“A&E” refers to Anna Sofia and Elizabeth Botkin, authors of So Much More. I chose the abbreviation to save space and time.
For this post, I will take as my starting point a passing remark by Rebekah (and thus by extension, A&E since they endorsed it by printing it in their book):
My quest to become “one of the guys” led me to yield to my sinful nature and develop a competitive and independent spirit, causing me to lose one of the sweetest traits of girlhood – that of gentle trustfulness.
Rebekah doesn’t elaborate here on what she means by a “competitive spirit.” She seems to contrast it with “gentle trustfulness,” but gives little detail other than that. Had nothing more been said on the subject, my discussion of competitiveness would have ended at that. However, as I kept reading I realized that competition was a bit of a minor (though subtle) theme in chapter 8. Rebekah brings it up again only two or three pages later:
As women we are not to rival man by seeking to be a replica or copy of him, nor are we to compete with him, but we should seek instead to complement him and be his counterpart as God created us to be (Genesis 2:18).
So since this is going to be a thing, let’s talk about it in more detail. Starting with, what exactly was Rebekah doing that she now views as sinfully competitive? Playing sports? Trying to “out-macho” the boys she knew? Become as non-girly as she could possibly be? I think all of these are possibilities, but I can’t say for certain. And as it turns out, the more interesting question is – as indicated by her second quote above – with whom was Rebekah competing? In other words, is Rebekah singling out all competitiveness as bad or improper for women, or does she mean “competing” with men by “copying” them – i.e., engaging in activities not in your designated “sphere”?
Let’s examine the first option (all competitiveness is improper for women). I’d first like to issue a disclaimer that, yes, I do recognize that there are unhealthy, pathological and sinful degrees of competitiveness. If that’s what Rebekah is talking about here, then I have far fewer objections to what she’s saying. However, I still have one big one. If Rebekah is talking about sinful degrees of competitiveness, why is she limiting her discussion to girls and women? Can’t boys and men carry competition to excess and become obsessive, petty, etc.? In fact I’d think that, in Rebekah’s worldview, boys and men would need more warnings about sinful competitiveness, since competition is supposedly a “masculine” trait and thus a particularly common snare they could fall into.
On the other hand, what if Rebekah is talking about more benign and subtle forms of competitiveness (wanting to excel in your field, win your soccer game or a contest, etc.)? At this level, many may not even use the word “competitiveness” to describe what’s going on; they may choose a term like “drive,” “focus” or something similar. A healthy level of desire to excel can help people of both sexes do things like improve themselves, perform well academically, develop artistic talent, etc. So I’m curious, if this is indeed what Rebekah is referencing, what she finds objectionable about this for women. A desire to excel could help a housewife (or stay-at-home daughter) improve her domestic skills. This could mean anything from successfully organizing a closet, improving textile skills to make artistic quilts, table linens, etc., or learning how to make a tricky, involved dessert like meringue or divinity. Women are not born knowing how to do these things. So what’s the problem?
There also seems to a be a peculiar kind of naivete operating here. Does Rebekah really think that women only started being competitive after feminism came along? Feminism may have given women more options for places to compete, but it hardly created competitiveness in women. In fact, women still compete with each other today in all of the stereotypically feminine areas in which they’ve competed for centuries. The “mommy wars”? Ridiculing overweight or “frumpy” girls for being unfashionable or ugly? Vying for men’s attention? Just because these things look different than stereotypically masculine areas of competition (hottest car, hardest abs, best at sports, etc.) doesn’t make them any less competitive.
All of this leads me to suspect that Rebekah’s real concern here is not women trying to be the “crunchiest” mom in the homeschool group, or using a natural and positive drive to excel to improve their cooking skills. It’s women doing things she considers “masculine,” and thus “competing” with men by “copying” them – and, in her thinking, trying to become one.
We can expand a bit on what might qualify as “copying” a man by examining the context of Rebekah’s second quote.
