Author and Fox News columnist Suzanne Venker is causing quite a stir these days. She has recently published The Alpha Female’s Guide to Men & Marriage, which argues that if women today wish to be happy in their marriage, they would be wise to consider some ideas from our not-so-distant past: traditional roles.
In a recent column she argues that women today have been groomed to be “too much like men. They’re too competitive. Too masculine. Too alpha.” And further that “if women want to find peace with men they must find their feminine — that is where their real power lies.”
As you might guess, in today’s emotionally charged environment where two perspectives is one perspective too may, she has been lambasted. Comments to the recent article called her sexist, retarded, and utterly disgusting. And there was also the proverbial “how dare you Ms. Venker” thrown into the mix.
Suzanne Venker has been called sexist, retarted, and utterly disgusting. And there was also the proverbial “how dare you Ms. Venker” thrown into the mix.
But it got me thinking about my own thoughts on marriage, what the Bible has to say about husbands and wives, and how that has played out for my wife and me within the context of our post-traditionalist society. In some ways the journey has been what one might expect; in other ways it has been quite surprising.
To begin, it is important for me to point out that though I have been a practicing evangelical for the majority of my adult life, I was not raised so. I was a product of the Eighties: I viewed marriage as an equal partnership, nothing more and nothing less. Biblical ideas such as the man being the head of the household for me were acquired, not inbred — and for the most part, were tested with experimental skepticism.
From a progressive, enlightened and modern perspective then, my Eighties-based egalitarian view on marriage should have served me quite well. The problem was: It didn’t. That perspective, ironic as it may sound, nearly ended a perfectly healthy relationship.
From a progressive, enlightened and modern perspective, my Eighties-based egalitarian view on marriage should have served me quite well. The problem was: It didn’t. Ironic as it may sound, that perspective nearly ended a perfectly healthy relationship.
I say “relationship,” not marriage, for my wife and I were committed to the end. But anyone in marriage knows that it is quite possible to keep the marriage alive while utterly destroying the relationship within it. And seven years into our marriage, that is where things were heading.
It all began with a number of arguments that seemed to follow a consistent pattern. We would be engaged in some form of civil discussion or debate, and suddenly (at least from my undeniably male perspective) my wife would become noticeably upset. She would accuse me of being mean and hurtful and “wiping her out.” I would honestly have no idea what she was talking about, and I would tell her so. And then the argument would ensue.
My protest was always the same: Whenever she accused me of wiping her out, I would reply by saying, “But I am treating you exactly the way you are treating me!” If she stated her point forcefully, I stated my point forcefully. If she raised her voice, I raised my voice. If she became angry, I became angry. I responded in kind and proportion to the way I myself was being treated. Which seemed fair. After all, we were equals.
I responded to my wife in kind and proportion to the way I myself was being treated. Which seemed fair. After all, we were equals.
I was convinced the problem was her, expressly because she was operating on a double-standard. From my perspective, what she wanted in our relationship was to hold me to a ridiculously high standard, but for me to allow her to act however she wanted. As far as I was concerned, that was completely unhealthy and totally unacceptable. Which I told her — often.
And then one night I had the strangest thing happen. While praying, I felt strongly as though God was saying to me, “You must be really frustrated with how your wife is acting toward you right now.”
You are darn right, I thought in response.
“And you must feel fully justified in expressing your frustration to her,” He continued.
Absolutely, I responded.
“But how would you feel if I acted toward you the way you are acting toward your wife?”
I was not expecting that question. I would feel pretty devastated, I though. But this situation is totally different. After all, you are God, so your words have greater impact. But my wife and I are equals. And then I suddenly recalled a scripture I had never particularly liked: “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church.”
I found myself in one of those situations where the way you see the world is seriously challenged. God seemed to be suggesting to me that relationally speaking, marriage had built within it a hierarchy and therefore an inherent inequality. Not an inequality based on rights or dignity but one based on how husbands and wives simply relate to one another. He seemed to be suggesting that in some way, I played a leadership role and because of this my words and actions had far more impact than I realized.
I suddenly found myself in one of those situations where the way you see the world is seriously challenged. God seemed to be suggesting that relationally speaking, marriage had built within it a hierarchy and therefore inherent inequality.
This idea was rather foreign to me and by today’s standards completely sexist. But it did make sense of one thing: How in treating my wife as “an equal” I was perhaps unknowingly doing neither one of us a service.
In today’s debate over gender equality, we often talk about equal rights and equal opportunity. We rarely talk about equal treatment. We rarely extol the virtues of women being treated “just like one of the guys.” But this is exactly what has happened. Venker points out that society today has groomed women to be just like men. They have been raised to be tough bad-a**es, an idea constantly portrayed in the movies and television.
But is this really what women want? Does the idea of embracing what it means to be truly a woman amount to kicking in doors, beating up the bad guys and slaying dragons? Has the goal of feminism been for women to become just like men?
Does the idea of what it means to be truly a woman amount to kicking in doors, beating up the bad guys and slaying dragons? Has the goal of feminism been for women to become just like men?
The answer is “no” — at least, if the dictionary can be trusted. Merriam-Webster defines feminism as “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities,” not the belief that women are just like men, or that men are just like women. It makes no statement about what it means to be a man or what it means to be a woman, let alone the role of a husband and wife in the context of the intimacy of marriage.
The difficulty however — especially today — is in acknowledging such differences. In today’s environment, for women to acknowledge they are different from men is potentially to admit weakness. The result is that even in intimate relationships, women are treated like “one of the guys.”
