If You Think Patriarchy is Countercultural, Try Raising a Daughter by Ben Irwin

Judging by the reaction of some complementarians, you’d think Target just set off the apocalypse. For proponents of patriarchy, removing gender-based labeling from toys is a Very Big Deal.
 According to the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW), the news is proof we live in a world gone mad, where “the very concept of gender is being neutralized.” It’s a sign that parents “are trying to outrun their gender identities” and worse, are “dragging their children into their own dark labyrinths.” And on it goes. All because Target decided to stop telling girls and boys which toys they’re allowed to like.
Patriarchy feeds on a self-serving narrative which says it’s a countercultural

movement, standing bravely against the zeitgeist. Which is another way of arguing that it’s more authentically Christian, because patriarchy goes against the flow, refusing to “conform to the pattern of this world.” I should know.


I used to think patriarchy was countercultural and therefore the only right way to think about gender. I used to think gender equality was a shameful capitulation to the prevailing culture—a culture that doesn’t care about the way God made the world. Then I had a daughter, and I quickly learned that patriarchy isn’t countercultural.

Patriarchy is THE dominant cultural force. It has been for almost all of history.
And it continues to be so, despite recent advances for women in some corners
of the world. If you think patriarchy is the countercultural option, try raising a daughter.
Try taking her to the toy aisle, where—with the relatively new exception of Target—she’ll be told which toys she can and can’t play with, based on her gender. Princesses for the girls, superheroes for the boys. Try finding more than a handful of strong female characters on television or film. For every Doc McStuffins or Merida, there are at least twice as many shows where boys take center stage and the girls—if there are any—are reduced to the role of sidekick or, in some cases, villain. Jake and the Never Land Pirates. Phineas and Ferb. Super Why. Handy Manny. Justin Time. Even Dora had to be “balanced” with a companion show for boys. Funny how it almost never works the other way around. Try fending off the Disney princess juggernaut, which continues to reinforce the notion that a girl’s worth depends on her ability to make herself desirable to men.
Try answering your daughter when she asks, “Daddy, is this toy for boys?” fearful
she might not be allowed to enjoy it because she’s not the “right” gender. Try explaining to your daughter why, if she someday breaks into a career field dominated by men, she will earn just 78 percent of what a man doing the same job will earn—even less if she’s a woman of color.
Patriarchy’s continued dominance puts millions of women in even greater peril. Try visiting one of the 29 countries where female genital mutilation is still a thing done to girls from infancy to age 15. There are communities where a majority of men surveyed see nothing wrong with assaulting their wives. There are places where girl children are more likely to die because their gender causes them to be less “valuable.”
Try telling the women of this world that patriarchy is countercultural. It’s time for patriarchalists like CBMW to quit acting  like they’re the victims, to quit pretending they’re some kind of noble alternative to the prevailing culture. For centuries, men have perpetrated, exploited, and benefited from a system that unfairly privileges us over women.
Here’s one more thing we should recognize. If going against the flow is part of what it means to follow Jesus—not conforming to the pattern of this world, offering a prophetic alternative to the prevailing culture, etc.—then it’s our job to be a voice
against patriarchy, to be a beacon of equality for women the world over.
Patriarchy is the dominant cultural force. The prophetic thing to do is to dismantle it once and for all.
Ben Irwin is a husband, father, blogger, and author of the children’s book The Story of King Jesus. He believes the gospel is about repairing what’s broken, caring for those in need, and welcoming everyone to the table. Ben writes athttp://benirwin.me. He can also be found on Twitter @benirwin and on Facebook at http://facebook.com/benjaminirwin.
To follow my blog for more relevant encouragement (which means that you will receive an email every time I or a guest writes something new), please go to my home page and enter your email at the bottom of the page.  WordPress will then send you an email to confirm. That simple!
More from Jory Micah

A Biblical Case for the Beauty of Mutual Submission In Marriage

I am not naturally a submissive person. Lets just say, my mom...
Read More


  • Ben (and Jory),
    Amen, and amen! Thank you so much for an articulate, clear and compelling post. Thank you.
    I too have been baffled by the reaction from conservatives to Target’s decision. The idea that taking labels off the aisles will somehow destroy the difference between men and women is ludicrous just makes Christians look ridiculous. Franklin Graham’s stupid comment about blue and pink shows his ignorance, since pink and blue are fairly recent gender tags (as recently as pre-WWI, pink was considered a “strong, masculine color”). Anyway, I digress. Great stuff!

