Wednesday, June 10, 2020 : By Isa Ryan
As long as I’ve been a believer, I’ve been an adamant supporter of biblical, submissive womanhood.
I have always been home with my children, and I take great pleasure in cooking and cleaning for my family.
I follow #tradwife and #tradlife hashtags on Instagram and enthusiastically support the neo-housewife movement that has gained so much traction on social media among my fellow millennial Christian women in recent years.
I believe strongly that a man is the leader in his household and that his wife must submit to him. I take passages like Ephesians 5:22-24, 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Titus 2:3-5, and 1 Corinthians 11:3 at face value.
And yet, I am the primary breadwinner in my family and my husband stays at home with me.
Yup! It’s true.
Here’s the thing: while what we view as traditional gender roles are a glorious, God-honoring thing, the concept of “traditional” is only relative to recent history, and recent history might not be quite as Biblical as we believe it to be.
Don’t get me wrong–I think women can glorify God beautifully in their aprons and pearls, baking cookies and casseroles and waiting for hubs to come home, while men can also do great honor to their biblical calling by heading off to work with their briefcase or toolbox each day.
The family model of a woman at home tending to the household while hubs goes off to work each day is simply one example of the way that husbands and wives have managed their household in periods of history when things were more “traditional,” but it is no means automatically Biblical in itself.
This is because the true value of our biblical roles is not in whether or not we are the ones earning money or choosing to stay home, as the true source of authority is not in money.
God is the source of a man’s authority in his family and simply staying home with the kids doesn’t make you a submissive wife. Submitting to God, and then your husband, is what makes for a Biblical wife.
However, there is a well-meaning but misguided school of thought among some “traditional” Christian women that a wife can not be submissive or feminine if she’s the primary breadwinner. Don’t get me wrong–it absolutely makes sense to draw attention to the fact that being overly-focused on a career can take away from a woman’s ability to live out her Titus 2 role, and this is a very valid issue to draw attention to.
But a quick perusal of Proverbs 31, about an “excellent wife” who hustles and manages several income-earning projects, renders the notion that a woman can only ever really live out her Titus 2 role if she is at home, decidedly not earning an income, as rather problematic.
The 1950’s vision of the housewife and hard-working husband is, as the harsh reality may be, very modern and worldly, and while we may prefer the more flattering silhouettes and clean-cut men’s fashion of bygone days (I know I do!), this imagery actually comes more from the iconic advertisements of the day than it does from some solid representation of traditional values.
Consider the fact that the children of these supposedly idyllic marriages were the Baby Boomers, who would go on to completely upend the values once held so dear by previous generations, not the least of which being traditional gender roles.
So how much did the housewives and working men of the 1950s really convey the values we assume they held so dear to their children?
Not so much, as it turns out.
In 2007, George Mason University Professor Walter Williams wrote that while “There’s little question that the greatest generation provided their offspring, the baby boomer generation, with goods and services that their parents could not afford to give them,” that “tragically, the greatest generation did not instill in their children what their parents instilled in them, the values and customs that make for a civilized society,” including religious values.
These were, after all, men and women who had survived WWII. Yes, they showed enormous tenacity and strength, but they weren’t perfect, and the psychological burden of the war, which many of these fathers would have fought in themselves, was one that they no doubt carried all their lives. My own grandfather was a WWII veteran, something about which my mother and I know very little. He simply didn’t talk about it.
We often have a rather short-sighted view of history, and because the way American and Western society viewed a woman’s role has changed so much in the last 60-70 years, it’s only natural to default back to the 1950s as an era in which things were much better.
And of course, in many ways, society was much more stable in the 1950s precisely because traditional values were taken for granted. Families were more intact, a sense of national pride was stronger, and Christianity had not yet been booted out of the public sphere.
But men and women were fallen back in the 50s, just like they are today, and what we often idealize about their lifestyle is an economic situation that wasn’t necessarily the norm for the majority of “traditional” women throughout all of human history.
The truth about biblical womanhood is that it’s not necessarily always traditional. It’s often radical in a world where women have always been tempted to sin, to usurp their husbands, to neglect their households or children, or to go the way of the world over the way the Lord directs us.
I’m sure that there was just as much temptation for women in the year 35, and 1450, and 1950 to stray from the role God designed them to have as there is today, and we need to remember this!
Biblical womanhood is surrendering yourself to Christ, and, as a wife and mother, loving your husband and children as you love yourself. It is lifting your husband up as the God-ordained leader of your home and the head of your Christ-centered marriage.
No matter who is earning the money.
God’s perfect model for the family cannot be constrained by economic situations, and no matter who is earning the money in your family, He can be glorified when we submit to Him.