Some thoughts drawn from and related to my sermon yesterday:
It seems to me that one of the most pernicious byproducts of feminism today is to despise what women actually are, to despise real femaleness. But I don’t think it’s a problem unique to today, but something built into the curse on sin itself.
Men’s gifts tend to be more obvious, more easy to understand. Men are physically stronger, tend to be more dominant, more leadership-oriented. They tend to be better at specializing in single tasks or fields, which I believe is why most of your world-class experts in given fields are usually men. I am not sure men on average are better at science than women, for example, but since men are better at specializing, most of your leading experts will be men.
So if you resist any idea that men and women are better at different things, that any difference in abilities between men and women is the result of sexism or patriarchy or whatever, then the result is that you’ll end up focusing on all the ways that women are demonstrably inferior, since those are simpler and easier to see and describe, and we human beings tend to like simple stories. And we men especially like stories that make us look better than others.
This idea helps me understand the real purpose of the Proverbs 31 woman, which I don’t think is really intended to beat up on all the ways women fail (though it’s often put to this use), or to say that all women need to be specifically doing these kinds of things (like the idea that all women need to have some kind of home-based business to contribute to the family’s income). Rather, it’s a great demonstration of this principle. If you’re just completely focused on women’s equality and their separate individual achievement, then the really simplistic story here is to say, “how come her husband gets to sit in the gates (a position of political or judicial leadership) while she’s slaving away at home?” But this woman is likely not as good at that job as he is. If you try to put her there, she may fail, very few women being as suited to that task as the best men. But with her doing the things she excels at, she enables him to do the thing he excels at. Viewed as a team, whose gifts complement each other, now both can be valued and recognized. He can sit in the gate and excel at government, because he can totally trust his wife to excel at managing the household.
So the real purpose of the Proverbs 31 woman is to get men to recognize all the ways their women help them behind the scenes, less than it’s about giving women a list of things they’re supposed to be doing. Of course, by implication, the passage also encourages the woman reader to strive to be virtuous by using her gifts in creative ways to benefit the whole household. But the passage is actually addressed to men, not women, so that’s secondary.
Another example that really resonates with me is the example of the combat troops of an army and its support and supply infrastructure. In military science I’ve heard it said that amateurs talk about strategy while professionals talk about logistics. It’s the troops and the battles that will make it into the history books, but without the often invisible cooks, wagon drivers, mechanics, nurses, and the like, the army will lose the war. It doesn’t matter at all how brave or skilled the soldiers are if they are not physically where they need to be with the right equipment when the battle actually happens. The supply lines are weaker, more vulnerable than the front-line troops, but that doesn’t mean they are unimportant or inferior. Far from it. They need to be carefully guarded because of how important and vulnerable they are. Likewise men need to guard women as the weaker vessel, and one of the things men need to help protect the women from is the lies of the world and Satan that teach them to despise their femininity.
The Bible doesn’t give us some canonical list of all the character traits that men are better at or women are better at. We should never generalize or legislate where the Bible doesn’t. But one of the effects of the curse is that men and women both come to despise femininity, the woman often envying and resenting the man’s gifts, and the man having contempt for the woman for the obvious ways she is weaker than him without recognizing or valuing the ways she is stronger. The Gospel of course is the cure for all of this, and the book of Proverbs is a huge help.