  • Thank you for this. I also would like to point out that an indiscriminate attitude of “go against the flow,” without distinguishing in what direction the flow is going, is ludicrous. If the flow is towards justice and kindness, what are we doing when we go against it merely because it is “the flow” of some group other than our own? We are being tribalistic– “my group, right or wrong”– that’s all.

  • Hi Ben (and Jory)! As an object lesson on marriage, in high school, my Sunday school teacher brought a pile of toys to class. She then proceeded to divide the items into husband and wife piles. I remember that the husband pile had a briefcase and career type items. The wife pile had a broom, a mop, a baby doll, dishes, and a laundry basket. The message was painfully clear! A lot of bright young ladies left feeling like a good education was a pointless endeavor. There is a reason why so many conservatives feel threatened by the idea that Target would remove labels from toys. It allows children to explore many fields of interest. Socialization matters, and they know it! Kudos to Target! Can’t wait to take my 4 little ones to the toy section and see what interests them….

    • I’m having flashbacks to the “surprise” sermon the officiating pastor gave at my wedding. It was all about how I was supposed to make all the decisions, bring home all the bacon, etc. etc. and my wife was supposed to dutifully follow my lead. Thankfully, we’ve done a lousy job living up to his admonition for the last 13+ years…

  • There can never be true gender equality as long as women are the only ones allowed to give birth bringing forth life into the world, nursing her babies from her very own body and nurturing them in a gender specific way. When the Bible talks about the way a mother cares for her young is that sexist or anti-men? In a world where women are encouraged to be everything a man was designed to be, where do the children fit in? When mom and dad are both working 40 hours a week who is nurturing the children? The thing about a slippery slope is that people rarely realize they’re on it, and by the time you have gone too far you have established a new normal, and you don’t even realize the distance you traveled from where you were actually supposed to be.

    • Hi, Theapologista! I think you are confusing gender functions with gender equality. Women and men definitely have different physiological builds. But as humanity, male and female created in the image of God (and we know from 1John that God is LOVE), we are equally valuable. I would hope that BOTH parents would actively nurture their children – no matter which one is (or if both are) working any amount of time outside of the home. Love you, my sister; blessings to you.

      • Not sure what you mean by “gender equality.” So many use this phrase with varying degrees of intensity. What I am saying is that our function, designed by God, is intentional. Given that only the mother is capable of feeding the baby that first year of life, it would be safe to assume God intended that baby to be close to the mom during that time. Given that we are, in general, smaller, weaker, etc. it is safe to assume the men are supposed to be our protectors. I completely agree that we are equally valuable. But It seems like we are always trying to subvert God’s design when it comes to our created function. I am not a fan of that. Let the man pay, open the door, fight the robbers. Men are confused and yet some are more than happy to let the woman bear a load she was not *designed* to carry.

    • Hi, I am not certain what your definition of “true gender equality” is. I would love if were to expound on that. I am having difficulty understanding the content of your reply in correlation to this article. I love to engage in these kinds of conversations. Thanks

      • Good question! What does anyone mean by “gender equality.” That was kind of my point.
        Do you mean that women get paid the same as men?
        Do you mean that there is no distinction between men and women?
        It’s such a loaded phrase. Yet everyone keeps throwing it around as the highest goal. And many of the repercussions of this “gender equality” movement are not ideal in my opinion.

