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Posts Tagged ‘gender roles’

Marriage has all kinds of romantic and spiritual functions. I’ve tried to explore them in my previous four posts. But it also has some practical functions. The practical ones are the ones I’m focusing on today.

Ultimately, if nothing else, I believe God invented marriage to take care of some essential human needs.

Basically, I believe marriage is meant to guarantee that every human being who chooses to be married has a partner to care for his or her needs for the rest of his or her life. It hasn’t always worked that way, to be sure, but I believe that’s what it’s meant to do.

The conjunction of male and female means that the unique gifts/strengths/abilities of each sex are available for meeting the needs of daily life. Marriage between a man and woman increases the number of talents and abilities to draw from more than any other relationship because it combines the strengths of both genders. And I really believe that each sex has unique strengths to offer.

When thinking this through, at one point I actually concluded that marriage is primarily designed for the benefit of women. I have since reconsidered, and decided that it was made for both sexes equally, but I still concede that marriage is pretty important for women.

Marriage was designed in part as insurance that each woman gets properly taken care of.

Here’s how I thought about it. I figured God must have been able to foresee that because he made men physically bigger and stronger, and designed women’s bodies to bear children (thereby making them more vulnerable, especially when pregnant), that men would abuse and exploit women. And he was right: they have, and they do.  Men quickly began to wield all social and economic power, too. So God decided, “Every woman should have a husband to protect and defend her, and her offspring, against other men. Each man must commit himself to only one woman, and not go around impregnating all kinds of women and then abandoning them. He must take care of her, and all the children she produces, for life.”

See, the difficulty with creating women to bear the children is that it makes them intrinsically tied to their offspring, and thus more susceptible to neglect and abuse, unlike men. A man can technically walk away from the relationship the moment he has impregnated a woman and never look back. A woman at least has to bring the child to term, and then feed the baby from her own body. So God said, “No way – you’re sticking around, gentlemen. ONE WOMAN AND THAT’S IT – FOR LIFE. So make it good.”

So he came up with marriage, to serve that practical function.

(Unfortunately, lots of men decided to take lots of wives anyway. And even within monogamous marriages men have abused and exploited women horribly throughout history. But the principle behind it makes sense).

But then I later came to understand that women are just as necessary for men as men are for women. God created women to save men, too. After all, he called Eve Adam’s ezer kenegdo. That’s the Hebrew term used in Genesis 2 – the term that has been lamely translated as “helper” or “helpmeet” in most English translations. According to Hebrew scholar Robert Alter, though, ezer kenegdo is better translated as “sustainer beside him” or something to that effect.[i] In fact, ezer is often used in the Old Testament to describe God when he saves his people. You know that verse, “I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth”?  (Ps. 121:1-2, emphasis added). The word that’s translated as help here is the same word for Eve – ezer.

That’s what Eve is to Adam. His ezer. His lifesaver. His help in times of desperate need.

And what did Eve save Adam from?

I personally think she saved him from isolation. And that’s what all of us women do: we rescue men from eternal isolation.

I mean that on a deeper level than just the literal. Sure, Adam was literally alone at first, and so when God made Eve she saved him from physical solitude. But I think it’s more than that, too. I think that if God had populated the earth with thousands or millions of Adams, the problem would still be there. Men would remain isolated, because they don’t have the gift of relationship that women have.

Men tend to be much more violent, reserved, self-absorbed, and territorial. They’re not nearly as good at empathizing, bonding, nurturing, sharing, reading people’s emotions, or expressing themselves as women are. I’m not just listing stereotypes, I’m repeating what I learned in Psychology 101. Women are much better at all of these things. Guys, in general, suck at connecting.

This is clear from history: men have almost always had the majority of the power in most human communities and civilization, and as a result have flooded human history with violence. Men stab and blow each other up because they can’t connect. They can’t get outside their own egos. I truly believe that as women gain influence in societies, they bring with them their powers of empathy and connectedness, and this is a good thing. These qualities help civilizations get along. Men need women to help them not kill each other so much.

