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