Friday, December 11, 2015

Giving content to complementarianism without giving in to the creeps [updated]

I recently learned of the existence of this video concerning complementarianism. As I said here, while it is pretty clear that Mary Kassian (the woman in red in the video) is trying to water down complementarianism, and while the very title of the post in which she embeds it ("Kissing Traditionalism Goodbye") makes it clear that she is trying to make complementarianism more like feminism, the video itself could be a lot worse. You'd have to be a pretty bitter anti-evangelical with a (probably manospherian) chip on your shoulder to classify this video with what I was discussing in the post itself--namely, a pamphlet by Focus on the Family that took a pretty morally neutral stance towards RU486 abortion.

On the other hand, I do find the video and Kassian's approach interesting and unfortunate, because I do see (e.g., reading my friends' comments on Facebook) an attempt in evangelical circles to take complementarianism regarding men and women and put it into some kind of box: We don't ordain women, and we agree that women and men ought to be different in the areas of reproduction and sexual intercourse (so we're against the homosexual agenda and the gender-bending agenda), but beyond that...meh. Who knows? This was most strikingly exemplified by a Facebook friend who acted completely clueless when I stated what seemed absolutely obvious--that if you think men and women are importantly different you should think that having women beat each other up as a spectator sport is especially disgusting and unnatural, even more so than having men beat each other up as a spectator sport. Oh, no, why should "women's mixed martial arts" be unfeminine in any way, shape, or form? To call such an approach "complementarianism" (e.g., because the person doesn't support women's ordination) is pretty absurd, in my opinion.

On the other hand, the question of giving concrete content to complementarianism in the world outside the church and the bedroom is not going to be cut and dried. It would be overly rigid to say, "Men and women are different. Therefore, their roles should be different. Therefore, the husband should not be getting up with a baby in the night and should not be changing diapers." Even John Piper's recent apparent implication that women in secular positions should never be in authority over men seemed too strong, as it would rule out a female college professor with male students in any field. On the other hand, his statement that a woman should not be a drill sergeant seems obviously correct.

The problem that I see with the video of Mary Kassian and Nancy de Vos [Correction: De Moss--see Anonymous's comment below] being interviewed on the subject of complementarianism is that they were too disinclined to give any principles with concrete implications at all. For example, here would be a few ideas that I suspect Mary Kassian, in particular, would be uncomfortable with:

--Although there are exceptions, and families should not insist on starving rather than having the mother work if this ideal cannot be maintained, as a general rule the ideal in a family is that the mother is able to be at home with her children and that the father is the breadwinner.

--Women have a special connection to children as a result of their being constructed by God to bear and nurture children.

--Women should not cancel their own femininity by entering distinctively, physically masculine fields such as the military and being cops on the beat.

--Women should be physically protected, especially when they are pregnant. Therefore, women in physically demanding areas such as sports need to rethink how this is consonant with their femininity when they get married and are or might be pregnant. In short, no pregnant racehorse jockeys.

--If a woman is in a position of authority over a man, especially a man of her own approximate age, she should recognize that this situation carries unique difficulties precisely because she is female and he is male. This does not necessarily render such situations unacceptable, but it does mean that the woman in question needs to think about how to carry out her administrative duties while retaining her femininity. In particular, she should be careful not to try to overcome any sense of insecurity in the position by being deliberately harsh and unfeminine, by using bad language, ridicule, or other "employee management tactics" that she perceives as "masculine." Needless to say, these tactics are also inappropriate for male authority figures, but there are particular temptations for women to use them, just as there are particular temptations for men to use them, and the use of them by a woman to a man creates unique tensions in the workplace.

These are the types of statements and advice that, it seems to me, we need to be willing to go out on a limb and give both to women and to men. After all, if men don't hear that there is anything particularly un-ideal about two-career families, why should they even try to shoulder the burden of supporting a family? But I didn't hear anything like this from de Vos and/or Kassian in the interview, though de Vos [DeMoss] was sounding more "traditional" than Kassian, who provocatively heads her post "Kissing Traditionalism Goodbye." In the interview, Kassian implied that ditching all differences between men and women is extreme, unbiblical, and wrong, but she was quite evidently unwilling to make any statements like those above that would imply that men and women should take on concretely different roles in society, even to some extent. Indeed, her repeated (cliched, silly) dismissive allusions to "June Cleaver" made it pretty clear that she was trying to get away from all of that.

