Of course, conservative Christians believe that women and men are not equal. We know we believe such things, because the elites outside our faith (today celebrating Women’s Equality Day) regularly tell us we do. How could we forget?
They are right, but in the wrong way. Civilized people realize (even when they don’t realize they realize) that male and female are not equal. G. K. Chesterton, with his table-turning wit, got it right in his essay “The Romance of Thrift”:
I remember an artistic and eager lady asking me in her grand green drawing-room whether I believed in the comradeship of the sexes, and why not. I was driven back on offering the obvious and sincere answer, “Because if I were to treat you for two minutes like a comrade, you would turn me out of the house.”
So it is. Women create, shape, and maintain human culture. Manners exist because women exist. Worthy men adjust their behavior when a woman enters the room. They become better creatures. Civilization arises and endures because women have expectations of themselves and of those around them.
This is not just a conservative or traditionalist idea.
The New York Times’s Gail Collins told NPR unequivocally that the most important primary finding of her brilliant book America’s Women (which faithfully sits to the left behind Leslie Knope’s desk in every Parks and Recreation episode), is that the most powerful and important influence women have had on our nation’s founding, growth, and success is this: They make men behave. All their other important contributions are secondary.
Collins provides examples from history. Here is one: The British investors of Jamestown—who sent only men to establish the work, so that they could not be distracted—were not seeing the expected return on their investment. They sent an agent to investigate, and it was found that the men weren’t working. According to the report of one Sir Thomas Dale, the men were at “their daily and usuall works, bowling in the streetes.” This habit kept the settlement, Collins explains, “a long, rowdy fraternity party, minus food.” The investors’ solution? They began enticing marriageable young women to set out for the colonies with offers of free passage and appealing hope chests. They supposed that wives might turn these “we’ll work tomorrow” fraternity boys into diligent, hard-working, productive men. And they did. One thing led to another, and presto: the most prosperous, hard-working nation in the history of the world. Not just because of women, but through the socializing power of wives and mothers.
Anthropologists have long recognized that the most fundamental social problem every community must solve is the unattached male. If his sexual, physical, and emotional energies are not governed and directed in a pro-social, domesticated manner, he will become the village’s most malignant cancer. Wives and children, in that order, are the only successful remedy ever found. Military service is a very distant second. Nobel Prize winning economist George Akerlof explains that “men settle down when they get married; if they fail to marry, they fail to settle down,” because “with marriage, men take on new identities that change their behavior.” This does not seem to work with same-sex male couples in long-term relationships.
Husbands and fathers become better, safer, more responsible and productive citizens, unrivaled by their peers in any other relational status. Husbands become better mates, treating their wives better by every important measure—physical and emotional safety, financial and material provision, personal respect, fidelity, general self-sacrifice, etc.—compared to boyfriends, whether dating or cohabiting. Husbands and fathers enjoy significantly lower health, life, and auto insurance premiums than do their single peers, for a strictly pragmatic reason. Insurance companies are not sentimental about husbands. Husbands get lower premiums because they are different creatures in terms of habits, values, behavior, and general health.
This is why Golding’s Lord of the Flies is a tale not so much about the dark nature of humanity as about the isolation of the masculine from the feminine. Had there been just a few confident girls amongst those boys, its conclusion might have been more Swiss Family Robinson.
Man and woman are not equal. He owes what he is to her. That is hardly her only power, but it is among her most formidable. Christianity has always known this. The Savior of the world chose to come to us through a wife and mother. It’s why you find what you find at the very center, the honored and singular position, on that superlative ceiling of a certain celebrated chapel.
Woman is the most powerful living force on the globe. She creates, shapes, and sustains human civilization. The first step in weakening her power is to convince her that she must overcome her femininity. This, ironically, is precisely what the most vocal strains of feminism have advocated. Yes, woman should have equality in the workplace, in politics, and in the public square. But to render her more like man in order to accomplish this, and to judge her womanliness a hindrance to her ascendancy, is to get things exactly backwards. It is to treat her as much less than she truly is.
Glenn Stanton is the director of family formation studies at the Focus on the Family.