Reformed Church Culture and Women

Phil's blog got me thinking about the whole issue of women in Reformed and conservative evangelical circles in general.   On the whole, I don't think the church provides the kind of environment that helps.  Two examples: in Britain, certain denominations don't pay their ministers a proper living wage (though this is often due to sheer economic hardship, not miserly giving); yet those same denominations, in my experience, have a culture which heavily criticises the minister's wife for then going out to work to make ends meet. Result: ministerial bitterness and burn-out; women who feel guilty either that they bring in no money, or that they do and are thus not proper pastor's wives.

In the US (and it is the US -- I have not seen this so much in the UK) , I have lost count of the number of women I have come across, particularly in presbyterian circles, who feel the need to conform to some Reformed cultural norm.  You can tell them on the Sundays: the exhausted and haggard mothers whose husbands expect them not only to cook and to clean, but also to home-school the kids. For every omnicompetent wife who seems to be able to run the world and then some, and still look like a million dollars when hubbie gets home for dinner (already on the table, of course), there are ten or more who look crushed and dispirited, who really need to send their kids out of the house in the morning so they can get some rest and some mental sanity, who need their husbands to see the problem and take steps to help them.  Are they inadequate as Christian mothers?  No.  They are crushed by a "Christian" culture that demands their all and gives no slack.

I am no feminist (my wife will confirm my impeccable Neanderthal credentials); I have strong views on women's ordination; but I am saddened by the way Reformed church culture so often tramples its women underfoot with its mindless identification of biblical manhood with something akin to John Wayne and its assumption that all Christian women should make Mary Poppins look domestically incompetent.