Are Women the Holders of Virtue?
August 30, 2016
An article was brought to my attention on Saturday that was spreading like wildfire on Facebook. The article, Why Man and Woman Are Not Equal, already had over 11K shares (now it it’s almost up to 13K). The fact that the writer, Glenn Stanton, is the director of family formation studies at the Focus on the Family may explain some of the popularity. But when I read the article, I felt like we are never going to get out of the crazy cycle of evangelical gender tropes.
Sure, I wanted to agree with Stanton as I first began reading. There are differences between men and women, and we need to value these distinctions against a culture that is dominated by the sexual revolution and wants to paint gender as a fluid concept. And I agree with the title to a point. Men and women are not equal in all things. We are equal in value and worth. Both genders are made in the image of God. But, for starters, men can’t have babies. And they are physically stronger than women. They have greater muscle mass, broader shoulders, and a stronger grip. And although I want to be careful of stereotyping, there are some differences in our hormonal and psychological make-up.
The author chose to focus on a particular identifier to reveal that men and women are not equal. And at first glance, women may be happy to read this, as he is certainly elevating them:
Women create, shape, and maintain human culture. Manners exist because women exist. Worthy men adjust their behavior when a woman enters the room. They become better creatures. Civilization arises and endures because women have expectations of themselves and of those around them.
He continues to show how women are the holders of all virtue, contributing to society by “making men behave,” and that “the most fundamental social problem every community must solve is the unattached male,” because wives make men more loving, nurturing, and willing to provide, therefore contributing more to society.
On Monday Morning I discovered that this article was being shared in my circles on blogs and social media. Poor Andrew Wilson just threw it out there on Twitter with a question for discussion. Hannah Anderson and I took the bait, and bounced off of one another about our concerns. I immediately thought of Sara Moslener’s book Virgin Nation, which traces the sexual purity movement in America, showing how it developed as an ideology linked to national security. This is the sort of branding I was reading in Stanton’s article. And from books like Moslener’s and the further research I have done of the cult of domesticity, I am able to pick up on this language pretty easily now.
Interestingly, before the first wave of feminism, women were viewed as the morally inferior sex. Because Eve was the first person deceived, women were not to be trusted. But with the turn of the 19th century, gender roles make a reversal. Now all of the sudden women became the morally superior sex.
But was society the better for it?:
Women exploited their newfound status as moral superiors to extend their power beyond the domestic sphere and control the sexual behavior of men. Moslener connects the reversal of the female status as moral superiors in first wave feminism to the political movements fueled by evangelical tropes of manhood and womanhood…
Yet as women gained spiritual, social, and political influence, men began to feel threatened by a feminization of theology.
This is when the whole wave of muscular Christianity began to take root. The thing is, when you make either sex the holder of virtue, you are doing a lot of damage. Gender becomes an ideological commodity, a power struggle begins, and then there is an equally disturbing reaction.
But we already know the truth. Women are also sinners, and men don’t need to marry to be virtuous. Were Jesus and Paul just exceptions? No, “worthy” men are expected to be virtuous on their own. And they are to depend on the One who actually lived a righteous life as they strive for holiness, not on a woman. I will give Stanton a nod in agreement that men may adjust their behavior when a woman comes into the room. Women do that some too. But manners aren’t always virtuous; they can be very manipulative. Men aren’t to pretend to be virtuous when in front of women; they are called to be virtuous at all times.
Just think for a moment---if this gender trope were true, why are we letting any men in leadership? But no, this is just Victorian era ideology skipping the record again. When we put the burden of virtue on one gender, these power dynamics go into play. Stanton is trying to replace the equality argument that is used in the fight for societal power today with a virtue argument that has already played out over and over again.
So I ask again, what compromises are we making to advance our own ideologies? Women and men need one another. Singles are also created for relationship in the covenant community, friendships, family roles, at work and school, and in loving their neighbor. And as Hannah pointed out in our Twitter conversation, this kind of reduction hinders real spiritual formation and discipleship. Women don’t need to play the virtue card to get a seat at the significance table. We can’t hijack the language of holiness that way. Men and women both need to sit under the preached Word, as a covenant community. We all need to hear God’s pure and holy law, accompanied by the gospel announcement. We cheapen both God’s common grace to all as well as his salvific work of holiness, calling sinners to repentance, and his work of salvation, sanctification, and glorification when we stereotype in this way. Women are a wonderful sex, but they are a horrible substitute for a savior.