A study by Pew Research came out recently which highlighted an eyebrow-raising statistic: in four out of ten families in America now, moms (as opposed to dads) are the primary or sole “breadwinner.”
When that study first made headlines, I thought to myself what an interesting snapshot of our culture that was. Those who watch culture (as I like to do, because I’m a nerd) knew something like this was coming. Women have outnumbered men in terms of college graduates for a while now. This latest recession that we are still trying to claw our way out of has disproportionately affected men, whose job losses have been exponential compared to those of women. Our economy is slowly shifting back toward a more self-employment, barter-style economy and away from a corporate, “work-for-the-man” based economy.
All of those factors coming to a head at once (plus some others I’m sure we’re not even aware of yet) led us to where we’re at now: in 40.4% of families, moms bring home the bacon. Back in 1960, when Pew Research began tracking this statistic, women were the breadwinners in just 10.8% of families. Over the past 50 years, that percentage has been steadily rising, with a recent extra boost upward from all those trends noted above. So I found the study interesting… and then moved on to the next headline.
Others, however, couldn’t move on and found the results a reason to panic. Take for instance, this panel of Fox News contributors (all male, one might point out), who apparently think this marks the end of the world as we know it:
Just listen to the phrases these men are using to describe women who actually (gasp!) make money:
Concerning and troubling statistics… watching society dissolve around us… disintegration of marriage… something going terribly wrong… bad for marriages… catastrophic issue… breakdown of family structure… undermine our very social order…
No wonder Fox News’ viewer demographics skew heavily toward older males. There were a bunch of old guys sitting in their recliners who were probably – sadly – nodding right along with this commentary. (And after that four-man diatribe, it’ll be a wonder if any women will watch Fox News now.)
My favorite part of that video was Erick Erickson’s little pseudo-science rant:
“I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science, but liberals who defend this and say this is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology, at the natural world, the roles of a male and a female in society and other animals – the male is typically the dominant role. The female is not the antithesis, is not competing, it’s a complementary role. We as people in a ‘smart’ society have lost the ability to have complementary relationships.”
So that’s the actual argument at the heart of this? That men have to bring home the bacon because it’s against the very laws of nature for a woman to make more money than a man?
You’ve got to be kidding.
Not only is his assertion demonstrably not true in nature among “other animals”, it is also horribly and subversively demeaning and oppressive to women (and I do not use that word lightly). By declaring the male “dominant,” you are inherently declaring the female inferior or weak and propping the door wide open for abusive relationships. Although chauvinists like Erickson would never admit to doing that, the rest of his explanation bears out that attitude. “Complementary relationships” means that women can’t support their families, can’t make money (or at least can’t make more than their dominant male spouse), and really ought to be in the kitchen making their men a pie, dammit. Otherwise something “catastrophic” and “terribly wrong” (like women being empowered and using their talents) will occur!
Women, stay at home and quit making money. The very fabric of civilization depends on it.
I had to shake my head when I saw that video – but it wasn’t just that video. Much to my amazement, a lot of folks were inexplicably getting angry and panicked about that Pew study. And sadly, it wasn’t just in political circles, either – many Christians bemoaned the results of that survey as proof of what a spiritual wasteland America had become.
Apparently, it is now sinful… or against God’s sovereign plan… or an affront to His created “order”… that moms could make more money than dads. Christians were out in force decrying society and assaulting fathers for allowing this to happen. Clubs were brandished. Sack cloth was torn.
And I was left with my head spinning.
Is this argument really happening? I mean, really? I guess I should have expected it, since in Genesis 3 God clearly says to women:
“I will make your pains in childbearing very severe;
with painful labor you will give birth to children;
And you will remain at home and take care of them,
Never leaving the abode to participate in the workplace.”
