I found myself on my hands and knees yesterday morning scrubbing the kitchen floor following a small spill of sticky mandarin juice as the kids packed their lunches. This prompted me to think about the whole idea of men’s and women’s roles in society. Some people would say that these roles are quite distinct, while others would say there aren’t really any distinct roles for men and women. Rather it’s all just culturally based. I fall somewhere in the middle. I do think God made men and women different and there are certain things that we each seem to do better in general. But I think we must be careful about prescribing any role for either men or women, because God also makes each one of us unique and our gifts and abilities are not determined by our gender.
Here in the West we have moved a long way toward eliminating the prescription of certain roles as “men’s” or “women’s” and I think that overall this is a good thing. I’m not saying that there is perfect equality, but compared to many other cultures men and women here are far more balanced in their roles. I imagine that most American women are happy to have husbands who actively help with household chores. (Ladies, correct me if I’m wrong.) My wife certainly doesn’t object when I scrub the floor as I did this morning, or when I clean the bathroom or wash the dishes. Are there women out there who would object to this or see it as somehow “unmasculine?” But I’ve lived in other cultures where the men still would never dream of demeaning themselves to do such labor. Interestingly enough, in those cultures I see that most of the time women work far harder, often working outside of the home during the day, then returning home and doing all the housework as well. One day I was sweeping the walk in front of our gate when our neighbor, another American living there, came out and informed me that I was shaming my wife before the neighbors. Apparently only women should sweep around the house and my doing so made both myself and my wife look bad. In other situations I’ve heard of, people must haul water some distant from a well, lake or river. The full pails are heavy, but this too is always women’s work. When the husband of a foreign family living in the community carried water for the family they received a lot of criticism for this.
In such situations I really struggle with my response. I desire to serve my wife and my family by helping around the house. I believe that this is what a godly man does. But what should I do when my desire conflicts with the cultural understanding of what a man should be like? I personally try to discern in each situation what is best, but I hope I err on the side of being a servant rather than being a “real man.” I usually cannot directly challenge the cultural norms. But I believe I can offer a different model for them to consider and, when the situation allows, defend that model as a godly one. I am not claiming that our Western model is inherently better or more godly. But in terms of the balance between roles, I think that the model of a man who is a servant to others is certainly preferable and consistent with God’s teaching.