Do gender stereotypes help or hurt?
It’s time for a new episode of the Bare Marriage podcast! I hope you all will listen, but if you don’t have time, I’ll have some links and rabbit trails below so you can read all you want as well!
And consider this podcast “extras”. If you want to go deeper into what I talked about in the podcast, here are some more things to help you.
But first, here’s the podcast:
Main Segment: Gender Stereotyping Needs to Stop
I’m going on a little bit of a rant here and talking about how we do far too much gender stereotyping–“Men are like X” and “Women are like Y.”
Now, there are some definite differences between the genders, and I go through some of the biological differences, like women having better and more acute hearing, while men have better spatial ability (on the whole). The problem comes, though, when we extend these biological differences to personality traits or character issues.
So I explain how not all men are logical and not all women are emotional. And then I go off on a rant about the concept of “biblical womanhood” and “biblical manhood”. Ever notice how people talk ad infinitum about biblical womanhood, but they so rarely talk about biblical women? When you look at actual biblical women, they rarely match these ideals of biblical womanhood.
And why does this matter? Because so much marriage advice is centered around gender roles. When people tell you that there is only one way to be a woman, don’t listen to them. Instead of trying to reclaim womanhood or manhood, I think we’d do far better to reclaim Christ. All of us are supposed to act like Christ, not “act like men” or “act like women”. And all of us are unique, with a unique part in God’s plan. So that’s okay to be you! And it’s okay if your marriage doesn’t fit the mold, either!
Rebecca and I continued this topic into the Millennial Marriage segment (with a brief interlude from Connor. 🙂 )
Intrigued by the personality differences talk? You may like these as well:
Reader Question: Why do I feel guilty for wanting better sex?
A woman asks:
- Why do women have an easier time working on sex if it’s “for the husband” instead of “for me”?
- When your sex life is wonderful, it energizes every other part of your life. God meant for this to be amazing; don’t feel guilty!
Are you and your spouse sexually disconnected?
Comment: I learned how to stand up for myself!
Today’s comment comes from a listener in an African country (I won’t say which one to protect her privacy, but I’m so happy that I have so many readers from so many countries! Around 10% of my readers are from the African continent, and I’m glad they’re here. Anyway, she wrote this long comment which pretty much speaks for itself:
He became more and more abusive everyday, until finally I couldn’t take it anymore. I left. 6 months in. I was done. I prayed, I cried, I asked him to change then waited patiently ‘on The Lord’ like the ‘respectful wife’ I was. But I was depressed. And I couldn’t live like that. Surely God would understand… or maybe not. My relationship with Him was messed up too because I was too busy trying to please my husband and it didn’t feel like God’s peace was on my side any more. He loved my husband more than me, and I should stay and pray (classic Christian pat answer), well I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to my sister’s but didn’t tell her why, and during my stay there is when I came across your post on signs of emotional abuse, and that if it’s happening I should do something about it, not be an enabler.
You see that photo of the woman hugging her husband but he was busy on his phone behind her back, that was me. Then I saw your series against the Love and Respect book, and story after story was talking also about me.
He begged me to come back and had a list of changes he promised to make. And he’s kept them. But I know it’s because I came back with a different mindset toward myself, marriage, submission and respect, all thanks to your God-ordained blog, otherwise we’d just have sunk back back to the cycle we were in before. So thank you for teaching me that marriage is for growing in godliness, that God doesn’t condone abuse toward women and that I should do what God requires of me (and it brings so much joy) over what will make my husband happy as he gives in to his selfish, carnal nature.
That’s exactly it. And that’s the danger of gender stereotypes. Instead of pointing us to Jesus and telling us to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit, they tell us that our lives can only look one way. And that’s when we get into all of these troubles!
If you’re one of the nearly 45,000 people on my email list, you would have received a copy of our report on our Love & Respect series last week, with all of the comments that we received analyzed. I also sent out a sample letter that you could send to your church or any organization that you’re concerned features the book. You can download those things on the bottom of any of the Love & Respect posts now!
So glad this dear woman found this blog, and I hope it helps you, too!
A Better Way to Honour God in Your Marriage:
One last thing about gender stereotypes wrapping this all up:
Sometimes when people use gender stereotypes it’s just laziness or ignorance. Their marriages are one way, and they assume that everybody else’s are as well.
But sometimes it’s about power. If people can tell you that there’s only one way to be a good woman or a good man, then they can label you as “bad”. If you’re in that kind of a relationship or that kind of a legalistic church, get help. That’s toxic. And it will never end well!
