I married fresh out of college. I was a mere 21 years old. My husband and I found a church, and I was eager to be the perfect Christian wife. So I began reading books from trusted authorities in the church on this matter. One was Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I remember my young, impressionable mind learning and underlining, and later even quoting from this book. There is plenty of helpful teaching in it. I embraced this word complementary, and wholeheartedly agreed that we live in a time where we need to respond to the new waves of feminism in our culture and affirm the beauty and distinctiveness of male and female.
But I was also confused at some of what I read. Was it my own sinful proclivity, or were some of these distinctives being taught in the book taking it too far? As a young wife, I gave the benefit to the authors, who were much more educated and experienced than myself.
But here I am, no longer a “young” wife, finding myself tripping over some of the teachings in that same book. I’ve been noticing more and more strange teachings on femininity and biblical womanhood in the last couple of years. Every now and then I decide to publicly respond on the blog. I do this because I know there are many young, impressionable women who want to be good Christian wives like me. And even though the teaching may be behind good intentions, it is damaging.
I realized that the Ask Pastor John answer that I responded to last week basically comes right out of his teaching in Chapter One of RBMW. So I decided to skim over the chapter again. It has been shocking for me to reread this as a more mature woman. Some parts were actually quite unbelievable. For instance, John Piper asserts, “Mature masculinity expresses its leadership in romantic sexual relations by communicating an aura of strong and tender pursuit” (40). After affirming that this is very difficult to put into words, he does just that. And it gets weird. But for the sake of brevity, I’ll focus on the part where he says a woman wrongly “attempt(s) to assume a more masculine role by appearing physically muscular and aggressive”:
It is true that there is something sexually stimulating about a muscular, scantily clad young woman pumping iron in a health club. But no woman should be encouraged by this fact. For it probably means the sexual encounter that such an image would lead to is something very hasty and volatile, and in the long run unsatisfying. The image of a masculine musculature may beget arousal in a man, but it does not beget several hours of moonlight walking with significant, caring conversation. The more women can arouse men by doing typically masculine things, the less they can count on receiving from men a sensitivity to typically feminine needs. Mature masculinity will not be reduced to raw desire in sexual relations. It remains alert to the deeper personal needs of a woman and mingles strength and tenderness to make her joy complete. (40-41)
First of all, why is John Piper calling men to strength and tenderness, but not the women? We aren’t to have muscular strength? I happen to train for muscular strength, not to arouse men, but because our muscles begin to deteriorate after age 50 and I want a good head start. Women especially need to be intentional in maintaining good bone density as they age because we are more susceptible to osteoporosis. And you increase bone density by strength training.
So there’s my health argument, which we will file under good stewardship of our bodies. Now let’s talk about femininity and masculinity. I’m confident that my husband does not find me masculine or a threat to his own masculinity. In fact, we do go on regular evening walks together, enjoying significant, caring conversation. He’s also talked about taking a strike fit class with me, which happens to be co-ed. I don’t see a conflict.
Are my “feminine needs” typical? I don’t know. I just don’t even know.
But I do know that not all women have soft, curvy bodies. We are all built differently. We do not want to question our biblical femininity in comparison to our muscle mass. Our bodies shouldn’t determine whether our husbands will meet our “feminine needs.”
But that’s not all we have to worry about. While John Piper says that women need to watch it with the muscles, Douglas Wilson mentions a wife’s weight (and hustle in washing the dishes) under areas in which a husband is to lead. In fact, if she is still rebelling after tender yet firm leadership, it could warrant a visit from the elders.
Thankfully, in contrast to these teachings, we have ourselves a swarthy woman in the one book in Scripture that shows us playful, intimate interaction between a bride and her groom. Her work in the vineyard affected her appearance to the point that she says, “Do not gaze at me” (Song of Solomon 1:6). She explains that she had to neglect her own “vineyard” because of all her laborious duties. Doesn’t sound very feminine by our contemporary authors. And yet her groom calls her “most beautiful among women” (1:8). The poetry that follows assures me that her feminine needs were met.
Here are two men who have taken it upon themselves to give us more details about biblical femininity than Scripture. But which is it? Are we to work out or be soft? Muscles burn calories. And I’m pretty sure that offering to do the dishes may be the best way to meet a wife’s “feminine needs.”
You know what they say, “Everyone wants to be a leader, but no one wants to do the dishes.”
*Originally published on August 25, 2015.