Egalitarianism and complementarism, statistics and exceptions
Following my post about egalitarianism and complementarism, I receive an email from Mary, a young woman from North Dakota who has been living in Lancashire (not far from the city where I now live) for three years.
I find it extremely interesting and insightful, so I reproduce it here:
“I have some very strong feelings about this topic.
I respect you and your method of communicating, and you also stated that your views were open to evolving if you were given new information, so I feel it would be worthwhile for us to open a little dialogue on this.
Now, it’s difficult for me to get into a dispassionate conversation about this topic, because it has had such blatant and hurtful affects on me. I can keep my emotions uninvolved when it comes to discussing many, many topics, but this is not one. So please understand if I liberally insert a bit of my personal feelings and experiences into this, although I will try to present plenty of non-anecdotal evidence for my position as well.
Complimentarianism and Egalitarianism were defined well in the article. Egalitarians believe that people should be judged on their individual merits alone, without regard to their gender. Complimentarians believe that judgments should be partly made by gender, because being a certain sex infuses you with certain merits and qualities that the other gender cannot fulfill. Indeed, complimentarians will generally say that a woman will be most fulfilled if she embraces feminine roles, and a man will be most fulfilled if he embraces masculine roles because that is what their bodies and souls were designed for. Their gender defines them, at least in part.
First of all, I want to emphasize that there is NOTHING wrong with fulfilling a traditional gender role. If a woman wants to be a stay-at-home mom and a man wants to be a breadwinner, I will not judge them… so long as that decision was made by them, and not by their culture. However, I can tell you without reservation that complimentarianism hurts people. Enormously, horrendously, gruesomely, it hurts people. In a slightly more distant sense, it harms people like gays and lesbians and transgender people who seem to transcend conservative ideas of what “man” and “woman” can be. These people face violence and discrimination as a direct result of defying these little generalizations. However, it has a much more direct affect too. I’ve seen many young lives boxed up and stored on separate shelves, labeled “man” and “woman” and, to me, that is a tragedy. I’ve seen young women quietly discouraged from going to college, or held back a grade in high school so that their younger brother can attend school with them to protect them from society’s influences. I’ve seen women who never left home because their family expected them to stay under their father’s authority until marriage… after all, a woman is most fulfilled as a wife and mother, not in a career. I’ve seen young men ostracized by their friends because of a soft voice and a penchant for wearing jewelry. I’ve seen women taught to fear their bodies and men taught to fear their sexual urges. All of this was done in the name of protecting and preparing children for their pre-designed roles… roles that were assigned from birth, before the parent even had a chance to get to know their son or daughter for who they are.
And herein lies the insidious poison of Complimentarianism: it is disguised as stability and support, when in truth it undermines the individual and tries to replace it with a mold that might not fit. Plenty of men and women will step forward and explain how they are happy in their roles, and how perfect it is for them. But for every man and woman that fits that role, there will be others that do not, and still more that will spend untold years in pain, trying to force themselves into those neat boxes in order to please their family and culture.
For my own experience, I hated being a girl. From the age of six, I told my mother that I should have been born a boy. Perhaps part of the problem was my own gender identity, but that was not all; I simply had a deep desire to be respected as strong, fierce, courageous, heroic, smart, and capable. Even from that young age, I’d absorbed that these were MALE traits. Females were to be respected for grace, compassion, gentleness, meekness, and modesty. So great was this distinction, that I believed my own body was the reason that I didn’t fit the box, not the box itself. And this dissonance dominated huge parts of my young life.
I strove with all of my might to distinguish myself as a boy. I started by loudly proclaiming my disdain towards anything that might be seen as girly (birds, bunnies, pink, purple, flowers, bows, and more). I was filled with shame when I found myself liking Lisa Frank merchandise (I don’t know if you remember those rainbow-colored relics of the 90’s) and I would literally only walk into that aisle of the toy store if no one else was around to see, and I would hide if someone else showed up. I fiercely argued with my sister when she tried to explain to me that I couldn’t grow up to be a fireman, and I’d be a firewoman instead. I didn’t want to be a firewoman. A firewoman would be lesser because she would be meek and gentle instead of strong and brave. I created alternate identities for myself, all male, and I adored the uncle that I’d never met simply because he referred to me sometimes by the nickname “Al”. I tried very hard to get other friends to call me by that nickname, but it never stuck.