Are gender stereotypes hurting your marriage? Do you fit the mold or break the mold? Let’s talk in the comments!
I see what the issue is, Sheila, maybe you find gender stereotypes problematic because it often doesn’t differentiate between SOME and ALL. Because at the end of the day stereotypes exists for a reason. In fact in the first segment you spent time giving examples of gender and genetic stereotypes between the sexes. All a stereotype means is that something has been observed to be practiced within a MAJORITY group but not ALL within that group. Like one of my favorite author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, said, “The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, it’s that they are incomplete.”
If i said to you MOST Indians drink tea that is a stereotype which has been observed to be true, however that doesn’t mean ALL Indians drink tea, obviously, but enough do to make it a stereotype. Even in the Bible we see stereotypes, the Israelite’s were to act distinctively from the gentile pagan nations. They had stereotypical look, cloths, worship, diet, and family structure that when pagans saw them they identified them as Israelite’s. Now did ALL of them act accordingly? No! Samson is a prime example. Even Christians are to act in certain ways because God has put a stereotype on us by commanding us to act in certain manners.
Obviously on judgment day we will all be judged INDIVIDUALLY and not as a group but here on earth to make life simpler we act in groups, also known as stereotypes. And i agree if SOME don’t fit into those stereotypes there is nothing wrong with them! They shouldn’t be condemned for it. Even in myself i see where MOST days i act my gender and ethnic stereotypes and other days i fit into neither character and i’m just the individual God made me. And i PERSONALLY have no problem with either category. As long as stereotypes are not endangering or hurting anyone i don’t find them problematic.
With that being said, Sheila, i truly think you will enjoy this Ted-talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, called The Danger of a Single Story. She talks exactly about the topic of this podcast. Here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D9Ihs241zeg
Oh, I agree, Kate. Stereotypes do exist for a reason. MOST women have lower libidos than their husbands. MORE women than men are feelers. Those are all true.
The problem becomes when the stereotypes start having a moral weight (“all women SHOULD be like this”) or (“all men SHOULD be like this”). That’s not right. And the other problem comes when most advice is framed as if the stereotypes are universally true. It leaves people feeling as if there’s something wrong with them. I know that I’m often kind of lazy and I do too often write with some stereotypes, which can then make people feel as if they don’t fit. I think that’s where the stereotypes can hurt!
Good, we agree then! 🙂
Wow!!! That reader question killed me, and the woman from Africa’s comment goes along with that mentality, to which I say to both:
GIRL, YOU ARE WORTH SO MUCH MORE!!!!!! We should primarily find our value in being children of the living God (who created you with the ability to experience phenomenal physical/sexual pleasure, btw), but also because we’re simply human beings and every human being has value and worth!!! Never think that you’re not worth sexual pleasure or somehow your husband’s actions towards you (like abuse) are your fault!!!! Good gravy, that infuriates me!!!! We are SOOOOO much stronger than that and worth so much more than that!!!
Some would argue this isn’t a 100% biblical/godly stance, but I can thank my grandmother (even more so than my own mother, since my grandma was naturally a very quiet, meek and godly woman with a very domineering, chauvinistic, ungodly husband) for teaching me to always stand up for myself and never take crap from no one because I was worth more than that!!! And so are you, ladies! Besides, if you don’t stand up for yourself especially in your marriage, who will! Even going along with the sentiments of Love & Respect and assuming that your husband has the best intentions, he’s still ultimately a selfish human being as we all are who is out for #1 – himself. If you just dismiss your feelings, wants and desires, you’re reinforcing the idea to yourself and to him that you’re not worth xyz (i.e. a great sex life, being respected in your marriage, etc) because not even you are willing to stand up for those things. So take a stand ladies!! You can still be a strong individual and be a godly woman and loving wife. Those all go hand-in-hand, in my opinion.
Amen, Natalie! Preach!
Is it too late to get a copy of that email on Love and Respect? I would so love to read that. I thought I was on the email list, but apparently I’m not.
