There’s a lot of excellent reading material on the benefits of egalitarianism, but I believe that it’s also important to be upfront and honest about the potential risks of equality, particularly for men. When considering a transition from patriarchy/complementarianism to egalitarianism, men should be aware of the consequences of this significant theology shift.
Below are three risks men will take when embracing equality:
1. Shared Power
Men who invite equality into their lives will have to give up their place of sole authority. In other words, they will be asked to share.
To be clear, equality between men and women will not take way men’s personal authority, but it will make room for women to exercise their personal authority too. Further, it will introduce relationships of mutual authority in the church, home, and world.
Equality requires men to release their grip on one-sided power. Then again, shared authority only scares those who are overly concerned with their own power and control.
2. Full Accountability
Perhaps one of the biggest risks egalitarian men take is in submitting themselves to the full accountability that accompanies gender equality.
Women unbound by patriarchal structures will have both the confidence and ability to hold men accountable for their actions. No longer will men be able to rely on a “good old boys club” which predominantly regards men’s side of the story as just and normative. No longer will they be able to easily overlook the female experience and perspective.
With equality comes greater responsibility for words, actions, and even inaction. Then again, full accountability only scares those who have something to hide.
If men embrace equality, they will no longer be able to derive their worth or sense of masculinity from their ability to provide for, protect, or lead women.
John Piper, a strong voice in the complementarian movement said, “To the degree that a woman’s influence over a man, guidance of a man, leadership of a man, is personal and a directive, it will generally offend a man’s good, God-given sense of responsibility and leadership, and thus controvert God’s created order.”1
Notice how the security of a man is tied to his relationship with a woman vs. independent self-confidence.
Men will not be able to depend on the subordination of women to stroke their self-confidence or confirm their manhood. They will be forced to deal with their own insecurities and come to an independent sense of self-worth unrelated to their position over another.
Then again, independence only scares those who are insecure about their own worth and identity.
The crux of the matter is this: patriarchy feeds on fear and insecurity while equality gains its nutrients from confidence and freedom.2 If a man is not ready to face his fears and insecurity, if he is not ready to be accountable, and if he is not ready to share power, then egalitarianism is a risky business for him.
Freedom comes with equality—for both men and women. This freedom is experienced when a person’s sense of self is rooted in independent security, a security based in his or her own relationship with God and not in relation to others.
Confident men are not intimidated by strong, independent, leading women. They are inspired by them, because their identity is rooted in Christ, not hierarchy.
Disclaimer: This is not to say that all who believe in complementarian theology are abusive. In fact, for many, the belief is merely abstract while their everyday actions are functionally egalitarian. It is, however, important to note the ties between patriarchal thinking, power, control, and insecurity.
Notes and Sources
2. Complementarianism is characterized by male authority over women, which fits the definition for patriarchy. Patriarchy (male privilege) is a form of sexism which is categorized as a type of abuse. The motivation for abuse is power and control. The need for power and control resides in one’s own insecurities.
Defining Terms (Merriam Webster’s Dictionary)
Patriarchy: a family, group, or government controlled by a man or a group of men.
Sexism: prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially discrimination against women; behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex.