It's been a long time. If anyone still reads this blog, I have a new post for you. :)
The other day I was listening to a discussion between a recently married woman and a single woman, both conservative Christians, and I noticed an interesting example of marital role reversal.
They were discussing how they thought it was a big problem that single Christian men live with their parents longer these days, and that this bothers them a lot. You see, they want (or wanted, in the case of the married woman) to meet a man who lives on his own and manages his own household. The reason they gave is that they are afraid that a man who is used to being cared for by his parents will suddenly come to see his wife as his mother and expect her to do “all the work”. Is this all there is to it though?
Before I get to my main argument, I want to stop to make a few quick provisos:
- It is good for men to learn how to manage a household. There will always be times when they will need those skills. They don’t have to live on their own to learn this though.
- Whether or not a man lives by himself is an unreliable indicator of how much housework he will do when married. I have seen men who lived on their own for a long time before getting married still expect their wives to do all the cooking and cleaning. There are probably also a lot of men who move straight out of their parents’ home into a “Marriage 2.0” style relationship and (for a time) happily share half or more of the housework.
- If there really are men that treat their wives as mothers, they are probably selling their relationship quite short.
- There are many good reasons for a man to move out of his parent’s house, but impressing these girls is not amongst them.
- My understanding of Biblical marital roles is still under formation, especially in regard to how to live as Christians in modern society.
Now, as we should know, the Bible is very clear that a man should move out of home and learn to be independent before marrying. As it says in Genesis 2:24 of the Modern Churchian Translation:
That is why a man leaves his father and mother, lives on his own for a few years, and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh until they get divorced.
Wait, let’s try that again, NIV this time:
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
There is no Biblical concept of ever being “independent” before marriage. A man leaves his parents and is united to his wife in the same action – the word for ‘leaves’ here is literally ‘rejects’ and likely has a sense of ‘changes his primary allegiance to his wife rather than his parents’. I suspect that the ideal of “being independent” is very Western and part of our individualistic culture. In the Ancient Near East, most free men lived and worked in the family business until (and probably after) marrying.
This aspect, though, is not what I think the girls found objectionable when considering the concept of men living with their parents. And although they stated it was because they don’t want to take on a motherly role, I think deeper reasons lie under the surface. I think what a girl really means when she says she wants to marry a man who has been living independently and managing his own household is:
I want a man with status. I want a man who not just has money but spends money, even if it’s just on his rent. Not only that, but I don’t want to think of my own responsibility to be a household manager. I won’t need to learn how to cook properly and manage a household if he can do it already.
First we have hypergamy – women want to marry men of higher social standing than they are. It doesn’t matter how responsible and suitable a young man is, if he lives with his parents then he is automatically seen as lower in their eyes. He obviously just needs to “man up.” It doesn‘t cross their mind that perhaps he fully expected to marry young but found that Christian women weren’t yet interested, or that he might be trying to save his money so that he can properly support a family in the future. I think women are very capable of differentiating between men who live with their parents because they are irresponsible and men who live with their parents because they have more important priorities than “being independent”. However, they choose not to exercise this discernment because then they would need to acknowledge their own hypergamy and self-interest.
Next we have the marital role reversal (an example of what Dalrock calls a ‘cross dressing’ view of marriage). For the most part, young Christian women are no longer taught to manage a household as instructed in the Bible but want to convince the men to do this for them. Feminism reinforces this by suggesting that a woman who desires to serve her (future) husband in this way must have been manipulated into accepting a low view of herself.
Let’s consider a couple of Paul’s instructions in the New Testament. (Lest I be accused of being one-sided, I am aware that both letters also contain instructions to men, but I am focusing on the instructions to young women in this post.)
Titus 2:3–5 (NRSV)
3Likewise, tell the older women to be reverent in behaviour, not to be slanderers or slaves to drink; they are to teach what is good, 4so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5to be self-controlled, chaste, good managers of the household, kind, being submissive to their husbands, so that the word of God may not be discredited.
I Timothy 5:14 (NRSV)
14So I would have younger widows marry, bear children, and manage their households, so as to give the adversary no occasion to revile us.
I chose the NRSV here because I believe it is the most clear in capturing the sense of the Greek words οἰκουργός (oikourgos) and οἰκοδεσποτέω (oikodespoteo) used in these two passages respectively. The first, from Titus, translates literally as “house-keepers” or “house-guarders”. The second, from I Timothy, translates as “to house-rule” (note the Greek root we use for the word despot!). The NIV translates these as “to be busy at home” and “manage their homes”, which still captures the same sense but not as strongly as the NRSV in the former.