I was raised in a church that strongly emphasizes gender rolls and submission, and since I had a stay at home homeschooling mom I internalized that even more. But my husband always put less emphasis on them than I did (although at the beginning of our marriage he tended to be controlling and more willing to lash out punitively if I stood up to him. Somewhere along the line he became a different man, and I always tell him that he is amazing. In all my life he is the ONLY person that I’ve even seen actually overcome and change something about their personality (hot tempered) for the better. But recently we’ve been discussing marriage and I was surprised that he also agreed that he wanted to have an egalitarian marriage. I’m still developing the confidence to make decisions without his permission (I still seek his input of those decisions effect anyone beside myself, because that’s what I’d want him to do as well). But I am thankful to no longer feel like I’m a child in our relationship. Letting go of the way that I’ve believed for so long has been tough, but the fruits have shown me that it’s well worth the effort.
Yay, Lindsey! Sounds like God is leading you in such a great way. And that’s amazing that He spoke to your husband first! I think what your husband went through is actually quite natural. Most healthy guys actually WANT a partner and a teammate, not someone they can boss around. They like having someone to stand alongside them.
The letter is right here. I’ll make sure you’re on the email list!
There are many culturally conditioned differences that have wrongly been attributed to biology. For example, you’ve all heard that women are more verbal than men, right? But when researchers dress up a baby like a girl (pink, lace, etc.) and hand “her” over to adults, the adults speak to her a lot more than they do to a baby dressed up like a boy (navy blue, sailor stuff), with whom they are more likely to roughhouse. Then as these kids grow up and the girls have more expansive vocabulary, better writing skills, etc. we say that girls are more verbal. Women are graduating from college at greater numbers than men are and we’ve only been able to attend college on an equal footing with men for less than half a century. So talk to your sons, parents, do not let them fall behind!
Rebecca, you might like this. I read a novel in which the female protagonist, who is like you in terms of flowers and chocolates, says that roses are not romantic, but generic. “Generic” because roses are the stereotypical thing women want, whereas “romantic,” she says, pays attention to the unique tastes of the individual person. This, of course, also means that if you happened to love roses, then Connor gifting them to you would be romantic. I like that re-framing of “romantic,” though it’s really a return to the original definition from the 18th century aesthetic movement that was romanticism, which emphasized individual difference.
I did not listen to the podcast, but reading about the woman who feels guilty for wanting better sex made me really sad. It made me think about gift giving. Giving gifts to my family brings me as much joy as it does them, and when I give a gift to my husband or daughter I delight in watching them use, explore and enjoy it. If they were to ignore it or feel bad about using it, I would be disappointed. I think God often feels the same about us. He delights in giving us good, pleasurable things. Yet often we feel bad enjoying His gifts. When sin is involved it can be wrong to seek our own pleasure, but pleasure in and of itself is not wrong. God did not create humans in a void, He created us in a world full of good things. Sin has distorted many of these, but originally creation was intended for our enjoyment and use. We don’t feel guilty about finding pleasure in growing pretty flower gardens, cooking delicious food, walking in the woods, making beautiful music, etc. Sex within marriage should be no different. If it is wrong for me to ever seek pleasure because I could be doing something more “godly” with my time and money, then it would be wrong for me to go hiking, to eat food that I enjoy, to read novels, to strive to play the piano better, etc. Yet none of these things are wrong, and neither is seeking to improve intimacy and enjoyment in your sex life. I think it makes God sad when we don’t use His gifts to their full potential. Furthermore, I believe that by enjoying God’s creation (which includes sex) we are worshipping Him (as long as we don’t elevate creation above the creator and so idolize it, or allow sin to continue in our lives). By improving sex in your marriage, you are bringing honor to God. By having better sex in marriage, you are using your mind and body more “perfectly” for one of their intended purposes, and therefore becoming a more perfect person, as God intends. Too often we equate self-deprivation with godliness. Certainly there are seasons and situations in which self-deprivation is necessary and good, but that does not mean that we should always live that way.
As a man I can say that gender stereotypes has had an negative effect on me. I dont fit the typical male role. I am not strong in any way. I struggle with being emotionally stable. I dont like sports and things like that. I grew up in a very traditional home with clear gender roles but living in a country that focuses on gender equality has helped me to say no to the typical gender roles. But I am still affected by it and have a complex relationship to it.
Because I am not so “manly” it happens that I now and then question my sexuality. I feel so feminine compared to the image of what a man should be. It also comes with some guilt. When you hear christians talk about how the man should be the leader and the strong one I always feel guilty. I am not the leader type. My wife is more of the leader type. She tries to live according to this idea about biblical gender roles but she doesnt fit it(and she doesnt care too much about it either). If she could she would make all decisions herself and she often does take decisions and ask me if it is ok knowing that I will probably say yes.