Oh, except those last two lines aren’t actually in there. Oops. That must have come from the “Church Trapped in Modernity” Standard Translation. Apparently a lot of Christian leaders are using that translation, however… like the seminary professor who said men who are stay-at-home dads are “man fails”. Or the prominent evangelical leader who teaches that men who stay home with their kids are “worse than unbelievers,” are not “real men,” and will never have the respect of their wives. I read a blog the other day about a man and wife who made the decision to have the husband stay at home with their kids while the wife worked. They were literally shamed out of their church – told they couldn’t fellowship there any longer because they weren’t following God’s plan for families.
You have got to be freaking kidding me.
It’s as if all the problems facing society and the church today could be solved, if only women would stay inside where they belong. And what, I wonder, is the solution if folks believe that this truly is a problem? Are husbands supposed to smack down their wives’ desires to get jobs? Are husbands supposed to demand that their spouses quit their jobs? To just put their big booted feet down and put women back in their place? Are employers supposed to advertise, “Job opening! Vaginas need not apply!”
How far are you willing to go if the very fabric of society depends on this?
This past Sunday, I retweeted Ed Stetzer, a great writer and leader, who said this: “If the 1950’s come back, many churches are ready.” I think he hit the nail square on the head in so many ways. These gender roles that we cling so desperately to, these roles which cause no shortage of panic and dread and fear-mongering among the faithful, are not grounded in Scripture. They are grounded in cultural modernity.
Men work. Women stay home. That’s the way God ordained it. Except for the much-touted woman of Proverbs 31 who buys and sells real estate and makes and sells fine linen, or course. Oops. And except for Lydia in Acts 16 who set up a shop and sold fabric… and except for Rachel in Genesis 29 who was a shepherdess… and except for Deborah in Judges 4 and 5 who was a military commander and political leader… and except for Priscilla in Acts 18 who was a tentmaker… except for, except for, except for.
Maybe the Church universal needs to realize it’s high time to divorce ourselves from a glorified version of the 1950s and reunite ourselves with the narrative that God is telling. Maybe it’s time to recognize the beautiful reality that in Christ, there is neither male nor female, just human beings created in the same image of God, gifted with the same spiritual gifts, and called to use them for the same Kingdom. Maybe it’s time we unleash people rather than oppose them, to set free rather than oppress, and to embrace skills and talents rather than squelch them. Maybe it’s time to realize that many families have a necessity to have both mom and dad work outside the home, and quit judging them and making them feel bad for that. Maybe it’s time to fling the windows and doors wide open for men and women and allow – no, encourage! – them to find fulfillment in the Kingdom of God.
Even if you pointed to Genesis 3 for justification of these absurd “gender roles,” as nearly everyone who argues in favor of them does, you have to realize one key fact: what the author of Genesis is outlining there are the results of a curse which has befallen creation. This is the same curse that Jesus has come to liberate us from, to free his creation from. So instead of being hell-bent (language chosen intentionally) on perpetuating a curse, shouldn’t we instead desire to set things right? To join Jesus in that work of redemption?
At one point in our marriage, my wife was working as a speech-language pathologist – and making way more money than I was. I even stayed home one day a week to watch our kids while she worked. Contrary to popular belief, our spiritual lives were not suffering, we were not apostate, and our marriage wasn’t falling apart. The fabric of society was not being torn apart, and I’m pretty sure the sun even still rose in the east every morning. It was great to see her find fulfillment in utilizing her graduate degree that she worked so hard far and help people, and I was so proud of her.
Currently, my wife stays home with our two kids, doing a job infinitely more difficult than I do in my office every day. And you know what? It’s great to see her find fulfillment in working hard to raise our boys, and I am so proud of her.
At some point in the future, she will probably go back to work, and when she does, she will probably make more than I do then as well. And that fact is not going to cause the four horsemen of the apocalypse to descend from the skies and “society to dissolve around us.”
So moms and dads, I encourage you to find and embrace freedom. Work out whatever arrangement works best for you and your families… and know that Scripture does not hold women hostage in the kitchen, despite the best efforts of the those who are so enamored with what Ward and June Cleaver were doing sixty years ago that they are missing what Christ is doing today.