Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity Without Hierarchy. A Book Discussion. (Index here)
Part V: Living it Out (Practical Applications)
Chapter 27 – Nature, Culture and Gender Complementarity. Cynthia Neal Kimball.
Kimball begins her essay noting the limitations that cultural assumptions places on women. She writes:
Historically, gender difference has cost women dearly in terms of opportunities for intellectual achievement. During the early nineteenth century, women’s unique reproductive capacities and responsibilities were thought to take precedence over any cognitive pursuits. It was believed that there were vital forces individuals had to allocate between cognitive and biological functions – the “brain-womb” conflict. If a woman diverted some of that vital force toward cognitive functions rather than reproduction, then she could expect to experience deformity and certainly sterility. (466)
As silly as this sounds to us today, it should also challenge us to examine what false underlying assumptions we may hold.
Kimball suggests that:
Gender differences operate mainly in terms of their effects on social interactions. When observed alone, boys’ and girl’s behavior differs very little. But in larger same-sex social groups, the differences are dramatic. (467)
Some general differences between genders do seem to be crosscultural. Kimball points out that the awareness of the gender difference and preference for gender segregation occurs at around three years old. Men tend to be more aggressive and competitive, and are more concerned with positions in the dominance hierarchy. They tend to be more sexually promiscuous. Women tend to seek out older men who have attained financial resources and social status. As children, boys tend to be more physical in their play with a great deal of wrestling and mock fighting. They grow up concerned not to show weakness. Girls tend to resort more to relational aggression like social alienation. Girls are more likely than boys to sustain longer exchanges, take turns with their conversation partner, speak and maintain a theme, and use “extending statements” or “relevant turns.” (468) Kendall also mentions that there can be genetic influences at play in this. For instance:
Higher testosterone levels correlate with greater sensation-seeing behaviors, higher irritability and low frustration tolerance in the male adolescent. Girls with lower estrogen and progesterone levels tend to evidence more mood swings and emotional behavior. (469)
Kimball writes that “Although we are not governed by our genes, we are embodied, and our hormones and genes affect our behavior.” (470) She reminds us that human beings, male and female, were made for relationship and dominion.
Concerning the fall, Kimball quotes Stewart Van Leeuwen:
In the Fall “the woman abused her dominion by eating of the ‘tree of knowledge of good and evil’ (Gen 2:17). The man, in turn, abused his sociability by accepting some of the fruit from her even though he knew that their unity as man and woman was not to supersede their obedience to God.” The punishments that were pronounced on each one, then became the opposite of the sin each committed. From that point forward, men have struggled with the temptation to dominate as opposed to exercising appropriate dominion. Women’s sociability has tended to degenerate into social enmeshment. These tendencies are borne out in many of the crosscultural nature-and-nurture studies. (470)
Kimball points out that despite the generalized differences between men and women, the nature of given individuals varies considerably within sex groupings. Yet there is common tendency toward sex-role stereotyping where male and female are viewed as opposites. This is more prevalent among men. The male stereotype tends to include a “competency” cluster of “objectivity, skill in business and self-confidence.” For women it is “… a ‘warmth-expressiveness’ cluster that includes tenderness, understanding and concern for others.” (473)
The stereotyping consequences for women creates a tyranny of “nice and kind” and trying to be the “perfect girl.” Psychological studies show a high correlation between high femininity and “high anxiety, low self-esteem, and low social acceptance.” (474) High achieving women often experience the “imposter phenomenon” attributing their success to factors outside their own ability. “Lost voice” is another consequence. Pre-teen girls often show great confidence and competency that evaporates in their early teens as they struggle with the internal conflict between their emotions and image of the “perfect girl.”
The consequences are also constraining and conflicting for men. Physical strength and accomplishment are dominant images “…but intellectual and interpersonal skill competencies are needed for the kinds of achievement society most rewards in men.” (475) Men are supposed to show greater emotional control yet are often rewarded for becoming angry and violent. Kimball describes the four injunctions of the “Boy Code”: the sturdy oak, “give them hell,” the big wheel and “no sissy stuff.” (476) Boys and men are shamephoic. They often experience a type of “impostor” phenomenon as well.
Kimball concludes her essay reminding us that the church is a socializing environment. Will the church simply reinforce the stereotypes imported from culture or will the church intentionally resist such stereotyping and help each person authentically become the person God created them to be? Kimball says she dreams of a day “…when the notion of maleness and femaleness can be wrought from the fabric of creation, not from the trappings of our society.” She closes with a poem by Nancy Smith:
For every woman tired of acting weak when she knows she is strong,
there is a man weary of appearing strong when he feels vulnerable.
For every woman sick of acting dumb,
there is a man burdened with constant expectation of “knowing everything.”
For every woman accused of being an emotional female,
there is man denied the right to weep.
For every woman feeling tied down by children,
there is a man denied the full joy of sharing parenthood.
For every woman who takes a step toward her own liberation,
there is a man who finds the way to freedom made a little easier. (479-480)
Cynthia Neal Kimball received her Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico. She is associate professor in and chair of the Psychology Department of Wheaton College. Her publications include “Self-in-Relation: An Anabaptist, Feminist Theological and Psychological Model of Agency and Connection” in Religion, Marriage and Family; "Welfare Families” in Welfare in America: Christian Perspectives on a Policy in Crisis; and “Missing Voices: Professional Challenges for Academic Women,” with T. Watson, S. S. Caning and J. L. Brady, in Journal of Psychology and Christianity. She and her husband, Douglas, have four children.
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