I’ve asked women to share with me what their definition of male headship is and this was one of the best:
“Male headship is patriarchy in a marriage or in a society. It’s the idea that males should be given some ultimate advantage, priority, or responsibility in decision-making and leadership.”
There are various applications and headship looks 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 what to believe about God.
Male privilege places all the power in a relationship with the man. This leaves the women subjugated to his will and often denies her voice. The result is that in many male headship cultures women are treated as property. This was even true in the United States a century ago when woman were fighting for the right to vote.
Male headship in practice can leave a woman with no recourse when a man is cruel. In Christian circles, some say women are “different but equal” and some men who belief in headship are very kind to their women. If this was always true, if every husband treated his wife as Christ loves 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 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 abusing women in a similar manner.
It puzzles me that so many Male Headship Christians are firmly against Islam. They preach against Islam and share horror stories about Islam, yet they fail to recognize that male headship taken to its natural conclusion looks just like Islam. If headship is allowed to flourish, women continually lose one right after another until they fade into the background and become invisible.
One woman describes it like this:
“Given ultimate power in a relationship makes it too tempting for a man to interject selfishness and get his own 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 Ringering Wendt
“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.
Regardless of the many ways male headship is abused, I think placing a man between a woman and God is the biggest lie of all. There is no justification for cruelty. We can often see 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 own conscience.
How might this 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 she doesn’t exist because she disagrees with him about God. It might look like a father refusing his daughter an education. It could also look like shunning a woman at church who has been given a gift and calling by God or even worse a witch hunt to criticize and condemn her.
A few years ago, some friends of mine went to a marriage seminar weekend and came back to inform the rest of our study group that men are the leaders in the home and in the church and women are merely here to assist men. Because I was a co-leader of that group along with a man, 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 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 was unable to care for other people. I have known elders who took no interest in my life but I knew I had the gift of encouragement and teaching, but I still said no. Part of the problem was that I perceived that to be an elder meant some sort of hierarchy. Today I realize it simply means you are willing to serve others as Jesus does. So why would a woman not be able to do this?
When the husband of this couple heard that I had turned my pastor down, he told me he was proud of me for saying no–that I was too nice of a person to be standing up for women’s leadership in the church. I wish I had asked him what he meant, but I had been conditioned by my father to let the men lead and I had been taught by my mother to not to make waves, so I shrunk back from following God’s lead because I was listening to men who were supposedly superior to me and had a more direct line to God.
This incident happened over a decade ago. After studying the life of Jesus these last ten years, I am convinced that God not only calls women, but the Bible shows how women were strategically placed in the gospel story to empower Eve to reclaim her rightful place as Adam’s equal. But before we get into Eve’s restoration, let’s talk about where headship came actually from.
Do you see Male Headship as it is described above, or do you have a different way of looking at it?