Monday, December 14, 2009

Wear the Pants: Questions for a "Genderless Society," Part 1

This new Dockers ad campaign was brought to my attention today. It's a clever and provocative piece of marketing, a "man-ifesto" of sorts (get it?), and it's already starting to stir up controversy in the blogosphere. On the right, there are those who are celebrating the campaign and its apparent embrace of distinct gender roles. On the left, there are those who are calling it homophobic and sexist.

As usual, I find myself caught in the middle.

In case you can't read the graphic above, here's the full text:

"Once upon a time, men wore the pants, and wore them well. Women rarely had to open doors and little old ladies never crossed the street alone. Men took charge because that's what they did. But somewhere along the way, the world decided it no longer needed men. Disco by disco, latte by foamy non-fat latte, men were stripped of their khakis and left stranded on the road between boyhood and androgyny. But today, there are questions our genderless society has no answers for. The world sits idly by as cities crumble, children misbehave and those little old ladies remain on one side of the street. For the first time since bad guys, we need heroes. We need grown-ups. We need men to put down the plastic fork, step away from the salad bar and untie the world from the tracks of complacency. It's time to get your hands dirty. It's time to answer the call of manhood. It's time to wear the pants."

Well, of course it's time to get our hands dirty and step away from our complacency. The call of Christ is for us to love and serve our world like He did. I applaud any attempt to stir men to take initiative and do the right thing. And I think there is a genuine need in our culture to help children grow up into men and women. I'll never forget reading Wild at Heart by John Eldredge for the first time. I don't care what you think of him, he tapped into a very real need... to understand what it is that makes us men, over and against women.

But really? Was the world that much better "once upon a time" when gender roles were so much more clearly defined? When a woman couldn't open her own door and a man drank his coffee black, dammit?

Of course a woman couldn't get the same pay for doing the same work as a man back then either. If you ask me, this campaign is nothing more than a blatant attempt to make money and sell pants by appealing to peoples' nostalgia. Of course it is. Everything always looks better in the sepia-colored rearview mirror.

As for me, I'm glad my daughter is growing up in a world where she actually could grow up to be President. You've come a long way, Baby...

But I will give Dockers credit for raising some provocative and genuinely good questions. What is gender? Are there roles for men and women to play in our society, and are they interchangeable? What about in the Church? Is there such a thing as "man's work?"

I'm going to raise these questions over the next few days and try to lay out my thoughts... I'm not an expert on the topic, but I have read and talked and thought a lot about it. I have moved from one position on the subject to a very different position, and I can share about my experiences and convictions. I would love your interaction.


I grew up in a home with traditional gender roles. My mom stayed home with the kids while dad went off to work. Dad generally did yardwork and anything having to do with tools. Mom cooked and cleaned and did the laundry. These roles were further reinforced in our church and Christian school, which were a part of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches. Women were not permitted to teach the bible to men. Women were not permitted to be elders in the church. Some families went so far as to have their mothers and daughters wear head coverings (usually a doily of sorts pinned into the hair) when they were going to serve publically in any sort of church ministry. In our bible classes and Sunday sermons, this was taught as clear biblical teaching. I was highly suspicious of the motives and real spirituality of any woman who was a pastor. They clearly were liberals and not to be trusted in matters of faith, doctrine and conduct.

Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Tomorrow I'm going to describe how I moved from this background (complementarianism - the different genders "complement" one another as they work within their distinct, God-given roles) to where I am now (egalitarianism - women and men are truly equal in Christ, not only in position before God, but in our roles in the Church, family and society).

Then on Wednesday I'll bring up some of my questions and thoughts about gender in light of egalitarianism. I'm really wrestling with some of these things, and maybe you can help me out.


victoria said...

Oh, this will be a fun one.

I saw the dockers ad before you tweeted it from another blog and found it thought provoking.

Being a girl, I've never read Wild At Heart. (I owned it but gave it away) I was in a Bible study that did the "women's version" of Captivating...... I so did not like it! I had a lot of issues with it, but a huge reason is that I'm SO not a typical girl. (I did not dream of being a princess and being "rescued" and the 3 core things every women wants were all things I so DID NOT care about. (to unveil beauty, play an irreplaceable role, and to be romanced) I just really had a hard time with the generalizations..... because I don't think I "fit" in the stereotype of my gender, actually.

You bring up a lot of good points.... when I was in High School we were invited to speak to our sunday school class.... only my pastor failed to specify this was for the MEN ONLY. (I guess he thought no girls would be interested) when I prepared my little talk I was told that I couldn't present it.... a girl can't teach men. It was crushing actually.

