Over the past few decades, we’ve slowly been eroding what it means to be male and female. Recently this movement has culminated in normalizing transgenderism and the vilification of anyone who stands upon a traditional definition of male and female. Just last week, President Obama mandated that public schools allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms of their stated gender rather than their biological gender. The University of Vermont and other colleges now allow students to select their preferred personal pronouns (like xe, hir, or zir) in their student database.
These shifts in how we approach gender encourage a young boy or girl to ask the question, “Do I feel like a male or female?” As a result, the number of children seeking help for gender confusion has increased 1000 percent within the last five years.
The powers that be claim that making gender fluid and subjective will bring freedom. I believe it is leading to bondage…. a bondage that will wreak mass havoc on future generations. Yes, there are tragically some among us who experience profound brokenness in their sexuality and gender identification. The Gospel calls us to extend compassion and love in those circumstances. However, validating brokenness by redefining “health” will not set people free.
There is no freedom without the security of certain unquestioned assumptions. Psychological research has for decades validated the importance of predictability in our environment. Imagine if on your daily commute, you discovered that we no longer required drivers to stay on the right side of the road. Those who feel Australian or English could drive accordingly on the left side of the road. Would this “progressive” change make you feel more secure? We understand the need for certain unchanging truths in our physical world, but we seem to have forgotten their importance in our emotional and spiritual world.
While you are not likely to be one of the less than 1% of our population that battles gender confusion, you have undoubtedly been impacted by the erosion of your own understanding of male and female. The lines have become blurred leading to insecurity and confusion. Nowhere is this more evident than in marriage.
Before you start making assumptions, please understand that I am not advocating a return to “women should be barefoot and pregnant.” After all, I have a doctorate, run a ministry and enjoy expressing my thoughts when I have the opportunity. If we look back a century, there are many injustices evident to women, minorities and those who were broken.
However, there was an unquestioned assumption that gender is a constant and that men and women are created with differences. While those differences are most obvious in our anatomy, they also impact emotions, relationships, and how a person perceives the world. As we have grown more sophisticated in brain science, we can quantify gender differences that affect thinking like the fact that males use nearly seven times more gray matter for activity while women utilize almost ten times more white matter. This accounts for a woman’s greater capacity to multi-task while men excel in task-related projects.
While we argue about gender differences in theological and political settings, no one argues about these truths as they play out in daily life. For example, many comedians make their living by bringing out the humor of men and women trying to understand each other. When a comedian jokes about how to respond to a woman’s question, “Do these pants make me look fat?” we laugh, we don’t argue. We know it reflects a truth that women often feel self-conscious about their bodies. The same joke wouldn’t be funny if it were reversed. I’ve never heard a comedian tell jokes about a woman who won’t stop watching ESPN or a man who constantly nags about leaving your dirty underwear on the floor. Yes, these are stereotypes, but they also tap into a reality we know to be true. Men and women are different.
The Bible reflects gender differences as well, particularly within marriage. While men and women are equal, they are unique reflections of the image of God. We see from Scripture that God calls husbands to be the servant leader of the family and wives are meant to support that leadership. I believe God gives us a lot of room to work out the application of gender roles within marriage based on our circumstances, culture and personalities. However, there are some essential elements of gender in marriage that we ignore to our own peril.
A woman was designed to rest in the strength and protection of her husband. You may be very angry at me for writing that last sentence. It may have pushed some powerful buttons in your mind and heart. However, I believe that statement represents truth. While a woman may be capable of defending herself, providing for herself and protecting her family, that was never God’s intention for her. I have met hundreds of competent women who are angry at their husbands for their failure to lead, provide and protect.
In the same vein, men were created to be esteemed and encouraged by their wives. Several years ago, I wrote a book called Finding the Hero in Your Husband. As I’ve watched people react to the title of that book, it appeals to both men and women. Every woman wants to be married to a guy who has heroic qualities and every man wants to be seen as a “hero” by his wife. The primary unspoken struggle in many marriages is that both the wife and husband are disappointed by his unwillingness or inability to step up and be a man. I don’t think the title Finding the Hero in Your Wife would have the same appeal!
The erosion of gender has exponentially complicated marriage. How can a man become a man if his mentors and friends aren’t allowed to even acknowledge what healthy masculinity looks like? How can a young woman nurture the qualities of her femininity if she is repeatedly told that she should be just like a man?
The tension related to gender and marriage has lead to two diametrically opposing views. One camp says that there should be no difference between a husband and wife. They are interchangeable based on personality, gifts and circumstances. The other camp defines the role of husband in wife in very clear, uncertain terms like the husband should make more money than the wife and the woman should be in charge of the kids. Honestly, I believe there are flaws in both of these views. While men and women are not interchangeable in marriage, the application of their specific gender may play out in a wide variety of healthy family dynamics.
For example, a friend of mine has been the sole breadwinner for her family for fifteen years. This is not because her husband is lazy or passive, but because he is the pastor of an inner-city church for homeless people. The paycheck my friend earns allows her husband to follow God’s call on his life.
The world we live in is changing so quickly, it’s hard to keep up. A young couple getting married today has very little sense of what a healthy husband and wife should look like. Rather than give freedom, this creates insecurity and often sets a couple up for frustration as they strive to meet each other’s emotional needs. If you are saddened by the cultural erosion of gender in our world, it may be appropriate to ask how this erosion has subtly impacted you. While we may not be able to reverse the alarming trends in our culture, we can take initiative to honor God’s design for male and female in our own families.