        As far as how the content of my reply correlates to the article, maybe my reply to the author will explain:

        “With the push from the world to remove all gender difference, even to the extent of disfiguring through surgery, it seems kind of unrealistic to think that this latest Target decision is simply done to make little girls feel ok about playing with trucks. Given all the evidence in current events, it is more logical, in my opinion, to connect this latest decision with the universal push to accept the transgender, gender fluid lifestyle. I totally agree with your desire for your daughter to feel completely ok with buy trucks, or whatever, but I just think you are hitching your horses to the wrong wagon. “

        • Hi Lauren. I thought I would jump in here. I understand your concern, but Ben and I are not saying that there are no gender differences. Anyone who would say this is a fool. The issue is that gender differences are generalizations most of the time with no biblical or scientific backing. I would agree that a mother is designed to feed her baby because this is obvious, but it is also obvious that not all women can nurse for various reason. I would also agree that men are designed to physically protect women simply because they are physically stronger than women, but it is also clear that not all men are physically capable of protecting women for various reasons (such as handicap, illness, etc…). Our goal as egalitarians is not to excuse men from being gentleman and ladies from being ladies, but to broaden the context of what this looks like. I understand how this may lead to gender confusion as you suggest, but we beleive it is better to take this chance than to call gender roles biblical when they are not and to make up “theology” based off generalizations. Our goal is greater freedom & acceptance within biblical boundaries because gender roles in the church have been damaging to many people/couples who just do not fit these rigid applications. In my opinion, LGBT issues are a totally separate conversation.

          • I agree with so much of what you said. I know we disagree on some points, that doesn’t bother me. But your last sentence seems more steeped in a wish rather than reality. Target is pushing a worldview just like:
            Tylenol. (http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/7561768)
            Wells Fargo http://bluenationreview.com/wells-fargo-just-released-adorable-gay-friendly-ad/
            Planet fitness. http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2015/03/08/planet-fitness-bans-woman-for-protesting-man-in-locker-room/

            And on and on. Which leaves us with two options. Either target is the *one* company to have pure motives, as they simply want boys to feel free to have pink sheets. Or target is following the lead of countless other corporations in their attempt to form society into this new progressive design. Given their “minivan mom” base and target audience which includes the conservative mom, Target would have to tread more lightly then say Wells Fargo. And turn the water up slower. I think you are giving Target way too much credit. But that is where we will agree to disagree.

          • You don’t have to agree to disagree on this one girl, because I am not giving Target much credit at all. While I am happy that my 6 year old nephew who loves art can now go to target and find art supplies to be a gender neutral need for enjoyment and gifting enhancement, I do not suspect that Target has “pure” motives. I don’t think Target really cares about my 6 year old nephew; but rather, I think they care about money in their pockets as all companies do. I get that and I don’t judge Target for it because I don’t really care what a non-Christian company does or does not promote. I agree that the conversation we are having does in fact lead to having an lgbt conversation, but I don’t agree that it should lead to this. I think gender issues, particularly in a biblical context, should not lead to a conversation about LGBT issues. I know that the reality is that it does and I am probably more conservative than you think, but I think it is up to each Christian to manage their own “slippery slope.” (If that makes sense 🙂 )

    • The thing about a slippery slope is that card gets played a lot. No one that I know of on the egalitarian side is arguing there are no differences between men and women. What we/I argue is that…

      (a) We should be careful not to universalize all such differences. There are exceptions and to ignore them is to risk stereotyping women and men.

      (b) There’s no reason to conclude a hierarchical ordering based on these differences.

      • There is a reason why the slippery slope card gets used a lot. It’s often true. And every time denied. There are so many examples unfolding right before our very eyes in the news daily. Yet no one ever comes back and says “Hey, I guess you were right, look how far gone we are now!” We are allowing men in the women’s changing rooms at gyms. These are not hypothetical situations anymore.

        With the push from the world to remove all gender difference, even to the extent of disfiguring through surgery, it seems kind of unrealistic to think that this latest Target decision is simply done to make little girls feel ok about playing with trucks. Given all the evidence in current events, it is more logical, in my opinion, to connect this latest decision with the universal push to accept the transgender, gender fluid lifestyle. I totally agree with your desire for your daughter to feel completely ok with buy trucks, or whatever, but I just think you are hitching your horses to the wrong wagon.

      • To be clear, are you saying there isn’t any evidence that there is an overall push to gain acceptance for gender fluidity? (the idea that you can be a boy or girl or anything you want regardless of how you were born)

  • Great points here, Ben. Truly, the irony is that CBMW does think it’s countercultural, but it has far more in common with extremist religious philosophies such as those found in Saudi Arabia, than it does with the normal thinking person. Even ‘benevolent’ complementarianism is skewed… until people are valued equally … and by equally, I actually mean … equally, benevolence is a joke!

