It is no surprise that leadership roles in the grassroots Tea Party Movement, are taken up largely by women–mothers in particular–who are envisioning a better future for their children. Politico quotes Tea Party leader, Darla Dawald, as saying, “You know the old saying that if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy? Well, when legislation messes with mama’s kids and it affects her family, then mama comes out fighting…”       

Use and Abuse of the Feminine Mystique        

But there is nothing new about women taking charge. Wasn’t that what second-wave feminism was all about? But here is where the “Women’s Liberation” movement went wrong: it sought to elevate the status of women by warring against men. It was a revolution of hostility, in which the radical feminists failed to realize that the well-being of women is dependent upon the well-being of men and the family unit.       

In the closing chapter of Save the Males: Why Men Matter, Why Women Should Care, Kathleen Parker writes, “Everything in [this book] could be restated as an argument for saving females…sensible feminism isn’t so much about advancing women as it is about advancing humankind. There’s no such thing as a ‘woman’s issue’ or a ‘man’s issue.’ If something is important, it’s important to all.”       

Women in leadership harm society when their power becomes a selfish exercise of personal exultation. When women exercise their “rights” through the destruction of human life, and the emasculation of men, they are undermining their own chances of happiness.       

If women are to sacrifice time, energy, and other life-goals by rising to positions of authority, they must incorporate the powerful qualities of authentic femininity: relationship-building, nurturing, life-giving.  We see this example in Deborah. McGee imagines that Deborah was probably quite content simply being a mother in Israel, she responded to God’s call out of obedience, not out of the desire to prove herself. Even in her position of authority, she made a conscious effort to build-up Barak, the male commander of her army. When Barak requested that she accompany him on his military crusade, she agreed, but only after warning him that if she did, the honor would be bestowed on a woman.      

Deborah’s prophecy came true. The final victory over the Canaanite army came at the hands Jael, the “desperate tent-wife” of Heber. Jael also enlisted her feminine powers to subdue evil, but her interaction with the male sex took a less diplomatic turn. After welcoming, dining, and sheltering Sisera, the commander of the enemies forces, Jael took a hammer and drove a tent-peg through the sleeping commander’s skull.       

Man Up!       

Although it is preferable for women to follow the Proverbs 31 example, using their power to build-up and encourage men, at times we may be forced to “take a hammer”, figuratively, to the authority of wicked men. This should be thought of as the last resort, but then again, we live in a time of “last resorts”: crumbling marriages, unprecedented levels of out-of-wedlock births, one in five children being aborted, and a government that is all too eager to “fix” the problem.       

These are desperate times, and they do call for the desperate measures of principled women: wives, daughters, and mothers, who will rise up, be willing to take the lead, and act as the emergency break for a society hurdling towards oblivion. But the kind of women that are needed are those who will bring out the best in men, who will see their male counterparts as part of the solution, rather than the source of all evil. A crumbling culture demands dynamic femininity, and women who are not afraid to be women, and who will allow, men to be men. 

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14 Comments leave one →
  1. June 1, 2010 2:26 am

    I love Jael! 🙂

    Great post. I was just talking about this very thing at dinner today.

    • June 1, 2010 2:46 am

      Thanks Kortney! Yeah, Jael is pretty BA. I hope I’m never called to hammer a spike through a guy’s skull.

  2. Christina permalink
    June 1, 2010 6:22 pm

    Hmmmm. Well, after temporarily shutting down the inner-feminist and reading this post twice, I have some thoughts. First, I think in general, it is probably true that men are more likely to want to “Conquer the world” while women are more likely to want to foster relationships. I happen to fall into the exception of women who want to conquer, but as long as we fully and readily accept the exceptions, I am ok with the rule. However, I do disagree on a few points. First, you stated that it is not natural for women to rule over men. Certainly, but I would argue that it is also not natural for men to rule over women. (I use natural here, in the sense of the way I believe God intends us to live, not in the sense of what generally is. Because of course, natural in that sense has meant men rule over women in many degrading and dehumanizing ways.) My belief is that God intended for men and women to work together as counterparts in the great work of populating and subdoing the earth. We must never forget that God cursed women by saying that our husbands would rule over us. It was never intended to be that way from the beginning. Second, while the statement that women suffer consequences from choosing work over home life is certainly true, men suffer the same consequences. How many families suffer because the father is a workaholic? I think one of the primary problems with today’s society is not that so many women work, but that both men and women have failed to find a balance between their work and their home life. Men are under no less of an obligation to love and care for their children than women are, and often suffer the physical and psychological effects of overwork just as women do. I believe it is dishonest to pretend that men are somehow better designed to work 60-80 hours weeks in order to be the CEO of a fortune 500 company, or that this should be the goal of men. If anything, men should learn from women and work less. Our responsibility as Christians, whether men or women, is not to achieve worldy greatness, money, or fame. It is to do our best in what God has called us, whether childrearing or work outside the home. And if you have children, you have an obligation to spend time with them and teach them Biblical principles, whether you are male female. No exceptions. Finally, while it is important for women to lift up men, especially our husbands, it is no less important for men to lift up women. As Christians, we are all ccommanded to exhort one another and lift one another up. (See, e.g. 1 Thess 5:14 and Hebrews 3:13). I admit, that something inside me rises in anger whenever I hear a woman admonished to encourage her husband. It is not because I do not believe that women should encourage men, but simply because the reverse is very seldom emphasized, and to me it brings up the old phrase that behind every great man is a woman. Speaking as a woman who has no intention of standing in the back, it concerns me that women are always exhorted to support, and never to lead. Some of us are called to leadership, and we should not be ignored.

    • Scott permalink
      September 9, 2010 7:15 am

      Christina,

      Thanks for your comment on this. You make some good points, such as highlighting that it is inappropriate for either a man or woman to “rule” over the other. And that it is part of the curse that was given to women, “Yet your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Sadly, in much of history women have been treated as second class citizens, or even worse. You also accurately point out that at the conclusion of creation God, God treated man and woman as equal and “created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it…’ ”

      Eve sinned in that she pursued her own desires and fulfillment above honoring God and her husband. Adam sinned in that he didn’t lead her, didn’t correct her or admonish her (didn’t love her enough?), and followed her passively into her sin and also challenged God’s authority. I have always felt that part of “your desire will be for your husband…” is in part a desire to be over him, to rule over him. But I may be misreading into the curse laid out by God, and am not sure that this is effectively supported. Some of my thoughts may go back to Ephesians where women are charged with “see to it that she respects her husband”, while the husband is to demonstrate Christ-like love towards his wife. I believe that God choose the words “respect” and “love” appropriately for each, and that perhaps these could be tied into the original curse that Adam and Eve experienced.

      In the end, Adam sinned in that he did not honor God and obey Him. Eve sinned in that she sought out and desired more (Adam then followed and did the same). Adam did not lead, did not defend, did not correct, and when caught blamed it on Eve and God for giving him Eve. I can’t help but feel like there are parallels to today’s culture where men do not take a stand against immoral issues in society (pornography, abortion, modern day slavery…) and protect women as they have been called to do.

      At the end of your comment you express frustration that women are never called to lead. I think they are, but perhaps it seems more passive. As Terra mentions, when a woman leads it reveals that men are NOT taking part in the role that they really should. Adam should have lead Eve (in love), perhaps that was the first sin. He wasn’t there when she gave in to the temptation to disobey God. There is no mention that he defended what God said or clarified what he said (maybe Satan wouldn’t have been able to mislead her if Adam had done his job). Perhaps that is the sin that exists the most today … that MEN do not defend God, His word, and women like they should … and that women give into to the temptation to seek something that is not necessarily best for them.

  3. Tommy permalink
    June 3, 2010 7:26 am

    Great words, Terra.

    For my wife and me, we try to look at it as the man being the head of the family and woman being the heart of the family. Sure our roles blur at times, but mostly we compliment each other and feel comfortable with our job descriptions. We never fight over which is more important–the heart or the head. They’re both equally important and essential to the success of the family.

    What guy, in his right mind, wouldn’t want a loving, nurturing, supportive, heartfelt wife and mother beside him? And what gal, in her right mind, wouldn’t want a smart, strong, proactive, take-charge husband and father beside her? It is perfect and natural. That’s how families have survived for thousands of years. If it’s not right now, or doesn’t work anymore, what changed?

    The modern thinkers and feminists would have you believe that both sexes are ultimately equal and plainly similar, but I have news for them: we’re just plain different and always will be. The Good Lord created us this way for a divine reason.

    So far, my wife has not felt much of a need to hammer any spikes through my skull. And vice versa.

    • June 3, 2010 4:57 pm

      Well said Tom! The way I see it, my (hypthotical) husband is called to love me like Christ loved the church, giving himself up for me…and all I’m called to do is respect him, and maybe cook a warm meal now and then? Dang. I got the bargain on that deal! 🙂

      I know, we live in a fallen world, and it’s not that simple…but when I’ve read that section in Ephesians, it has always struck me that husbands are given a far more troublesome command than wives.

      Thanks for sharing your story!

