My Experience with Patriarchy

Since I began writing about the dangers of patriarchy years go, I have had several comments that I’ve completely misunderstood/misrepresented patriarchy and its adherents. I’ve been told that there might be a few abuses of the system, but that on the whole people are happy and well cared for in patriarchal churches, organizations, and families. I’ve been told that women aren’t hurt by patriarchy.

On the other hand, I regularly hear from women, and some men, who affirm that what I’ve described is exactly what they’ve lived through with patriarchy. Occasionally, these comments are made publicly on my blog, but more often, they are sent to me privately. One such comment came in yesterday, and I asked the author if I could share the comment anonymously on my blog. The author agreed.

I want to share it here because it speaks to many of the problems that I’ve addressed about the patriarchy movement. This is not meant to be experiential proof, but it is an illustration of the damage I believe results from patriarchal teachings. I have edited out a couple of details to maintain the privacy of the author.

“I just had a long conversation with someone sparked by your post about Nancy Wilson. My gosh, it’s so exhausting trying to explain how Patriarchy hurts women. I still cry sometimes because I feel inferior to men because of my gender, but I guess that’s just me being an emotional, easily confused woman.

I’m marrying a wonderful man who will give his life for me everyday. The only time I’ve ever known him to ‘pull rank’ and tell me what I need to do is when he is directly concerned for my well-being. We talked about vows, and I will promise to ‘obey’ him. That doesn’t scare me, but sometimes I’m scared the entire rest of the world has gone crazy.
What I hate about Patriarchy now is how paranoid it’s made me. My guard is always up. The pastor pulls out Ephesians 5 in our premarital counseling, and I’m thinking ‘What’s he going to say? What’s he going to say?’
I have anxiety attacks in some of my classes because I’m afraid that what’s being said about male/female roles will prove that I’m inferior. I had to leave a class one day, because I can’t hear Genesis 3 taught without falling apart.
But to some that’s all in my head. That’s my malfunction. Nothing wrong with teaching that a woman’s identity is in her husband, that her body is his property, that she can never speak up to or disobey him. That can’t be it– it must be me.
I was incredibly depressed as a teen. Okay, I might have been depressed no matter what, but you know what made it the worst? Not knowing what to do with myself. Sure, everything about me was inclined towards academics, but I was supposed to prep for marriage. I was supposed to be satisfied at home: cooking, cleaning, decorating, and I WASN’T. It felt like something was wrong with me. I wanted so much to be a man–because I didn’t feel cut out for whatever it was to be a woman.
I never told anyone what I was feeling either. Because it was sinful and wrong to feel it. I was supposed to be happy with who God made me to be, but I was rebelling.
So that’s a disjointed rant. I don’t know what to do with all these emotions. The fear can cripple me sometimes. I just want to believe that people (well, to be honest, probably specifically MEN) care that that was my experience with Patriarchy. And no, I wasn’t doing it wrong.”

8 thoughts on “My Experience with Patriarchy

  1. Jon Green says:

    The very sad mixture of bad theology, bad practice and misinterpretation of God’s word. We should be happy with the way that God made us, but we should not impose our particular view upon others about what that should be. There is no reason that a woman should not develop her God given abilities for study or for a career outside the home. Yes it is a good thing for a woman to be a wife and mother, but she should never be made to feel sinful for wanting to do other things to serve the Lord. Yes Ephesians 5 encourages a woman to be submissive to her own husband, but it requires a husband to love his wife with the same sacrificial love that Christ has for the church. When a man truly sets aside his own desires and comfort to meet the needs of his own wife, it is unlikely that she will ever be made to feel like property. Thank you Rachel for giving women who have been abused by the current abuse of scripture called “patriarchy” a voice and a better understanding of our Loving Lord.

  2. Pony.Press says:

    I am so sad to hear that this was the experience of your friend. God’s word should be used to build up and instruct, not tear down and abuse. I pray that your friend can find her identity in Christ (not in her husband), that she and her husband are to mutually “give” of themselves to one another (never take or own each other), and that she can experience a relationship with her husband where her opinion is valued and sought after rather than ignored and denegrated.

  3. NJ says:

    “I’m marrying a wonderful man who will give his life for me everyday. The only time I’ve ever known him to ‘pull rank’ and tell me what I need to do is when he is directly concerned for my well-being. We talked about vows, and I will promise to ‘obey’ him. That doesn’t scare me, but sometimes I’m scared the entire rest of the world has gone crazy.”

    As long as she knows she is not Biblically obligated to include the ‘obey’ part from the traditional vows of the Book of Common Prayer, and it was at least as much her idea as it was his…otherwise this would have me a little concerned.

    “I have anxiety attacks in some of my classes because I’m afraid that what’s being said about male/female roles will prove that I’m inferior. I had to leave a class one day, because I can’t hear Genesis 3 taught without falling apart.”

