Gloria Steinem, founding editor of Ms. Magazine and one of the mothers of the feminist movement, stated, “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”
Even many women who have rejected more extreme feminism feel this way.
Even independent women who acknowledge men’s usefulness and who plan to
get married or be somehow involved with men “someday” are held captive to
the idea that men are optional and can be put off until later. Many women feel
they are too busy doing their important work to involve any male input and in-
volvement in their lives. To these women, men are just a distraction.
But God created men to be more than just optional lifestyle accessories. He cre-
ated women to be dependent on them, in a good way.
If you’re like me, you read the above and immediately asked, “Wait, are they saying all women are required to get married?”
I think it would be hard not to ask that question, since A&E specifically identify the idea that men are “optional” as feminist, and make it clear in the third paragraph that they do not agree with it. Therefore, men must of necessity be non-optional in a woman’s life. (They also shouldn’t be “put off until later” either, which could be read as a subtle indication that young marriage is preferable, though the context is a little shaky to say for sure.) Non-optional things are often referred to, in other contexts, as “requirements” and “mandatory.” A&E derive their thinking on this point from the fact that Eve was taken from Adam’s side:
We would not exist but for men; man was our source. We read in Genesis that God created man in His image, saw that it was not good for man to be alone, and so took a rib from him and fashioned it into a woman. Man was formed from dust, but woman had her origin and being from man and for man.
But man was incomplete without her. It is the two of them together that reflect
the image and glory of God. It is only when woman is, in effect, restored to
man’s side, that the two are fully complete. And it is because we were created
from the rib of man that we have an innate desire to be restored to the side of
There’s a lot to unpack here, so let’s take this one point at a time.
The missing piece
As we all know, Genesis describes Eve as having been formed from a rib, taken from the side of her husband Adam. A&E draw on this imagery, as well as 1 Cor. 11:2-16, to justify their teaching above. But are they consistent with these two passages? I don’t think so, for two reasons.
First, A&E really like 1 Cor. 11:8-9: “For man is not from woman, but woman from man. Nor was man created for woman, but woman for the man.” However, they don’t seem as comfortable with – and in fact don’t mention – 1 Cor. 11:11-12: “Nevertheless, neither is man independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the Lord. For as woman came from the man, even so man comes also through the woman; but all things are from God.” What this adds up to, is that A&E cannot simply point to Adam and Eve and say “gotcha,” because there are more factors to consider – namely that all men since Adam (including Jesus) have originated with a woman. This, in fact, is the way God designed the system to work. Sexual reproduction requires both a male and a female party, as I’m sure A&E know. Thus, the origins question cuts both ways. Paul allows for and recognizes both creation, and our day-to-day lives; I wish A&E could do the same.
On this same theme, notice that A&E only develop the implications of Adam’s missing rib in one direction. They spend a lot of time talking about how women have an innate drive to return to the side of man, but say nothing at all about whether men have an innate drive to search for their “missing piece.” It would make sense, under their system, that this would be the case; and if it is, wouldn’t that mean that men are Biblically required to seek out female company, just as much as women are required to seek out male company? Are men also required to marry? How do A&E deal with Paul’s teaching that singleness and celibacy are not lesser states than marriage – and might actually be preferable to it? (If they don’t deal with it at all, or only give lip service to it while denying it in practicality, then they’re in good company with their fellow patriocentrists.)
Second, despite the implication that they are taking 1 Cor. 11 at face value, A&E are being flagrantly inconsistent with its actual wording. They claim that man and woman together “reflect the image and glory of God.” However, v. 7 is pretty clear that man and man alone is “the image and glory of God.” So if A&E want to take 1 Cor. 11 absolutely literally, they can’t claim that it takes two parties to make up the image and glory of God, but should reserve this for men only.
At this point, I’m sure A&E would turn to Genesis 1 and say that both men and women are created in the image of God. Great; I agree with them. But Genesis 1 also contradicts their wording, because we see male and female humans being made equally in the image of God. A&E, however, talk about the image of God as if it were incomplete or not fully present without both sexes. I’m not sure how the details of this work, or if A&E even thought it through that far. Frankly, it sounds to me like they’re teaching some kind of “half image,” the (unpleasant) implications of which I’ve explored previously. Which leads directly into my next topic of…
The first time I heard A&E teach on the image of God and gender, I was immediately and strongly reminded of the Platonic concept of soulmates. The basic idea is that humans were split apart by the gods at some point in the distant past, and thus each of us is now driven to search for our “other half.” This is all very romantic, of course, and probably great for Valentine’s Day. But let’s look at the history of this idea, to see just what A&E are (probably unconsciously) ripping off, and whether it actually fits with their ideology or not.
The story of humans being split apart by the gods appears in Plato’s Symposium, in a speech delivered by Aristophanes:
In the first place, let me treat of the nature of man and what has happened to it. The original human nature was not like the present, but different. The sexes were not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman, and the union of the two, of which the name survives but nothing else. Once it was a distinct kind, with a bodily shape and a name of its own, constituted by the union of the male and the female: but now only the word “androgynous” is preserved, and that as a term of reproach.
In the second place, the primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and the same number of feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond. He could walk upright as men do now, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air; this was when he wanted to run fast.
Now the sexes were three, and such as I have described them; because the sun, moon, and earth are three; and the man was originally the child of the sun, the woman of the earth, and the man-woman of the moon, which is made up of sun and earth, and they were all round and moved round and round because they resembled their parents. Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods; of them is told the tale of Otys and Ephialtes who, as Homer says, attempted to scale heaven, and would have laid hands upon the gods.
To make a long story short, these original humans posed such a threat to the gods that they convened a council to decide what to do about them. In the end, Zeus decided to cut the humans in two and thus diminish their strength. But his plan had a flaw – the split humans longed so much for their other halves that they clung to each other all the time, even to the point of foregoing food and starving to death. Zeus to the rescue yet again:
Thus they were being destroyed, when Zeus in pity invented a new plan: he turned the parts of generation round to the front, for this had not been always their position, and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another; and after the transposition the male generated in the female in order that by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest, and go their ways to the business of life. So ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, seeking to make one of two, and to heal the state of man.
In other words, the gods invented sex so humans could satisfy their desire to come together, without driving themselves to extinction. But pay very close attention here. Remember earlier when it was said that there were three sexes – male, female and androgynous. Thus, when humans were split up, not all humans’ missing halves were of the opposite sex. Notice the bit near the end above, about “man coming to man”? Yes, it means what you thought it meant. The original concept of soulmates, was not only used to explain the human drive for intimacy, but also to explain homosexuality. In fact, those men who had, long ago, been severed from another man, were thought to have the “most manly nature” of all:
Each of us when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but the tally-half of a man, and he is always looking for his other half. Men who are a section of that double nature which was once called androgynous are lovers of women; adulterers are generally of this breed, and also adulterous women who lust after men. The women who are a section of the woman do not care for men, but have female attachments; the female companions are of this sort. But they who are a section of the male follow the male, and while they are young, being slices of the original man, they have affection for men and embrace them, and these are the best of boys and youths, because they have the most manly nature.
Some indeed assert that they are shameless, but this is not true; for they do not act thus from any want of shame, but because they are valiant and manly, and have a manly countenance, and they embrace that which is like them. And these when they grow up become our statesmen, and these only, which is a great proof of the truth of what I am saying. When they reach manhood they are lovers of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children – if at all, they do so only in obedience to custom; but they are satisfied if they may be allowed to live with one another unwedded…
Suffice it to say that this goes against everything A&E and other patriocentrists preach about homosexuality. Also, being Greek and thus pagan, it contradicts all the warnings against syncretism issued by Doug Phillips and others. Thus, I would find it extremely amusing if A&E happened to unconsciously imitate the pop-culture derivation of this (and I remained convinced that they did; the similarities are too striking to be written off as a coincidence).
Here we go again
If I seem to be constantly returning to the theme of definitions in this series, it’s because I am. Let’s revisit the quote at the beginning of this post.
Even many women who have rejected more extreme feminism feel this way. Even independent women who acknowledge men’s usefulness and who plan to get married or be somehow involved with men “someday” are held captive to the idea that men are optional and can be put off until later. Many women feel they are too busy doing their important work to involve any male input and involvement in their lives. To these women, men are just a distraction.
But God created men to be more than just optional lifestyle accessories. He created women to be dependent on them, in a good way.
Two key terms here are “involvement” and “dependence.” A&E teach that God designed women to be “involved with” and “dependent on” men; we also briefly encounter the phrase “male input.” But what does all this mean practically? What constitutes male “involvement” in a woman’s life, and female “dependence” on men? Obviously a married woman has a husband, and a single woman living at home has her father. But not all women are married, and not all single women have fathers. Some single women’s fathers are dead, or otherwise out of the picture. How do they get male “involvement”? Brothers? Male friends? Must they move in with male relatives or a nuclear Christian family so they can be “dependent” on a man? Until we know exactly what these terms mean, we won’t get very far in figuring out what A&E actually want here. Their further explanation later, when they talked about “women’s liberation,” wasn’t very helpful either:
Have there ever been any women who found complete “liberation” from men?
