November 25th was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
I am glad I grew up in a home where our father taught his seven sons to respect women. Dad would not tolerate any disrespect toward mom. Dad also gave us a good example in his respect for our mother. I then raised three sons with the same value and commitment.
For the past 30 years, a good bit of my pastoral ministry has been in the context of university students. This means that I’ve performed a lot of weddings preceded by extensive premarital counseling. One of the troubling realities I’ve encountered among young people is confusion about important distinctions between men and women. And this has been a primary source of conflict in many marriages.
While working with these couples, I began to question whether the battle for gender equality inadvertently hurt us. Did the liberation and feminist movement go too far by demanding too much? I am clearly grateful for advancements in gender equity but I believe that some significant losses came with the wins. If these losses are not identified and addressed, the victories will continue to be diminished in ways that hurt women and families.
A primary loss in the battle for equality has been an overall cultural failure to respect and honor the distinctions between men and women. Overreaching in the area of equality has diminished our ability to honor the beauty of distinctive manhood and womanhood. There seems to be a fear among some that discussion or emphasis on distinction could lead to reversals on the gains in equality. This is a big mistake.
It’s not without significance that the era emphasizing equality also witnessed escalating divorce rates and a multitude of other family related social problems. I am certainly not suggesting that the sole cause to these problems is the gender battles, but I do believe that a failure to respect, honor and even celebrate the important differences in gender has hurt the family.
The loss of a clear vision for the dignity of distinctive womanhood, for example, has produced confusion in the hearts of women. They have become inarticulate on what they intuitively know about themselves. Worse yet, men do not exalt them sufficiently for their distinctive beauty.
God created humans male and female in his image and likeness and gave them (as a couple) co-regency over the created order: “God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it (Genesis 1:27-28). A Christian view of marriage sees it as a companionship of two equals. But this doesn’t mean that it’s a relationship without roles. And roles in marriage are not designed to diminish equality and mutual respect. Instead, they are meant to provide creativity, beauty, order and security for a relationship built on diversity and unity.
I am grateful for most of the accomplishments of gender equality but it’s time to take a closer look at the losses. Can we apply the widespread cultural emphasis on celebrating diversity to the distinctiveness between the sexes without losing respect for male or female? I believe we can and must if we want to enjoy marriage as intended by our Creator.