While these commands are for married women, it seems reasonable that any young woman who aspires to marry should be prepared to learn these responsibilities. Note that these verses don’t say that only women should have these responsibilities, but rather that for young women this is an area which needed addressing in the early Church (and I believe even more so today). If every married woman had been naturally good at managing a household, Paul would not have needed to write anything about it. Instead, he wrote this command not once but twice in separate letters, both times suggesting that this is a matter of upholding the reputation of God’s word and the Church.
Therefore, hermeneutically, these passages should not be seen as a complete household code, but rather that Paul is targeting common behavioural weaknesses in each demographic. For example, in Titus 2:6 he says that young men should be urged to be self-controlled; is Paul saying that young women don’t need to be self-controlled? Not at all – he is just pointing to a weakness amongst young men. (Somehow this is less offensive to our feminist-influenced culture than pointing to a weakness amongst women, but it’s exactly the same principle.) In I Timothy 5:13 we get an example of how this weakness plays out amongst women:
13Besides, [young widows] get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to.
I think you don’t have to look very hard to see the obvious modern equivalent is Facebook (or Tumblr or Twitter). Check your Facebook news feed at any time on any day to see dozens of examples of totally inane rubbish and gossip – and in my experience, a majority of it is posted by women (studies have shown women spend much more time on Facebook). Meanwhile there are often kids stuck in front of the TV and jobs to be done all around the house. I’m sure you all know several women like this.
Instead of young women being prepared to learn how to manage their households, we see young women proudly announcing that they have no idea how to manage a household; as if it were some kind of feminist merit badge. For example, many of the young Christian women I know would barely be able to cook a packet of instant noodles, and they are proud of this fact. Or, they might know how to mix a packet of ingredients together to make a cake (which they then post all over Facebook) but wouldn’t know the first thing about cooking nutritious food for a family. And, rather than older women in the Church helping younger women to learn these responsibilities, we see them encouraging the young women to just find a man who knows rather than learn for themselves. Older women encourage the younger women to believe that wanting to serve their (future) husbands in this way is wrong and outdated.
Strikingly, the word of God is not just being discredited by those outside the Church, as Paul cautions in Titus, but the word of God is being discredited by the church who does not take it seriously.
How should we respond to this then?
- Regardless of whether you are a young man, young woman, older man or older woman, read Titus 2 and take note of each of the instructions Paul has for you. Consider how the weaknesses he points out are just as much a issue today in the Church and culture at large.
- Keep in mind that whether you are a man or woman, as a Christian the state of your household reflects on the reputation of the church and God’s word. I don’t think it’s quite as scandalous today to have a poorly managed house as it was in the Ancient Near East, but it’s still something we should avoid.
- If you are a woman who is married or aspires to marry, then learn to manage a household and see this as a great and honourable way of serving your husband and family. If you are not married, practice cooking meals for other families you know (e.g. from Church) that are going through a difficult time, or for your own family. Don’t only cook desserts and sweet food; this signals possible issues with impulse control rather than actual culinary ability. On this point, eat a healthy diet – if you don’t eat a balanced diet then guys will (correctly) see you as immature. Cooking well is easier than ever now that we have a lot of technology and easy scientifically-based cooking methods. Keep your bedroom and house tidy, even when other people aren’t there to see. Discern between men not based on whether they live with their parents, but whether they are responsible and Christ-like.
- If you are an older woman with experience in managing a household, recognise that you are a role model for younger women. Don’t complain about housework, but instead make it clear how you delight to serve your family. Invite younger women over to help you prepare meals for others so that they can learn to do this with you. Share tips on cleaning and maintaining a household – this will both help others to learn as well as reinforce it as a positive way to serve. Show how hospitality can be a great blessing.
- If you are a man who is unmarried and aspires to marry, keep an eye out for this kind of marital role reversal. Pay attention to the attitudes of young women on this issue, and look for signs that they do or do not want to take up the responsibility of managing a household. Don’t be pressured to move out of your parent’s home just because some girls say that’s on their checklist – make your decision to stay or leave for more important reasons.
- If you are a married man and your wife is a good household manager, then thank God for this blessing! If your wife has weaknesses in this area, you need to discern whether it is wise to bring it up directly, or whether it is better to be subtle and try to make more opportunities for her to connect with responsible older women.