“Different but Complementary” and “Separate but Equal”

I recently ran across a short post on Kaelee Bates, a blog run by a woman with previous experience with Christian Patriarchy. Here is an excerpt:

“Different but Complimentary.”

I cannot shake how similar that phrase is to, “separate but equal”

I have attempted to write on this subject numerous times, but the truth is I am still too angry and raw. I just want to scream at everyone, “THIS IS NOT EQUALITY!” …

There is no way for me to write about this subject and keep my anger out of it. …

Like Kaelee, I was always taught that Christian Patriarchy wasn’t about inequality or subordinating women, but rather about simply having “different” roles. I still remember when I first started to realize that this was not equality. And like Kaelee, I remember the anger I felt when I realized how duped I had been. I’ve written about this before:

I have to ask, how can men and women be equal if women were created to serve men? How can men and women be equal if men’s role is to act in the world and women’s role is to serve men? I don’t understand how I didn’t see this as a child or a teen. I totally bought the lie that men and women have separate but equal roles. I never felt pushed down as a woman. Rather, I prepared to excel within my female role, being the best I possibly good be and serving God by serving my husband. How was I so blind?

It’s not just me, though. This lie helps to keep women in the Christian Patriarchy movement, persuading them that they are not being treated as inferior, or being degraded or used. Indeed, they are convinced that their role as wife, mother, and homemaker is of equal worth and value to men’s role as protector and provider, and work to excel within their role, for which they gain praise and admiration from their companions. By some slight of the hand, Christian Patriarchy convinces women to willingly and eagerly be subservient slaves while seeing themselves at the same time as being of equal value to their masters. You have to give some credit to the Christian Patriarchy movement: such a feat is as mind-boggling and impressive as it is horrifying and tragic.

The standard defense of the idea that men’s and women’s roles are equal in spite of their differences that I have heard is that a man couldn’t make it without his wife. This meant, somehow, that men’s roles and women’s roles were of equal worth, both necessary in building the Kingdom of God. Well, I have news for you. The plantation owners in the antebellum South could never have “made it” without their slaves. That did not, however, mean that the slave owners and the slaves were “equal.” Rather, one side had all the power and the other all the drudgery.

And I’ve written about it elsewhere as well:

Let me ask a question. If I said that whites and blacks are different but equal, that whites are created to be leaders and blacks to be followers, what would you call me? If I said there is an ordained chain of command, and that whites are to lead while blacks submit, but that in their leadership they must lovingly take into account the needs of blacks, what would that make me? If I said there could be no democracy in a nation that was made up equally of whites and blacks, where each would vote for their own needs, and that therefore whites must make the decisions and choose the direction for society while blacks acquiesce, what would I be? A RACIST. And, when you make the same exact arguments on the basis of gender rather than race, you are a SEXIST. This isn’t equality. Let me say that again: this is absolutely and positively NOT equality.

I’m not sure what more I can say. The idea that men are to lead the family while men are to submit, the idea that men are to have any of a variety of careers while women may only be homemakers…it is this idea I was sold on, and this idea I somehow thought constituted equality. Complementarianism, some call it.

I agree with Kaelee: This is not equality, and after having been duped into think that it was for so long it’s hard to write on this topic without anger.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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