Exploring the biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism

Introduction

In the past few months, I’ve been receiving an increasing number of emails from articulate young women who seem convinced of the superiority of men. One thing these messages all have in common is a high appreciation of physical strength.

I had no intention of writing a blog post on the topic of male strength and its supposed connection with superiority. I’m not especially interested in the fact that, generally speaking, men are physically stronger than women. I’m not interested because women, generally speaking, are better at some other things and have other strengths. But I received another email today and it made me realise that the “male strength equals superiority” idea is more widespread than I had previously thought.

Comments about Biological Superiority

Here are a few comments made in emails recently sent to me by young Christian women.

“Men are unquestioningly biologically superior. Their bodies are built for work.”
“Women seem to be a mediocre being whose only purpose besides birthing children appears to be relational and social.”
“There is not a single area in which women surpass men as a result of our biology.”

I don’t agree with these statements or the sentiments behind them. As well as holding male physical strength in high regard, these women have a low view of qualities associated with being female; the ability to give birth and “relational and social” abilities are downplayed. It is disturbing that these vital and valuable faculties are regarded as mundane in comparison with male muscle. And it is disturbing that these harmful ideas on gender are being taught and modelled in some churches, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly.

Comments Expressing Pain and Grief

Here are a few more comments made by the same women.

“I write this from a place of deep grief and fear, to be honest.”
“… it’s caught me in a bit of a psychological and spiritual tailspin because I feel so lost when it comes to what my identity is supposed to be.”
“I just feel so unloved by my creator, I feel like I cannot pray to him, I cannot touch my Bible. I feel paralyzed in worthlessness. Like there is no room for daughters at his table. I don’t know what to do.”
“Sometimes I feel like being a woman is almost like a curse.”

This is not good! So, spurred on by the email I received today, I’ve put together this blog post. This is not a comprehensive look at the biological differences of men and women, far from it, but I hope it might ease the pain that comes when women are unappreciated and men are elevated for no reason other than their biological sex.

Jade’s Email and My Reply

Here’s the opening paragraph, a short excerpt,  of an email I received from a woman who I’ll call Jade (which I’ve used with her permission), followed by the reply I sent back to her, slightly edited.

Jade writes,

I recently saw an informative chart about the biological differences between men and women. The chart title caught my attention, “Fit but Unequal,” and it compared the differences between a male and female athlete. Then I thought, if the only difference between men and women are their bodies and men are stronger, have greater endurance, more power, are less susceptible to leg injuries, and have more power pound for pound… wouldn’t this mean that men are superior to women?

Here’s some of my reply to Jade.

I know the chart you are referring to. [See here.] I don’t know any egalitarian who thinks, let alone asserts, that men and women have the same muscular strength. This difference is obvious.

What is perhaps less obvious is that women often have better hearing and eyesight, as well as a better sense of smell, than men. Women have more nervous pathways between the two hemispheres of the brain. They are much less prone to some genetic conditions and diseases (e.g., colour blindness, male pattern baldness, haemophilia, certain kinds of muscular dystrophy). Women often have a better immune system than men and usually live longer. And many women can bear and nurse babies which is something men cannot do! [More sex differences in humans here.]

Having strong muscles can be an advantage for some tasks. Though in modern societies, we have machines that do the hard work and the heavy lifting for us. But we are more than our muscles. We also have minds—we have thoughts and feelings. These things, as well as our muscles, are who we are as people.

If a person thinks the most important, most desirable, trait in humans is muscular strength, then sure, men will seem superior.

If, on the other hand, a person thinks empathy in human relationships or the ability to bear and nurse babies are the most important, most desirable, traits in humans, then women will seem superior.

But I don’t see it as a contest.

Men and women are not exactly the same. We have some differences, but we are essentially equal as human beings and as children of God (Gen. 1:26-28; Gal. 3:26-28). The fact that my husband can open the lid of a jar that won’t budge for me, or can push around the lawnmower more easily than me, does not make him a superior human being. (And note, not all husbands are physically stronger than their wives.)

