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More On Femininity

One of the things I think was missing from my ‘On Femininity‘ paper was a decent discussion of what being a ‘helper’ looks like. I made a passing comment about God as our helper and that this isn’t about being passive but then spent most of my time unpacking what a helper looks like in terms of nurture. However, I think there’s more to it than that and if we only leave it there, our vision of femininity will be deficient.

The main thesis of my paper was that women ought to understand their femininity by embracing God’s order and choosing to trust. I argued (I hope!) that to do so is risky, courageous and beautiful. In this I ended up highlighting that there is complementarity of the genders but there is more to be said about how to understand their equality in God’s order. Thanks for bearing with me as I think out loud!

In Genesis, the need for a helper comes because it is not good for the man to be alone (2:18). However, this doesn’t immediately necessitate the creation of Eve. Instead, the animals and birds are brought to Adam and he names them. Yet among them, no suitable helper is found (2:19-20). When Eve is created then, what stands out is how different she is from the animals, how like she is to Adam – “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh” (2:23). There’s an incredible celebration of what a good partner she is for Adam. It’s not surprising that the command to be fruitful, increase, fill and rule the earth is given to both partners in 1:28. They are in this together!

While I did argue (from Genesis 3, not Genesis 2) that men and women may have distinct roles, we must not lose the sense of equal partnership that is on view here. If she is to be his helper, she is to be his equal helper, a strong and competent help in the mission that is given to both of them. This is Adam and Eve going forward together, not Eve falling into line with Adam’s direction.

This is partly why I am happy for women to exercise secular leadership roles. It’s also part of the reason for why I don’t think headship in marriage primarily expresses itself in decision making. Being a decisive woman in no way contradicts God’s order. Rather, it flowers out of this strong sense of partnership and mutuality.

The tragedy of the fall is that strong women often seek to emasculate or manipulate men. However, the right reaction to this is not to insist on disempowering women because vital women are exactly what’s on view in Genesis 2. Rather, we ought to pursue situations in which women are so secure that they need not dominate (nor be passive). We ought to see women so able to trust that they flourish. Because when women are flourishing is when they are able to be real helpers, true partners, equal participants in God’s mission. And that ought to be a great cause of celebration!

Categories: Bible Woman Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

11 replies

  1. If you don’t want to specify that’s Ok, but I’m intrigued and ask as a friend…you say:

    ‘ I don’t think headship in marriage primarily expresses itself in decision making.’

    In context it sounds like you are saying more. perhaps even that headship never expresses itself in decision making? so…do you think headship ever expresses itself in decision making?

  2. Hey Reuben

    Ah yes, more coming up on this from Arthur. It’s really more his area. I do women, he does men! But of course they are related, and I did make the comment so it’s fair that I explain it.

    The long and the short of it is we’ve been concerned with the equation of decision making with headship for a few reasons.
    1. It can give the impression that the wife is passive or just an ‘advisor’. Or worse, stupid. So Driscoll’s ‘Marriage and Women’ sermon is a classic, where his headship (and his wife’s submission) basically comes across as him making wise decisions for the benefit of their family because his wife was too stupid or emotional to choose wisely.
    2. It often assumes that husband and wife will come to an impasse where a ‘decision’ will need to be made – while that may occur in some marriages, I seriously doubt that’s what’s on view in passages like Ephesians 5.
    3. In our society, who makes the decisions = who has the power. I’m pretty sure that’s an unhelpful place to start from.

    But the point I was making in the post is that decision making is not necessarily a role exclusive to headship. Like I said, more to come from Arthur.

  3. I find it interesting that decision making becomes such a key issue in submission debates. It seemed to be one of the big ideas people would talk about when I was doing marriage prep. I wonder why it’s such a focus…

  4. yeah, thanks – that’s great. Those are some excellent observations, just too many are in the subjunctive to be an answer I think?!

    That’s fine…i’m content to keep my eyes out for Arthur’s stuff to come.

    Good on you guys. Thanks for ‘thinking this out loud’ as you say. It’s helping me a great deal to engage in the discussion.

  5. Thinking again, perhaps I shouldn’t have brought it up… feel free to delete my comments if you think they’ll get people off track.

  6. Surely Eve can be completely subordinate and under the authority of Adam whilst still being entirely equal in value? Isn’t that the entire premise of “equal but different”, that men & women are equal in value but different in function & role.. ?

    (not what I believe personally, but posing the question)

  7. Hey Sam

    That may be the premise of ‘equal but different’. That’s not what I’m interested in here though.

    My primary purpose is to read out what it’s the passage. And I reckon that here there’s at least mutuality on view and we need to think about that.

    It’s not in reaction to those who teach subordination as if the basic ‘equal but different’ premise is inherently flawed. (It may or may not be.) As you may have picked up, Arthur and I are much less concerned with allying ourselves with a particular side and much more interested in working out the picture on view in the Bible.

  8. Ok. I’m just trying to see where this line of reasoning leads by pushing in the direction other Comp’s will take it!

  9. Ah yes, I can see where you’re coming from. I think this line of reasoning *can* be pushed too far, (and this is often to the detriment of the complementarian case). But I try pretty hard not to push it further than the Bible does!

  10. Hey Tamie,
    Thanks for your post. I like your thinking that headship = decision making. There was little about what the Driscoll marriage put forward in that marriage and women sermon that looked all that appealing to me. I would (humbly!) describe myself as a fairly strong and smart woman, and I don’t think either of those qualities should be seen as being ‘unbiblical’ or ‘unpleasing to God’
    Enjoying your and Arthur’s posts on this. Keep up the good work. Cheers

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