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Mature Femininity is Neither Obsequious or Domineering

April 2, 2009

Alex Chediak was an apprentice at The Bethlehem Institute under the leadership of Pastors John Piper and Tom Steller of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis (2005-2007). He is the author of With One Voice: Singleness, Dating, and Marriage to the Glory of God (Christian Focus, 2006) and the general editor of Five Paths to the Love of Your Life (NavPress, 2005), for which he contributed two chapters. Previously working four years as a process development engineer for IBM and Cypress, he is now an Associate Professor of Engineering and Physics at California Baptist University. He and his wife Marni have two young children, Karis and Jonathan. Alex maintains a Web site and blog.

The following post is an excerpt from chapter 4 of With One Voice: Singleness, Dating and Marriage to the Glory of God (2006), entitled: Leading and Submitting. We post it with our thanks to the author.

Great myths abound about what the nature of a feminine disposition involves.  A feminine woman in the minds of some might conjure images of the Victorian woman, unable to perform menial tasks without her servants' help, and shrieking at the sight of a spider. We've covered most of the ground in the last chapter, so let's first touch on the error of unintelligent "obedience".

Some women think they are being submissive wives as long as they tell their husband whatever he wants to hear and do whatever he asks them to do. In the realm of unmarried women, this takes the form of a woman who is willing to do anything to get a guy. As long as she has his company and the semblance of his love, she is glad to do anything to keep him satisfied. The sort of woman who gets involved with the harsh, chauvinistic man described above often assumes this disposition of slavish devotion. Sadly, she is used to being treated like dirt, so it is no surprise for her that her boyfriend/husband would treat her the same way. Even a woman who has not been abused per se might exhibit this type of doormat behavior if her sense of self-worth is strongly linked to her relational status instead of her relationship with God. She believes the true measure of a godly, worthy woman is one who is dating or married, so she will put up with any sort of man just to guarantee her relationship status.

But a truly feminine demeanor does not prohibit acting on the occasional need to strongly disagree with a man or with one's husband. Femininity does not deny or exclude intelligence, rationality, and an ability to make a convincing argument. In a marriage relationship, a strong wife is an asset to her husband. She can give him insightful feedback, expand his horizons to matters he may not have considered, and lovingly rebuke him when he is sinning.

What a godly wife aims for at such moments is an attitude that, while affirming his leadership, seeks to sharpen it. She is not seeking to take advantage of his weaknesses by usurping his leadership. Rather, she wishes to encourage, advise, correct, and rebuke to the end that his leadership might be enhanced, his effectiveness increased, his capacities enlarged. "She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life" (Prov. 31:12). At the end of the day, such a woman can submit to her husband knowing that he ultimately bears the responsibility before God for their relationship.

The domineering woman is the usurper. Her desire is to rule over her husband or the men around her. Such a woman may get what she wants, only to be grieved by the emasculation of the men in her midst. I've heard that about 10% of women propose to their husbands. Of these 10%, I wonder how many wish their husbands had proposed to them. A domineering woman will often treat her husband as though she thinks he is a wimp, although she may never admit that publicly or even to herself.

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