Did you see the Youtube video, “Riley on Marketing” that went viral? Diane Sawyer later interviewed little Riley, who ranted right in the middle of the toy store about how little girls like her get relegated to only pink princess toys while boys get all the other colors—and only the boys get to be superheroes.
Riley, who loves to dress up as Batgirl, pushed back against the kind of thinking that says “girl = only princess; boy = superhero.”
In a related conversation, my friend Rhonda expressed frustration that Crayola had a similar marketing mentality for their Story Studio™. Crayola’s web ad featured only boys for the superhero story lines. Rhonda wrote, “Of course, there is a princess story line. In pink. You know. For the girls. I think I should send Crayola Riley’s marketing advice.”
I see a similar version of gender stereotyping in the church. Two examples come to mind: first, only boys were made to be the communicators of truth; and second, that husbands only are designed for final decision-making.
First off, if only men are content providers and women made to receive content, why did any women in 1 Corinthians 11 exercise the gift of prophecy in public? Why did Paul assume women would speak truth at all? And why was it considered a beautiful sign of the Spirit’s presence when women prophesied on the Day of Pentecost (Joel 2, Acts 2)—a sign that will reach its fulfillment in the future? Was it only to men that Paul exhorted, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and exhorting one another with all wisdom” (Col. 3:16)? Was it only about males that the writer to the Hebrews lamented “By now you should be teachers” (5:12)?
As for the husband making all the final decisions, a lot of Christian marriage conference instructors tell couples who habitually make mutual decisions that the husband needs to man-up. As part of such teaching the couple is told that the husband should listen to his wife’s input and then make the final decision as “head.” Such instructors understand “head” as the top of an org chart, not a head connected to a body, operating as one unit with the goal of unity. (Notice sometime how Paul differentiates between “head of” and “head over.”) The teachers even sometimes explain their logic behind “man has final say” teaching by insisting that the couple would have a hopeless power struggle if they shared equal authority, so somebody has to make the decision. Yet some of these same teachers are elders in churches where all elders hold the same level of authority. And these groups of elders somehow manage to come to a consensus.
I saw an example recently of two mature Christians disagreeing. “You sit in the front seat next to the driver,” the husband told his young wife.
“No,” she said. “You sit up there.” She opened the door to the back seat.
They went back and forth another time, each insisting the other have the better seat. Seeing they were at an impasse, they both agreed that the husband should take the front because it had more leg room. That is how a mature disagreement looks. Both consider the other as more important. And they can work it out and come to a place of mutual agreement.
Let’s consider the only New Testament examples given for when a couple actually needs to make a decision. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul says the husband does not have final say about his own body; his wife does. And the wife does not have final say about her own body; her husband does. No hierarchy there. In fact it sounds a lot like mutuality. And when it’s time to abstain so they can devote themselves to prayer, the husband as the spiritual leader determines they should do so. Right? Wait. No. What? That’s not what Paul says?
The apostle assumes a mature couple can decide mutually, doesn’t he? He says nothing about the male taking spiritual initiative, being the spiritual leader or priest, having final say, manning up, or exerting his masculine influence. We see no princess and Superman here. It’s more like Batboy and Batgirl.
Some use Romans 5:12-21 as their basis of the idea that the husband has more spiritual authority than the wife. In this section of scripture, Paul talks about how the entire human race sinned through Adam. From Paul’s silence about Eve, people conclude she was held less responsible because Adam takes the heat. But that’s not at all the argument Paul is building! Instead, he is making a case about the first man and the Second Man—with the Second overturning the legacy of the first. Adam and Jesus were both sons of God in ways no other humans can claim. Both had their generation directly from God: Adam had no need for a belly button; Jesus’ biological Father was God. And the Second shall be First.
May we as women be filled with the Word so we may teach and exhort with all wisdom. And may the wives among us be all about unity with our husbands, standing side by side together with them. As we honor one another by Word-filled teaching and decision-making, we will do a better job of glorifying our Lord, who is the Head over all things (Eph 1:22).
Author Sandra Glahn teaches at Dallas Seminary, where she’s editor-in-chief of Kindred Spirit magazine. Among her 17 books are the Coffee Cup Bible Studies.
Originally posted January 17, 2012.