Most importantly, my parents never even worked hard to force me into this gender role. Yes, the implications were there, but I can’t recall many times that I was told to repress my personality or to stop being a tomboy. My parents encouraged me to pursue my interest in Physics, even if it was a stereotypically male field. They let me play sports and act tough. They encouraged me to be independent. And yet, at 6 years old, I had already recognized that being a woman was less than being a man or at least a woman could not be ME… and that belief never changed until long after I had left home.
I can think of a few things that my parents did to encourage the gender divide. My mother did urge me to prepare for motherhood and care of a household, long before I had made any indications that I would ever wish to do these things (I didn’t). I was thoroughly versed in modesty teachings, and taught to be ashamed and afraid of my developing body because it was an instrument of sin. I was instructed in “purity” teachings that worked to highlight the difference between the two sexes, and set them up for a lifetime of separation together. None of these things helped with my gender dissatisfaction.
But, in large part, it was the culture of Complimentarianism in the Fundamentalist world that taught me to be unhappy with myself as a young woman. It wasn’t forced and it wasn’t beaten into me; it was so much more insidious than that. Just because my compliance with gender roles wasn’t outright demanded doesn’t mean that the pressure wasn’t very real. And very confusing and damaging to a developing young mind that just didn’t fit.
So when supporters of Complimentarianism try to tell me “I would never force my kids to fit those roles; it would just be strongly encouraged as the best way to achieve happiness,” I have to shake my head. They clearly have never felt the cognitive dissonance of existing in a world that strongly encourages them to be something they’re not. That strong encouragement can warp a child’s expectations of themselves, alter their dreams, drive them to self-loathing, or provoke an outright rebellion and fracture of the family. Why would anyone risk all of that in the name of an outdated presumption of what men and women can or cannot do? Is a child’s body parts truly more important than their individual identity?
Indeed, many complimentarians object to many of the stories I tell. “I would never hold my daughter back from college” or “a man can like jewelry” might be the quick responses. But Complimentarianism CANNOT be separated from these sorts of tragedies, because, at it’s core, it is erasure of the individual in favor of a stereotype. It is telling a child when it is born “I don’t even know you yet, I don’t know your personality or your talents or desires or fears… but I DEMAND you to fulfill my stereotype based on that little bit of biology right there between your legs. I will demand it through my judgments, my encouragements, my suggestions of what you will do and where you will go. I will demand it through the school activities I will put you in, I will demand it through the pastor’s sermons about how women need to stop talking and men need to “man up”. I will demand you to fulfill this role and, if you fail, it is because you must be
Are there statistical differences between men and women? Sure. But, especially in all psychological areas, there is more overlap than difference. Just look through this article if you are in doubt. http://www.psych.rochester.edu/people/reis_harry/assets/pdf/CarothersReis_2012.pdf Most men and women are psychologically NO DIFFERENT. Science has shown this. And many of the differences can probably be attributed to cultural conditioning… we expect women to be X and men to be Y from a young age, so they develop to fulfill that. And then Complimentarianists can pat themselves on the back and say “see? Men and women are different after all” when half of the differences come from this very social construct of Complimentarianism.
I could probably write for another 3 years on the subject, but I guess I’ll stop for now. Please, I beg of you, consider what I’m saying, ask questions, and just give it all some thought. People are suffering still under these ideas and it breaks my heart. People are people, regardless of gender, and we should not be making blanket judgments about them because of their gender.
Thank you very much for reading. All the best to you!!!”
I am thankful to Mary for having raised so many important issues. If she decides to react to comments, I would be very grateful if everyone were to treat her with the uttermost respect.
Despite having given up her faith, she remains extremely friendly towards Christians and given the circumstances I view this a miracle.
I think that she did an excellent job exposing the huge suffering that Evangelical complementarianism might be causing in quite a few cases.
This was not, however, what I was saying in my last post.
The differences I pointed out are of a statistical nature and there are certainly quite a few exceptions.
There is absolutely nothing wrong about women having the temperament of breadwinners and men preferring taking care of the home and they should never be ridiculed owing to this.
Likewise, I believe that a minority of humans have a homosexual nature and that it is healthy for them to marry someone of the same sex since this is not harmful.
A woman applying for a position in the army should be judged by her own skills alone and not by those of the average female.
What I do oppose, however, is this willingness to impose an equal demography between the two sexes in every sector.
I and many secular folks reject this silly endeavor of the European Union to forcefully introduce equal quotas for it ignores the fact that (statistically speaking) men and women are psychologically and biologically different.
(Analyzing the evidence and counter-evidence is beyond the scope of this post).