Undead Sexist Cliche: It’s not sexism, it’s just that women belong in chains

Slacktivist and Tony Jones discuss complementarianism, the belief that God has assigned men and women different roles (women at home, men out in the world, women submitting, men compassionately dominating). The complementarian view is that a)since God has assigned these roles, stepping outside them is a Bad Thing; b)this isn’t in the least sexist because while women have to obey, husbands have to take care and respect them, so it’s really a form of equality.
I don’t doubt that this works for some couples; I’ve known a few couples who believe in it, and knowing them, they may be able to make it work (I throw in “may” because life has taught me I’m not the best judge of whether my friends’ marriages are working). As a general principle, it’s a bad idea.
Complementarianism actually strikes me not so much as a religious concept as a religious variation on a secular concept. It’s quite common to believe women and men have the places they fit best without basing it on religion; usually the rationale is nature (Rush Limbaugh has said he’d never give a male employee paternity leave because it isn’t natural) or “traditional values” (columnist Suzanne Fields made that a staple of her arguments). It’s still a lousy concept, and for the same reasons.
The first flaw is that separate but equal (this isn’t an exact equivalent, but close enough) just doesn’t work. The dominant party always has the upper hand, and if they fail to honor their side of the deal—the respect and support the lesser party is entitled to—society (or their segment of it) often sides with them. The wife has to be patient, and tolerant, and go back to her husband and realize that guys are just Like That (whatever “that” is). I’ve read that pattern in multiple accounts of devout and conservative marriages that went horribly wrong (here’s another example). The party without power gets cheated.
The second and larger flaw is that not everyone fits in the slot they’re supposed to. As the blogger Jeanne d’Arc put it, believing in complementarianism as a general principle means “you believe that certain groups of people have a ‘place’ in society that exists outside of the context of what they are best at and how much potential they have to contribute to society – and regardless of how awkwardly they fit into that ‘place.'” And to paraphrase Thurston Howell III, the solution is usually to cut off a piece and make people fit.
It can’t work. Even if we assume both genders have a distinctive nature (I do not, but if—)—men out in the workforce, women staying at home being nurturing—no natural trait exists without variation. Some women would be less suited to staying home with the kids; some men would naturally gravitate to it.
And that’s not acceptable. The kind of binary thinking wrapped up in complementarianism comes with the urge to draw strict, sharp lines, with zero grey areas. North Carolina Pastor Sean Harris, for example, recently told parents to give kids “a good punch,” and “crack that wrist,” if their four-year old boy, for example, “starts acting a little ‘girlish.'” It’s okay for girls to play sports but parents have to tell them “sometimes you’re going to act like a girl and talk like a girl and talk like a girl, and smell like a girl, and that means you’re going to be beautiful, you’re going to be attractive, you’re going to dress yourself up’.”
Harris’ stated concern is that parents need to beat any sign of gayness out of their kid, but the fact he’s focusing on superficial details (do they dress up? Does the boy “man up”?) relates to what I’m talking about here.
Because once people decide someone belongs in a certain box, there’s a real terror that they might someday climb out of it.

7 Comments

Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

7 responses to “Undead Sexist Cliche: It’s not sexism, it’s just that women belong in chains

  1. Pingback: Linking, linking, linking « Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Undead sexist cliche: It’s only natural (for women to submit and men to rule) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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  4. Pingback: Rape apologist James Taranto and more undead sexist cliches | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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  7. Pingback: Complementarianism and other links | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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