    I don’t know where she goes to school, but if it’s a Christian institution that teaches a thoroughgoing complementarianism that may be difficult to distinguish at times from the patriarchy she has experienced, I’m hoping she can either transfer elsewhere, or has enough people in her life who have her back, emotionally speaking.

    • Anon says:

      Hey, NJ! I’m the one who wrote the above: I really appreciate the concern (seriously, it means a lot–navigating the post-patriarchy transition can be crazy-making sometimes). I can’t answer every concern you raised here, but I should probably be fair to my fiance and say that he shows me more love, support, and respect than I have ever known.

      The vows were a mutual agreement on our part–and we’ve discussed at length what that means for us, and all the things it absolutely doesn’t mean. Believe me, we talked that one out, and we both knew that it had to be my choice. In one sense, though, it’s just not a big deal to us–our relationship is grounded on deep trust and the knowledge that we both have to love each other with the love of Christ. At that point, who is arguing over who’s in charge? Hopefully nobody.

      I don’t have everything figured out yet, but I’m really grateful that God has given me a friend like my guy who will stick by me no matter how rough figuring things out gets.

  4. Doug says:

    The Church must recover the anatomical body view of marriage. Hierarchy has no place in human anatomy; mutual interdependence and love does. I advise my daughters to steer clear of any potential husband that holds to a concept of authority.

    Genesis 2:23 — The Man said, “Finally! Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh! Name her Woman for she was made from Man.” Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh.

  5. NJ says:

    Anon,

    Glad to hear it! My husband of 15 years and I have had a couple of brushes with patriarchy of the Doug Wilson variety, and we’re happier out of there.

    Doug, your comment sums up what’s wrong with Wilson’s infamous passage about marital sex not being an egalitarian pleasuring party, etc.

  6. Tim says:

    My wife and I both pull the authority card on each other occasionally, and for the same reason your correspondent mentioned: concern for the other person’s well-being. Our call to submit to one another in marriage sometimes means listening to the other person’s concern for us and acceding to their directions.

  7. Sergio says:

    Out of curiosity I decided to plumb the Westminster Confession on marriage and a relatively old commentary.

    AA Hodges’ commentary doesn’t seem to teach patriarchy as practiced in some churches. If anything, he seems to stress that marriage is for mutual benefit.

    “1. Marriage was ordained of God, and is therefore a divine institution. This is so — (1.) Because God created man male and female, and so constituted them, physically and morally, that they are mutually adapted to each other and are mutually helpful to each other under the law of marriage, and not otherwise; and (2.) Because the law of marriage, the conditions of its contract, continuance and dissolution, are laid down in the Word of God.”

    :”2. The main ends designed to be promoted by marriage are stated to be — (1.) The mutual help of husband and wife. (2.) The increase of mankind with a legitimate issue. (3.) The increase of the Church of Christ with a holy seed. (4.) The prevention of uncleanness.”

    His exegesis of Ephesians 5 is also not something we’d hear. He says the Bride/Christ typology is there to illustrate the nobility of marriage, not to give roles, per se.

    “(2.) The relation is honored in being selected as the highest earthly type of the grandest heavenly fact — namely, the mystical union of the eternal Word with his Bride the Church. Eph. v. 28 — 33. (3.) Reason and experience unite in showing that the relation is the best conceivable condition for the bringing out and educating the noblest moral instincts and faculties of human nature. The best and noblest men of the Old World and the New have been formed in the family.”

    Finally, AA Hodge’s view of divorce is very much against Dr. Piper’s view of taking a beating for a season.

    “(1.) The only causes upon which it is lawful to grant a divorce are — (a.) adultery; this is explicitly allowed by Christ Matt. v. 31, 32; xix. 9); and (b.) willful, causeless, and incurable desertion. This is allowed by Paul to the Christian husband, or wife deserted by their heathen partner. 1 Cor. vii. 15. The reason in the case is also self-evident, since such desertion, being total and incurable, makes the marriage an empty name, void of all reality; and, being causeless, leaves the deserting party without remaining rights to be defended.”

    I think there is a strong case to make to place abuse as a form of desertion. Why stay with a spouse that refuses to repent and puts your life in danger? There is a JET article I can link for those interested.

    https://confessionalism.wordpress.com/2012/05/22/a-a-hodge-commentary-on-the-wcf/

    This got me to thinking. A lot of these discussions of gender in the Reformed (and those hanger on-ers) circles don’t involve consultation of our subordinate standards and our fathers, so to speak.This is dangerous for those of in NAPARC, because it leads into naive Bibliclism and to people getting hurt.

    I also pray for those who have been hurt by patriarchy in our churches. I’ve experienced the negative ramifications of this theology (and so have close friends of mine) and do this is something that I find myself think of often. I pray that our churches can be a safe place for those who are most in danger, and not a place to be most in danger.

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