Are Gender Roles in Relationships Reversing?

According to Mundy, a “Big Flip” in gender roles is inevitable and the dynamics of male-female relationships will change drastically. Women will have increased power and will no longer see sex as a way to get a man to commit (and when was that the norm, anyway?) Mundy cites that younger women are having sex with more partners and “are becoming the gender that wants sex more than men do.”


Financially, the women in my family have either out-earned or made an equal amount of money to their spouses at this point. Women in my family do it all - they have careers, make money, cook meals, run the household, shuttle kids to and from school, balance bank accounts and mortgages, and of course, navigate gracefully through complicated social politics. Sounds like most women today, right?

Interestingly enough though, in my family, the “power” has still always been in favor of men, simply because they are the “man of the house.” I wonder if that will still hold true for women of my generation and beyond - will men be expected to act a certain way (i.e. manly), just because they are men?

Are Gender Roles in Relationships Reversing?

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Ed Vasicek's picture

I have noticed -- just from ministry experience, counseling, etc., that the gender roles are reversing.

Even in the initiation of divorce, it is almost always the woman who either is unfaithful or decides to find someone else these days. I am amazed at how women who would have remained married for the sake of their children (except in cases of abuse or adultery, perhaps) are now divorcing good men for the promise of greener pastures. At least in my neck of the woods, this change is rampant. You might think of the last 5 or 10 divorces your know of, and ask who initiated them -- see if your stats are like mine or not.

Dr. Laura pointed out that among cohabiting couples, the contemporary norm is that the men want to get married and the women do not, a reversal from past decades.

Just as some women have always led the home, etc., so, with a reversal, there will be many situations in which men lead.

More and more men WANT women to lead, even in dating. I think we will see more house dads (by choice, not because of unemployment problems) and men taking their wives names.

The passive male is in style, and mens movements (the Christian version of which was the Promise Keeper) and books (think Eldredge) have sought to address some of this feminization of the male, but with only limited success. The military was one of the last "male" frontiers. It has served as a way up for African American men for some time, but is becoming more and more female, it seems.

Obviously this is not a good thing, but I am amazed at how many people seem oblivious to the change is society and act as though things were as they once were. I think churches have the added burden of teaching men not only how to be disciples, but men. And that's not as easy as it sounds.

"The Midrash Detective"

handerson's picture

I agree Ed and have one other thought.

From a cultural perspective women are becoming empowered in ways that are not necessarily unbiblical--money, jobs, etc. This is a change from the whole 1950s paradigm where women were submissive, not because they were godly, but because they had no other choice. Their livelihood, their lifestyle, and their children depended on relating to men in a certain way. (IMHO, this is why divorce wasn't rampant then either--even if a man was unfaithful, what could a stay-at-home mom really do about it?)

But submission that stems from a lack of power is very different from submission that comes from a Biblical perspective. The problem isn't necessarily strong women, it's that as women become more empowered, we must teach them meekness--how to use their new-found strength to benefit and support the people around them. Again, both men and women should be people of strength but they must also be people of sacrifice and selflessness. And I think that is the issue at stake.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Quote:
But submission that stems from a lack of power is very different from submission that comes from a Biblical perspective.

I agree- obedience because you don't have a choice isn't obedience. Hence the presence of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden. We are simply seeing what the flesh really wants when it has an out.

dmyers's picture

Unfortunately, from personal experience, I have to agree with Ed Vasicek that one aspect of the reversal in gender roles is that women are initiating divorces. My wife of 29 years recently divorced me. While there were many sins and faults on both sides, there were no biblical grounds for the divorce. In addition to my disappointment in her behavior, it has been very frustrating to experience the extent to which churches and individual Christians refuse to take a stand against an unbiblical divorce (and now, apparently, an impending remarriage). She acted contrary to the advice of a pastor and our Christian marriage counselor. Yet she was represented in the divorce by a Christian attorney; the church we were attending at the time made no effort to call her to account or to instruct its members who were her friends to do so; the church she attends now will not respond at all to the situation; the pastor of the church where her near-fiancee is a member, while acknowledging that a remarriage in this situation would be adultery, shrugs his shoulders and says God will forgive them if they marry. Most frustrating, the "older women" in our lives who have at various times served as mentors to her have uniformly refused to get involved, declining even to allow me the opportunity to ask for their intervention with her. We bemoan the proliferation of divorce in our churches, but we stand by and do nothing once the divorce is filed. At that point, it's treated as a private matter as to which the church must remain agnostic, with life-long harm to non-initiating (not "innocent") spouses, innocent children, their future spouses and children, and the body of Christ and its testimony. Shame on Christians whose involvement might save a marriage but who stay on the sidelines or even actively support the woman who is "liberating" herself.

