Masculinity and femininity are under fierce attack in our culture. An enormous portion of the culture wars are focused on this issue. This is especially true of the new transgender totalitarianism forcing its will on the population. There are forces at work trying to erase the distinction between masculinity and femininity, to open the door to redefining many of our fundamental human institutions like marriage, sex, the family, and what it means to be male and female. Our stories have traditionally contained models of men saving women, but do women rescue men? Can they? They can and they do. But the devil is in the details. How do women save men? They don’t save them primarily by engaging in warfare. Women are usually reluctant warriors. They can do battle, but most of the women I know would rather not.
Before you bombard me with all the notable exceptions, I’m going to be vulnerable and share a personal story. I was very close to someone years ago, and the romance I had with her was profound to say the least. I regularly prayed for her, that she would be spared being pierced by the flaming arrows of the evil one. When I did that, I was literally standing between her and the enemy. I took the arrows meant for her. Women are under attack in this culture like nothing we’ve ever seen. They are being told they’re worthless, and their self-respect and dignity is brutalized at every turn. The culture is hell-bent on erasing femininity. When I prayed for my special one, I drew the enemy fire away from her and straight toward me. The emotional and spiritual pain was unbelievable. When a man protects a woman, he will come under unrelenting attack himself, both from the enemy and from our misguided culture. If a man doesn’t suffer as a result of his sacrificial love, his love is not real. At times I wanted to give up and give in. The pain was sometimes unbearable and I felt like I couldn’t take it any more. When I shared this with her, she rescued me from the temptation to flee. How did she do this? She reminded me of who I am. That’s how she saved me. That’s how she was my help-meet in training. So men and women rescue each other, but the distinction is in how they go about it. For women, being a warrior is a secondary quality. For men, it’s primary. This does not mean women can never intercede for men. The point is that the two go about it in different ways.
If you don’t like the idea of men rescuing women or sacrificing themselves for them, think of the slogan you will hear on a sinking ship: “Deploy the lifeboats—women and children first.” Why is this? It’s because the strong rescuing the somewhat weaker, masculinity sacrificing itself to rescue femininity, is a built-in characteristic of our humanity. It’s not a cultural artifact, nor is it limited to one culture or a few. It’s everywhere. It’s real. It always has been.
It is easy for all of us to deconstruct what we don’t agree with. The most effective way to achieve quick and decisive ideological victory is to attack a straw man and not the real opponent. Complementarianism (as opposed to egalitarianism) is misrepresented and distorted more than any other ideological framework I’ve ever seen. You can make a formidable case against it if you distort various ideas like “courage,” or “being special,” or “rescuing,” or “leadership.” If you pretend that complementarianism reserves courage and being special exclusively to men, you can make it look contemptible, even though it doesn’t even do those things. Complementarianism does not degrade women, nor does it reduce them to helplessness. It acknowledges the amazing and robust strength women have, and is not threatened by it. There may be some people in some communities of faith who have abused their strength and have used it to compensate for their own insecurity. But you can’t judge complementarianism, or anything else for that matter, by it’s aberrations.
If egalitarians were committed to an accurate portrayal of complementarianism, it would not be so easy for them to dismiss it. The overwhelming majority of people in our faith communities never hear an accurate description of complementarianism. Instead, they hear it criticized and mocked through inaccuracies and unfair distortions of its true meaning. For example, complementarianism does not consider women to be inferior to men. It doesn’t think men are smarter, but it does recognize that men are typically stronger. The Bible refers to women as the “weaker vessel” or “weaker partner” as it instructs men to respect them as joint heirs of eternal life. This is confirmation that men are the stronger partner. You may find this distasteful, but we can’t just cross out ideas the scriptures teach simply because we don’t like them. Being stronger or weaker does not mean superior or inferior. Women may protest by saying it’s insulting to call them weak. But that’s not the idea in view here. The concept of “weaker” doesn’t mean “completely weak” and “having no strength.” All it means is the weaker partner isn’t as strong as the stronger one, even though the weaker partner still has plenty of strength. It’s not weak vs strong, it’s strong vs stronger.
Another example of the inaccurate portrayal of complementarianism is that men are special and women aren’t. Saying one person is special is not saying that another one isn’t. Everyone and every category of humanity is special in different ways. We need to avoid false dichotomies. Another one is the idea of courage. To say men are courageous does not imply women aren’t. Their courage looks different and takes different forms. To insist all these things have to look identical between male and female is to ignore reality. We’re different. Enjoy it.
Another distortion is the attack on the idea of leadership, which has become a dirty word in the 21st Century. Our culture is terrified of “inequality” and sees any notion of prominence in some area as a threat to the balance of the scales. Now, no man can be a leader without incurring the shame of being arrogant, diminutive, or patriarchal. So men are stripped of their capacity and natural inclination to lead for fear of invoking the shame of inequality. This is patently silly. That someone is a leader doesn’t make them a monster or a ruthless oppressor. One can lead with love and affirmation. There’s nothing wrong with men naturally leading women in general. To think this is condescending is to miss the value and importance of leadership. Leaders equip followers who in turn become leaders themselves.
Too often egalitarianism is nothing more than feminism lite. This is not always true, and the two ideologies are far from identical. But they have enough in common that it’s easy for feminism to hide in egalitarianism. Both ideologies want to erase the disparity between masculinity and femininity. Both want to foster competition between the sexes whether they realize it or not. This competition is sadly necessary, since it’s the only instrument at their disposal capable of preserving equality, which is the centerpiece of both frameworks. The irony is this: the Word of God never says, “thou shalt be equal.” By virtue of both sexes being made in God’s image, both masculinity and femininity are already equal in their essential nature; no command designed to forge that effect is necessary. But fallen human beings demand equality of outcome, thus the concept is tragically disfigured in the misguided attempt to establish mankind’s idea of justice as opposed to God’s.
Feminism sets itself apart from true femininity. Feminism says “I can do everything you can do;” femininity says, “I will do everything you can’t do.” Feminism has something to prove; femininity has something to discover. Feminism is obsessed with the power of itself; femininity is enchanted with the power of the masculine. Feminism finds self-gratification in winning; femininity finds joy in surrender.
What feminism is to femininity, chauvinism is to masculinity. Chauvinism wants to dominate; masculinity wants to sacrifice. Chauvinism wants to be superior; masculinity wants to lead. Chauvinism is insecure; masculinity is humble. Chauvinism is dictatorial; masculinity is poetic. Chauvinism cares about being right; masculinity cares about being truthful. Chauvinism wants power over the weaker vessel; masculinity wants to give the weaker vessel its strength.
You will find complementarianism will always endorse heterosexuality and condemn homosexuality. This is because it focuses on and celebrates the differences between the sexes. Homosexuality is more at home in feminism and sometimes in egalitarianism, since both ideologies have the tendency to recognize the differences between the sexes as only anatomical rather than ontological. If the sexes are equivalent, whether sexual union is between male and female or male and male or female and female is irrelevant. If the sexes are equivalent, they are interchangeable, and therefore prohibiting homosexuality is incoherent.
Masculinity and femininity are equal—but they are by no means equivalent. If they were, God would not have “made them male and female.” Is the difference only skin deep? Hardly.