Why Do Men Control, Limit and Oppress Women in the Church? (Pt 1: The Psychology)

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The other day I found a fascinating Psychology Today article from 2012 called “Why Men Oppress Women: The Psychology of Male Domination” (Find Here).

The author, Steve Taylor Ph.D., points out how women have been historically oppressed by men, despite their social status, and names ways in which they have been oppressed.

  1. “Until recent times, women throughout Europe, the Middle East and Asia were unable to have any influence over the political, religious or cultural lives of their societies.”
  2. “They couldn’t own property or inherit land and wealth, and were frequently treated as mere property themselves.”
  3. “In some countries they could be confiscated by money lenders or tax collectors to help settle debts; in ancient Assyria, the punishment for rape was the handing over of the rapist’s wife to the husband of his victim, to use as he desired.”
  4. “Most gruesomely of all, some cultures practiced what anthropologists have called ritual widow murder (or ritual widow suicide), when women would be killed (or kill themselves) shortly after the deaths of their husbands. This was common throughout India and China until the twentieth century, and there are still occasional cases nowadays.”
  5. “Even in the so-called ‘enlightened’ society of ancient Greece — where the concept of democracy supposedly originated — women had no property or political rights, and were forbidden to leave their homes after dark.”
  6. “Similarly, in ancient Rome women were unable to take part in social events (except as employed ‘escort girls’) and were only allowed to leave their homes with their husband or a male relative.”
  7. “In many Middle Eastern countries, for example, women effectively live as prisoners, unable to leave the house except under the guardianship of a male guardian. (There are many Saudi Arabian women who have only left their houses a handful of times in their whole lives.)”
  8. “And when — or if — they do go outside, they are obliged to cover themselves from head to toe in black, leaving them in danger of vitamin deficiency and dehydration.”
  9. “They have no role at all in determining their own lives; they are seen as nothing more than a commodity, property of the males of the family, and as owners, the men have the right to make decisions for them.”
  10. “Their male owners have the right to have sex with them on demand too. In Egypt, surveys have shown that the vast majority of men and women believe it is acceptable for a man to beat his wife if she refuses sex.

Taylor points out that some have reasoned men’s need to oppress women is due to their high level of testosterone – making them hungry for power and competitive, naturally pushing women down to get to greater levels of authority and success within society. But Taylor believes this phenomenon to be rooted in a deeper level of human psychology, stating

I suggest that most human beings suffer from an underlying psychological disorder, which I call ‘humania.’ The     oppression of women is a symptom of this disorder. It’s one thing to take over the positions of power in a society,     but another to seemingly despise women, and inflict so much brutality and degradation on them.

What sane species would treat half of its members — and the very half which gives birth to the     whole species — with such contempt and injustice?

Taylor concludes,

The oppression of women stems largely from men’s desire for power and control.

The same need which, throughout history, has driven men to try to conquer and subjugate other groups or nations, and to oppress other classes or groups in their own society, drives them to dominate and oppress women. Since men feel the need to gain as much power and control as they can, they steal away power and control from women. They deny women the right to make decisions so that they can make them for them, leave women unable to direct their own lives so that they can direct their lives for them. 

Ultimately, they’re trying to increase their sense of significance and status, in an effort to offset the discontent and sense of lack created by humania.

Perhaps “humania” is another word for “the fall of humankind.” After Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden, something profoundly shifted in the man’s attitude towards the woman.

From that point forward, women have been blamed for the “fall of humankind,” many suggesting that the whole ordeal was Eve’s fault. “The woman manipulated Adam,” some say; but, Scripture shows us that Adam was standing right next to Eve when she ate of the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6).

Also, sin had not entered the picture yet, so Eve would have been incapable of manipulating her husband intentionally. Her heart was pure towards Adam in the Garden.

After both Eve and Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, God held them both equally responsible, as they were both given consequences that Jesus Christ would later take upon Himself on the Cross. Genesis 3:16 was the start of patriarchy (men’s need to control, oppress, rule, and limit women) and is a clear consequence of disobeying God.

To the woman He [God] said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you (Genesis 3:16 NASB).”

Unfortunately, the Christian Church is among the most guilty in holding up the seemingly never ending curse of patriarchy that Jesus set women free from.

Sure, we are a bit kinder about it and use statements such as, “women are equal in worth, but not in authority” or “women can teach the women and children, but not the men” or “God designed men to sacrificially lead and women to humbly submit in the home and church.”

This is all very amusing, but I for one, have had enough of the “nice guy” patriarchal manipulation. I agree with Taylor when he writes “The oppression of women stems largely from men’s desire for power and control…Ultimately, they’re trying to increase their sense of significance and status, in an effort to offset the discontent and sense of lack created by humania.”

I would also suggest that this is precisely why many men in the Church feel the need to control, limit and oppress their wives, daughters, and sisters in Christ and conveniently interpret the Bible in such a way that keeps them in control, unlimited, and on top.

The problem with an imbalance of control among the two genders is that the one of less control still has a human need to feel in control. Girls and women who are denied equal control will sometimes seek to over-control in other areas of their lives (for example, what she eats, sometimes leading to eating disorders).

Further, when men seek to increase their sense of significance and status above all else, they either knowingly or unknowingly tie women’s hands together and limit their personal progress towards significance and status.