Ed Vasicek's picture

dmyers wrote:
Unfortunately, from personal experience, I have to agree with Ed Vasicek that one aspect of the reversal in gender roles is that women are initiating divorces. My wife of 29 years recently divorced me. While there were many sins and faults on both sides, there were no biblical grounds for the divorce. In addition to my disappointment in her behavior, it has been very frustrating to experience the extent to which churches and individual Christians refuse to take a stand against an unbiblical divorce (and now, apparently, an impending remarriage). She acted contrary to the advice of a pastor and our Christian marriage counselor. Yet she was represented in the divorce by a Christian attorney; the church we were attending at the time made no effort to call her to account or to instruct its members who were her friends to do so; the church she attends now will not respond at all to the situation; the pastor of the church where her near-fiancee is a member, while acknowledging that a remarriage in this situation would be adultery, shrugs his shoulders and says God will forgive them if they marry. Most frustrating, the "older women" in our lives who have at various times served as mentors to her have uniformly refused to get involved, declining even to allow me the opportunity to ask for their intervention with her. We bemoan the proliferation of divorce in our churches, but we stand by and do nothing once the divorce is filed. At that point, it's treated as a private matter as to which the church must remain agnostic, with life-long harm to non-initiating (not "innocent") spouses, innocent children, their future spouses and children, and the body of Christ and its testimony. Shame on Christians whose involvement might save a marriage but who stay on the sidelines or even actively support the woman who is "liberating" herself.

I am sad to hear about your situation. I can certainly understand your frustration about how some many people accept this casually. This is a "righteousness perspective," but as far as changing the relational equation, I suspect if all did the right thing, it would change nothing.

A close friend is going through a similar situation. I have found that when people make up their minds and dig in, peer pressure, church pressure -- nothing much works (except, perhaps, a firm disciplinary act of God). Although you might be frustrated -- thinking repeated confrontation might have saved your marriage -- what usually happens is that the person being confronted simply no longer associates with those people.
The exit has been planned for some time, and battles with the conscience are over. If she is willing to trash her spouse, she is willing to trash friends. If better churches do not accept her and she is bent on attending church , she will stoop down to a church that isn't so good. If you have any minor children and she has custody, this makes things more difficult. If children are involved, my advice is to try to protect the innocent above trying to see the offender disciplined.

Ultimately, if a person does not have a true fear of displeasing God that precludes rationalization, and if they are entrenched, the situation becomes impossible for us. And if she has set her heart on another, that makes the situation even more (humanly) impossible. We cannot coerce people into doing the godly thing. If the statistics are right, she will reap bitter fruit in this life. She also will have to answer at the judgment seat in the next, as we all must.

May the Lord help you process all the struggles within. God bless you, my brother.

"The Midrash Detective"

dmyers's picture

Ed, I fear you're probably right about the probable futility (from a human standpoint) of additional intervention, though the "righteousness perspective" toward which I am predisposed would point out that (a) it's still the right thing for Christians and the Church to do and (b) at least in some instances, that additional intervention might be the means God would use to turn things around. At some point -- in my case, there's just one mentor/possible intervenor left on the list -- there's nothing else I can do, but I do want to be able to say later (to myself and to my kids) that I did everything I could to keep the situation from becoming irreversible (without being crazy). My prayer is three-fold: that God would miraculously bring about a reconciliation that would glorify Him to our children and all who know us; whether or not there is a reconciliation, that He would conform me to His image through this experience; and whether or not there is a reconciliation, that my children would see God conforming me to His image, for the benefit of their own spiritual growth.

I greatly appreciate your last paragraph. Thank you.

To change the subject somewhat more in the direction of the OP, a question about gender differences (though not necessarily role reversal): is there something about women (or Christian women) that allows them to rationalize divorce because they have come to view their husbands with contempt (for at least some very real failings and sins), whereas Christian men as a group would not be able to make the same rationalization? Anecdotally, it seems that that is what I am seeing. Of course, men will cause or initiate a divorce by committing adultery or physical abuse. But when the relational issues do not rise to the level of Biblical grounds for divorce, it seems that Christian women are more willing to pull the trigger. If I'm not misperceiving the facts, does anyone have any thoughts as to the cause or explanation?

