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WHAT IS WRONG WITH PATRIARCHY?

by Jacob Ninan

Much too much! So much so that in certain sections of society it is looked upon as a repulsive vestige of a bygone era! Many fathers have ruled over their families with assumed dictatorial powers and expectations of unquestioned subservience. Wives have been treated with disdain, not giving them any voice in household decisions, roughing them up at the least signal of dissonance, looking them as nothing more than bond slaves without any rights, etc. They are expected to leave their parents’ family and take on the role of serving the husband’s family. Mothers in law have earned notoriety for themselves by ensuring that the daughters in law know their position in the home and keep to it at any cost. Many wives choose to suffer this ignominy and suffer even physical abuse at the hand of their husbands and in laws in order to avoid public shame. In some places in India, a wife is not allowed to sit down when the husband is in the room, and she follows him at a distance behind him when they walk on the road! I read about one instance where the mother served pieces of fried fish to the men in the house and not to her daughter because she herself had never had the luxury of being served that dish in her whole life!

When we come down to Christian circles, this stain of patriarchy is not too uncommon. “Wives, submit to your husband” is taken as a carte blanche for husbands in too many instances to pin them down to unquestioning obedience! Pastors are also known to teach that Eve was created as a helpmeet to Adam and that this settles their positions with regards to each other! Wives of pastors and Christian workers, by necessity of this divine edict, have to support their husbands’ ministry at all costs, and any concerns regarding the effects on the family life and children will be treated as rebellion against God! In my counselling practice I have come across one Christian family where the husband’s parents insisted that the wife should quit her job, and assume her designated role of taking care of her in laws. When I was discussing with the husband what it meant in practice to love his wife as Christ loved the church, he told me that I was bringing in some new and strange teachings which he had never even heard from his pastor!

In God’s wisdom He knew that if a man and woman were to live together in such a way that they would become increasingly more and more one with each other, one of the hindrances that should be cleared was either of them clinging to their parents as being more important than their relationship with each other. That is why He gave the instruction that they should both leave their father and mother (at least in their thinking and their emotions) and show more allegiance to each other. If parental interference becomes intolerable, it may be even good to move away physically! However in the present distorted level of patriarchy, it is the wife who is asked to leave her parents while the husband clings to his parents!

No wonder there is such a revolution being stirred up by the women’s liberation movement! They seem to be for making patriarchy sound like a cuss word. Equalitarianism is the popular buzz word among the forward looking couples of today. When a man and woman get married, one of the first agreements they come to is to arrange for a proper division of work and responsibilities among them. Couples imagine that if they are successful in negotiating this agreement things will turn out to be fine for the most part.

One of the mistakes the women’s lib has made is to make themselves believe that there is no difference between men and women. While gunning for establishing equality, they seemed to have interpreted equality as being the same. But we cannot obliterate the natural differences that God has crafted into male and female human beings, even though they are both equally precious in His eyes. It is these differences that make them attractive to each other and also complementary to each other.

After God made Adam and Adam could not find anyone suitable for him, God said that it was not good for him to be alone. Then He brought out Eve dramatically to Adam and there was perfect bliss everywhere. In my opinion, had God created Eve first, she also would have found something lacking, and then God would have completed her by giving her Adam as someone who was suitable for her! Adams and Eves both have something lacking in them which only their complementary half can complete.

It is the all-loving and all-wise God who started patriarchy in the grand scheme of things. We must admit, however, that things have gone from bad to worse in this area from the time of the Fall. When God designated the husband as the head of the family (under the lordship of Christ), it was not to assign to the husband a place of superiority or to the wife an inferior role. He had created both of them in His image (Gen.1:27), and both of them were to be equal in His eyes on earth (Gal.3:28), and in eternity there was to be no gender differences at all (Matt.22:30). What God was doing was to assign the responsibility for the home to the husband. Instead of recognising this, men through the centuries had assumed they had been given absolute authority over their wives! Responsibility cannot be managed properly without authority, and authority can be misused without proper responsibility. That is what has happened when men conveniently ignored their responsibility and majored on their authority.

But when a husband loves his wife, as God intends him to, giving himself for her as Christ does for His church, he earns respect and recognition of authority from his wife. When he pays attention to her needs and the needs of the children, they happily submit to his authority without any hesitation. What happens when he does not take any responsibility for his family but uses his wife only as a servant to get his things done is that there is resistance and even rebellion.

When a wife recognises the God-given position of her husband in the family and submits to him, he, in turn, finds it easier to love her and do things for her. When he loves her and satisfies her inner longing to be loved, he earns respect from her for which he yearns! It is a fulfilling of each one’s role and a consequent, mutual satisfaction of each other’s longings.

If this is taught in the church and society can see the resulting harmony among husbands and wives, there will be fewer hue and cries against patriarchy as such. Instead, the focus will turn to husbands neglecting their responsibilities towards their family and abusing their authority, and wives foolishly trying to assert their equality and rebelling against their husbands.

Actually, this is more easily said than done. In the curses pronounced by God after the Fall there could be an indication of the strife that exists between husbands and wives. Genesis 3:16,17 tell us, “To the woman He said, ‘… Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.’ Then to Adam He said, ‘… Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.’” Man now seems to be preoccupied with his work with which he struggles all his life. He does not seem to recognise as much his responsibility towards his wife. He seems to assume that as long as he does his work and provides for his family he would have done his part! Hebrew scholars say that ‘Yet your desire will be for your husband’ in the Hebrew language seems to indicate a desire on the wife’s part to control her husband, but that ‘he will rule over you’ ends up with her husband lording it over her!

These are the states of fallen men and women which they now find it difficult to overcome in their quest for a happy married life. But knowing about it is more than half the victory. If they would seek the help of the Holy Spirit to fulfil their respective roles according to God’s design, that would be the way to fulfil their marital dreams.

The fault is not with patriarchy per se, but with our distorted understanding and implementation. “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt.19:6).

-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, April 2018

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