In the beginning, God made man. God placed man in a garden, to work it and keep it. But it didn’t take God long to realize that there was a problem with man. Instead of serving as priest and king, directing all creation in the worship of God his creator, man just wanted to drink beer all day. He had no outlet for his sexual and physical energies, and God could see that Paradise was going downhill pretty quickly. So God created woman.
The results were more than God could have hoped for. Man began to notice what a mess he had made of the garden. He started picking up after himself, planting trees, making pathways, and saying strange things like, “Yes, dear.” Woman, she was something else! Not only was she easier on the eyes than man, but she had that quality that God had wanted in man in the first place: She was virtuous.
God felt kind of bad about bungling his first try at creation. He decided to appoint man the head of his household. That way, man would feel important even though woman, who effortlessly got man to shape up in accordance with God’s will, would be running the show.
Okay, so maybe I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek. But Glenn Stanton’s recent article, “Why Man and Woman Are Not Equal,” had an effect that he may not have anticipated: Despite its huge popularity, it upset some conservative Christian women.
I suspect this was not Stanton’s intention, because Stanton has nothing but praise for women: “Women create, shape, and maintain human culture. … Civilization arises and endures because women have expectations of themselves and of those around them.” He quotes New York Times columnist Gail Collins’s claim that “the most powerful and important influence women have had on our nation’s founding, growth, and success is this: They make men behave.” This, for Stanton, shows that women are superior to men.
The first woman must have missed the memo. For unlike the woman in my satirical rewrite of Genesis, Eve was unable to make Adam a better man.
I agree with Stanton that we need a cogent answer to the latest stage of the sexual revolution, with its fluid definition of gender. But Stanton’s proposal, far from releasing us from tired arguments, repeats the evangelical tropes of manhood and womanhood that were common in the Victorian Era. The Victorian woman was confined to the home—but really she was quite powerful, the theory went, because within her domestic sphere she influenced her husband, who then acted virtuously in the world, all thanks to her. And the Victorians were hardly the first to rely on a dubious philosophy of the relation between gender and virtue. Rachel Miller has given a good summary of how women have, through history, have seesawed back and forth from moral inferiors to moral superiors.
When gender becomes an ideological commodity, a power struggle is inevitable. Victorian women could manipulate their notional status as the agents of civilizing virtue to gain more influence outside of the domestic sphere. Men, by contrast and in consequence, were threatened by a feminization of theology. Stanton believes that this power properly belongs to woman: “[It] is hardly her only power, but it is among her most formidable”; thus, “The first step in weakening [woman’s] power is to convince her that she must overcome her femininity.” There is some truth here. Stanton is right to disagree with the feminist message that women should become more like men. But he is wrong to idealize women by ascribing to them such virtuous power over men. It is futile to try to counter egalitarian claims to societal power with a virtue argument that has already played repeatedly and been found wanting.
Woman was not made to save civilization, nor to civilize man. She was made to be a companion to him, a necessary ally. This is the translation for the Hebrew, ezer kenegdo, which John McKinley has offered for Gen. 2:18. True, it is “not good that the man should be alone.” Man needs an ally in carrying out the mission of God. But as we see throughout Scripture, since sin entered the world woman can function as either his ally or his opponent.
Both sexes are dependent for virtue not on the other, but on God. We both need to hear the gospel call to repentance and trust in the One who is our righteousness. Let us not cheapen his common grace to all civilization and his saving grace in the church by overstating the power of our genders. The mission of women is not separate from that of men, for we are allies. Women don’t need to play the virtue card to have a seat at the significance table. In the beginning and in the end, women will cause men to marvel. But make no mistake, women will be men’s greatest opponent if men to look to them for redemption.
Aimee Byrd is the author of Housewife Theologian, Theological Fitness, and an upcoming book, No Little Women.