Which is exactly what I was doing. By extending to my wife the virtue of equality, I was making a promise to her that in every way imaginable, I was going to treat her just like a man. By extolling the virtue of equality, I was actually refusing to acknowledge that she was anything special. How could I? To grant her special consideration would be to treat her different from me, and therefore less than me.
By extending to my wife the virtue of equality, I was making a promise to her that in every way imaginable, I was going to treat her just like a man.
But is this so? Does acknowledging and recognizing differences in men and women, even in suggesting as Venker does that relationships go better when women take on a more traditional role in the relationship, amount to inequality? Not necessarily.
What many today on both ends of the social spectrum do not seem to realize is that in its day, the New Testament’s view of marriage was rather revolutionary. At that time, Roman society regarded women as little more than property. Christianity on the other hand declared women to be co-laborers in Christ and also that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It professed a message of mutual submission, commanding husbands and wives to submit themselves to one another equally, which was unheard of.
Many do not realize that in its day, the New Testament’s view of marriage was rather revolutionary. It professed a message of mutual submission, which was unheard of.
But Christianity did not go so far as to suggest men and women, though equal, were virtually the same. On the contrary, it affirmed men and women were different by design, and these differences manifest themselves uniquely in how they go about the task of submitting to one another in the context of marriage. Women submit themselves by yielding to their husband’s lead; husbands submit themselves by laying down their very lives — not for themselves, but for the sole benefit of their wives.
It is also important to realize that these scriptures are not statements about worth or rights but are instead job descriptions within the marriage. No one would accuse the modern-day corporation of inequality simply because it has a CEO and his or her responsibilities differ from that of the COO.
Granted, the touchy point for us is that unlike the modern-day corporation, these roles are drawn along gender lines. Nonetheless, acknowledging that there is, or may be, a natural order in God’s plan for marriage does not, in and of itself, constitute gender oppression. It simply means that in the context of intimacy, we will be most fulfilled by recognizing our uniqueness and assuming those unique roles.
But is it possible, as we hear today, that these roles are no more than a social construct propagated by an evil oppressive patriarchal society, and overthrowing them is the new frontier for justice and equality? I suppose so.
Is it possible that traditional roles in marriage are no more than a social construct propagated by an oppressive patriarchal society? That all depends on what you believe about the world — and ultimately about reality.
The answer to that question, however, will all depend on what you believe about the world — and ultimately about reality. We do not call nature evil and oppressive simply because it has inherent design and constraints. We do not protest gravity because it keeps us on the ground.
On the other hand, if someone invented a technology that forced unsuspecting humans to the ground against their will, we would be right in calling such a technology evil. The difference is that the technology would be a violation of how things should be, whereas gravity reflects the way things truly are.
We do not call nature evil because it has inherent design and constraints. We do not protest reality because it keeps us on the ground.
The question then to be asked is whether traditional roles in marriage reflect a violation of the way things should be, or whether they in fact reflect the way things truly are. Is Venker’s suggestion that women will be happier by taking a “beta” role in the relationship tantamount to sexual oppression, or is she tapping into an eternal principle reflecting what men and women and marriage were ultimately meant to be?
Unfortunately — and this is a point worth emphasizing — modern culture has no way of answering such a metaphysical question. It has every right to reject traditional views on marriage, if it so chooses. But it has absolutely no basis for asserting that in doing so, it is correcting an injustice against what should be, rather than rejecting what we, in the context of marriage, were created to be.
I am not sure all of this was in my head the evening God challenged me with a new perspective, but I was willing to give it a shot nonetheless. Despite my modern views on marriage, I was willing to consider that in some mysterious way, unbeknownst to me, I occupied a leadership role in the marriage such that my words and actions had much more effect on my wife than I had previously realized. I bought into the inequality and double-standard.
Unfortunately, modern culture has no way of answering whether, in its rejection of traditional roles in marriage, it is truly correcting an injustice, or whether it is merely rejecting what we, in the context of marriage, were created to be.
The moment I did, two things happened. The first was that I immediately began to see my wife in a way I had never seen before. I saw her as someone who deserved to be treated gently and sensitively, someone who deserved to have someone sacrifice their own life for, and that someone was me. That, in itself, was an eye-opener.
The second thing that happened is that our marriage was transformed overnight. My wife, in her own words, felt emotionally safe in our marriage for the first time. It was as if something came to life inside her — something I had unknowingly been beating senseless on a daily basis.
And the unexpected thing was that I felt happier, too. Not simply because my wife was happier. Rather, I discovered that the responsibility of ensuring her emotional well-being and sacrificing my life for her happiness was deeply fulfilling. It just felt right. Dare I say: I felt like an adult, a man, and a husband for the very first time.
In closing, I would be remiss not to point out that my wife is a very strong woman and a natural-born leader. She has held several corporate and managerial positions in her career, and she has no problem showing up in a conversation and expressing her point of view. She is in every way the Alpha woman that Venker describes.
I should also point out that although I have focused on my experience in this article, I need her just as much as she needs me. Our relationship forms a vital and symbiotic relationship.
But she has said on more than one occasion that from the night our marriage turned around, she sees me as a leader in our home. For her, this is not an oppressive thing at all. If you ask her, she will say it is actually very romantic. But I try not to think about such things. I am too busy laying down my life for her that she might become all that she was created to be.
Which is, after all, her rightful place.