I suspect, though they do not say so, that these complementarians may be wary of seeming to give aid and comfort to groups such as Vision Forum and ATI (Bill Gothard's group). The male heads of both of these organizations have been credibly accused of abusing their positions to obtain romantic and some degree of sexual gratification from much younger women whom they were employing. Moreover, the organizations teach an extreme form of patriarchalism, including theses such as that unmarried women should not have careers outside the home but should live with their parents indefinitely, that women should not go to college, and the like.

The fact is, unfortunately, that there are creepy hyper-patriarchalists out there in the Christian world, and it's understandable that complementarians want to distance themselves from them.

But it doesn't follow that complementarianism has virtually no concrete content, beyond an extremely generic idea that "God made male and female," opposition to the homosexual agenda, and a refusal to accept women's ordination.

One problem with such a vague complementarianism is that young people have absolutely no idea how to live out complementary male and female roles. And I really mean no idea. The very idea that the man ought to ask the woman out on a date rather than vice versa is considered positively revolutionary. And that he should offer to pay? Shocking.

Talk of how complementary male-female interaction is "like a dance" (as in the video) is nice and poetic, and I don't really mean to scorn it, but in real life terms young people don't just intuit what that means when the rubber meets the road. They are watching aggressively feminist movies all the time full of women who beat up men. How in the world are they supposed to know what that "dance" looks like? Maybe if they were lucky enough to have parents who modeled it, they will know. Otherwise, it has to be taught, and that means talking about questions like, "Should women be in the military?" "Are there special problems about women and men working together in an office environment, and how can Christians deal with them?"

It ought to be possible, and it is possible, to give sensible complementarian answers to these questions without endorsing the likes of Bill Gothard and Doug Phillips, or their extreme ideas.

I think, in fact, that when the young interviewer asked Nancy de Vos [DeMoss] and Mary Kassian, "What does that look like?" concerning complementarianism, she was thinking perhaps they would give answers like what I listed above. I don't know if she would have liked those answers, but I suspect she was trying to elicit something a little bit more definite than what they gave. I can't help thinking (based on her way of talking) that Nancy de Vos [DeMoss] thinks people already know what male-female complementarity looks like in society and that her job is just to reassure women that this doesn't mean that they are oppressed. If I'm right about that, she needs to discover that millennials often don't know. Mary Kassian, I'm guessing, wouldn't agree with most or perhaps with any of the statements I made above and really does want complementarianism to amount in practice to men and women doing nearly all the same things in society but doing them with a somewhat different oeuvre. In my opinion, that is inherently unstable. A complementarianism watered down that much, a complementarianism that is allergic to saying, "Women shouldn't be warriors. Women shouldn't be beat cops. Women shouldn't be beating each other up" eventually has so little to show in the way of real differences it is willing to state between men and women that it has little defense against full-bore egalitarianism.

If we don't want the world to divide up between the feminists and the creepy hyper-patriarchalists, we need to articulate a reasonable, but more definite, complementarianism. I consider the CBMW to be rather well-placed to do so. But in that case, I think they need someone other than Mary Kassian to do the job.


John said...

I have long enjoyed the challenge of presenting "traditional" complementarity to couples who find it foreign. Usually I have to work harder to convince her, since the default position of our culture has long been to warn off on the dangers of patriarchalism and associated dangers. But sometimes he is the one who gets squeamish, not only in accepting a masculine role for himself but for pressuring her in any way into a feminine role. I haven't had opportunity for such interaction for quite a while, but I recently offered to meet with a co-worker and his professional girlfriend. Properly understood, it is often a mutually appreciated approach to gender relations, and I appreciate finding the same approach here. Thanks, Lydia, once again.

Anonymous said...

It's actually Nancy Leigh DeMoss, not DeVos. She's written many books and is a regular guest on Focus on the Family.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks for the correction. I've incorporated it.