Leading and Submitting

Jul 23, 2009 |Alex Chediak

In this excerpt from With One Voice, author Alex Chediak explores common distortions of masculinity and femininity.

Mature Masculinity is Neither Passive Nor Chauvinistic

The biblical beauty of mature masculinity can be contrasted with two distortions that arise, namely machismo and passivity. Passivity is by far the more significant problem in Western culture today, so I'll tackle this one first. It is also more difficult to detect; we are immune to it since it is so pervasive.

Passivity is where a guy simply gives a woman what she wants when she wants it, and fails to take initiative or assert himself so as not to be an imposition. He incorrectly assumes that by doing what she asks he is making her happy.

That's how a guy thinks: "If I want something, I'll ask for it." But what a woman typically wants from a man — particularly in the area of romance — is for him to, very literally, take her up into an adventure that is larger than her own pursuits. She is not fashioned to have a man come alongside her, simply living with her and staying out of trouble. At the core of her being, she longs to see leadership she can respond to and enthusiastically support.

The passive man refuses to work on the relationship itself; it is not very important to him. If it happens to go well, great — he'll enjoy it. But if it doesn't, oh well — time to invest elsewhere. This man goes with the flow; whatever happens happens.

A passive man might be embarrassed to take initiative in a relationship with a woman. He puts out "feelers" to see if she is interested in him. If he talks to her, he does so in a sort of sheepish way, always trying to protect himself from any personal exposure, as that would involve risk. So when the last semester of school comes along, for example, and she is about to move 300 miles back to her home town to take a job, he figures, "Oh well. I guess she must not like me, or she'd stay around." He is treating her as if she were another man.

What he ought to do, both gently and courageously, is assume the risk and inform her of his interest. In effect, he needs to suggest to her that she alter her previous plan and come along with him. This requires a mature willingness on his part to assume responsibility not just for himself, but for her as well.

Too many men today lack such confidence. Such a man is himself confused as to who he is, so why would he want to go through life with a woman committed to him? It seems frightening. Passive men take the path of least resistance.

Even if a passive man does pursue a woman, chances are he at most wants to have just his emotional and sexual desires met. He is not truly prepared to lead, protect, and provide for her in an active fashion. This is partly why the cohabitation rate is so high, and why the birth rate is so low.

Male chauvinism, on the other hand, is much more easily detected. If a man is unmarried and overly "macho," he will be shunned since most women are averse to male chauvinism. Such a man doesn't have the "nice guy" appeal of the passive man who, because he has no particular convictions, passions, or direction in life, lacks anything to avoid.

The harsh man doesn't go with the flow; he forces his will upon others by sheer, unbridled strength. This is not the disposition that tends toward a loving, protecting, and providing for a woman; rather it hurts and takes advantage of a woman.

There is one kind of woman this might attract, and it happens with enough frequency that it is worth noting. Some women come from broken homes where their father was emotionally and verbally (if not physically) abusive. Consequently, they want to be loved, but they have no positive standard as to how a man should treat them. Not having received a significant amount of healthy male affirmation, they may accept what appears to be love and affection from a strong man. Such a man is attractive because of his strength, and no matter how irrational it may be, in her insecurity this sort of woman will often blame herself for his expressions of harshness. She can love such a man though she has no respect for him.

Mature Femininity is Neither Obsequious or Domineering

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, on the other hand, 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 percent of women propose to their husbands. Of these 10 percent, 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.

Conclusions

Careful observation in the single years pays off, because your spouse-to-be will carry their pre-marital character traits into marriage. And some of this stuff can be spotted even before you get into a serious relationship.

Young women, do you see him displaying gentle, bold, self-sacrificial, God-centered, others-conscious leadership in his own life and in his sphere of influence? The kind of leadership that will give you a solid framework in which you can not only joyfully submit but flourish in the gifts God has given you?

Young men, is her behavior, attitude, and demeanor indicative of the responsive, affirming, intelligent, life-giving companioning that you seek?

May God bless your single years with fruitful growth in grace, preparing you for the recognition and pursuit of a life-long mate.

Taken from chapter 4 of With One Voice: Singleness, Dating, and Marriage To the Glory of God by Alex Chediak. Copyright 2006. Used by permission of Christian Focus.

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