Ed Vasicek's picture

David wrote:

Quote:
To change the subject somewhat more in the direction of the OP, a question about gender differences (though not necessarily role reversal): is there something about women (or Christian women) that allows them to rationalize divorce because they have come to view their husbands with contempt (for at least some very real failings and sins), whereas Christian men as a group would not be able to make the same rationalization? Anecdotally, it seems that that is what I am seeing. Of course, men will cause or initiate a divorce by committing adultery or physical abuse. But when the relational issues do not rise to the level of Biblical grounds for divorce, it seems that Christian women are more willing to pull the trigger. If I'm not misperceiving the facts, does anyone have any thoughts as to the cause or explanation?

I do not know how "natural" this really is. IMO, women are more interested in security, men significance (to borrow antiquated Larry Crabb terms). Up until recently, when men provided the only income and women could not handle the hard work of chopping wood, etc., women were dependent upon men for a sense of security. Thus, being busy rearing children kept them out of Eve-like trouble (I Timothy 2:11-15).

Quote:
Let a woman learn quietly owith all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.

The "salvation" here, IMO, refers to the salvation or deliverance from repeating Eve-like behavior.

Now that this dependance is not as strong due to social changes (i.e., the empowerment of women), women are no longer preserved/saved from Eve-like sin by the responsibility (and need for a husband) previous generations of women experienced. Just as Eve altered the Word and rationalized the appealing words of the serpent, so modern Christian women are more tempted to do so.

Our city, Kokomo, IN, and our county (Howard) led the nation in divorce rate in the 1970's, primarily because the women never left work after WWII, and, with high-paying factory jobs,, unhappy women thought, "Who needs the jerk. Get rid of him." In some studies, bad marriages usually get better within five years -- but they did not give things a chance. Then they raised kids who said they didn't want to divorce, but in practice followed in their parents' footsteps. I am afraid we are ahead of the curve here, and it is not a pretty picture.

The aforementioned article, etc., has made it clear that these "freeing" roles we now experience are resulting in men who play video games all day (and not growing up) and have their sexual needs satisfied via pornography. The temptations for both genders are intensified in our day because of social and technological changes. These changes bring challenges our fathers did not have to face --and could not even imagine.

The challenge for us is addressing and adapting to these mega-changes. Where do we draw boundaries? Where do we pick our fights? What concessions must we make? I am afraid that we are only beginning to ask these questions. What bothers me most about the divorce epidemic is the effect on the kids. Mothers used to be so concerned about the well-being of their children, but they so easily rationalize the effects of divorce upon THEIR kids -- despite all the studies and testimonies about how divorce harms children.

Like I said earlier, our top concern should be the innocent parties -- the kids. There is an avenue of unexplored thinking about this from a Biblical viewpoint. Do you practice church discipline on a sinning parent to the further devastation of the kids? Sometimes that is not an issue, but often it is. If the church "hates mommy," the kids do not learn righteousness, but resentment. This is not the only factor to consider, but it seems like no one even thinks about it. In our system of ethics, we must factor in the issue of harming the innocent to discipline the guilty. If a policeman is doing a high speed chase on an expressway, does he risk the lives of innocent motorists to apprehend the criminal? Tough call, but the cost must be counted.

On another tangent, we rarely hear the, "Don't follow your emotions, but God's Word." Instead, our emotions can become HOW we determine God's will -- a bad measuring stick indeed. Blessed is the man who is conviction-driven and married to a woman who is conviction-driven!

"The Midrash Detective"

dmyers's picture

I can't say what the sociological data would show, but your point about Eve-like behavior resonates here. While my wife and I had struggled with numerous issues for years, the tipping point can be traced directly to her re-entry into the workforce in 2007, after 18 years at home raising our kids, at which time she announced that she would be opening separate bank accounts and keeping "her" money beyond my control or access. She filed for divorce (the first time) about 9 months later.

You are correct that the ability to rationalize the effects of divorce on HER kids is striking. We have two boys at Christian colleges who are flummoxed and disheartened by what they've seen (the older of whom will have to celebrate his college graduation in 10 days with separate dinners with his parents); an 18-year old daughter with special needs who now has to worry about her parents living hundreds of miles apart; and a 15-year old son who has to be cajoled to spend even one night every other week with her. Not to mention whatever long-term effects we'll see as the years go by.

As for church discipline and its possible effect on the innocent children, I'm not sure I see that as a concern in very many cases. The preliminary Matthew 18 confrontations would be adults only, and the ultimate church action could be as well. In our case, with a wife who has always considered herself the more spiritual of the spouses, it's at least possible that an unambiguous (but gracious) response from the church and Christian friends might have forestalled the divorce.