Men’s hyper search for security, often results in women’s insecurity leading to a deep sense of insignificance, subordinate home and church roles, less satisfying careers and sometimes anger or hidden resentment towards the men in their lives. 

In turn, relationships between men and women do not thrive as they were meant to and patriarchy ends up being both the woman’s and the man’s curse to bear. We were simply not designed to function this way, which is why Christ (God in the flesh) redeemed the sexes from such friction; but, the sons and daughters of God must be determined to walk in Spirit led freedom.

Look out for “Part 2: The Theology” in which I will develop a hermeneutical argument to prove that patriarchy is the result of the “fall of humankind,” was not the Creator’s original design, and was never God’s plan for the family unit or the Church.

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27 Comments

  • Adding my two cents, or maybe one cent, sin muddies up everything. My father taught me the blame of the Fall was always on Adam, not Eve. He said about the same thing you said. Daddy said too he was standing there when she went chomp on whatever she was eating. Good stuff.

    • Thank you Parker.

      I believe that “the blame” was equally on Adam and Eve. They both messed up and they both received equal consequences. I also think their specific consequences spill over onto each other as well because men and women cannot separate their lives from each other (even when we try) 🙂

  • Absolutely! As I was reading his description of “humania” I immediately thought, “e.g., the fall.” I was so glad you said that later in the post! I believe that so much of the mistreatment of others (of women, but also of foreigners, and anyone “different”) stems from fear. Fear of losing position (which of course our society says is all-important), fear of losing security, fear of losing control. I think this is why Jesus urged us time and time again to HAVE NO FEAR and to love our neighbors. You cannot hate someone if you know them and love them. You cannot fear someone if you reach out to them and know them.

    • Couple of thoughts: First – I do like to see godly and humble spiritual leaders, whether male or female. Second – Most of us are old enough (I’m 70+) to have been indoctrinated to believe that it is always the man who is in charge, no matter if he is simply misguided, no matter if he’s just plain wrong, no matter if he does nothing but bully his way through. If he’s a man, he’s the authority figure. Period. Our indoctrination was pretty thorough!!

  • Jory, you are spot on! It’s called the Fall. I feel like the need to control is in the DNA. I am thankful for the power of the Holy Spirit to free our souls from this sickness.

  • Yes! Thank you. I am preaching a series on this right now called ‘grace-full relationships: living under the cross rather under the curse’.

  • When I talk with friends about complementarianism, female leadership in the church, etc. I always come back to this issue of authority: who wants to be in charge and calling the shots (usually, men). You’ll probably address this tomorrow, but it seems to me evangelicals crave a clear chain of command of the authority of God, where men are under God, and women are under men. It is ostensibly rooted in a high view of the authority of Scripture – this is the ORDER God has ordained. Reinforcing gender distinctions and patriarchy in the evangelical church has seemed to get worse in recent years as many leaders decry moral decay, and accuse egalitarian positions of leading to same-sex marriage, etc.

    Yet, if you want to talk about God’s order, patriarchy is a result of the disorder created by sin. Some people still respond to me by saying, well, it’s still a fallen world, isn’t it? We need this order to function. And I counter with, well – doesn’t God want us to live all of our lives redeemed and to imagine a different way of being?

    Sorry, got off on a little sermonizing there…

    Thank you for your thoughts on this!

    • Hey John. Not sure I would call this wrong. I would say that it is not ideal for one person in the relationship to lead all the major areas based off gender. You should lead in the areas you are gifted in and she should lead in the areas she is gifted in. This has nothing to do with gender, but respecting each other’s gifts. 🙂

  • I’m reminded of a quote I read from Dr. Ben Witherington III: “As I have learned over many years…. the problem in the church is not strong and gifted women. We need all those we can get, and were it not for them, many churches would have closed long ago. I remember so vividly meeting the babooshkas– the grandmothers in the Moscow Baptist Church, who had stopped Stalin from closing the church by standing in the door and not letting his troops enter and close it down. Thank God for strong, gifted women in the church. No, the problem in the church is not strong women, but rather weak men who feel threatened by strong women, and have tried various means, even by dubious exegesis to prohibit them from exercising their gifts and graces in the church.”

  • Great post, Jory. The truth is that it’s a hunger for power that makes anyone subjugate others and no matter how ‘kind’ the patriarchy is, it’s still wrong. I was speaking with two pastors yesterday whom I have been mentoring and one is particularly subject to this, from the elders of her church rather than her husband. It’s totally ridiculous.

  • Just wanted to say how interesting your blog is. I have always been a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, so I’ve grown up knowing women as pastors and in positions of leadership. Our Bishop is actually a woman, too. I think you would enjoy some of her writings-Elizabeth Eaton is her name. I think you would also enjoy Nadia Bolz Weber. She is a progressive (and curses a lot, just so you know), but I think you would appreciate her desire to bring Jesus to everyone. Anyway, I appreciate your desire to tackle this issue head on while not allowing others to label or define your faith. While we are not the same, “Brand,” of Christian, I’ll look forward to reading more of your blog in the future.

    • Thanks so much Meg. Glad to meet you. I have read/listened to Nadia some. She has some cool thoughts. Thanks for following! Xo

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