‘Biblical womanhood’ is not what it seems

If you spent any time immersed in Christian culture, you’ve probably heard the phrases “biblical manhood” and “biblical womanhood.”

Sisters Kristen Clark and Bethany Baird of Girl Defined Ministries believe in those godly ideals, and they share advice on their YouTube channel to help clarify some myths Christian women may have about the subject. I watched their latest video with interest, but the myths they addressed were all very similar: that “biblical womanhood” makes one a doormat or a wimp and forbids women to use their brains.

They barely scratched the surface of my biggest concern about biblical womanhood: that gender, more than ability or skill, determines the direction in which you live your life.

The narrow “complementarian” view of gender perpetuated by Girl Defined puts men and women in boxes rather than encouraging them to be themselves.

Complementarianism perpetuates a “separate but equal” mentality, in which men are leaders and women are their helpers (as opposed to “egalitarianism,” which emphasizes equality between genders). Those who buy into this way of thinking believe women are most “in their element” as wives, mothers, and homemakers. It doesn’t afford families the freedom to decide what works best for their particular lifestyles.

Complementarianism does not take into account families where it is more convenient, for example, for the father to stay at home with the kids while mother goes to work. It does not take into account single parents who have to play both parental roles in addition to providing the only income. (It certainly doesn’t account for same-sex couples.) Most importantly, complementarianism views feminism — a movement that advocates for freedom for women to make their own choices — as something demonic. Women in complementarianism may be encouraged to “use their brains,” but ultimately, they must defer to their husbands in order to keep God’s favor.

While the sisters’ vlog does give examples of a few women in Scripture (like Esther and Mary), they fail to take into account just how very different those women were from each other, both in personalities and in their circumstances. Regarding Mary, for example, they completely gloss over the fact that she was seen as a very unbiblical woman by having people think she slept with Joseph (or somebody else) before she was married. Mary is far from the only biblical woman to find herself in socially scandalous situations, having to find strength to persevere and survive.

When I read the Bible, the positive lessons I take from learning about the lives of certain biblical women have to do with how they’re smart, strong, and courageous. Those qualities are human qualities, not gender-specific.

For what it’s worth, only one of the vlogging sisters is married: less than six years, according to their website. In my opinion, that’s not nearly long enough to launch a ministry teaching other couples (of all different backgrounds and personalities) how best to be married. Their book, also titled Girl Defined, has an endorsement on the back cover from Nancy Leigh DeMoss, who is the author of Lies Women Believe, a decidedly anti-feminist book. DeMoss believes that women who are being abused should pray rather than press charges or seek divorce. If that’s someone they consider a prime example of a “biblical woman,” run far away from this ministry like it’s a Category 5 hurricane.

This piece originally appeared on Friendly Atheist.


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3 thoughts on “‘Biblical womanhood’ is not what it seems

  1. My mind takes a, perhaps, strange turn when considering subjects such a “Biblical Womanhood”, “Biblical Manhood”, or “Biblical Law.” I see all of those as describing the culture of the authors referenced, whether in the Old or New Testament. That was another time and place.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Biblical Womanhood will make you a doormat.”
    Considering that the Bible teaches that “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” (1 Tim. 2:11) and “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says.” (1 Cor. 14:34) and “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (Eph. 5:24) – one can interpret these verses in such a way that women cannot say “no” – in other words, be a doormat. Some do just that. Looking at the lives of women who lived in the Bible was hardly ever the main point of Biblical Womanhood teachings – because each woman was usually an extraordinary person, not an example of how to live. If women were taught, it was usually one of the majors – Ruth, Esther, Mary, or the Proverbs 31 Woman. Women like Deborah, Vashti, Athaliah, Jael, Lydia, Phoebe, Junias, Saphira, Abigail, Leah, Rachel, Rebecca, Sarah, Tamar, etc. were never used as illustrations because they had been leaders in their own right, devious tricksters, in a non-monogamous family structure, were barely mentioned and not enough was known about them to turn into Biblical Womanhood type teaching. Grudem identifies being a doormat as an error of “passivity” for wives.

    “Biblical Womanhood will make you a wimp.”
    I’m used to seeing this misconception as Grudem’s classification of an error of “passivity” for husbands. I’m seeing them use words like being “bold” and “courageous” – but I can’t help but be annoyed that “courageous” was a movie / song about men being manly heads of households and fathers and never had any “room” for women to be like men in that way.

    “Biblical womanhood will make you less valuable than a man.”
    One sense of the word “value” is to assign importance. Biblical womanhood asserts that God assigns a high degree of importance on the leadership of men and the non-leadership of women. The leaders are anointed and treated as if they’re set apart. Only men can be leaders. Only men are more important than women. Only men may teach, women would make for inferior teachers. Let’s not discount personal experience – young women are often shoehorned into the nursery ministry whereas young men are fast-tracked into teaching and preaching. Men and women have different roles, and men’s roles give them priority – value – importance – that women do not enjoy. Jesus himself may have broken the cultural trends of his time, but his church didn’t always. Some of their rules are exactly like the cultures around them – particularly in their treatment of women as second-class members of the church with limitations that men never had.

    “Biblical womanhood means that you will throw your brain away.”
    Create a role for women that pigeonholes women into raising children and everything they do has to become kiddified – that leaves very little room for them to crack open Institutes of the Christian Religion or time enough to take any number of classes where they can increase their spiritual knowledge. After all, it’s the man’s role to be the spiritual leader of the household and he can’t lead anybody who knows more than he does – that’s why women’s Bible studies have long had a reputation of being “fluffy”.

    “Biblical womanhood will make your life boring.”
    Since the main point of Biblical womanhood is being a submissive wife and mother, it can make your life routine – sometimes that might seem quite boring when one is very much like the before it and litter differs from one day to the next. It’s not like you’ll have a lot of options for things to do or places to outside of the approved wife/mom box.

    “Biblical womanhood is our greatest ambition.”
    Given the emphasis on living like the Proverbs 31 woman, the tendency to focus on home-making skills that rival Martha Stewart, it seems that this isn’t really a misconception. When your world is limited to your house, your work is limited to your children and your husband, it’s not as if you can aspire to open a business (not one that would take your time away from your husband and kids), to travel (that would take you out of your home and church), or to pursue any dream or goal that diverts you from your primary mission.

    When my church tried to shove me into the Biblical Womanhood mold, I resisted. There were things that I wanted to know and I had no interest in waiting to get married so that my future husband could teach them to me – I looked them up and taught myself. When they assigned me to the nursery, I used my spare time to research the very same doctrines the men were being taught rather than arts and crafts to entertain the toddlers. I had a keen interest in church history and culture – and I discovered that the early church was in a lot of ways similar to the cultures around it – particularly when it was a fledgling church on the edges of the Roman empire – they weren’t likely to be counter-cultural on the subject of women. I can’t imagine myself being able to fit into any Biblical Womanhood circle given what I know. So many of them would be swapping recipes and giving childcare advice and I’d have nothing to contribute to that conversation; and my areas of expertise are pretty much forbidden apples from the tree of knowledge.

    Liked by 2 people

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