The Lord has shown me that, as a woman, I can be just as strong as a man, but that strength is evinced in a different way in a woman’s life than in a man’s life. The agency of a man’s strength is not better, but it is different than the agency of a woman’s strength. Both men and woman are called to be soldiers for Christ, but we are commanded to be so in different realms. Man is fitted, qualified, and created for taking dominion in the storms of public life; we as women are ordained by God to occupy and keep the domain of the home. As women we are not to rival man by seeking to be a replica or copy of him, nor are we to compete with him, but we should seek instead to complement him and be his counterpart as God created us to be (Genesis 2:18). By exhibiting such virtues as meekness, gentleness, kindness, forbearance, obedience, reverence, modesty, and purity in a responsive, submissive manner, we bring a balance and completeness to man’s assertive qualities as an initiator, warrior, provider, leader, and protector (see 1 Peter 3). These and other such godly traits are the God-ordained elements of a girl’s influence in her father’s life and someday in the life of her husband.
As I explained in the last post, Rebekah and A&E view femininity and feminine strength as, essentially, an adherence to the prescribed rules of your gender-based “sphere of dominion.” Using this definition, then, “copying” and “competing with” men, in its broadest sense, could occur anytime a woman breaks the rules of her own sphere and follows the mens’ rules instead. Since Rebekah’s quote above is especially focused on public life, some things that would certainly qualify as violations would be women running for office – and yes, at least some patriocentrists were consistent enough to condemn Sarah Palin – and women being ordained. But given the other masculine roles Rebekah lists (“initiator, warrior, provider, leader, and protector”), the limitations are actually far broader than those two easy cases. And in fact, we’ve explicitly seen such on this blog. Jennie Chancey has condemned women serving in the military (“warrior” and “protector”). Doug Phillips has expressed distrust of women running home businesses (“provider”). A&E explained how girls are never supposed to question their father’s spiritual conclusions (“leader”). Based on this, then, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the rules go even further. For instance, can a woman who is a sharpshooter and whose husband has never fired a gun, defend her family in a home invasion? (John Piper, far more liberal than A&E, essentially says no.)
Another concerning thing to note here is that Rebekah presents men and women as a kind of “yin and yang” that brings “balance and completeness” to creation. This by itself isn’t necessarily problematic, but notice that she does it by limiting certain virtues to only one sex. Men initiate, fight, provide, protect and lead, while women “[exhibit] such virtues as meekness, gentleness, kindness, forbearance, obedience, reverence, modesty, and purity in a responsive, submissive manner.” Except all those virtues Rebekah limits to the female side of the scale, are explicitly commanded of men as well, many times over. In other words, they are supposed to be universal, not gendered. I’ve noted this before, almost since the beginning of this blog. It’s starting to wear a bit thin, especially since patriocentrists demonstrate through their other writings that they don’t actually believe it – unless all that stuff about men avoiding pornography and scantily clad women is, in fact, not a call to purity after all.
And now I’d like to explore something that may not have occurred to you. It’s easy to point out how stuff like the above is harmful to women, but how does it affect men? In other words, if women aren’t supposed to copy men, then, logically, men are not supposed to copy women. So in light of that, what activities are forbidden to men? Are they supposed to avoid exhibiting the virtues Rebekah listed as “feminine”? Are they supposed to exhibit them, but not in a “responsive, submissive manner”? Is there anything around the house they are not supposed to do because it is the wife’s half of the divine division of labor? If little girls are supposed to exhibit “gentle trustfulness,” is this then not allowed for little boys? Or, since men get to rule their homes and thus have a say in both “spheres of dominion,” are there any limitations on men’s activities?
Unfortunately I can’t answer those questions, because Rebekah is only talking about the female side of the equation. But they are, nonetheless, good questions to keep in mind next time you hear a patriocentrist pontificating about how men and women need to have clear and distinct roles anytime the sexes interact, or otherwise the world will descend into chaos like this:
There were and are distinctions in dress that do more than reveal our different genders; they also reveal our God-ordained roles. The woman who wears a man’s clothing is, in essence, declaring herself to be a man and able to do whatever a man does (enlist as a soldier, defend cities from attackers, and take an arrow like a man). The man who wears a woman’s clothing declares that he has shunned his maleness as God defines it and prefers not to protect, fight, defend, or even fully provide for those under his care. (So Much More, p. 88-89)