On Male Privilege

With a title referencing male privilege, this surely must be another article bashing evangelical men, right? Absolutely not! Though the mere mention of the term privilege causes some folks to bristle, I don’t want to talk about male privilege as something to bash men about but as something that is a gift to the entire Body of Christ, particularly the most vulnerable in it, when used as God intended.

First, is there such a thing as male privilege? It’s important to define privilege. When I use the word, I mean an advantage available to a certain group of people. The entire male gender does enjoy some advantages over the female gender when statistical averages are compared. It’s important to note that privilege refers to statistical averages more than individual comparisons. There will always be outliers, and any one individual man can easily find twenty women with more money or influence, even more physical strength. But averaged out by county, state, or nation, men consistently earn more than women working the same jobs. They average out as physically stronger than women. And in many nations, men still hold clear legal privilege over women by law. Averaged out through humanity, there is a clear advantage financially, physically, and often even legally to be being born a man.

Next, is privilege a bad thing? NO! It can be a very good thing. It’s not a thing to be ashamed of, UNLESS you only use your privilege to serve yourself. Always in Scripture, those privileged by race, gender, or financial ability are called to steward that privilege to serve those around them in need. I don’t write as a bitter old woman mad at all the men in my life who abused their privilege. In fact, quite the opposite. The majority of men in my life with God-given authority over me, particularly my dad and my pastors, have used their authority to bless me again and again. I have had really good examples of men in my life who leveraged their privilege for my benefit (even though they likely have never thought of it in those terms).

As I’ve been thinking through what headship should be in the Body of Christ, I can’t get away from my dad’s example. Each Father’s Day, I stand in the aisle reading cards until one makes me cry. Then I know I’ve found the right card for Daddy. Yesterday, he gave my oldest son a farmer’s cap as he took him to guitar lesson. When my son got out of the car and walked in the house with the cap turned sideways on his head, he told me, “Mom, you have a good dad.”

Daddy had three daughters and no sons (now he has six grandsons and no granddaughters, which I find funny). Daddy loves his daughters, and he worked hard as a farmer to provide for us. He did not personally start off in life with land or equity that he inherited from his parents. He didn’t have a chance to get a college degree. But through hard work and a good business sense, he is leaving his daughters with financial security and peace of mind.

Daddy is an authority in my life. He doesn’t request much, but whenever he does, my sisters and I drop everything we are doing to help him. But it’s because we love him, and we know he would do anything he could to protect us and help us. Daddy saw that we were well educated, and he values our opinion and defers to us often. He is proud of his daughters’ accomplishments. He respects our minds. But Daddy also knows stuff we don’t know, and we need his knowledge.

Daddy is more financially secure than me. Daddy is stronger than me. Even with chronic heart failure at age 78, he can slice a piece of wood with a single swing of the ax (which I learned last year when he was trying to show me what I was doing wrong). But Daddy has never lorded that authority or strength over me. He instead has used it to bless and help me when I have been vulnerable or needy. He has used his strength to enable me to be strong.

A friend gave me feedback on my post on Thomas Jefferson, “Authority isn’t missing from your expression of headship, but it’s a means to an end; not an end in itself.” This is how my dad and the majority of pastors in my life have used their authority in my life. Their authority wasn’t about their authority. Their authority wasn’t the absolute thing to preserve. Their authority was a tool. They felt responsibility for those with whom they were called to relationship and they used their authority to bless those in their care.

There is beauty in this vision, which I argue is the Biblical model, for both men and women. For men, it addresses the angst we have seen over the last two decades over what it means to be a manly man. May my sons and nephews understand that being a manly man means above all else that you shoulder your responsibilities and leverage your gifts and privileges for those smaller or weaker or less secure than you. For women, this vision frees us to recognize godly men (men who don’t protect their authority or privilege but use it for the good of others) and respond to them as is appropriate, to encourage them as needed. If God calls us into relationship with one, then we support them as they support us. We bear our responsibilities beside them, with them, be it in the church or home, as helpers strongly suited for just that kind of co-labor.  All in the image of God.

14 Responses to On Male Privilege

  1. Charis Khalife May 30, 2016 at 2:05 pm #

    I also have a wonderful father who wisely and humbly instructed and cared for his daughters. My husband also is a “gentle giant” type who loves me and my daughter deeply. All that aside, I was raised in a largely fundamentalist church culture and attended a private Christian college that had many other unwritten titles, which I am now seeing left me with beliefs about God that are not true. As I get older, I realize that my experience with men in authority has been an exception, not the rule. Your posts on headship have been so instructive as I figure out what the Bible teaches, how that looks practically in my marriage and raising my daughter, and how to understand/help women in my life who struggle profoundly with male authority issues. Thanks for this post!

  2. Wendy May 30, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

    Thanks for that encouraging comment, Charis!

  3. Dean Bailey - Beyond the Shades of Gray May 30, 2016 at 8:44 pm #

    How harmonious “today” could be, if every day we were all found embracing these simple callings and truths that the Father calls each of us to in Christ, as men and women in this world. How distant we would all be from this utter chaos that is the picture of our broken world as we see it now, while it drifts farther and farther from these foundational truths, and from the God who gave them to us all.

    Thank you for this encouraging word. I will be passing it along.

