When it comes to thinking about gender roles, I wonder whether some Christians have sold out to a traditional Western view of sex, and when I say sex, I mean the one flesh kind of sex not the male / female kind of sex.
Despite what the last 50 years of sexual revolution have done, Western society still portrays men as sexual aggressors and women as sexually passive. One example of this is in sitcoms. From ‘Friends’ to ‘Two and a Half Men’ to ‘Rules of Engagement’, one of the main themes is men getting the sex they want (and women getting what they want by using sex as a bargaining tool). Men are the ones who want sex. Women go along with it for some kind of other gain. Even the raunch culture in today’s young women in merely a response to perceived male desire, as Ariel Levy so poignantly argues in ‘Female Chauvinist Pigs.’
I was reading 1 Timothy 6 the other day and was struck but how different the Bible’s view is. Paul writes to Timothy about the young widows being overcome with desire and how it is better for them to remarry (v.12). He sees women as so un-passive that he’s giving guidelines for how they can not fall into sexual sin! So too when you read Song of Songs, the beloved is pretty audacious (see, for example, 1:1-4, 2:16-17, 7:9-12, 8:5-7.)
Christians have started to pick up on this and encourage women to be sexually confident in the last ten years or so, from Bobbi Houston’s classic ‘Kingdom Women Love Sex’ (now incorporated into the ‘She’ series, I think) to Shannon Ethridge’s ‘The Sexually Confident Wife‘. Even the standard Australian evangelical ‘One Flesh‘ by Greg and Amelia Clarke has a few suggestions. The best sex, they argue is sex where both partners are involved and both are interested in fulfilling the other’s needs. That ought not to surprise us – 1 Cor 7 says much the same thing. What’s on view is a partnership and a mutuality.
If we see sex as a microcosm of the one flesh relationship of marriage, we ought to expect to see similarity in the gender roles of marriage. I’ve previously written about what submission looks like for a wife, and I’ve said that I think that’s expressed in trusting your husband. Much has been written by both conservatives and feminists about the vulnerability of sex (with men) for women. But the other role the Bible speaks of for women in marriage is that of helper. Too often, I think we make this a passive role – following whatever the husband wants to do (like, just going along with sex). But, the Bible’s view of a woman’s role in a sexual relationship is far from passive and we ought to take this into view when considering what a ‘helper’ is. It’s about creativity and imagination. It’s about confidence. It’s not about being passionless or uninvolved but about assertively seeking to empower and enliven her husband.
The Bible’s picture of marriage and sex is far richer than Western society offers. It is bigger than stereotypes, offering a vision for true partnership. Are we courageous enough to live it out?
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.