Mary Kassian recently posted an article on her website entitled Dora the Doormat: And other Scary Straw Women of Complementarity. In her article, Kassian discusses caricatures and stereotypes of complementarian women and explains that these extremes do not fairly represent complementarian women.

Men and Women: “Equal but Different” or “Different and Equal”?

Complementarians believe that men and women (on the basis of gender alone) are “equal but different”. They explain this “difference” by teaching that all men have been ordained by God to be leaders and authorities, and that all women are designed by God to be submissive and responsive to male authority.[1] I find the complementarian idea of “equal but different” both contrived and fallacious. Biblical egalitarians, on the other hand, believe that men and women (on the basis of gender alone) are “different and equal” – no buts!

Two Important Women of Complementarianism

One tragic “stereotype” of complementarianism, that Mary Kassian does not acknowledge in her article, is the abused woman. The complementarian concept of male-only authority makes a too much room for the abuse of wives and women by men. Many men who dominate and mistreat their women believe they have been created superior to women, and have divine permission to dominate and mistreat their wives. The Christian church has been notoriously insensitive to the betrayal, cruelty, and pain experienced by many women, whose husbands hold traditional and negative views of women.[2] Why did Mary Kassian leave out this important woman in her article?

Another victim of complementarian theology is the woman, called and gifted by God for ministry, but ignored and overlooked by her church. Many godly women who have leadership and teaching ability are deterred and prohibited from being leaders and pastors, on no other basis than their gender. Complementarians ignore the Bible verses which show that women were church leaders in the New Testament church, and focus on just one or two verses (verses written to two troubled churches) that silence women.

Numerous gifted and capable women have been denied recognised ministry positions and opportunities by the church.  These women usually look for needs to fill, and minister unofficially, often with little support. I would have liked to see how Mary Kassian deals with these suppressed and unsupported women ministers in her article. It seems that some (much?) of Mary Kassian’s satire is insensitive to women who are stifled and trapped in ill-fitting, subordinate roles.

The Straw Woman Argument

Mary Kassian complains that complementarianism is maligned by straw woman arguments. Mary describes this type of argument: “A straw woman is the female version of a straw man. A straw man argument is one that misrepresents a position, knocks that position down, and then concludes that the real position has been refuted. It’s a common, but faulty way to argue against an idea.”

Despite Mary’s recognition that a straw man/woman argument is a faulty way to argue, I frequently see complementarians, including Mary Kassian, use egalitarian or feminist straw women in their arguments aimed at dismissing and discrediting Christian egalitarianism.[3] These “Christian feminist straw women” include: the self-centered, career-obsessed woman; the immodest, promiscuous woman; the neglectful, time-strapped mother (because she has interests outside the home); the bossy, unsubmissive wife; the aggressive, man-hater; the scripture-tampering heretic; the sexually-confused, androgynous woman; the woman who thinks nothing about having an abortion.

I have never met any of these, supposed Christian women in real life. These women largely exist only in complementarian straw-woman arguments. These extremes do not come close to fairly representing evangelical Christian egalitarians.

A Real-Life Egalitarian

I am a true-life example of a Christian egalitarian, not an extreme caricature or a scary straw woman. I am respectful, considerate, and helpful to my husband. I was a stay-at-home mother when my children were young, and then worked part-time at the school they were attending. I do not hate men and I am not at all aggressive. I hope that I may be described as modest and virtuous. I love being a woman and am comfortable with my sexuality. I believe that having an abortion (when the life of the mother is not at stake) is murder. Moreover, I am devoted to God and love reading and studying the Bible. And I believe that the Bible teaches that men and women are wonderfully different and completely equal!


Endnotes

[1] Complementarian John Piper narrowly defines masculinity and femininity purely in terms of male authority and female submission. (Chapter 1 in Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, John Piper and Wayne Grudem (editors), Westchester, Il: Crossway Books, 2006.)

[2] Mary Kassian claims in her article that complementarianism represents “traditional, orthodox, historic views on gender”. However, for most of the church’s history, it has been taught that women were inferior to men in almost every regard. Many Christian theologians have used appallingly strong language to express their disgust of the women. Here is an example of this.

[3] Some complementarians prefer to use the term “Christian feminism” in their arguments against egalitarianism, rather than the term “Christian egalitarianism”, possibly because the word “feminism” recalls aggressive, ungodly attitudes, and behaviours of strident women. By using the word “feminism” (with its unfortunate negative connotations), complementarians make it more difficult for Christians to gain an empathetic understanding of authentic biblical equality.

© 27th of April, 2011; Margaret Mowczko

Hannah Thomas has written a parody on Mary Kassian’s article, mostly using  Mary’s own words, here.


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