As for convictions and the blessedness of a marriage where both husband and wife are conviction-driven, years ago I would have agreed with you. But I've learned that convictions don't count for much when the person's personality type is such that, while the convictions are numerous and rigid as to others, they are quite malleable when it counts to the person herself. It appears that for some people, there is somehow no cognitive dissonance between stoutly affirming the authority of scripture while at the same time doing what you want, at least when you hold the other person in contempt.

ChrisC's picture

dmyers wrote:
…the tipping point can be traced directly to her re-entry into the workforce in 2007, after 18 years at home raising our kids, at which time she announced that she would be opening separate bank accounts and keeping "her" money beyond my control or access.
i want to say this carefully because i don't know you or your situation beyond what's here, and i'm sure my thoughts are more clouded by my experience than your reality.

but, if you think divorce is a function of separate bank accounts, you're sorely mistaken. all this means to me is that there were some serious unaddressed issues, but she couldn't take any action without financial security. the answer to divorce is not to remove women's financial security, but to address the underlying issues.

i know many happily married couples with separate bank accounts.

i thought ed's comment was really great:

Ed Vasicek wrote:
The exit has been planned for some time, and battles with the conscience are over.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

ChrisC wrote:
dmyers wrote:
…the tipping point can be traced directly to her re-entry into the workforce in 2007, after 18 years at home raising our kids, at which time she announced that she would be opening separate bank accounts and keeping "her" money beyond my control or access.
i want to say this carefully because i don't know you or your situation beyond what's here, and i'm sure my thoughts are more clouded by my experience than your reality.

but, if you think divorce is a function of separate bank accounts, you're sorely mistaken. all this means to me is that there were some serious unaddressed issues, but she couldn't take any action without financial security. the answer to divorce is not to remove women's financial security, but to address the underlying issues.

i know many happily married couples with separate bank accounts.

i thought ed's comment was really great:

Ed Vasicek wrote:
The exit has been planned for some time, and battles with the conscience are over.

Chris,

I cannot speak for dmyers but I will speak for something in general. You stated "but, if you think divorce is a function of separate bank accounts,you're sorely mistaken". Remember, this fellow is simply sounding out some things without conclusive statements so it might be worth your while to tread a bit more lightly. I understand that if someone was making this a singular and emphatic case the strength of your suggestion might be worthwhile but seeing that there are no doubt many other things not disclosed, I would lighten the foot steps.

This is not to say what you said is not true but I suspect dmyers knows this, his post simply did not reveal this in that it was a rather informal consideration to the matter. Anyway, it is a tough spot and a sensitive one. And maybe I am out of bounds even saying this to you and if so, your pardons are requested.

P.S. And I certainly do not suggest what I do with the desire to quasi-moderate but only as one brother to another and again, if I am out of bounds in your mind, do please forgive me.

ChrisC's picture

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
Remember, this fellow is simply sounding out some things without conclusive statements so it might be worth your while to tread a bit more lightly. I understand that if someone was making this a singular and emphatic case the strength of your suggestion might be worthwhile but seeing that there are no doubt many other things not disclosed, I would lighten the foot steps.
yes, you're right that i don't know anywhere near enough about dmyers' specific situation to make any judgement about those specifics. i definitely wasn't trying to pin down who did what wrong first or anything like that. a public message board really isn't the place to sort out someone's specific issues anyway. so maybe i should have been more clear about wanting to speak to a general situation and not exactly to dmyers'.

i have heard other people (my parents included) say that they don't want separate bank accounts because they think that it leads to divorce. i disagree.

dmyers's picture

ChrisC: I agree with you that separate bank accounts are not a root cause of divorce. I did not mean to convey that I thought they were, either generally or in my case, and I appreciate that you allowed for that in your post. It is certainly true in my case that the unilateral adoption of separate bank accounts was a (further) demonstration of underlying, unresolved (though not unaddressed) issues, as you would have expected. I do think it's fair to generalize and say that a spouse's unilateral insistence on separate bank accounts and on making only a limited, unilaterally determined amount available for family expenses, over the other spouse's objections, is wrong.

