Check out a follow-up list of "Four More Sexist Myths That The Church Should Reject."
We’ve all heard them. Stupid jokes and thoughtless comments. Sexist sayings and caricatures. From the pulpit, at the altar, in school, from boyfriends, girlfriends, teachers, parents, and friends. People pass off myths as facts and case-by-case examples as universal truth.
Women are like this and men are like that. Women are obnoxious. Men are arrogant. Women are needy and men are emotionally unavailable.
These statements are infused with cultural and gendered assumptions. They have no basis in the gospel and what’s more, they are rooted heavily in socialization. And yet, despite Christians’ pledge to reject unhealthy and sinful cultural messages, these painful and divisive gender jokes and ideologies have infiltrated the church.
1. Men Are Bad Parents
This one is a classic. Men are hapless, bumbling fathers who hold their kids incorrectly, forget to warm up the bottle, and have to pass their wailing infants over to their wives, who can then use their superpowers to pacify them. I’ve watched this scene in more than a few comedies. And I. Don’t. Buy. It. This line is cheap and it sells men so short it breaks my heart.
Women are not naturally superior parents. We learn and we make mistakes. It’s just that society isn’t always watching quite as amusedly when it observes the failings of mothers. Men love their children just as fiercely as women do. They are completely capable of tenderly holding their babies and consoling them in the early hours of the morning.
But when we make jokes that portray men as foolish, incompetent fathers, we participate in a system that says that men can’t be gentle, that they can’t be tender, that they can’t be sensitive and trustworthy. In short, we encourage men to fall short and women to compensate (and the same goes for housework).
2. Women Are Manipulators and Men Are Easily Manipulated
This one is as old as time. Eve, anyone? This joke usually goes something like: "you don’t even know you’re doing what she wants until you’ve done it," or "she always gets her way in the end anyway," or maybe something like "if the wife ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy." Many church fathers bought this one hook, line, and sinker. Augustine is a prime example.
This myth implies that women’s strength is in deception and falseness. That women get what they want by bending others to their will, by using their wiles to trick men into giving them what they want and when they don’t, well obviously, they do what they can to make everyone else miserable.
As a woman, this one bites deep. I don’t spend my days scheming to get what I want from men. And, I would argue that expecting to get what you want and then throwing a tantrum when you don’t is a mark of immaturity, not femaleness.
You might think this one is a harmless little gender war joke: men are stubborn and women are clever. But this actually paints two very ugly images of men and women: women are liars and men are hopelessly malleable.
Do we actually like the image of ourselves that this paints? I certainly don’t.
3. Men Are Primarily Sexual Beings and Women Are Not Sexual
Men are more sexual than women. It’s just biological. Never mind that some men have very low sex drives, and never mind that some women have very high sex drives. This gender myth has very little basis in reality—but it is a cultural value.
Particularly in the church, it is common to emphasize modesty and chastity in women—often for the sake of the oh-so-uncontrollable male sex drive. Those of us women who attended youth group growing up can probably recall lessons on shielding our bodies from our spiritual brothers’ wandering, lustful eyes. I’m calling this one.
While men and women do have biological and chemical differences, a given man is not necessarily more sexual than a given woman. And it doesn’t help women when the church pretends that men are the only sexual beings. In fact, women can feel alone, alien, and rejected if they do not fit the prescription of the non-sexual Christian woman. Further, when purity/modesty culture is the name of the game, women take on responsibility for the sins of those around them, imagining that they are culpable for others’ wayward hearts.
And on the flip side, men grow to view themselves as untrustworthy, uncontrollable, and primarily sexual. Both of these images fall heartbreakingly short of God’s healthy and beautiful intention for men and women. So, instead of prescribing a strong sex drive exclusively to men, let’s remember that sex is a gift from God—often enjoyed equally by men and women. Let’s do men and women a favor and start talking about female sexuality in Christian culture.
4. Men Are Protective (Exclusively) and Women Like Being Protected
Okay, this is the myth that really kills me. Men just instinctually protect, right? I’ve got some news for you, culture. It’s not a guy thing, it’s a human thing to take the hit for the people you love. It’s the human thing to want to save the people you care about from hurt. I’m a woman and it’s also my instinct to protect those around me, emotionally and physically, because that’s part of being in relationship with people.
In my experience, women have a ferocious will to protect and provide. It’s just a part of loving people wildly—the way Jesus calls us to. It’s also part of the gospel call. We lay down our lives daily for Christ, for what’s right, and for those that need us—out of love and a desire to serve.
And yet, complementarians would have Christians believe that women should sit on their hands and let men do the protecting. But what if women don’t want to be protected? What if we want to have your back, men? What if we want you to have ours? What if we want to protect men too? What if we want a partner and not a knight in shining armor? Maybe it’s not as glamorous, but it sure is empowering. And I’ll take that any day.
So, let’s stop shoving men into the role of protector and hero and cornering women into the role of victim and damsel. Let’s instead define ourselves by our humanity and the call on all Christians to protect and serve each other and the world.
Enough of these mythical formulas for male and female identity. Nobody wins and nobody is free, because we remain slaves to the worst gender stereotypes and the divisiveness of sin. Let’s embrace a rhetoric in the church and in everyday life that says that men and women are whole, competent, capable, complete human beings who cannot be diminished by ignorance, stereotypes, or sexist myths.