  4. Tommy permalink
    June 3, 2010 7:31 am

    You also might be curious to read “The Quest for Feminine Identity” (Parts I & II) by Monsignor Cormac Burke, which was recently posted on Colleen Hammond’s blog:

    http://www.colleenhammond.com/blog/

  5. knownever permalink
    June 4, 2010 4:12 pm

    The problem with these types of arguments is that they assume that women and men who deviate from their designated roles are exceptions (or failures depending on one’s political position) rather than bearers of coherent alternative identities. For example, women who have the “external nature” you designate as masculine could be said to possess masculinity (not that they are or want to be men, but that they are able to authentically embody traits seen as associated with men) and that men who define themselves via nurturing and supporting the people they care about could be said to possess (that much maligned trait) femininity. You suggest that, “A crumbling culture demands dynamic femininity, and women who are not afraid to be women, and who will allow, men to be men,” but if it’s possible for everyone to authentically embody masculinity and femininity (and a person’s pretty spiritually impoverished if they don’t embody a touch of both) that kind of argument is irrelevant.

  6. Hailey Allen permalink
    June 5, 2010 2:31 am

    Hi Terra,
    Thanks for another thought-provoking post.
    Question for you: What do you mean when you say that when women emasculate men they undermine their own chances of happiness? More specifically, how do you define a woman’s emasculation of a man? Is a take-charge educated motivated woman guilty of emasculating men around her? If your answer to this is yes, this is when I invoke the spirit of Dr. McGee and say that it is a sorry generation of men who cry “emasculation!” when presented with a woman like that. I think emasculation is a self-induced state, same as de-feminization. Someone who is happy and comfortable living within their self-defined role of man, woman, mother, or father is not about to be upset by somebody operating out of a different definition. If they are upset and emasculated/defeminized/demoralized, I say that that is due to deeper insecurities and self-doubts, not because the other person is going against the “natural” way of things.

    Women in leadership harm society when their power becomes a selfish exercise of personal exultation. When women exercise their “rights” through the destruction of human life, and the emasculation of men, they are undermining their own chances of happiness.

    • June 5, 2010 5:07 am

      Great thoughts Hailey. I would never say that a “take-charge educated motivated woman” is by nature guilty of emasculating men. You are right, if a man is threatened simply because a woman is successful and opinionated, it is evidence that he is insecure and has his own problems. I was recently talking with one of my mentors, and in passing I mentioned to her that I was afraid of scaring men away by being so opinionated. She rightly pointed out to me that “real” men will not be threatened by a woman who honestly shares her convictions. I think she’s right.

      But in sharing those convictions, I believe I ought to show as much respect as possible. “Emasculation” to me is essentially disrespect, particularly the kind of disrespect that attacks the things that men hold dear to their identity: being strong, competent, successful, etc. Just watch your average sitcom or home improvement commercial. The ubiquitous message in our culture is that men are lazy, insensitive, sexist, stupid, etc. That is emasculation.

      Of course, women ought to be respected as well. But as researcher Shaunti Feldhahn reveals, men experience love particulary through being respected. Her interviews show that if women have to choose one or the other, they would choose to be loved first, respected second. Men on the otherhand, have trouble answering that question because to them, respect is love.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating indiscriminate adoration of men simply because they are men. Rather, I think women need to grasp the mutually beneficial power they have build-up, encourage, and respect worthy men, even if they are not always “perfect” according to women’s standards. When women act like strong, confident, respectable ladies, I believe men will naturally want to do everything they can to rise to the occasion, to be strong, honorable gentlemen. That is how the fate and happiness of the sexes are dependent upon one another.

      For additional thoughts I would highly recommend checking out Alison Armstrong’s work “Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women”, http://www.understandmen.com

      Thanks for commenting Hailey.

  7. Hailey Allen permalink
    June 5, 2010 2:32 am

    Sorry for repeating your words at the end there- I copy-pasted them so I could read them in the same view as my typing. 🙂

  8. Ann permalink
    June 17, 2010 4:14 pm

    I liked this article. I have always admired Deborah, and Judith as well (a book from the Old Testament left out during the reformation). Strong capable women who accomplished what was considered unusual. I notice they do not lose their femininity nor do they seek to supplant men but simply do what is needed because it is needed.

    And I liked reading the comments. I second the comment that any man who is threatened by a woman with opinions has issues himself. Also, there ARE men who are seeking intelligent women who have their own thoughts and opinions. I am married to one of them. It is pretty cool to find yourself with a man who appreciates your intellect and ambitions AND is still the man in the relationship.

  9. June 23, 2010 8:40 pm

    Well thought out – great article. Just yesterday, myself and a small group of men were discussing this very matter and came to similar conclusions. It was interesting that J Vernon had similar insight.

    And @Christina needs to go back and read Genesis chapter three – then rewrite her arguments.

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