In earlier posts, I explained how I used to be a comp (gender complementarian) as a child and in my 20s but realized once for all by my mid-30s that complementarianism is false, so I rejected it.
One argument Christian gender complementarians frequently bring up any time a person criticizes complementarianism and its negative consequences on them, or someone they know, or how complementarianism harms all women, is to maintain that any harm was not caused by a true complementarian but by someone who was a fraud – someone who was not a genuine complementarian.
Or, the complementarian may argue that the complementarianism in question that harmed the person was an aberration of complementarianism, or of complementarianism incorrectly implemented.
This “Not All Comps” defense by complementarians has become extremely old hat, and I get tired of seeing it come up around the internet.
The reality is that true complementarianism practiced with the best intentions, at its pure base, is still sexism.
It’s not intellectually honest, as complementarians do, to tell a person he is equal in worth ….but not in role…. (and this next part is the key complementarians miss)… due to a trait that was present at a person’s birth, such as skin color or sex.
If someone is equal in worth, it would stand to reason that he would be permitted to audition or apply for any role – if he has the skills, the talents, necessary experience, and-or out-performs other applicants of said position, he should be allowed to hold that role.
However, gender complementarianism bars from some roles, each and every woman, no matter how gifted, experienced, educated and talented in an area, for her entire life time, due to an in-born trait (sex). This is sexism – this is not equality.
For more on this issue, please see this post (on another site):
See also (on other sites):
- The Equal but Different Hoax
- Equal, But…
- “Equal But Subordinate” and Soft Complementarianism
- Christian Patriarchy and Complementarianism: “Separate But Equal” Puts on Lipstick
But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant.. (Matthew 20)
- For God does not show favoritism. (Romans 2:11)
- For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. (Deuteronomy 10:17)
Complementarians would have us believe, however, that God is fine with the church favoring men over women, though the Bible says God is no respecter of persons, doesn’t favor persons, and tells the church not to play favorites.
COMPLEMENTARIANISM IS SIMILAR TO RACISM, USES SAME APOLOGETIC METHODS
The complementarian motto that women are “equal in worth but not in role” is similar to the laws applied to black Americans at one time in history that black persons are “separate but equal.”
Some of the arguments Christian complementarians today use to limit women are the same, or similar, to ones white American Christians used in centuries past to try and justify the slavery of black Americans by white Americans.
Rather than cover this ground myself, I will point you to other blog authors who have discussed this issue:
- Justifying Injustice with the Bible: Slavery (Part 1) by Kevin Giles
- Justifying Injustice with the Bible: Apartheid (Part 2) by Kevin Giles
- Conservative Christianity Openly Sexist Now, as it was Openly Racist Then
- Gender in the American Church: Why the Racial Past Matters on This Brother blog
- Christian Patriarchy and Complementarianism: “Separate But Equal” Puts on Lipstick
When the similarities between tactics or mindsets of Christian slavery apologists is compared to today’s gender complementarians is brought to the fore in egalitarian-complementarian debates, I have actually seen a complementarian on another site begin defending slavery.
Seriously. So desperate are some complementarians to hold on to this terrible, sexist, unfair doctrine and their chosen interpretation of Scripture, some will go so far as to argue slavery is acceptable.
And, by the way, I find it very curious that anyone who claims to sincerely care about girls and women – and a lot of male complementarians claim to be oh so respectful of women – will so fiercely cling to an interpretation of the Bible that places unfair parameters on women.
Complementarians don’t seem to want to be open to considering that maybe their interpretation of certain passages, or how they view the entirety of Scripture, may be in error. They’re more comfortable with women being oppressed in their system.
YES ALL COMPS
Considering that complementarianism at its core, practiced correctly, is nothing but secular sexism with Bible verses propping it up, that it treats women unfairly – in spite of all its disclaimers about women being equal in worth (if complementarianism is so respectful of women, it should be self-evident, and we’d not have to have complementarians reminding us of the “equal in worth” motto constantly), it is harmful in and of itself to women – not just when practiced incorrectly.
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE AND COMPLEMENTARIANISM
As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I was raised by devout, Christian parents who believed in traditional gender roles. My parents raised me to believe that it was normal, healthy, and biblical for a husband to be the “head of the household,” and so on.
My parents carried out a normal, “warm and fuzzy” type of gender complementarianism.
Though my father could be mildly verbally or emotionally abusive (he is very negative), there was no overt abuse in my family.
My father did not physically lash out at my mother and slap, punch, or kick her. He did not have extra-marital affairs or a drug or alcohol addiction.
Neither parent physically abused me. My mother was a very loving, warm person towards my father, my siblings, and myself.
It would be disingenuous of any complementarians rejecting what I have to say at this point because I am discussing it from personal experience (see also this former post of mine on that subject).
If complementarians believe that complementarianism is good for women and culture and can make women happy, safe, and well-adjusted (which I have in fact seen them argue on their blogs and in magazine articles), they are also arguing on the basis of personal experience – not from Scripture, but from personal experience or pragmatism.
I have seen complementarian material telling women and girls they will be happier and safer living under complementarian rules and doctrine, and they will be happier and safer married to a complementarian man who “lovingly” practices “servant leadership” towards them.
Complementarians claim to take domestic violence against wives very seriously, and at that, due to their complementarianism.
