In my recent post (42: My wife...) I focused on the wives who are victims of male headship (thinking in that post of the problems caused by wives being valued only or principally for their looks). Here I want to draw attention to five other groups of victims that are often forgotten or ignored when we focus on the problems that male headship means for wives. I have been encouraged as I thought about this by a session on inclusion and diversity at the Time to Reflect retreat where I am this week.
- Single Women
- Single Men
- Wives with ill husbands
- The whole of society
Single women. I mentioned them in passing in the other post but realised that in doing so I was continuing the trend of not giving them the attention they deserve. When Churches teach male headship it should be obvious that single women become victims. When a woman is considered to only have worth from their husband then those women who have no husband are victims twice over. Once for their gender and once because they do not have the only recognised status which is that of wife. I imagine there are differing experiences of this for women who have never been married, those who are divorced (and I suspect especially single parents) and those who are widowed. I would love to know of places where the voices of single women in complementarian/male headship churches are being shared and heard. Anyone got any recommendations?
Single Men. As one of the key status symbols in a male headship setting is the "lovely" wife it follows that men without a wife will have lower status, I get the distinct impression that a wife is considered essential for Church planters by some. Maybe the self styled masculinity of these churches helps men attend, but if all the focus is on having a wife who will submit and honour you then how do the single men feel? Are the considered failures? What about those men with skills and interests that are not considered manly by their male headship Church? Where do they fit in?
Husbands. It may seem odd to see the married men in male headship churches as victims. However, they have to fit the part too. What about the unemployed husband "kept" by his wife? What about the husband whose wife has a better job, or who is better suited to staying at home and looking after the kids (very nearly my choice at one time), or who loves cooking or baking, or who is the tidy one in the marriage who chooses to keep the home clean. There are already plenty of men who dare to break the cultural stereotypes, how many more would make different choices without the pressure to conform to their churches idea of male headship? How many would be happier if freed from the need to be the head?Wives with ill husbands. I know I have asked this before and I also know that no male headship supporter has answered. Suppose you believe in male headship and have followed it all your married life. Then late in life your husband develops dementia. How do you fit this with male headship? Suddenly you have the one who has not been allowed to make the final decisions in charge. In examples I have seen you have the one who has never been allowed to manage the finances having to pick them up with no handover at an incredibly difficult time. Who is now the head of the household? Should this faithful wife now feel guilty because she is acting out of her God given role?
The whole of society. Whenever people are excluded from their full potential, whenever people are not free or are prevented from using their God given abilities then the whole of society is poorer and we all suffer loss. How could it be otherwise? This is true in every way that people are excluded (racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, ageism, etc etc) and make headship is no different. My life is poorer because the gifts of so many have been suppressed. Simple selfishness and self interest should mean I stand against male headship even when it is marketed at complementarianism.
[Update] See also 42: Included or Injustice.