It is easy to understand how Christian patriarchy harms women, but it might not be so clear how patriarchy harms men. Patriarchy is a religious belief in which women must submit to their husbands, who are heads of their homes, earn the money, and make all the decisions—while their wives support and submit to them. In effect the husband is boss.
Patriarchy believes God created men and women with rigid gender roles and that the Bible describes those specific roles (see arguments against patriarchy in the links at the bottom of this page).
Patriarchy puts men in charge at home and church. Men are empowered while women are disempowered. So, with such privilege, how can patriarchy HARM MEN? There are at least 5 ways, and I am sure there are more. During this series, a number of both men and women readers addressed this issue. Some of their anonymous contributions are reflected throughout today’s article.
1. Some Men Don’t Want to be ‘Boss’
When I first married I was the boss. This was not specifically a religious thing; I was raised in the 1950s and 60s when the idea that ‘the husband is the head of the home’ was generally accepted. Think of Ward and June Cleaver who represented the ideal family structure on Leave it to Beaver.
I made big decisions without consulting my wife at all and simply informed her what we were going to do. It took me years to realize I did not want to be the boss; my wife was very capable and she often chafed under my strong ‘leadership’.
Over time I learned how to include her in decisions until we were finally making all important decisions together. Of course, I was free to make some decisions for myself; but then so was she. I did NOT miss the power of being ‘boss’, and I enjoyed our relationship much better—as did she.
I am not the only one; there are many men who don’t want to be ‘boss’ over their wives; patriarchy is a harmful burden for these men.
2. Many Men’s Personalities, Strengths, and Inclinations Do Not Fit Patriarchal Expectations
It was not difficult for me when I became ‘boss’ in my family; it was consistent with my culture and personality. But while some men enjoy patriarchal gender roles, other men do not. Many men have personalities, strengths, and inclinations that do not fit the patriarchal mold, so being forced into gender roles is uncomfortable, painful, and distressing. And when their headship doesn’t achieve the expected results, men can feel weak, powerless, emasculated—and furious.
Can you believe it? Some men enjoy cooking, caring for children, and doing the dishes and laundry! I had a church friend whose wife did very well financially. She was the provider and he was the house-husband—and he loved it. But he was doing ‘woman’s work’, which turns patriarchal gender roles upside down!
Was my friend a sissy? Was he a failure for not providing for his family? Did my friend disobey and dishonor God by rejecting required gender-roles? Not at all! He had different strengths and inclinations, and God didn’t care! All men are not the same, and being forced into artificial gender roles is terribly harmful to them.
3. Many Men are Uncomfortable Speaking for God
In Christian patriarchy men are in authority. Husbands, pastors, and other men are spiritual leaders for women; they speak for God. In more extreme cases, such as Umbrella of Protection patriarchy this is specifically emphasized—husbands are the ‘voice of God’ to their wives. The idea that women have access to God through their husbands is tragically misguided and, of course, very harmful to women.
But it is harmful to men as well. In my blog I object to harmful religious beliefs and show why they are misguided. I have strong opinions, but I make sure my readers realize that they are ONLY my opinions. I think my conclusions are based on ‘sound’ arguments but I never claim to speak for God. Nobody should do that; who is qualified to speak for God?
Yet this is a practical characteristic in much of Christian patriarchy. Men are thought to be a conduit between God and their wives. Are you comfortable with that? If you are you shouldn’t be, and I would say most men are not. Being forced to speak for God is tremendously harmful to men.
4. Patriarchy Provides a Strong Temptation for Domination, Power, and Abuse
I am not saying that patriarchy generally leads to domination, power, and abuse, but it does create an environment where these behaviors can thrive; and when problems come to light the victims are often blamed. Patriarchy also attracts men who are already drawn to these behaviors. It sets up seriously harmful situations for both men and women.
5. The Loss of a Potential Lifetime Partnership
This might be patriarchy’s saddest harm to men; and most men probably don’t even realize it. Patriarchy approaches wives like some slave owners approached slaves; they appreciate their wives and even genuinely care for them, but they do not recognize their full humanity. And their relationships to their wives are patronizing.
I married a wonderful woman, and for far too many years I was unable to experience the joy of a genuine, fulfilling partnership because I was ‘boss’. Fortunately, I changed so that I have experienced many years enjoying this fulfilling partnership.
Men continuing to live by patriarchal standards will never see the benefits of equal partnership with their wives. They will never experience the benefits of iron sharpening iron—all because of a misguided, unbiblical understanding of rigid gender roles. How sad; what a loss to both as the wife’s potential is never realized.
Can you think of other ways patriarchy harms men? Patriarchy is unhealthy, and if you participate in patriarchy I suggest you get out.
Articles from this series: Harmful Christian Patriarchy
- How Christian Patriarchy is a Misguided and Harmful Belief that Does Tremendous Damage
- The Alleged Biblical Basis for Christian Patriarchy
- Examining Passages from Genesis Used to Support Patriarchy in the Church
- Complementarian Patriarchy and Fundamentalist Patriarchy are Both Harmful; But How are They Different?
- John Piper and Christian Patriarchy
- John Piper Tells an Unconvincing Story to Illustrate Gender Differences between Men and Women
- The Many Women Leaders in Paul’s Circles Don’t Seem to Represent Christian Patriarchy
- 5 Ways Christian Patriarchy Harms Men
- The Feminine Side of God in the Bible
- Patriarchy, Bill Gothard, and the Umbrella of Protection
- An Overview of Bill Gothard’s Role in Today’s Cultish Fundamentalism
- Resources on Christian Patriarchy, Abuse, and Extreme Fundamentalism