  • Thank you! Being an intelligent, talented well educated woman, does not mean we ” nurture” less, or ignore our children. My husband and I share everything. Of course not everyone can work together with their spouses 24/7, but I was able to work, use my talent, education AND be a very good mother. It’s possible! Yes, it takes juggling, but if you have the energy and know how, it’s possible, and to then have healthy well-balanced, egalitarian, well educated children too! I still give “focused time” even though they are married. It’s a daily joirney to fullness and healthy biblical God focused identities. Not culture driven confusion!

  • I don’t recall anyone at Target or any other store telling my girls what they could or couldn’t (should or shouldn’t) play with. However I do recall an instance when my daughter (like yours) asked, “Daddy, is this toy for boys?”. I didn’t take it as an opportunity to blame the store or wring my hands over complimentarians over against egalitarianism. I did, however, take it as an opportunity to parent. To speak to my daughter and help instill in her a biblical worldview about manhood, and womanhood and the inherent dignity of both. Instead of going over the edge with this Western obsession with blurring the lines between genders (there are differences-right?) or falling off the other slope of blaming stores or pointing fingers at the minority of Western Christians who truly believe in the inherent inferiority of women, why not parent? Why not teach our children what God really says about the dignity of both genders and of all races? And speaking as a former missionary to Kenya and Malawi, Africa, making a connection between the toy isle at Target and female genital mutiliation is a poor comparison. There are very real and very tragic things happening in this world between genders, races, and classes, and yes, many of them are ideological. But rather than blaming those that I disagree with, I choose instead to parent.

    • When my daughter asked the same question, I responded the same way…taking the opportunity to parent, to nudge her toward what I believe to be a biblical view of manhood and womanhood—namely, that in Christ there is no “male and female.” That said, my daughter is bombarded every day with the message that certain things are not for her simply because she is a girl. To be sure, she doesn’t have to face some of the more extreme examples of discrimination against women—I was pretty clear about the difference in my post—but I see no reason why we shouldn’t hold our culture accountable for the ways in which it typecasts and trivializes women. It has a profound effect on our daughters.

    • My parents long indulged my love for more masculine avenues like Crash Dummies, overalls at an older age, and computer programming in its infancy in the ’90s. They have never taught me that I was inferior. Yet as a naturally compliant personality, I have only now at 30 realized that if I had trusted my natural ability with computer programming or my initial attraction to psychiatry, I would be doing something very different than teaching. While I embrace my life and its choices, I plan to go to medical school soon and would have done so–or pursued a career in computing–in college if my parents had just actively spoken about my options. Instead, they encouraged what I initiated, and passively accepted what I chose. That is a decade of my life lost to cultural messages that received no direct iteration by my parents.

      It has been bittersweet to hear both parents say “Of course you can handle medical school!” and to realize that I accidentally ASSUMED the wrong thing based on what our church and culture said. Do not ever assume that you can effectively combat the culture’s message by addressing what you happen to see.

      On a more personal note, I endured an abusive relationship based on ideas that came from my church, not my parents. PLEASE be active. Do not just seize opportunities that you see arise; you are not omnipotent.

  • I show some of your blog posts to my soon to be 13 year -old ddaughter, she finds them “nice” …which is her way of saying she enjoys reading them. I showed her this blog post and she read it to the end. As my ex-husband and I co-parent our two girls and one boy…we both agree that labels are dumb and we’re not going to interfere with God’s plans for our children. If one of our daughters feel that Hod has called them to serve in what is a “traditional male role” then so be it! The same goes for our son, no human is in charge of everything… There’s only one Creator and what His will is, it won’t be stopped! We can do our petty little “traditional” labels until pigs fly, it won’t change our Father’s plans at all.

  • Thank you. I am still hurting from a few years in a Southern Baptist church and some other craziness, but men like you give me a great, recalcitrant and powerful hope. As does a comment feature that does not require Disqus or login to Facebook! LOL…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *