Monday, October 31, 2011

Radical Womanhood - Chapter 4

Chapter 4: Roll Call

As McCulley begins this chapter, she makes a helpful aside comment. Being a unmarried woman herself, she has had to think about how she can counsel married women, not having experienced it herself. She came to realise personal experience was not what was important.
We do not need the authority of personal experience to counsel one another because the bible is sufficient for this task. But we do need to know the Word. (p75)
This is a helpful reminder for us, whether we are in a position to give counsel or to receive it - it can be tempting to think “I don’t understand, I have nothing to offer”, or “She doesn’t have to live with this issue, how can she instruct me on how to live with it”. We all need to have grace don’t we?

McCulley explains how feminism led many people to believe that there were essentially no differences between men and women, a fact which has been disproved by much scientific study. Women think differently, experience emotions differently and their brains work differently.


Then, she moves to a biblical explanation of the term ‘helper’, or wife - a helper who is equal to her husband, but differed from him and complemented him.

She clearly acknowledges that “many men fall short of the humble, sacrificially loving leadership role. Many women fall short of the humble, encouraging support role too. Just because sin mars a concept does not mean it is beyond gospel redemption.” (p83, my emphasis)

In the end, McCulley concludes:
submission has more to do with our attitude towards this concept than any flawless execution of it (p84)
She will have a disposition to yield to her husband’s guidance and an inclination to follow his leadership. Her final authority is Christ and she will not follow her husband into sin, however she has a spirit of submission (summarised from Piper and Grudem, Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, p61).

What then follows is a helpful discussion of the role of wife with encouragement and correction. For not only are we wives who are submissive, we are also caring sisters towards our imperfect brother who is our husband. And, in that role, we may be an encourager, a gentle rebuker, a counselor and a corrector.


Statistics show women initiate most divorces. This is a legacy of feminism. One of the triumphs claimed by second-wave feminists was introduction of ‘no-fault divorce’. Some critics argue this is the most profound effect of feminism upon our culture:
But divorce - the dissolution of a solemn mutual contract in which your pledge your life, your honor, your name, your commitment, and your future - can be thrust upon you without your consent… The very existence of this sword of Damocles hanging over husband and wife validates the attitude that marriage is temporary and based on self-satisfaction, rather than on commitment and responsibility. (p86, quoting Phyllis Schlafly, Feminist Fantasies, p234-5)
Of course, later research has also shown that those devastated, especially economically, by divorce are women. Wonder if feminists are still quite as proud about no-fault divorce?

McCulley finishes with some practical advice for wives, gleaned from Gary Thomas. If you regularly think negatively about your husband, you are likely to be dissatisfied. If you search for strengths and affirm those, you will build him up in those areas and encourage him. Not only that: we have all married imperfect men. But let’s just remember as well, all husbands have married imperfect wives.

She finishes with this encouragement:
In marriage, it takes a lot of strength of character to be a helpmate as the Bible describes it and not bail on the marriage. But you’re not doing it alone or in your own strength. Never forget the encouragement, correction, submission, honor, respect, and appreciation that you give your husband each day are lavishly supplied by the One who is also your helper! (p90)

Things to think about:
  • How do you feel about the term ‘helper’?
  • Why do you think women initiate most divorces? (extreme circumstances aside)
  • Would it be helpful for you, when thinking of your husband’s imperfections, to remind yourself that he also married an imperfect wife?

Next week: Chapter 5: There’s no place like home


Tamie said...

Hi Wendy

I hate to be critical again, and I haven't actually read McCulley's book but it seems to me her methodology is flawed here.

Firstly, I realise it's not the main thrust of her argument but turning to science to prove the difference between men and women only works generally. Some women have 'more masculine' brain chemistry; some men have 'more feminine' responses to emotions. What if this combination end up married to each other? Surely we would say that irrespective of science, they ought to live out God's roles for them anyway!

Secondly, on the divorce thing, I find Schafly's argument a little strange. It seems that she argues that divorce is bad because a husband can thrust it upon his wife without her consent and then leave her out to dry. Can I ask, if a husband is so ruthless and uncaring for his wife, are we sure we would counsel her to stay in that marriage anyway? (I'm not saying don't work on the marriage; I'm just asking if there's another angle to consider.)


Wendy said...


It’s probably worth reading it, as I am only summarising it. I do not do justice to how much McCulley has included, so that my posts are not too long.

On the first point, I don’t think she is drawing a causal link between men and women being different and therefore how they relate in marriage. In the first instance she is making the point that men and women are intrinsically different, rather than the same. She doesn’t link it (I don’t think) as clearly to roles in marriage. The roles in marriage are defined by God’s word, not by our brain chemistry or otherwise. So, I took them as two related points, but not one that led to the other.

Secondly, I agree with your conclusion, but I’m not sure that’s the point Shafly is trying to make. She is noting how divorce can be thrust upon you without your consent (either by a husband or a spouse), which in essence can remove the sense of permanence and commitment that the state of marriage should entail. If someone thinks they have an easy ‘out’ of marriage, sometimes it’s easier to take it, rather than persist at working on the problem. You make a good point pastorally, I think it just hasn’t been addressed here to that level of detail.


Tamie said...

Yes, on the first point, I can see that she sees them as related but not causal. But I wonder what the relationship is? The reason that I ask is because I think often in this debate, we complementarians fall into a 'God of the gaps' proof mentality. i.e. we claim our position according to the Bible but then use science of confirm it or make it appear more reputable. Perhaps in this case, science is in our favor but there are exceptions to the rule so the methodology can't be universally applied. I like the point - I'm just keen to see it well-argued. :)

On point 2, isn't the idea of a divorce being thrust upon you without consent largely the situation 1st century women were faced with as well? Of course that doesn't excuse it or its problems but I'm not sure it's feminism which is responsible for no-fault divorce. Patriarchy doesn't have a great track record in that department either! There's an extent to which McCulley needs to take her own point here - sin is the problem! Both feminist societies and patriarchal societies have led to no-fault divorce. I agree that no-fault divorce can make a marriage feel more temporary. But to paint this as a new or specifically feminist phenomenon seems a little short-sighted, doesn't it?

Wendy said...

Thanks for your comments Tamie. It's good to keep thinking about it.