Women who think they have are merely deceived. Complete independence from man would go against the very order of God’s creation. Every woman’s life is built around men and men’s role and leadership in some way. This is true for the parasitical women who live like leeches off men and whose lives revolve around attracting men, and for the die-hard feminists who dedicate their lives to proving that they don’t need men, and for the godly, virtuous women who understand that submitting to God means joyfully submitting to the authority He has placed over them. Women have really only two ways of relating to men: helping them lead poorly, for Satan’s glory, or helping them lead well, for God’s glory.
First, just because something goes against God’s created order, doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Sin happens every second of every day, and it goes against God’s created order. According to this logic, we’d have to claim that, because murder, rape and theft happen, they must be part of God’s created order for mankind.
More to the point, however, this doesn’t clear up many of the questions I raised earlier about what male “involvement” looks like. A&E apparently believe that all women everywhere are subconsciously obsessed with men, all the time, whether they realize it or not, and list some unhealthy ways this obsession manifests itself. But what, then, does healthy male “involvement” look like? How does a woman help a man “lead well for God’s glory” if she’s not married or related to him? This may give us a few hints:
Take a look back in history for a moment, at all the women we think of as being “independent” of men. You will discover something fascinating. Take Betty Friedan, America’s premier feminist. Even she couldn’t escape from her own inherent nature as helpmeet. She spent her whole professional life advancing the agenda of Karl Marx and his disciples. The modern feminist movement was designed by these men, as we will show in Chapter 6.
Though some of the women they recruited to their cause didn’t realize it…they were merely serving these men’s primarily goals. They were really just unknowingly making the same choice Eve made at the very beginning: to help men lead badly for Satan’s glory.
Conspiracist claims aside (I’m having flashbacks to this right about now), apparently women can act as “helpmeets” to particular men by advancing the causes they founded. So if we inverted this to be in the positive, I suppose one way a Christian woman could help a man “lead well for God’s glory” is by furthering his organization – say, by doing volunteer work at a charitable foundation set up by a man. (That women can start causes and found charitable organizations apparently hasn’t occurred to A&E.) But didn’t we used to call this “serving in your community” or “helping the needy,” not “acting as helpmeet to Joe Smith who founded the Food for Poor People Foundation”? This seems like a bit of a strained and artificial construct – and also a little narcissistic on Joe Smith’s part. Is this about helping people, or glorifying and serving an individual?
Getting back to the topic of definitions again, I’d also like to add that the above quote demonstrates perfectly how little A&E actually seem to care about them when they don’t advance their ideology. This Oxford University Press blog post gives a little background on the etymology and history of the term “helpmeet” (I encourage you to read the whole thing). In brief, it means a companion “measured out” or “suitable for” another person – in this case referring to Eve, who was given to Adam as his special counterpart and supporter. It’s also a word that, in normal usage, only refers to a wife and thus has an extremely personal connotation, so it’s already pretty linguistically weird that patriocentrists sometimes apply this term to daughters with reference to their fathers.
But for A&E to apply “helpmeet” with a straight face to Betty Friedan and Karl Marx, represents a new low. Friedan and Marx were not married, so right from the start, all linguistic precedent (except within patriocentricity) and historical context have been shredded, and A&E are just making up usage out of thin air. There’s also the added complication of Friedan having been born in 1921, a full 38 years after Marx’s death in 1883. Apparently, then, even after a man has died, a woman can somehow act as his “helpmeet” by promoting his ideas.
So my last question is simply this: if we follow this line of reasoning through to its logical conclusion, doesn’t that mean that A&E are the helpmeets not only of their father Geoff, but also of Doug Phillips?
I’m sure Beall will be thrilled.
ADDENDUM 11/13/14: It has come to my attention that the quote above, attributed by A&E to Gloria Steinem, did not actually originate with Steinem. According to Steinem herself, it originated with Australian political activist Irina Dunn. Here is the actual backstory of the quote, straight from Steinem:
In your note on my new and happy marital partnership with David Bale, you credit me with the witticism “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” In fact, Irina Dunn, a distinguished Australian educator, journalist and politician, coined the phrase back in 1970 when she was a student at the University of Sydney. She paraphrased the philosopher who said, “Man needs God like a fish needs a bicycle.” Dunn deserves credit for creating such a popular and durable spoof of the old idea that women need men more than vica versa.
See the source link for further confirmation by Dunn. Meanwhile, I second the sentiments of commenter Retha who notified me of the error:
A thirty-second Internet search would be enough to confirm that Gloria Steinem never said the thing about fish and bicycles, it was wrongly attributed to her. I would expect writers of books to do some checking of facts.