Should gender roles in marriage be imposed by society or by God?
Is the division of labor between man and women biologically decreed or decreed by divine power?
The answers to these questions will dramatically affect how your home
functions, how you relate to your spouse, and the example and attitudes
you pass on to your children.
Let’s imagine a very real scenario. Two people get married. The husband has a college degree and the wife is a dental hygienist. She makes enough money to pay the bills, live comfortably and make payments on her husband’s college debt. Her husband can’t really find a job which utilizes the degree he earned so he works part time with his Dad and is very involved at his local church. She admires his spiritual leadership and enthusiasm and they have a wonderful first year of marriage. Then, despite using birth control she gets pregnant. It is a no brainer to her that she will stay home with their baby and her husband should go get a “real job.” It’s a no brainer to him that he should stay home since she gets paid better which would allow him to continue being active volunteering at church. What should he do? She refuses to go back to work because of “spiritual convictions” and he believes God is calling him to continue in lay ministry. But he feels pressure from her and her family that “if he doesn’t provide for his house….he is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8). Both have “spiritual convictions” that are conflicting!
How things have changed
Since the feminist movement gained speed in the 1960’s and 70’s, gender roles in marriage have changed in the United States. With the mass entry of women into the workforce, the availability of the birth control pill, the rights of abortion, and free child care, the identity and expectations of males and females have evolved. The traditional view of the husband being the leader of the home and bread-winner while the wife raises the children and maintains the home, has shifted dramatically.
Currently “28 percent of women now out earn their husbands, a trend driven by the fact that more women than men now earn college degrees.”(Source) This has led to 25% of marriages where husbands are taking on the primary care giving role because his wife makes more money than he does (this number was only 4% in 1970).(Source)
Men have always been expected to be the “head” of the family whose primary role was to provide and protect. But with the manufacturing era coming to an end (in 2000, manufacturing lost 6 million jobs; more than 1/3 of its total workforce) (source), men have less manual labor jobs, putting them in unemployment. In 1950, 1 out of 20 men were unemployed, now it is 1 out of 5, the highest ever recorded. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most over the next decade, men dominated in only two of them, janitor and computer engineer. The other ones are nurturing professions like nursing, home health assistance, child care, and food preparation, which of course, women dominate in. “Theoretically, there is no reason men should not be qualified. But they have proved remarkably unable to adapt”(source)
With this shift, men are asking, “Who’s the man?” and their response is, “she’s the man.”
“Frankly, it's a confusing time to be a young man. Everyone is telling guys they're destined to fare worse than their fathers' generation and their employment and financial prospects are dwindling. But our culture also pays lip service to the idea that a new man can embrace his emotional side, can be a nurturer, and should be valued for more than his wallet. But that's often drowned out by calls to "man up" by beer commercials, political candidates, and sports commentators. Who are young men supposed to be? Don Draper? Phil Dunphy? A stoic sports hero?” (source)
As a result of women working more, 70% of children are growing up in households in which all adults are in the work force. (Source) Although studies show this does not negatively impact children, it has placed a strain on many marriages.
Some couples don’t mind traditional role reversals and are quite happy with going against the status quo, but a few studies claim that these unions tend to be unstable. Some women think of their husband as losers and get frustrated at their husband’s performance with helping in household chores. Unfortunately these attitudes have resulted in an exploding number of single parent households headed by women. The changes in gender roles in marriage have created a tricky and sometimes uncomfortable power dynamic between spouses. While women have more options, men are being led to question what it means to be a man.
So, let’s go back to our original question about gender roles in marriage. Would it be biblically wrong for the man to stay home while the wife works? How should we view this radical shift happening in society where gender roles in marriage are being reversed? To answer this we must see how much of the traditional gender roles in marriage come from Biblical interpretation and how much comes from society’s cultural expectations.
Biblical Gender Roles in Marriage
Just like a football team has specific positions, and businesses have a certain chain of command, a marriage must have clearly defined responsibilities where both parties know, accept and fulfill their varying but complimentary roles. This is essential to unity. If there are disagreements or role descriptions are ambiguous, then blaming, conflict, resentment, and confusion will be the result.
We can learn a lot about the gender roles in marriage simply from one chapter in the Bible.
Ephesians 5:22-33 is the marriage passage. Verses 23 and 25 tell us a lot about the role a husband should have. It says, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church….25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”
According to Ephesians 5:23 the husband’s two main responsibilities are:
If you are a man, study the life of Christ in depth daily so you can truly fulfill your high calling in marriage.
Knowing these things will not promote oneness in marriage. Performing them will.
(These points were taken from “Strengthening Your Marriage” by Wayne Mack, pages 31-46)
Again, let’s look at Eph 5 to see what the biblical gender roles in marriage are.
Verse 22 says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. 24 Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything….33…the wife see that she reverence her husband.”
Let’s also glean from Genesis 2, the other essential passage regarding God’s design for gender roles in marriage.
“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a help meet for him.” (Gen 2:18)
So, the wife really has two main responsibilities as well.
So, how can a woman be a suitable helper to her husband if she and her husband disagree as to what their jobs entail? Traditionally, she would be in charge of five important and very fulfilling jurisdictions.
So now we come to the point where we can actually answer the question of balancing the gender roles in marriage that the Bible prescribes and the shifting trends we see in society today.
Is it unbiblical to be a stay at home dad or a bread winning mom? Let’s answer that this way:
Can a husband still be the head of the home and love his wife while staying at home? I’d say he could.
Is a wife still able to respect her husband and be his helpmeet if she’s at work? Um…why not?
The husband may experience “feelings of inferiority, loss of self-esteem, and self-respect" (source) but that may just be because reversing the gender roles still feels a little “taboo”. On the other side of things, some husbands actually feel resentment from having to shoulder the full financial burden. They don’t like the pressure of knowing that without their paycheck, they would not have a home (Source).
it's common sense that God gave women breasts to feed babies and he
gave men more testosterone to do work. After the Fall, God's curse on
man was that he would work by the sweat of his brow and women would have
pain in childbearing. There is an implication that men were designed
for work outside the home and women would have more responsibilities
inside the family. It's interesting to note that all throughout the
animal kingdom, with a few exceptions, the female raises the young.
however, a couple should adopt whatever gender roles in marriage works
for them. Traditional gender roles are deeply socialized and culturally
and biologically reinforced but gender roles in marriage can be flexible
as long as the husband leads and loves his wife and the wife submits,
respects and serves her husband. These are not so much roles as they are
attitudes of the heart.
Whether you adopt traditional gender roles in marriage or challenge the status quo, this is an area that must be discussed and agreed upon in courtship (I've seen a couple get divorced over this! She wanted him to be the "head" of the home and he wanted equal partnership. Their differing paradigms tore them apart!) Study out biblical headship as well as submission and explore the practical impact your interpretation will have on your respective roles in marriage.
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