Ironically, I don't know what I believe. In my household I feel I'm quite equal with my husband. I AM a SAHM which seems traditional but if I had a job that paid more my husband would be quite happy to stay at home with the kids. We share the roles of caregiving and housecleaning, and I am a part of all major decisions right with him; he listens to me. I do consider him the "head of household" not because he's "superior " to me but because I do hold some traditional views and to me it's a sense of order. Someone has to be head and I agree that Biblically it's the man. (but it's really easy to submit in the relationship that we have)

As for complementarianism vs. egalitarianism .... Ironically, I'm more traditional. (complementarian)
I don't seem to have the same respect for women pastors. (maybe because I was told that was wrong) I just realize that there is an order to authority and see it's importance.

That being said, I am a questioning brat and do wonder why some churches take such a stance on stuff like this: Like an all-male elder board. This is Biblical, right? Yet..... how many elder boards adhere to the other requirements? Above reproach? Husband of one wife? (does this mean never divorced??) children are believers? not arrogant or quick tempered?

I think it's quite interesting how we pick and choose what is truly important in the Bible and what we are willing to gloss over. I understand how certain things are "cultural" but I guess I question when people pick certain things to adhere to and other things say that it's not pertinent today because of culture.

Looking forward to your posts. If I'm too annoying, just let me know. Or delete my post.

Anonymous said...

First, I really like what Victoria said about how we so often want to "pick and choose" what parts of Scripture we want to follow. As for me, I grew up in a home where my mom was a SAHM. The church where I grew up was co-pastored by a husband and wife. I, myself am a pastor and my wife is an intregal part of our work here, including filling the pulpit.

That said, I had a thought regarding your choice of words "when a woman couldn't open a door..." From my upbringing (southern :) it wasn't that a woman couldn't open a door but rather that it was a sign of honor and respect TO women to hold the door open for them. I recall about 20 years ago, I was engaged and was headed to a store to grab something. A lady was headed out as I was heading in and I instinctually held the door open for her. . . She got angry with me! She glared at me and said, "What, you think I can't open the door because I'm a woman?" I replied, "No ma'am. I'm holding the door for you because I'm a gentleman." I didn't mean any disrespect to her at the time, but I realized my comment could be taken several different ways.

I think in our modern culture where androgony seems to rule the day that women have faired poorly. They have gone from a place of respect, to so often being nothing more than an object of sexual fantasy. Sex sells. Look at the cover of most magazines, or the next car commercial -- and by the way, Victoria doesn't have any secrets! They are all on display. I recall the first time I saw the movie "Time Changer." It was very challenging seeing how the culture, had changed in the last 100 years.

Esteem for women has seemingly been lost. At the same time, emasculated men are left drifting, wondering "who am I." What makes me who I am? Almost all native cultures had a "coming of age" ceremony where boys became men. There was no question of "am I a man?" They could all point to a single event in their lives. Women have never had that problem. They can all point to an "event" in their lives when they were no longer "girls."

Women will always function differently than men in at least one area -- God designed them to be the ones to bear children. God made distinctions beteen the sexes, yet at the same time said that only in the union of husband and wife would the image of God be reflected fully. Science has shown that there are innate differences between boys and girls -- just watch them play. Sometimes its frustrating because of the push for "equality" it becomes blurred with "uniformity." It has almost become taboo to celebrate the differences.

Yes there are many examples of people abusing authority -- men over women, racial, the list goes on. But it seems that the pendulum has swung wildly in the opposite direction. Jesus said that He was "under authority" yet He is no less valuable than the Father. If we accept the passage of a man being in authority "over" a woman, I cannot see how it could be construed that he is somehow "better" than her.

Being of Celtic ancestry, I never was as concerned about who wore the "pants." -- Men wore kilts. :) I now live in an Eskimo village in a remote part of Alaska. Dresses wouldn't work up here very well either.

But, you can see how the question of purposelessness amongst the men of these cultures has been a part of the breakdown of the family unit. If men no longer see themselves as providers, protectors and defenders of their families, then what IS their role? A consequence of this purposelessness has been a fragmentation of family structure and an increase in single parent homes -- which has always weighed heavier towards men abandoning women than vice versa.

I am looking forward to reading as you attempt to grapple with this modern age "hot potato." I believe it is a true statement that we will find the road somewhere between the two ditches on either side.

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