In my last article, “4 Sexist Myths That The Church Should Reject,” I did my best to dismantle four sexist myths that have caused significant pain and division in the church. I wasn’t going to add to my list, but after many of you responded with sexist cultural myths of your own, I could see that another list was in the works. So, here goes, people.
1. Men Don’t Need to Express Emotion
I touched on this one in my last list, but it deserves more attention. Men are not incapable of emotional expression. I will say it again and pray it will be a balm on the wounded hearts of men who long to express emotion, to be vulnerable in a safe space, but have found none. Men are not emotionally unavailable.
But, they live in a world that tells them that their greatest weakness is their heart, their own humanity. From the moment that many men open their eyes as infants, they are socialized to create emotional distance—to defend their hearts against intruders.
Our culture associates deep sentiment with fragility and has fostered an environment where men believe that they must stifle hurt, disappointment, and fear. Men are forced to wear their toughness like a shield and their stoicism like ice across their all-too-human hearts.
This myth denies men the space to feel deeply, to hurt deeply, and to engage in relationships with vulnerability and trust. Men are still (often) expected to carry their burdens alone. As sole protector and provider (see point 2), men must always be competent and assured, and never afraid. And, because men are socialized to dismiss what they feel, they are often painted as emotionally unavailable, aloof, or distant in relationships.
My heart aches at this caricature—of men who never shed tears, of men who never learn to put words to the wounds in their hearts. As humans, we feel, so deeply. And, we must remind ourselves of that fact whenever possible. Men are human, and they feel as fiercely and significantly as women. We must make space for men to feel in the church.
2. Men Provide and Women Receive
Let’s take this myth apart. An ideal home includes a male provider—always. This may not be the reality in many families now, but it remains a cultural value and an ideal in many churches (especially more conservative ones). But, this doesn’t play out in the real world for many couples, nor is it in implicated by the gospel.
Christians, men and women, are called to serve and provide for each other in love. But, men are conditioned and expected to take on the responsibility of sole provider—they are (sometimes) given no choice but to carry the immense weight of a couple’s or family’s financial health and security. And most tragically, men are often forced to carry that burden alone.
There is often no space for failure, or even weakness. Instead, men must fight on, believing that because they are male, they are built to walk alone as the provider and protector of their families, partners, and communities.
In some cases, a male-only provider retains all of the financial power in his relationship, rendering his female partner silent and defenseless. While some couples navigate the single-earner dynamic well, others become trapped in relationships that contradict the mutuality and interdependence prescribed by the gospel.
Women are power-house providers for their families and communities in so many ways. Many are more than willing to take on the burden of provider, financially and otherwise—in many cases not because a man is unavailable, but because women are competent, innovative leaders.
Women also possess an indomitable will—a spirit that keeps them fighting in the face of oppression and hardship. I have witnessed the unfathomable will of women and it is a fearsome and beautiful thing to behold. That will and fighting spirit has placed them in many different roles throughout history: provider, protector, advocate, peacekeeper, activist, teacher, counselor, manager, and so many others.
Women are utterly human in their love for the world and other human beings. And providing is one expression of that love, of Christ-like life. Women have the will to provide, and if they choose to serve in that capacity, the church and world should welcome them.
3. Men Should Always Initiate In Relationships
Men should always initiate relationships and everything that comes after—the ask-out, the proposal, the first kiss, etc. It’s just a part of being a man and a woman, of following his lead in the relationship. The problem with this myth is that the church often prescribes it for everybody. But, it doesn’t need to be this way.
This model for male-female relationship is cultural. And I have to say, I’m tired of youth group talks that assume that all women desperately want to be pursued. My heart hurts for Christian women who feel powerless in relationships, who believe that inaction is a necessary virtue of Christian womanhood, and yet the role of the pursued just doesn’t seem to fit.
Women are so very different—with amazingly varied needs, gifts, and relational styles. Many women want to feel free to pursue with their whole hearts, and without fear of losing their “femininity” in the eyes of men.
Further, as the exclusive initatiors, men face enormous pressure to pursue women, to show all of the interest, and to carry the relationship forward. So instead of settling for a one-size-fits-all male pursuit relational formula, let’s set men and women free to pursue each other in love, respect, and mutuality if they so choose.
4. Women Are Marriage-Obsessed
The marriage-obsessed woman. There is an underlying assumption about Christian women—that we are looking to lock up the first fool who falls for our charms—that romance and domestic tranquility are always our top priorities. After attending a Christian college, I can testify that male-female relationships are often driven by this stereotype.
Christian men and women struggle to have meaningful platonic relationships, because women are often portrayed as being desperately in search of a husband. It gets a little old. Women are painted as aggressive and inactive at the same time—scavenging for a husband while putting life on hold until that trip down the aisle.
Just have a listen to sermons that tell women to wait patiently for the man of their dreams to sweep them off their feet, or the thousands of books that reassure women that God is preparing their significant other for them. How many of those books and sermons are directed at men?
This myth is incredible destructive, because women are defined by whether or not a man wants to “snap them up.” This is the “nice” version of the manipulator caricature from my first list. Women are determined to get what they want, in this case marriage, and again, men are malleable to their influence. It is not a picture of a mutual, adult relationship in which both men and women seek to form meaningful attachments to others.
Women are also simplified. Their humanity, their hearts, and their complex natures are distilled into a single dream and purpose. Their ambitions and even their selfhood are portrayed as secondary, periphery to their main purpose—marriage. Sexist myths that paint women as marriage-obsessed are a contradiction of men and women’s ultimate purpose: to honor and serve God.
I want to demolish sexist myths for the sake of men and women who have long felt enslaved by them. I know what it feels like. I really do. I have been a slave to gender stereotypes—in the church and the world, yearning to contradict, yet not daring to step outside the boundary of Christian womanhood. Men and women have walked in the shadow of sexist myths and gender-biased socialization for too long.
It is my deepest wish to see men and women step out into the sunshine—out of myth and into the reality of the gospel. These mythical gender ideologies that prescribe identity to men and women are built on culture, not Christ. And, we need to call the church on it.
These myths are based in assumption and stereotype, and in a cultural need for absolute dichotomy at the expense of the humanity men and women share. But most importantly, they are a tear in the fabric of the church. The church cannot afford to base its culture in sexist myths.The body of Christ cannot afford to make sexist stereotypes a part of life together.