By Megan Hill
Today I passed a car on the interstate. It was going well below the speed limit, and I had plenty of time to see the occupants. An elderly woman was in the driver’s seat, fingers gripped tight on the wheel. Next to her was the man I assumed to be her husband, equally senior and slumped against the window.
Seeing them, I thought about my own marriage. How my husband always drives when we are both in the car. How he will happily spend hours behind the wheel on a long road trip while I massage his shoulders from my seat on the passenger side.
I wondered how our relationship will change if, in old age, I become the designated driver. It might be a necessity, but surely even this small exchange in our roles would cause discomfort. I wondered how the woman in the slow-moving car managed to maintain submission to her husband while navigating I-20.
Recently, a flurry of writing and research has pictured women in a driver’s seat of another kind: an economic one. The thesis of this trend is simple—men are becoming financially irrelevant.
In a country whose number one concern is the economy, this has weight. Men could be erased from the books.
The flagship for this claim is Hanna Rosin’s new book, provocatively titled, The End of Men and the Rise of Women. In an interview with NPR, she said, “Women make up about half the workforce and the majority of college degrees — which these days is the prerequisite to success in this world.” By contrast, she says, men are being pushed out of significance as traditionally masculine economic sectors like manufacturing lose jobs: “The latest job numbers show that men are at their lowest labor force participation rate since 1948.”
Part of the reason for this lack in economic productivity, the argument goes, is that men are not adapting to become more feminine.
Rosin asserts that men have become stuck in stereotypical masculinity. In her book, she cites the results of a standard psychological tool that measures masculine and feminine traits: “Since the test started being administered in the mid-1970s, women have been encroaching into what the test rates as male territory, stereotypically defining themselves as “assertive,” “independent,” “willing to take a stand”. . .Men, however, have not met them halfway, and are hardly more likely to define themselves as “tender” or “gentle” than they were in 1974. In fact, by some measures men have been retreating into an ever-narrower space, backing away from what were traditionally feminine traits as women take over more masculine ones.”
Inflexible gender traits are also the subject of Sandra Tsing Loh’s latest essay in The Atlantic. She comes to a different conclusion than Rosin, suggesting that women might also be less adaptable than they’d like to think. When women enter the workforce and men stay home, “not only do we 2012 women fail at being 1950s wives, we fail even more spectacularly at being 1950s husbands” resulting in unhappiness on both sides of the gender divide.
Like my imagined future as the primary driver, any change in traditional tasks brings uncertainty and upheaval.
Also in this new economic model, family budgets and relationships are no longer dependent on men. If men are financially irrelevant, women don’t need to marry them.
This may be part of the reason for the current rise in cohabitation. A U.S. Census Bureau report on the subject proposes that Americans are increasingly less likely to commit to marriage with someone who economically underperforms them.
And a September NPR story entitled “Can Marriage Save Single Mothers From Poverty?” challenges the perspective that single mothers are economically better off when they get married. The author proposes that marriage is only good for single mothers if the man is making a significant amount of money, and, the authors say “there are not many men like that available.”
So, if we accept the premise of this trend, if we concede that the economic gender balance has shifted (and I’d still like to see some analysis that doesn’t start from a feminist worldview), what difference does this make?
Not a lot.
For one thing, men have been irrelevant before. Deborah and Jael, for example, lived in an age of irrelevant men. Barak was too scared to go to battle, Heber the Kenite (Jael’s husband) was a traitor to Israel and was nowhere to be found when the pagan general limped through the door. And these godly women just kept living before the face of God.
Judges 4 doesn’t record laments about the absent men, just the women’s faithfulness in an uncomfortable situation. I’m not looking forward being the one with the tent peg and hammer, but I pray that if that day comes again, Christian women will simply continue to pursue holiness.
In this sense, the calling of women does not change whether men are essential, irrelevant, or something in between.
Rosin’s conclusion is “if our assumption is that the men are the breadwinners … that men carry the family, when that dynamic shifts, you can see that relationships shift with it. So we have to redefine what we mean by ‘head of the household’. . . .”
She’s wrong. The principles of Scripture have never been subject to the results of a survey. Paychecks or brawn or charm or intelligence have never been the basis on which a man is head of his household. He is head because an all-wise God has designated him to that role.
In the economic sphere, we have the example of Rachel and Leah. These women viewed themselves as holding the majority of their family’s assets, and yet they are willingly subject to their husband. When Jacob tells them about God’s direction, they reply this way: “All the wealth that God has taken away from our father belongs to us and to our children. Now then, whatever God has said to you, do.” (Gen. 31:16)
Godly wives graciously submit no matter who holds the checkbook.
This is not to minimize the implications of an economic shift. A new paradigm will undoubtedly create complex issues about gender and marriage that thinking Christians will need much wisdom to address biblically. But, at the same time, we must not be afraid to assert the underlying and unchanging principle of husband-leaders and submissive wives.
Years—and several cultural trends—from now, you may pass me driving 30 miles per hour on the interstate. I have every reason to believe I’ll still be a complementarian.
Megan Hill lives in Mississippi with her husband and three children. With her mom, she writes a weekly blog, Sunday Women. She is the author of a recent article for Christianity Today’s Her.menutics about wives who out-earn their husbands.
You, too, can help support the ministry of CBMW. We are a non-profit organization that is fully-funded by individual gifts and ministry partnerships. Your contribution will go directly toward the production of more gospel-centered, church-equipping resources.