I’m thankful for the physical strength of my husband, and my husband is thankful for the abilities I bring to our life together. There are some things that I am much better at than my husband, but neither one of us “surpasses” the other. We work together, we contribute our talents, we share our God-given gifts, we serve each other, we don’t compete.

Both sexes have essential and vital contributions to make to broader society, to churches, and to their families. And for most of us, these contributions have little to do with muscular strength or having babies, they have to do with our intellect, our talents, our experiences, our passions, our personalities, our spirituality, our empathy.

Men and women need each other and should stand side by side and work together. And each of us should have the opportunities to develop and contribute our individual God-given talents and gifts without contrived restrictions.

I do not know of any non-biological trait that is exclusively male or exclusively female. Rather, both men and women are capable of great intelligence, creativity, and resilience in all spheres of human endeavour and understanding, especially when both sexes are given the same opportunities for development which has rarely been the case in the past.

Jade’s Response

Jade and I have exchanged a few more emails where we discussed what the Bible says about women. Here’s an excerpt from one of her later emails. It’s pretty wonderful!

I thought about my initial brushing off of the ability we have to bear children. And then I realised something: this unique ability of women, while beautiful in and of itself, is especially significant in that Christ was conceived and brought into the world by a woman, a feat no man could do. And even in that, Mary’s faith and character is what is upheld. Mary is described as a young woman of great faith and obedience to God. Not a young, but ultimately faceless, womb, but an inspiration to both men and women in how to trust God.

I think of the women in Christ’s life, Mary Magdalene, especially, who recognized the voice of her Saviour (John 10:27). I thought of their faithfulness at Calvary to the very end. I thought of the fact that the first human beings to witness the Resurrection of the Messiah were women, unreliable witnesses as they were in that time, laden with all the weight of subjugation and invisibility, of being the “other,” and yet their eyes were the first to see the Resurrected Son of God. Their ears the first to hear his voice. Their voices the first to proclaim the Gospel that he is alive. And it makes my heart soar.

I say all this with hope that there will be such an outpouring of realization on women today, young and old, those in all corners of the world and especially those who truly believe that they are worth-less or worthless. I pray this message finds them. That they can experience this liberation of knowing that God sees what the world has cast down and trampled on. He uplifts them. And I pray for myself, that my bitterness and anger toward men be dissolved. I do not, like so many who have gone before me, only want to joyfully embrace half of the body of Christ.

These are my hopes and prayers too!

Let’s not fall for the lie that physical strength is the mark of superiority or the lie that men are superior to women. We need to appreciate the various abilities of others and of ourselves. Men and women need each other (1 Cor. 11:11 CSB).

© Margaret Mowczko 2020
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36 thoughts on “Are Men Physically Superior to Women?

  1. Physical strength is like beauty, it is fleeting. To be honest at 57 years old my 27 year old daughter is more physically strong than I am (she is really strong and my other daughter is a police officer both of them could physically kill me if they had to) does that make me less in Gods eyes? These things are some of the ultimate lusts of the eyes, lusts of the flesh and pride of life that John references. In the Kingdom of God they are completely irrelevant.

    1. Thank you, Billy. Great points.

    2. I agree with Billy and would further add that the word ‘superior’ is subjective. Why do we immediately assume physical strength is a ‘superior’ attribute trumping all other physical attributes- even ones at the molecular level that go completely ignored in such irrelevant arguments? And also to Billy’s point: in the new kingdom NOTHING of our flesh is relevant; not gender, not reproduction, not strength, not skin color, not language….

      1. Excellent, Marg. Even if you are not Catholic, you may want to check out:
        1. ON THE DIGNITY AND VOCATION OF WOMEN, THEOLOGY OF THE BODY, & LETTER TO WOMEN by Pope St. John Paul II, and
        2. a three volume set on THE CONCEPT OF WOMAN by Sr. Prudence Allen. Such psychologists as Dr. Gregory Bottaro have written on the specific gifts of women at Catholic Psych.
        God bless.