This scares me sometimes because I have heard many stories that say that the wife left because the husband wasnt taking his role as a leader very serious. She was making the decisions and he just followed and then one day she got fed up with it and left. And then its explained that its because they werent following Gods order for how the family should look(read a story like that by a husband whose wife wanted a divorce a couple of weeks ago. Those stories scare me. I think about my wife who is good at taking charge. I am sure she will become a boss one day after she finishes her studies. So I dont have a problem with her taking charge and checking with me if I agree on her decisions. But then it makes me feel guilty because I as a man am supposed to be the leader.
In many ways I am more emotional than my wife. I do more chores than her, almost all even if I am working. I do it because I believe Jesus says that I should serve my wife but also because I want to go against the typical gender roles. I need her more emotionally than she needs me. Maybe because I try to always see that her emotinal needs are met. At the same time I do sometimes get them. I cant lie that it feels good to be served. I recently noticed that I feel very manly and loved when my wife serves me the food. I dont demand it and I guess its a stupid thing that is there because of my upbringing but it does make me feel loved and manly. And even if I am not the leader type I do at times feel very respected when my wife wants me to have the last say. I have a difficult time to say no to herso we do what she wants anyways but in the occassions that I have said no and she respects that it makes me feel good in a way I didnt know I could. But I dont know if thats right or wrong. I dont try to demand such things.
There is a lot I could say about stereotypical gender roles and biblical manhood and womenhood. I just now that I am not the typical man. Not even after the standards that many claim are in the Bible. It makes me feel bad at times like I am going against Gods will for not being more manly or being more in charge. I dont want to go against Gods word by being to passive at the same time as I see that gender roles have a damaging effect. At the same time as I see that everything that has to do with gender is changing in a way that I dont always know if its Gods will. Its not always an easy topic
As long as you are the type of man/husband the Bible lays out for men/husband to be that is ALL THAT MATTERS! Not the cultural standard of manhood. If Jesus was walking in America today He would be considered a “beta male.” But we know He was the most Alpha male to have ever walked this planet. Like you i’m not the cultural standard of womanhood, i was nodding my head in agreement with Rebecca when she spoke about herself. But i know i’m the type of woman the Bible commands me to be, and THAT’S ALL THAT MATTERS!
If you can tell your wife what you told us here about how it makes you feel when she serves you food and the respect you feel when you have the last say will immensely help your marriage. Being afraid to tell her has nothing to do with your gender and everything to do with your personality type: you hate confrontations and conflict. Many women are that way and many men are that way too. Remember when Abraham went into Egypt he told Sarah to tell the Pharaoh she was his sister instead of his wife due to her beauty? He didn’t want confrontation with the Pharaoh, he was scared. It had nothing to do with his gender but everything to do with his personality of fear. He cooked meals when the 3 guests came to visit him, Jesus often cooked for his disciples, etc.
So, go on Google and type in , man, manhood, father, husband, etc. followed by Bible verses and start reading. That way you will get God’s opinion on the type of man you should be instead of man’s opinion.
Since she always checks with you before making decisions and respects your “no” when you disagree with her, I don’t see what the problem is (except for the annoying cultural stereotypes that keep us questioning ourselves). Also, how wonderful of you to support her studies and cheer her on by believing she will be boss some day! I have a male friend whose dad was so into traditional masculinity that he was mad at him for being a late bloomer when he was a kid. It’s a horrible thing to say, but his father’s early death liberated him. We all tease him that he is the gayest straight man we know. He is happily married with children, loves to dance (takes lessons with his wife), dress well, and make his own scarves. And I just think it’s great that a straight man can do all that instead of having to pretend to have different interests just so people wouldn’t question his orientation. Conversely, I have a female friend whose husband has no friends because they live in a small town where a man who doesn’t watch football cannot find friends. It’s so bad that she’s accepted a job in a big city, where gender roles are generally much looser. You said something about living in a country that promotes gender equality, so that’s great! (You’re not from Iceland, are you, the #1 country in gender equality?) Your worry about your wife leaving you seems to come from false biblical teaching and it actually reminds me of wives worrying their husband will leave if they don’t indulge their sexual fantasies they might be uncomfortable with. It’s different sides of the same coin, isn’t it? He’s supposed to be the leader and she’s supposed to be the sex-provider. I remember you wrote a very nice comment on the post in which Sheila addressed this issue about how a man shouldn’t pressure his wife, but that actually loving her will make her more open to new experiences. Also, if you care about gender equality, you probably only feel guilty about your wife serving you dinner because it’s been the traditional role of women, but since you’re not one to demand it and since the two of you don’t follow traditional roles anyway, it’s totally OK to enjoy. I enjoy cooking as well and serving the food beautifully arranged on a plate as if in a fancy restaurant, but I wouldn’t be able to if it was an expectation. You and your wife sound like people we’d enjoy as couple friends 🙂
“Why do women have an easier time working on sex if it’s “for the husband” instead of “for me”?”
