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Are men and women equal? Should they be treated the same in a marriage?

Man holding door for lady
Man holding door for lady

Several events inspired this article. A complaint on a dating site by a woman who feels gentlemen are an extinct breed. A comment by a man who wonders what women are entitled to. Discussions with friends about changing male and female roles. An event that transpired a few days ago - I was at the Barnes and Noble down at the Austin Galleria. I was leaving the store and a 10 year old boy held the door open for me. His father was training him to be a gentleman. I said "Thank you" to the boy and smiled. The boy looked so proud of himself. The father said "Thank you" to me, because I had just reinforced what he was trying to teach his son.

Yet many women, misguided by feminism, would have scolded that boy.

Don't get me wrong - I am a feminist if feminism means equal protection under the law, being considered equally worthy and valuable, and having equal opportunities for education and work. However, I think there was a subset of the feminist movement that decided that men were evil. That without men, women would be better off. And that scolded men who tried to express their natural protectiveness towards women.

I am a Christian, so I had to ask - what does the Bible say about the worth of men and women? And how should they treat each other? And, does what this ancient text have any relevance for contemporary non-Christians?

First of all, Galations 3:28 says "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." This makes it clear that, at least in the eyes of God, we are all equal.

To me, this is a foundational passage on many levels. It supports the concept enshrined in our Constitution that all men are created equal, a theoretical principle which was finally realized in practice with the abolition of slavery. It also supports the concept that the term "men" used in the Constitution is to be the global term, encompassing both men and women. This was finally realized in practice with the passage of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote, and laws that gave women property rights, etc.

Not only does the Bible recognize the inherent equality of men and women, it also advocates things like occupational and sexual equality.

For example, Luke 10:39 tells us about Mary, who sat at the Lord Jesus' feet, listening to what He said. This was the position of a student to a teacher in ancient times, the equivalent of college attendance today. So Mary was doing something quite shocking and radical - she was appropriating a role normally reserved only for men, since it was thought only men could receive a higher education while women were supposed to stick to their roles as homemakers. However, Jesus, instead of rebuking Mary's desire for intellectual and spiritual advancement, encourages her and supports her. He sees her as being equal to men in her desire and capacity for knowledge.

In the book of Proverbs, a good wife is described as buying and selling property, and in the Song of Solomon a woman is shown as having romantic desires. Even more explicit about a woman's right to sexual pleasure is Deuteronomy 24:5, which states "If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married." The term for happiness used in this passage encompasses sexual pleasure. Obviously an Old Testament Jewish woman was not expected to simply count ceiling tiles while doing her wifely duty - she was recognized to have both the capacity and the right to sensual pleasure.

Even the apostle Paul, who many consider a misogynist, actually gives credit to several women and calls them fellow workers in Christ. And the book of Acts talks about how the gifts of the Spirit are given to all people regardless of their sex, race or social status.

Clearly, then, the Bible makes a good case for the equality of men and women. Yet the Bible also gives us, in its advice to husbands and wives, an example of different roles for the sexes. Is this a contradiction? And does any of this have any relevance to people today? I will attempt to answer these questions in my next article.


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