When I asked women to share what
their definition of male headship is,
this was one of the best:
“Male headship is patriarchy in a marriage or a society.
It’s the idea that males should be given
some ultimate advantage, priority,
or responsibility in decision-making and leadership.”
There are many variations of male headship which might look different across many cultures, but male headship usually boils down to the practice and belief that a man is superior to a woman. Not all men who practice male headship are cruel, some lead their wives and daughters lovingly and with great affection, but the underlying lie is still there that the wife is inferior and is not capable of making her own choices. She supposedly needs a man to tell her how to act and what to think and ultimately needs his guidance about how to listen to and what to believe about God.
Because male privilege places all the power in a relationship with the man, it leaves the women subjugated to the man’s will and denies her voice. The result is that many male headship cultures treat women as property much like a cow or horse. Even in the United States, a woman had no rights a century ago and women were still fighting for the right to vote.
Male headship in practice can leave a woman vulnerable and with no recourse when a man is cruel. In Christian circles, some like to say women are “different but equal,” and some men who believe in headship are very kind to their women. If this were always true if every husband treated his wife as Christ loved the church and treasured her body as his own, then perhaps there would be no reason to write this, but this is not the reality for most who practice the false doctrine of male headship.
For an example of male headship within distorted Christianity check out, “The Witness Wore Red.” book review and Things I Found in Common with Polygamist’s Daughter. A Fundamental Latter Day Saints might seem like an extreme example, but many Christians who practice male headship are only a stone’s throw from similarly abusing women.
I firmly support all people to live out their religious convictions, but I could never place myself under a man for him to use his power over me. That’s why it puzzles me to hear so many male headship Christians who are firmly against Islam. While they preach against Islam and share horror stories about Islam, they fail to recognize that male headship taken to its natural conclusion looks a lot like Islam. When male headship is allowed to flourish, women continually lose one right after another until they fade into the background and become invisible.
One woman described it like this:
“Given ultimate power in a relationship makes it too tempting for a man to interject selfishness and get his way–often at her expense. Under extreme male headship “women can’t drive, can’t travel without a male escort, can’t shop in male only stores (anywhere that isn’t grocery or women’s clothing) can’t go to museums (except on women and children days) can’t swim unless there are women only days at the pool, is subject to genital mutilation (to make sure sex is so painful that she will never have sex with anyone but her husband–who will have to cut her open the first time) will be killed for being raped, because SHE “SHAMED” the family. Must cover her face at all times (even in her own home) if a man who isn’t her husband, brother, or son (brother-in-laws don’t count) is present–the list continues to infinity.” -Kathy
“Male headship is that just by being born a male they are in charge of all who are born female. It is saying that females are born second-class citizens. It says that females start out under the rule of their fathers and are then passed on to be under the rule of their husband and if they are widows, they are under the rule of elders. Ultimately, the husband is the priest of the household he stands between God and the wife.” -K.S.
Some Christian proponents of male headship often use an umbrella as an illustration that the man is superior to his wife and children. Regardless of the many ways “Good Christian men” might use their privilege, it seems placing a man between a woman and God is the most significant lie of all. There is no justification for cruelty. We can often see the violent and base behavior for what it is, but packaging God in such a way as to make Him seem more accessible and more in favor of men, robs women of their direct access to God and their God-given right to act freely on their conscience.
How does male headship look in a traditional Christian environment? It looks like a father telling his daughter how to vote or what to say in court. It looks like a father treating his wife as if her rights and opinions don’t exist. It looks like a father refusing his daughter an education. It looks like shunning a woman at church who’s been given a gift from the Holy Spirit. It looks like starting a witch hunt to criticize and condemn a woman for leading.
A few years ago, some friends of mine went to a marriage seminar weekend by the Raineys who are leaders in the male headship movement. They came home to inform the rest of our study group that men are the leaders in the home and the church and women are merely here to assist them. I was a co-leader of that team along with a man, so I just rolled my eyes–until I realized they were serious.
At the time, my pastor had asked me to serve communion with the men, and one day he had asked if I would consider becoming an elder. Because I knew there were some in our church who adamantly were opposed to women leaders–including my friends, I felt it would only cause trouble, so I said no. I didn’t say no because I felt inadequate. I said no because I didn’t want to fight with people.
Since then I’ve noticed many elders who take zero interest in my life or the lives of others. They wear the badge as a sign of authority and honor without serving as Jesus did. I knew I had the gift of encouragement and teaching, but I still said no and I think it was a mistake, but I couldn’t see it at the time because I had been raised in a male headship home. Part of the problem was I perceived to be an elder meant to put myself on a pedestal because that is what the elders I knew were doing. Today I realize God’s true church is not built from the top down, but the bottom up.
When the husband of this couple heard that I had turned my pastor down, he came to tell me he was proud of me for saying no–that I was “too sweet of a person” to be standing up for women’s leadership in the church. I wish I’d asked what he meant, but I’d been conditioned by my father to let men lead, and I’d been taught by my mother not to make waves, so I shrunk back from following God’s lead because I was listening to the opinions of other people who taught men were supposedly superior to me and had a more direct line to God. Today I know that isn’t so.
This incident happened more than a decade ago. After studying the life of Jesus these last ten years, I realized God not only calls women, but the Bible reveals how women were strategically placed in the gospel story to empower all Ezers (God’s original name for Eve) to reclaim their rightful place as Adam’s equal. But before we get into Eve’s restoration, let’s talk about where the false doctrine of male headship came from.
Do you see Male Headship as described above,
or do you have a different way of looking at it?