Recently a woman told me that she would “never bow down to a man.” This is a very common attitude among younger adults that I come in contact with. There are at least two reasons for this. One, at least in this part of the world, is the emphasis of conservative Christians on wifely submission to their husbands and the countless marriage retreats where this is the emphasis. Another is the notion of male superiority in our society at large. Note the current attempts to get equal pay for women so they are paid the same wage for doing the same job as male counterparts.
My question is: can a woman be in a relationship with a man and still be a free person in her own right without submission to anything or anyone? To state it in another way: can the woman I quoted find a meaningful and long-lasting relationship with a man without having to bow down to him? Let’s see.
When the feminist movement started in the 1970’s there was talk of doing away with any idea of gender identity. It was thought that male-female differences were not inborn but learned from a male-dominated society. The argument was made that gender differences could be unlearned as well, and the elimination of “sexism” would result in a truly androgynous society (neither specifically feminine nor masculine), apart from a few anatomical differences.
However, men and women are different. Research has shown that gender differences have as much to do with how our brains are wired as with the family we are reared in. Many young couples live together without marriage or long-lasting commitment because they think marriage would put them in bondage to their partner instead of their being free to be themselves. So long as we believe there are no gender differences, it would seem casual relationship would be the most nonthreatening, (All kinds of material on gender differences are available via Google if you are interested in knowing more about this.)
Do gender differences give males the dominance in female-male relationships? Is the female to bow down to the male? I think not. What conservative Christians miss is the Garden of Eden creation story in Genesis chapter 2 where God created male and female to compliment each other. The rest of creation was subject to man, but not the woman. For us today, if we can learn what our gender differences are and how to meet gender needs, men and women can compliment one another as God intended.
We do not stop being free individuals because we relate to another man or woman. However, our freedom can be limited unless we learn that each of us has gender specific needs the other must meet for a fulfilling and long-lasting relationship. We must reach beyond ourselves and take into consideration what our partner needs and how to meet those needs to the best of our ability. There is no need for a feeling of bondage, but a feeling of freedom in learning and satisfying mutual gender needs.
Can the woman I quoted find a meaningful and long-lasting relationship with a man without having to bow down to him? To her I say, “yes,” if she finds a man who recognizes her gender differences, how her needs are different from his, and he is willing to try and meet her needs. I say “yes,” if she can recognize his gender differences, what his needs are, and she is willing to try and meet those needs. This would give freedom to her relationship – the freedom to be who she truly is, and the freedom to help him be the person he truly is.