        1. Thanks for this, Rachel.

          I have read Pope John Paul II’s letter and wrote a blog post about it here: https://margmowczko.com/catholic-church-mutual-submission-marriage/

      2. Fair points, Terese. 🙂

  2. Very good! Surely put an important subject in perspective. Thank you!

  3. This is wonderfully insightful and encouraging. Thank you so much for writing and sharing.

  4. I wonder if part of the concern of these young women is based on the fact that people born as males are now being allowed to participate in women’s sports. There, the denser and larger muscles of a born male can make the women seem “inferior.” If so, it is a sad thing that sports have taken up such a large part of people’s identity. This would affect younger people who are more likely to participate in group sports while in grade school, high school and college, when they are coming to terms with the world we live in and what part they play in it.

    The good news there is that sports are no where near the total of life’s existence. As we get away from such competitions, we learn that it is more important to focus on our own physical health than to constantly compare it to that of other people, male or female. We have to help our young women not let this part of phys ed carry over into other parts of their lives where this thinking is worthless.

    1. Sports didn’t really come up in the emails apart from the comparison of athletes that Jade mentions. It was usually just strength in general.

      Other women who wrote to me pointed to the history of accomplishments in the arts and sciences where men have predominated, as well as physical strength. But they failed to realise that women weren’t typically given educational opportunities and experiences where they could develop artistic and scientific abilities. The few women who did make a name for themselves in these fields were usually taught and encouraged by their own gifted fathers. Hypatia and Artemisia Gentileschi spring to mind.

      1. Good point. It’s like looking at the African American accomplishments. There are a LOT! But they are dwarfed by sheer numbers. But the REASON is because of lack of opportunity. Whenever I read about an African American success story from “back in the day” (such as Madam CJ Walker) I’m not just impressed. I’m in awe. Because she didn’t just succeed. She succeeded in the face of tremendous difficulties. Perhaps we would already have a cure for cancer or the ability to make a life saving vehicle or a skyscraper that could withstand a jet plane crashing into it if minority groups had been given a fair shake.

    2. I agree that a number of issues may be creating a perfect storm: including men competing in women’s sports, porn which is often submissive and many Catholic and Christian men are addicted, the attempt to return to and protect traditional values, erc.

  5. Thanks for excellent piece. I agree that, in some qualities, women tend to be stronger than men: for example, in stamina, endurance of pain and endurance of cold temperatures. In 1 Pet 3:7, where Peter refers to the wife as (literally) the ‘weaker vessel’, he evidently has in mind that husbands generally have greater muscle strength than their wives. The word ‘vessel’ translates skeuos, which means a container, and which can therefore be used to refer to the human body (compare 1 Thess. 4:4, ESV, NIV, NRSV), particularly as a container of eternal treasure (2 Cor. 4:7). Some commentators say that Peter is referring to what they call women’s subordinate social position, but that does not fit the words. He is telling husbands to be gentle, using their physical strength to serve their wives with kindness, not to coerce or mistreat them.
    P.S. Many English versions mistranslate 1 Pet 3:7. The paying of honour to the wife is not a concession to her physical weakness but a recognition of her high status as a co-heir. NASB gets it straight: “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” For more on this passage, see Men and Women in Christ: Fresh Light from the Biblical Texts, pages 105-109.

    1. Thanks, Andrew. I need to take another look at your book.

      I’ve written about the expression “weaker vessel” here.

  6. Something that we must bear in mind with this passage is that Paul is addressing those with unbelieving spouses. He does not really seem to bring physical strength into the subject at all. I believe that he is addressing the greater spiritual strength of Christian men as compared to the spiritual weakness of the unbeliever wife.

    As to honoring her so his prayers would not be hindered, if a Christian man dishonors his non-Christian wife, he will be hindering his prayers that she comes to the know the Lord. I think that this is Paul’s concern here. There doesn’t seem to be a good reason why prayers about anything else would be hindered if he doesn’t already treat his wife as a fellow-heir before she becomes on.

    1. I’m reasonably sure that the wives of the husbands addressed in 1 Peter 3:7 are believers, as Peter tells these men that their wives are “coheirs of the grace of life.” On the other hand, the wives in 1 Peter 3:1-6 had husbands who were unbelievers.

      1. I think that when Peter says in V7, “husbands, in the same way,” he is referring to what he just said to the women about the way to bring their unbelieving husbands to Christ also applies to men hoping to do the same. Again, there is no mention of physical strength in Peter’s letter, but he does talk about about strong while we submit to Christ, authorities and each other. That takes spiritual maturity. We can also look back to chapter 2, vs 12, where Peter tells us to act honorably to glorify God. There is no mention of men having superior strength in Eden, either. I don’t think that any of us would argue that men are not physically stronger, but this seems out of place in this letter. Men were “stronger” than women socially, legally and a lot of other ways as well.

        Something that I have learned lately is that when we study Scripture, we have to have a hard look at what the passage does NOT say as well as what it does. We ALL have read a lot into God’s word that is not there. So I have become very careful about what is left out. Many will read what is not said in Gen 1-3 into this verse, and I think we need to be careful to not impose an error from one place onto another.

        Ah well, seeing is from different perspectives is good!

        1. Yes, we do need to look at what the passage doesn’t say. 🙂

      2. Yes, Marg. Furthermore, there is nothing in any NT passage about a man possessing greater spiritual strength. Any believer with any spiritual strength at all has it because the Holy Spirit gives it. It’s also important to remember that in the historical context in which Paul and Peter wrote, women were expected to be submissive to their husbands and women in general were esteemed as less than men–by men. Since wives were already considered lesser culturally, the only reason that Paul or Peter would have to address them is because they were beginning to see that their Christian faith gave them freedom in Christ that they did not otherwise have. Otherwise, there would have been on re3ason to bring up these topics.

  7. The next logical progression to the concept of value and worth being linked to physical strength would be to say that an able-bodied human is intrinsically worth more than a disabled human (or for that matter, that a smaller and therefor weaker child is inferior in value to a larger, stronger adult). I think that most people would reject both of those scenarios as false and unbiblical, so why would accept them as true in regards to the differences between physical strength in men and women?

    1. As I was writing this article I had two men in mind who are dependent on wheelchairs for mobility. Both men are loving husbands and fathers and are full participants in society but their legs don’t work. I often cringe when I read how some people describe “manhood,” for the two men would not qualify according to narrow definitions of “biblical manhood.” And that is ridiculous.

  8. There is a certain irony in the view that basic physical strength or speed, for instance, is ‘superior’. It might help (some) men feel superior to the ‘weak’ women. However, those with that scale of values should then regard themselves as inferior to animals. There are animals which are stronger and faster than any man. However, if one considers those attributes which distinguish human beings from (other) animals, it seems to me that women display these just as much as men, when given the right education and opportunities, and some more so.

    1. Indeed. 🙂

  9. Your message to Jade and her reply are beautifully written, insightful and grace-filled. Thank you for being a willing vessel. God is using your gifts you to answer many prayers. Thank you! Mandy Fischer.

    1. Thanks, Mandy. <3

  10. When my son was four, he complained to me that it wasn’t fair that God made women better than men. He wanted to know why God gave women the power to grow babies in their tummies and not men. He was deeply disappointed that he would never be able to grow a baby and in that moment he genuinely felt a sense of physical inferiority because of it. And I don’t think he was deluded in that either, well, no more than someone who thinks men are physically superior purely on the basis of muscle. Isn’t it quite frankly astonishing that women bleed every month without being hurt, our bones effectively dislocate and our vaginas dilate and we push out a baby whilst enduring outrageous amounts of physical pain for hours or days on end, and then boom, we make food for that baby out of their own blood and flesh? Does that not deserve to be regarded as physical strength as much as the strength to lift heavy objects, wield a sword or plough a field?
    My son is six now and is quite happy with his maleness, and he is now determined NEVER to get married or have babies. He is very proud that one day his body will make lots more testosterone which will turn him into a man and he will be stronger at lifting things than most women. But I’ve also been very clear to him that the most important strength is moral strength, the strength to do what is right and follow God’s leading in your life regardless of what anyone else might think of you. If we all cultivated that strength above any other kind of strength, the world would be a much better place.

  11. Strength is only one function of a muscle too. What about endurance? What about pain tolerance? Doesn’t seem men can even claim true muscular “superiority” over women.

    1. Yup. If you want to see a truly astounding display of physical strength, endurance and pain tolerance – watch a woman give birth.
      After I gave birth for the second time (which took 25 hours, my vagina tore and I nearly went into shock right afterwards), I was rinsing the blood off myself in the hospital shower as my husband stood there with our newborn baby sleeping in his bassinet close by, and I saw that my husband was staring at me with a look of awe on his face. Finally he said, “I had no idea you were that strong.”
      How people can dismiss the value of the physical ability to bear children, I just don’t get.

  12. I agree with you, Marg. Amen. When I read this blog post, three things came to ind.
    1. I think such assertions come from males who a) don’t understand that it means that God made male AND female in his image.
    2. These males must think that Jesus’ view of leadership in Mark 9 and 10 does not apply to them. Why would you be putting women down? Because these males want to justify power over them. I’ve heard people like John MacArthur talk about women. I interpret their statements to mean, basically, that women should be barefoot and pregnant. This comes from a craving for and justification for exerting power over women. That brings me to my third point.
    3. a) I’d llike any of the males who make these claims to perform better in the Hawaiian Ironman than Paula Newby-Fraser, who won the women’s race several times. Can they do a bicyce time trial faster than Chloe DIygert? I am a white male and they would both leave me in the dust, and I’ve trained for those triathlons and time trials.
    b) It’s worth considering what men do with this superior strength. They rape and sexually abuse women because such men have greater physical strength. Men use their superior strength to sexually traffic children and young women and prevent these oppressed people from escape or rescue. They attack and injure or kill men and women. They start and fight wars. They oppress others through slavery. Yes, I can see why male superior strength is so important to some males. My physical strength compared to my wife’s is not very relevant except, as one person said, to open jars that she cannot open. I can’t imagine how painful it must be to give birth. Nor can I understand how anyone can discount the importance of that. If all women refused to get impregnated, there would be no humans within 100 years. I think this whole issue comes out of the desire for power, sort of like the craving to know what God knows in Genesis 3 and it is particularly Adam who is held responsible for this act.

    1. Hello Kenneth. Jesus’ view of leadership is so poorly understood and rarely applied, and the church and women suffer for it.

  13. Isn’t there a certain irony in that the White Male considers himself superior to women because of his brawn, while the same White Male has always claimed superiority to black males because the latter were mostly brawn? I recommend Richard Hughes’ book, “Myths Americans Live By” second edition. The Original Sin in America is the Myth of White Male Superiority, and it has filled our churches for hundreds of years.

  14. I find it so sad that women shall consider themselves inferior – and for such a reason! Physical strength is really not a good criterion.

    What really are the differences between women and men, is something that we still have little actual knowledge about, it requires much more research. Former views about this have been many, but have mostly been wrong.

    Many thoughts went through my head when I read this, and it seems that it was the same for others, judging by the number of responses. One thing I would like to point to, is the difference between averages and individuals. This is a topic that many seem to be confused about.