I do take issue with the generalization that some wives "couldn't take any action without financial security," for a couple reasons. First, the presence or absence of financial security doesn't make right the kind of unilateral behavior I had in mind (if I'm correct that such behavior is wrong). Second, on a deeper level, I take issue with the common nostrum that a husband is obligated to provide his wife with security, financial or otherwise. My wife and I were both taught at BJU in marriage and family classes and in numerous subsequent marriage sermons, seminars, etc. that in fact it was the husband's primary obligation to fulfill his wife's need for security. It took me nearly 29 years of marriage for it to finally dawn that there's a huge problem inherent in the nostrum: no husband is capable of providing his wife, or anyone else, with security. He should certainly do the best he can, and he should certainly try to avoid being a source of insecurity, but he and his wife have to realize that there are too many things beyond his control for her "security" to be his obligation. I would imagine that's why, as far as I know, there is no biblical warrant for this obligation to be laid on Christian husbands. Instead, the husband is commanded to love his wife, to live with her in an understanding way, etc. -- actions and attitudes he can control. This is not to give an excuse to a husband to neglect his family to the point of destitution -- that would violate the obligation for a husband to provide for his family (and even his obligation to love them). But if he makes mistakes along the way, if he struggles with character flaws or personal history issues that make it difficult for him to say "no" to his family's material desires as often as he should, if he makes career or relocation or housing choices in good faith that turn out badly and jeopardize the family's finances for a time, even if at some point he is forced to declare bankruptcy -- I do not think it is fair or biblical to say that he has removed his wife's security. Her security should be in the Lord, and she should be able to trust that the Lord will take care of her financially and in all other ways, whether because of or sometimes in spite of her husband's efforts.

I welcome others' thoughts on this, and I would actually like to see an article on SI on this topic.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

It would appear that some teaching on marriage doesn't deal properly with the authority and autonomy of the individual. There is obviously an emphasis, and a proper one, of two people becoming one flesh, and their responsibility to fulfill the needs of the other person. But I think we do a great disservice to both husbands and wives if we give them the impression that they must lose themselves in the other.

Part of the joy of marriage is rejoicing in our uniqueness, our differences. Another aspect is the willing submission of one to the other, depending on their strengths abilities. We are not carbon copies of each other, nor can we be expected to be able to anticipate and satisfy every need of our spouse. Too much interdependence is IMO unhealthy and sets up one or the other for failure. And as has been said, our dependence and fulfillment should primarily be in the Lord.

Ed Vasicek's picture

Susan R wrote:
It would appear that some teaching on marriage doesn't deal properly with the authority and autonomy of the individual. There is obviously an emphasis, and a proper one, of two people becoming one flesh, and their responsibility to fulfill the needs of the other person. But I think we do a great disservice to both husbands and wives if we give them the impression that they must lose themselves in the other.

Part of the joy of marriage is rejoicing in our uniqueness, our differences. Another aspect is the willing submission of one to the other, depending on their strengths abilities. We are not carbon copies of each other, nor can we be expected to be able to anticipate and satisfy every need of our spouse. Too much interdependence is IMO unhealthy and sets up one or the other for failure. And as has been said, our dependence and fulfillment should primarily be in the Lord.

True enough, Susan. Yet some people have a hard time "combining," while others have a hard time keeping their separate identity. Whatever the ideal is (if we could accurately define it in detail), this fact seems evident: there are plenty of people on either side of the ideal.

"The Midrash Detective"

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Ed Vasicek wrote:
True enough, Susan. Yet some people have a hard time "combining," while others have a hard time keeping their separate identity. Whatever the ideal is (if we could accurately define it in detail), this fact seems evident: there are plenty of people on either side of the ideal.

I think some of the fear of 'combining' is that fear of losing one's own identity, especially when it comes to a wife submitting to her husband, or at least that's my perception as a wife. Loving and submitting shouldn't mean that I can't read the books I like or laugh at jokes I think are funny or pursue an interest that he doesn't share. It also doesn't mean being with each other every waking minute, nodding and smiling and never disagreeing.

When we truly value the other person for who they are, being together-yet-separate is FUN. I wonder- when's the last time we've heard a message presenting marriage as a rewarding and joyful experience for both husband and wife? If I had to weigh the negative message and the positive messages, the negative side would be in Antarctica.

On another aspect of this- I've read that pthalates, which are in the kinds of plastics that you find in bottled water containers, are hormone disruptors, and can result in early puberty in girls and the feminization of boys. Also, soy is often used to mimic estrogen. With all the plastic containers leaching chemicals into our bodies, and the high content of soy in many foods, I wonder how much gender-reversal has some physiological causes? It's a thought.

christian cerna's picture

Sadly, there is not much we can do about the reversing gender roles. The reversal took place because of the changing economic structure of this country. Let's face it. The jobs that once allowed American men to be the breadwinners and providers in their families, have mostly disappeared. Men want to design things, to build things with their hands, to fix things. But these types of jobs have been steadily leaving the country. Now adays, most jobs are retail jobs, or fast food jobs, or office jobs, or jobs in the medical field. But how many men are actually fit to do those jobs, or actually want to do those jobs?

We find ourselves in a land full of men who feel lost, unable to use their hands to produce something of value. A man who cannot produce something and provide for his family feels like he has lost his identity.