I dated a lot of selfish, self-absorbed men in my twenties – men who shamed me for not having sex, men who tried to pressure me into sex, men who dumped me for not having sex. They didn’t care about my emotional well-being, building a relationship, God, chastity, anything.
Now, the idea of being selfish about sex makes me feel like I am turning into the monsters who so callously inflicted pain… and being that monster to my husband, the best man I’ve ever met. I decided a long, long time ago that sexual pleasure is subordinate to being a decent person and not objectifying people.
That switch… does not flip very easily.
Ah, very good point!
Boy, we certainly do get a lot of baggage and hurt in our pasts, don’t we? If the baggage isn’t from culture it’s from our own pasts. It’s all so hard to overcome, but it is worth it.
Yeah its difficult to not fit into the gender stereotypes but as you say as long as we make it work for us then it shouldnt be any problem. I guess you are right about it being wrong biblical teaching. I see it very often. I dont know if you have seen it but its a picture of different umbrellas. The biggest one is God, under that its a smaller one and thats Christ, then its a smaller one and thats the husband, and then comes an even smaller and thats the wife and under it are the kids. Thats the teachings I have heard and that scares me sometimes. I sometimes dont feel like I am that umbrella over my wife. So that fear comes from that kind of teaching. It seems so right because people say God is a God of order and He talks about being the head in 1 Corinthians 11. Paul mentions about the womans role of taking care of the home and the kids 1 Timothy and etc. And things like that sometimes worry me because its hard to follow that. Specially in our society that looks so different from this. So that worries me sometimes.
Not Iceland but Sweden actually. We are a few steps after Iceland when it comes to equality. I think gender equality is good but I can sometimes find it a little too extreme. The schools have to work agains traditional gender roles, thats every teachers job. And I get why but there are kindergardens where boys are encouraged to wear dresses, skirts etc. Its not that common yet but it worries me that were heading that way. I dont know what God says about that. Gender equality is great, I dont have anything agains that. What worries me is what happaens when gender isnt important anymore. Where there isnt any difference between men and women in the way we look, act etc. Is that what God wants? Is there something as being too feminine? Or too masculine depending on gender. Difficult questions.
Hi Sleepy! one thing about the umbrella analogy–it actually makes no sense. If the husband’s umbrella is God, and God is over all, then why do the others even need umbrellas? And who does the children’s umbrella cover? You should all just be under God’s protection. Remember, too, that Timothy grew in faith because of Lois and Eunice, his mother and grandmother. Nothing about his father at all. The umbrellas too often are used as a weapon (I wrote about that here). So I’d just say: If you’re all aiming to follow after Jesus, you’re all doing fine!
One more thing, since the podcast mentions the Myers-Briggs personality test. A more recent one used ubiquitously by psychologists, but not so well known in popular culture, is the so-called “Big Five.” The only trait is shares with the old one is extra-introversion, and the other four are agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness to new experiences. I really like it, I find it more helpful, and Sleepy’s comment made me think of it because it seems to rate hight in agreeableness and conscientiousness. You are easy-going with your wife and at the same time concerned that you are living your lives correctly. I think that’s a wonderful combination.
I’m going to have to look into that one! That sounds really interesting.
I think it important that we do not throw out the baby with the bath water. I believe the Bible has convincing verses that male and female are both different AND equal. Gender differences are both more profound and less profound depending on what area you look in. Here is just one are in choice of jobs….the differences are there and significant and become even more significant the freer the society!
I just posted a comment but it disappeared because it was too long. I wonder whether it went “somewher” or if it just resolved into cyber space. Is it possible to edit it or do I have write everything again?
Late to the party, but oh well!
Rebecca, I totally get the “I know you love me, but did you do [xyz]?” 🤣
We have a friend who is very into jewelry and flowers and such, and her advice early in our marriage involved those things. I told my husband to skip the flowers and use the money to buy me books instead.
Also, I laughed until I cried at Connor’s “editor’s note”.