  4. David J. May 31, 2016 at 12:57 am #

    Much appreciated, Wendy. So much of the evangelical Christian response to the unbiblical parts of feminism emphasizes the “servant leadership” responsibilities of husbands/fathers/pastors and ignores the God-ordained authority that comes with those responsibilities. Both are necessary to a proper biblical understanding. A good test question, specifically in the marriage context, is what happens when a wife disagrees with the leadership of her godly husband (one who is not protecting his authority or privilege but using it for the good of his family, as he sees it).

  5. Anonymous June 1, 2016 at 2:55 am #

    My father was another who did not abuse his authority. He also only had daughters, and it is amusing to observe as he interacts with his grandchildren, that God knew he would deal better with girls than boys. The energy of his grandsons can rapidly exhaust his patience, but he is gentleness itself when dealing with his granddaughters.

    My question about male headship is not the natural authority of a father over his children, or even of an elder over the assembly. Those positions of authority are not only over women (daughters and sisters in Christ), but also men (sons and lay brothers in Christ). However, it is only the marriage covenant in which the man is described as the head. I do not question in that relationship the authority of the man to lead. I do question the interpretations of the Ephesians 5:23 passage which place the husband as not only head of the woman, but also as her priest. Such interpretations seem to extrapolate that because a man is the head of the woman as Christ is the head of the church, therefore, since Christ is the High Priest of the church the man is the priest of his wife.

    That is not only flawed reasoning, it is also spiritually dangerous. I have lived and worked in a Muslim country, and I was once told by a Muslim man, explaining the practice of polygamy, that women had to be married in order to have a man to pray for them. In other words, in Islam, the man is the priest of the woman. Yet we are told in Scripture that in Christ, both men and women have equal access to the throne of grace. The marriage relationship is a reflection of some aspects of Christ and the church; but marriage is not an eternal relationship, “for in the resurrection, there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage.” The relationship of the Church to Christ is eternal.

    P.S. What kind of an account is needed to comment un-Anonymous-ly here? I tried my WordPress account, but it wouldn't work.

  6. Wendy June 1, 2016 at 3:51 am #

    I am unconvinced that husbands should function in a priestly role with wives as well. As for commenting here, I do it with my blogger account linked to my gmail account, and that works well.

  7. Jerry June 1, 2016 at 10:34 am #

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Jerry June 1, 2016 at 10:38 am #

    Having recently finished preaching a series through Ephesians, I have to say that this is the first time that I have heard of the interpretation of the passage in question as placing the husband as “priest” over the wife.

    The emphasis that I bring out in this passage is that the wife submits to the husband as the church submits to Christ, done because of the self sacrifice of Christ for His body. The husband gives himself for his wife as Christ gave Himself for His church, suppressing self preservation for her sake and to fulfill the will of the Father.

    I also emphasize that the picture of a godly marriage is, perhaps, the best earthly image of Christ & His church, so when the wife submits & the husband sacrifices, they do so to honor Christ, not because the husband is worth submitting to, or the wife is worth sacrificing for.

    I believe it's a stretch to state, or even imply, priesthood of the husband over the wife here.

    BTW, there is one eternal marriage: Christ & His bride, the church. That is the only marriage in heaven, and it is everlasting.

  9. Curious Thinker June 4, 2016 at 3:46 am #

    I don't know about the term of male privilege. Maybe because it almost sounds similar to white privilege, just the fact of a group who had more rights and more opportunities, better treatment in life simply because of who they are be it race, gender, religion, social class etc. I strongly do believe that we are all created equal in God's eyes all bare his image and should be all treated in equal regard. As for men, I will admit they have certain advantages like physical strength and it's true in the past and even today they often earn more than women for the same jobs working the same hours and I don't think that is a fair advantage. I agree that those who had advantages over others should use that to help them more disadvantaged by help defend equity and fair treatment against them rather than use their privileges to their own advantage. Stick up for unfair treatment against those who are still facing inequality and this doesn't have to be about men defending women, but people defending all those who are in the discriminated groups. As for fathers, I don't see that as male privilege but as a parent who has the rightly authority over their children both sons and daughters and mothers share in this authority. As for husbands, their duty is to love their wives sacrificially, giving up themselves for, provide and protect but I don't believe that gives him privileges over her but it's about responsibility on his part. That's all I can say on this subject. God Bless.

  10. Wendy June 4, 2016 at 2:11 pm #

    You are misreading the use of the word privilege. The father doesn't have privileges over his daughter in the sense that she is a commodity he can use for his benefit. He has privileges of strength and financial earning power that he should leverage for the benefit of his daughter.

  11. Felicia Strange June 5, 2016 at 4:32 pm #

    I loved reading this post, it is just so true, and may my son and nephews also have this wonderful understanding along with me!

  12. Wendy June 5, 2016 at 6:46 pm #

    You've experienced this first hand, SundA. I am writing another post on women who step up, and you are a model to me in that.

  13. Tamie June 7, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

    Thanks for this Wendy. We Australians naturally think of any kind of hierarchy is inherently oppressive and naturally mistrust authorities, so it's been interesting for me to live in Tanzania where hierarchy is viewed much more positively. People openly say that Tanzania is a patriarchal society, but the question for them is what kind of patriarch you will be – one that gives himself up for others, like Christ, or one who exploits them.

  14. Wendy June 7, 2016 at 9:21 pm #

    You should write on that, Tamie!