I’ve heard it said, “Behind every successful man there is a woman.” I deeply believe that this is true. Often it is a wife, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be – it could be a mother or sister.  Every successful man must have a woman somewhere who made him who he is.  Without wives, mothers and sisters, men would not be able to come out of their caverns of self-absorption and learn to love.

I believe that this is true of mankind in general but also on an individual level. Most men need women to help them connect with other members of the human species. I know my husband needs me for this purpose.

I once read that statistically, that if an elderly woman loses her husband, she can usually go on living for many more years if she is physically healthy. But when an old man loses his wife, he usually dies shortly thereafter. He has lost his link to humanity and thus expires.

I’m not saying by any means that woman’s only gift to humanity is her relational powers, nor that a man’s only contribution to a marriage is his strength in beating off violent offenders.  But I think that these are some of the practical reasons God instituted marriage. Eve’s ability to nurture and empathize rescues Adam from his self-imposed isolation, and Adam’s bodily strength protects his physically vulnerable wife.*

Men need women and women need men. That’s why God created marriage – to enable men and women to rescue one another, from man’s violence and from eternal isolation.

This is my theory, anyway. What do you think?

What am I forgetting? How else do husbands and wives or men and women save one another? How else does each of the sexes contribute to the cohesion, health and success of the human species? How else does marriage serve a practical function? Also, is there a better way of describing Eve’s strength than ”gift of relationship” or “relational powers?” I sense that these terms are lame.


[i] Eldredge, John and Stasi. Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman’s Soul. Nashville: Nelson, 2005. 31.

*I’m also not saying that every woman and every man has these gender-specific gifts, or at least not in equal share. But in general, women are better at the one thing and men are better at the other.

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“Wife” — Ugh.

I’m not a fan of the word “wife.”

The word “husband,” on the other hand, is a different story.  In my mind, it has a rather heroic, chivalrous sound to it.  A husband can be romantic yet masculine; he can be young and virile and smart.  The word suggests loyalty and devotion, but is not beyond a little mystery and charm.  I love the sound of the word: husband.  Yes, please; I would like to have a husband.  The word sounds larger-than-life.

But “wife”? I’m not such a fan.  I can’t quite shake the barefoot-and-pregnant-in-the-kitchen image that comes with it.  The word “wife” conjures up images in my mind of apron-strings, head scarves, pleated floral dresses and submissive, downcast eyes.  The word is associated in my brain with pastel colours, hair curlers, and . . . paper napkins.  I’m not sure why the paper napkins.  I guess because they’re tidy, flavourless, and practical.  Square.  Absorbent. They have no character of their own.

I read a lot of blogs and books written by men.  A lot of them are married men.  That’s cool: like I said, “husbands” are awesome.  They’re amorous and manly.  But any time they refer to their wives, I instinctively think, “Ick.”  Wife implies a woman who lacks of personality, sensuality, and/or eccentricities of her own.

Wife is the opposite of edgy.  It does not suggest a hot body, or a classy wardrobe, or a spunky personality.  It does not suggest a keen mind or mad skills.  Boo.  I don’t want to be a wife.

You can imagine, then, that I didn’t look forward to taking on this title.  I was actually more eager to take on the “Mrs” salutation than the title of wife.  “Mrs” is so unexpected and novel on a girl my age that it makes it kind of funky, in my opinion. I like it: Mrs. Kathleen Quiring. I dig the sound of that. But to call myself Ben’s wife? Ugh.

Yet, I reluctantly take it on. For, when I consider all the alternatives, I have to conclude that wife is the best title I can come up with.

Consider with me some of the alternatives.

“Girlfriend,” apart from being misleading (for I have in fact married Ben in a real-life, old-fashioned wedding ceremony), suggests a lack of commitment and maturity. It suggests frivolity. It suggests high school romance.  I’ve never thought the word befitting to any female adult: women in their twenties and thirties who are in serious relationships ought not to be “girlfriends,” in my (admittedly limited) opinion. There needs to be a better word out there for that.  It just doesn’t sound serious enough.  REJECTED.

“Lover” is no better.  True, at least it is more adult-sounding, but then it is also laced with a teensy bit of scandal.  Although more accurate than “girlfriend” (Yes, I am Ben’s lover and he is mine), it carries overly-erotic overtones for my liking – it suggests raciness and trace amounts of fickleness.  At one point in the history of the English language, “lover” implied something more like “one who is smitten with adoration,” but now it seems to mean nothing more than “sexual partner.” And I am so much more than that to Ben.  Plus, you can’t go around using that term in everyday conversation.  “Yeah, my lover and I were thinking we’d go see that movie together when it came out.” Uhn-uhn. REJECTED.

The popular, contemporary alternative to all of this is “partner.” It has the benefit of being gender-neutral and making you sound educated and left-leaning . . . if you’re into that kind of thing. Professional people – particularly liberal-arts professors, it seems – love referring to their mates as “partners,” even if they’re heterosexual and even if they’re married in the old-fashioned sense.  It’s so hip and P.C.  But for some reason I hate this word more than any other.  It suggests that I am anti-marriage or anti-institution, which I’m clearly not.  I’m proud that I’m married, that I had a wedding and wore the white dress and everything.  I’m proud that I have made a life-long commitment to a solitary man and that I’m capable of making vows, even at my age.  I’m proud that I haven’t been suckered into the world’s version of sub-par sexual relationships, promoted by the media.  And I don’t want to make strangers wonder whether or not I’m a lesbian by referring to an absent “partner.” I want to be clear on that: my partner is a man.  So: REJECTED.

“Mate” suggests the animal kingdom.  Zebras and hippopotamuses have mates.  REJECTED.

So . . . “wife” it is.  Sigh. I guess I just have to accept the term with all its obedient, dutiful connotations.

Unless you have any better suggestions. Maybe there are more appealing alternatives out there that I haven’t considered.  Do you have any? I wouldn’t have to use it all the time, of course; but it would be nice, if, every once in a while, I could toss around a term that didn’t have such undertones of subservience and feminine passivity. Any suggestions?  I would love to hear some of your ideas.

Alternatively, feel free to tell me my assessments of the above terms are stupid and/or dead-wrong. Go ahead. I can handle it. What do you think of the word “wife”?

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I’ve learned a little trick for dealing with my negative attitudes towards certain tasks:

If an activity is unattractive, think of it as an art form.

See, here’s the deal: before I was married, I loathed the thought of performing domestic, traditional-wifey tasks. I dreaded the thought of cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, baking, childcare, et cetera: if it was “woman’s work,” I didn’t want to have to do it.  I thought that stuff was lame.  I even thought I wasn’t good at it.  I told Ben, before we were married, that I wouldn’t pack his lunches for him like his mom did. “If anything, I’ll fill one big container full of food for you and you can take that to work.  Don’t expect me to put all kinds of snacks into all kinds of baggies for you,” I said.  I could tell he was disappointed to hear this but I wanted him to be prepared. I was not a wifey kind of girl.

Things started to change when, after I was married, I found I was actually quite good at a lot of these things. I had to cook since Ben was completely useless in the kitchen; and I soon found that cooking came quite naturally to me, even though I hadn’t done much at home.  My meatloaves and casseroles always turned out beautifully.  My cheesecakes were surprisingly delightful.  I also kind of got interested in natural health, which got me thinking a lot about nutrition; that in turn led me take cooking more seriously.  And I found I liked things neat and tidy in the house, so I found myself cleaning quite regularly.  I liked for my home to be pleasantly ornamented and colour-coordinated. I liked my yard to be attractive and well-kept, and I enjoyed planting bulbs and flowers.  Oh frig: I was becoming a traditional wife.

I needed a new way to think about all this domestic stuff. I needed a way out of the unappealing identity that I was becoming entrapped inside. I hated the thought of being a traditional wife but I was doing – and enjoying! – all the stuff that traditional wives did. I was experiencing “cognitive dissonance” and I needed a way to reconcile my inner conflicts.

So I began to think of these tasks as various art forms, and myself as an artist. “Cooking” became “culinary art” or “cuisine.” My concern for interior spaces became a penchant for “interior design.” My interest in plants and shrubs became an interest in “landscaping.” You get the idea: I began to tell myself that I wasn’t a traditional wife performing obligatory duties; I was an artist seeking self-expression.  In things like cooking and decorating and gardening.

I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek and self-deprecating here, but I honestly have begun thinking about these tasks in a new light and it has really changed the way I live my life.

My perspective on cooking changed the most radically. Before I was married, I dreaded the thought of cooking because I had always seen it as a duty that women had to perform for their families.  It was a degrading task, unfairly foisted upon women through history because they were physically weaker. Women couldn’t join in on the fun and important stuff that men got to do, like hunting and travelling and getting university degrees, so they had to stay home and cook.  Cooking was a thankless, rather mindless job.  It was primitive.  It was for boring people.  It wasn’t concerned with individuality, which was a really big deal to me at the time (I was soooo self-absorbed. Maybe I still am).  But ever since getting married and taking over the kitchen in our home, cooking has actually become one of my favourite activities.  I love it.

Cooking is an opportunity to be creative: I enjoy trying new recipes from around the world and experimenting with different exotic spices. I love inventing my own recipes based on old ones that I’ve mastered, or trying to imitate foods that I have enjoyed in restaurants.

But I also love cooking for all kinds of other reasons, too. I have decided that it’s an elemental practice that deserves respect because it helps me to get me in touch with my humanity. It connects me with other cultures and people throughout history.  When I knead bread, for example, sinking my fists deep into flour and water and oil and shaping it into loaves, I am participating in an ancient practice that has been performed by human beings since the beginning of time.  The fact that it’s primitive is beautiful to me now – it’s historical and mysterious, and a little bit magical.

I also now believe that cooking is an honourable job because it is so essential.  My cooking provide nourishment for our bodies: I provide sustenance.  I prepare the food that keeps us alive. Cooking is life-giving.

I have found that cooking is even a source of power. I choose the menus in this household. I set the schedule for our meals. I have the last say in what we put in our mouths. I get to make what I want, and Ben has very little input in this.  Furthermore, I am taking control of what we eat.  Instead of letting other people (like restaurants) decide what I consume, I take food into my own hands. Literally.

Cooking is even political.  If I think it’s morally problematic to eat animals or genetically modified foods, or to buy products from ethically-questionable providers, I make the decision to avoid those foods in favour of ethically acceptable foods. As fellow blogger Sarah puts it, I vote with my wallet, and food is a particularly important sphere.  I make choices that have political implications, and these choices are significant.

In short, cooking is artistic. It’s ancient. It’s beautiful. It’s powerful. And it’s political.

Sweet.

I’ve found that this is true for a lot of things I formerly considered lame: there is a lot more to certain activities than meets the (young, closed-minded) eye. Like gardening: I used to think it was just for grannies and other people who didn’t have productive or interesting lives (Sorry, grannies. I haven’t had very positive grandma role models).  Now I feel that gardening is a sexy hobby that helps me to get in tune with the earth and with the rhythms of nature.  It gives me an opportunity to be creative outdoors.  It takes aesthetics into account, and speaks to the human soul.  Stuff like that.  It totally rocks.

I think it’s helpful to think about these tasks in this new light.  It has allowed me to explore all kinds of new realms of life that I wouldn’t have considered before I was married. I’m even starting to think that mothering seems pretty awesome.  I have learned that just because something is “domestic” and has been traditionally practiced by women it is not necessarily tedious or pathetic.  Women have actually engaged with glorious, meaningful crafts, and I should be proud to participate in them.

This is not to say that cooking, cleaning, gardening, et cetera are only for women, or that women must perform them; I’m just saying that a lot of these things that have traditionally been done by women are actually pretty awesome and that jerks like me should reevaluate them from a more open-minded perspective if we find ourselves being prejudiced against them.

What do you think?


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