    Men are certainly not stronger in the sense that all men are stronger than all women. It is the average for men that is a little higher than the average for women. But the average isn’t a person. Persons are always individuals, and an arbitrary individual may be weaker or stronger than any average. Each of us is an individual, not an average. We don’t have to identify with the average.

    There is great variation in physical strength among women, and the same among men. The variation is significantly larger than any average difference. There are many strong women, and many weak men. And what is true for physical strength, is true for other characteristics too. Whatever characteristic we are looking at, the variation is always greater than an average difference, if there is one.

    Some researches have indicated that women are a little better than men in so-called verbal intelligence, while men are a little better in so-called spatial intelligence. Others say that this is not true. But whether there is such a difference or not, one thing is certain: There is great variation in the abilities both among men and women. There are many women with good spatial abilities, and many men with poor ones.

    Many characteristics are hard to define, and perhaps even harder to measure. But if we can measure something, it is practically guaranteed that we will find this same thing: There is great variation, and any potential difference between women and men will be small compared to that variation.

    When applying for a job, averages aren’t, like I said, persons, so averages never apply for a job. It is always individuals who apply for a job, and what matters then are – or should be – the capabilities of each individual. Average capabilities do not come into view. And an individual’s capabilities may be very different from any average.

    I live in Norway. Firefighters are most often men, but some years ago I read an interview with a woman firefighter here in Norway. Firefighters have to take physical performance tests at regular intervals, and this woman told that several of the men didn’t take these tests seriously enough. They trusted that they could pass them just because they were men, and as a result, they sometimes had trouble doing so. She herself knew that she had to train to pass them. So she trained diligently, and as a result she passed the tests with flying colors. And this also translated into having what was needed at work. When there was some heavy lifting to do, she had the muscles to do it. A woman can very well be a firefighter, and a good one, despite that this is a male-dominated occupation.

    There is much more I should have liked to say, but I’ll stop here for now.

    1. Thanks, Knut. This is very interesting and very sensible. 🙂

  15. Wonderfully said. This is why it is so important to look at the gifts and not the packaging!! Averages can give us some general ideas and guidelines, but it we need to look at each other as individuals gifted by God, not as cookie cutter people.

  16. I wanted to point out that although women do have their own strengths, but despite the myth of women enduring pain better than men do to giving birth, that isn’t true. In fact, studies over the years have stated that it’s actually men who have a higher pain endurance than women. As for the cold, I’ve found numerous studies that stated that women are more sensitive to the cold than men are due to less muscle tissue that generates heat, and their blood vessels are farther from their skin, and the female hormone oestrogen reduces the blood flow. Of course women do have some advantages as I mentioned, one is that their bodies tend to be more agile and flexible than men. Women have better endurance in exercise than women and better at running long distance. Besides, women tend to live longer than men due to women on average have healthier lifestyles. As for the weaker vessel meaning. Having studied the Greek translation “asthenes skeuos” I always felt it was referring to physical weakness, since the word skeuos has been used as a metaphor for human body and the word asthenes means less strength, feeble etc. It could also refer to how a man treats his wife more delicately and gentle like a fine piece of china. But I agree that physical strength as nothing do with someone being superior or inferior as we are all equal in God’s eyes, equal in value, worth and salvation in Gods’ kingdom. God Bless.

  17. Physical strength, is not a pre-requisute of being a strong Christian. On the contrary, God is always reminding us to excercise our mind in the Word; to put on the mind of Christ – renew the mind to Gods word, not mans words. Christian women and men, are both born again of Gods gift of holy spirit, therefore have equal spiritual authority in Christ Jesus. A persons faith is not measured by thier physical strength, but by the spiritual fruits they manifest in thier lives. We are equal members of the body of Christ, but with different functions.

    1 Corinthians 12 12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many. 15 If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? 18 But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 19 And if they were all one member, where were the body? 20 But now are they many members, yet but one body. 21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. 22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: 23 and those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. 24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: 25 that there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. AMEN

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