These sentiments are usually brought up in essays where the American gender complementarian author is attempting to demonstrate how miserable women are now, after having lived under societal changes ushered in by secular feminism decades ago.
Complementarians really detest secular feminism and try to convince conservative, Christian women that tenets, beliefs, or practices of secular feminism will be awful or harmful for conservative Christian women, and for our nation. (For further reading, on another site: Perhaps Feminism is not the Enemy.)
The solution, Complementarians think, is for girls and women to gladly and willingly live under Christian male headship (which is one component of complementarianism).
Complementarians who argue that complementarian living arrangements or relationships are more beneficial to women (and culture) cannot have it both ways.
Complementarians are arguing from, or appealing to, personal experience in favor of their position while simultaneously denying women such author Ruth Tucker or myself the right or ability to discuss how our personal experiences with complementarianism were, or are, damaging to us.
Some complementarians will completely discount our description of our encounters with complementarianism by saying, “that’s just personal experience, so it doesn’t count,” (one example here) – (or else the old saw, “that wasn’t TRUE complementarianism you dealt with!” will be raised).
Well, you complementarian guys promised women that if we live under complementarianism that our lives would be rainbows, puppies, and gum drops.
We women have been told by the occasional (true, honest- to- goodness, actual) Christian complementarian on blogs, in articles, in sermons, or in comment boxes on the internet, that we will be safer and more protected under complementarianism than if we turned to, or lived under, secular, liberal feminism.
But that didn’t happen.
We’ve been harmed by genuine and false complementarians (note that the false complementarians are often using actual, true, genuine complementarianism to rationalize their mistreatment of women, so the true vs. false complementarian argument seems to be hair-splitting). It’s false advertising by complementarians.
The polite, kind-hearted, correctly-implemented form of complementarianism that complementarians insist is healthy and good for women, is the very sort I was raised under, and it did in fact damage me in the long term.
Christian gender complementarianism, even when practiced in a loving, warm and fuzzy manner, as complementarians dictate it should, is codependency (please see my previous post for more details on that: Christian Gender Complementarianism is Christian-Endorsed Codependency for Women (And That’s Not A Good Thing) ) and, as a result, causes harm to women who live by it and under it.
In my own case, a few of the issues complementarianism raised in my own life consists of, but is not limited to the following:
- -an inability to make decisions for myself (I’m having to learn to do this);
-it left me boundary-less, passive and un-assertive, which left me vulnerable to abusers, and wide open to attracting abusers and being bullied or exploited by friends, bosses, co-works, family members, and an ex-fiancé;
-turned me into a perfectionist (consequently, I’m behind in life compared to other people my age, because I was too afraid to make mistakes and take risks);
-left me burnt out, resentful, not knowing who I was, all because I was constantly putting the needs and desires of other people ahead of my own
I could go on and list other problems I’ve had that result from having been a complementarian and having lived in complementarianism from childhood through my adulthood, but I’ll leave it at that.
Being raised as a complementarian in a nice, warm and fuzzy, Christian, regular church-going, complementarian household created many problems for me, which I am still now having to unravel and work through in approaching middle age.
Being complementarian and living by complementarian values did not make me happy, secure, protected, or well-adjusted.
I didn’t feel that God loved me, or not very much – as a matter of fact, in spite of all the “you’re equal in value, just not in role!” malarky complementarians bleat on about, I always felt that God favors and loves males more than me – because I was born female. That thinking of mine was due to complementarianism, and I felt that way for years while I was a complementarian.
I was not brought up under a false, violent, wrongly- carried- out form of gender complementarianism, but in a mostly loving, Ozzie and Harriet, picture perfect, nuclear family that was also gender complementarian. Our Thanksgiving dinners looked like Norman Rockwell paintings. Dad took us to Disney World when we were kids.
Being raised under the “correct” form of complementarianism did not work out well for me.
So, to all the gender complementarians out there, be aware that the “not all comps” or “but a REAL complementarian would never do X and Z…” arguments fall apart.
Even if you wish to convince me that the especially egregious cases of abuse and sexism against women by professing complementarians we read about online are due to a flawed understanding or utilization of complementarianism, it does not change the fact that even proper, loving, “biblical” complementarianism harmed me personally and harms other girls and women to this day.
BENEVOLENT SEXISM – TRUE COMPLEMENTARIANISM’S SECULAR TWIN
Last but not least, kind-hearted, correctly-practiced gender complementarianism has a secular counter-part.
The secular counter-part to gender complementarianism is known as “Benevolent Sexism,” when it’s not also mirroring codependency.
You can read more about Benevolent Sexism at these other sites:
- The Problem When Sexism Just Sounds So Darn Friendly… on Scientific American
- Women Are Kind And Men Are Strong: How Benevolent Sexism Hurts Us All on Forbes
For further reading (other sites):
- Not All Comps on Nate Sparks blog
- Will The Real Complementarian Please Stand Up?
- John Piper and the No True Complementarian Fallacy on Heretic Husband blog
Other Posts (this blog) about Complementarianism and-or Codependency:
‘Submit to Your Husbands’: Women Told To Endure Domestic Violence In The Name of God (via ABC Aussie news)
(March 30, 2016: Since originally publishing this page, I have edited it a few times to make minor changes, such as adding clarifying text, or adding new links)